But, if you were to ask me what I liked the least about editing, I’d have to say this: nothing is harder than having to tell an author no. That their manuscript just isn’t a good fit. That the publisher is planning to pass on the story, period, because it just didn’t connect.
Rejection. A word that I have wrestled with for years. No matter how many times I end up having to make this tough call, there is nothing that tears me up more than having to pass on an author’s manuscript. Because I know every single story submitted is filled with the heart, soul, tears, and dreams of their author. And I never want to hurt anyone, especially not by passing on the story they’ve lovingly crafted, pouring countless hours of research and care into each sentence. And, by extension, rejecting a manuscript can feel like I’m rejecting the author themselves.
But each time I have to remind myself that this isn’t the case. When a publisher passes on a book, it isn’t intended as a slight against you, the author. It just simply means that your book didn’t fit the market the publisher had in mind. More often than not, what a publisher is looking for in a manuscript is a book they feel they can market, connect with, and sell. To simplify things, there are usually two main criteria every publisher is looking for in choosing a book: does it fit their vision and values, and will it sell. Morals and Money. Even the most secular companies have a vision for their novels and values they want to push forward, and no publisher will be able to stay in business for very long if the books they publish don’t sell. Thus, crafting a manuscript that is a perfect fit for any one publisher can be a very difficult niche to fill.
So, when you query, be prepared for rejection letters. And when you receive them, don’t give up. Just because your book didn’t fit with one publisher doesn’t mean it won’t be the dream novel of another. Because, at its core, writing is subjective. And there is always the potential that someone out there will connect with your story, as long as you’re willing to continue polishing and perfecting your writing craft.
Still, for me, even with this knowledge, it doesn’t make rejecting manuscripts any easier. In all honesty, I wish I could give every manuscript the ability to truly shine and connect with an audience, so that way every author could experience the delight of finding your people. Finding your fans, your audience. Because there are few joys as sweet as being praised and validated for your creative work.
However, I do want to reiterate this once more: even if a publisher rejects your manuscript, don’t give up. Keep writing. Maybe try a different story or a different approach. Maybe focus on writing a tighter narrative with a shorter word-count (75K is always a great word-count to aim for), or maybe focus on making each of your characters feel more organic and unique. Go out and do workshops and seminars. Stay connected with a solid group of writing friends. But no matter what, don’t take a publisher’s “no” as the end of your writing career. This is just the beginning for you. And who knows? Maybe that rejection will one day turn into something bigger and grander than you could have ever dreamed.