It’s not (always) you, it’s (sometimes) me: why publishers turn away so many good writers.


It’s common knowledge that getting published is hard. It’s harder than hard. Sometimes, it’s nigh impossible. But why is it that publishers, editors and agents so often turn down some perfectly well written pieces of fiction and non-fiction?

In her book, ‘How to be a writer’ Sally O’Reilly explores this question in some detail and, surprisingly enough, it doesn’t always have to do with being ‘not good enough’.

“Many publishers won’t even read an unsolicited manuscript if it’s not submitted by an agent they know and respect,” states Sally in the introducing paragraph of chapter five. “Most books about writing give the impression that getting an agent will inevitably lead to getting a book deal… For some authors, this has been the case. They are the lucky ones. For the majority, life continues to be complex and challenging.”

In truth, managing to land yourself that agent or that shiny publishing deal has less to do with luck, and more to do with the state of the economy. In an economic downturn, a publisher/agent’s willingness to take that added risk and offer an unknown writer a contract is severely diminished (not that that willingness was all that strong to begin with).

“Agents and editors are likely to say no to an unknown writer – not because they bear such writers any ill will, but because they are too busy already,” states Sally. “They already have a long client list consisting of authors with a proven track record. Some of these writers are famous and much in demand, and looking after them takes a great deal of time. Others may be having a quiet patch, or even having difficulty finding a publisher at all. None of this is easy for an agent. And backing a newcomer is a costly and risky business.”

So what can you do about it? How can you take matters into your own hands and make yourself stand out above the rest?

“Be well informed,” answers Sally. “Know what the pressures are on them, as well as what the stresses are on you. And don’t whinge. You’ll just bore everyone, including yourself.”

Listen to what the publishing industry has to say about your work. If they send you a rejection letter, sometimes they will entail what about the work didn’t… well… work. Take their advice and use it to improve. When I was seventeen, wrote a novel that I thought was worthy enough to have published, and so I sent it to several of the biggest publishers in Australia. I received a total of three rejection letters and not even word back from the others. I have to admit, it was a hard kick to the ego and it took everything in my power not to rip up those letters and toss them to the wind. The NERVE of them to reject a work that… well my mother liked it, and my school teachers liked it!

Once I allowed myself the time to cool off, I was able to think a lot clearer, and when I read back over those rejection letters, I found that they happened to contain absolute gems of information. They not only detailed my weaknesses but my strengths too. When it came to my weaknesses, they were able to offer helpful examples of why they didn’t work. Why that character seemed so one-dimensional. And they were ALL in agreement. I worked hard to improve my skills and was offered my first publishing contract with a small firm in Melbourne.

I’ll soon be back on the hunt for a publisher and I still have those rejection letters handy. I hold them very near and dear as valuable reminders. Publishers, agents and editors are not your big, dark enemies bent on bringing you down. They are here to help make our manuscripts and written pieces shine.

Other productive things you can do is start networking. Research the agents and publishers you wish to go with and personalise your approach. Consult a professional editor (they can be costly but worth every cent). Work on your pitch. Join a writer’s group. Work on your online presence and start a blog. Prove to the industry that you are serious about making this a career and they will take you more seriously.

Most important of all, however, DON’T GIVE UP. 🙂

Happy Writing!



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