Word for Word: Writers! Don’t take rejection personally

Publishers may love your book but still turn it down for a variety of reasons

Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December were rejected multiple times before finding homes with Doubleday Ireland and the Lilliput Press

Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December were rejected multiple times before finding homes with Doubleday Ireland and the Lilliput Press

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

The past few weeks have seen me spend even more time than I normally do reading and deciding on submissions. A few Saturdays ago I was one of the dozen or so publishers and agents taking part in the third Novel Fair, at the Irish Writers’ Centre. It’s a fascinating experience. The authors who took part had already been whittled down from a huge number of hopefuls, which meant that their novels were of a uniformly impressive quality.

At the same time, I was working my way through the nearly 200 submissions we received as part of a new “get your book published” competition we are running with RTÉ’s Today show. There was no filtering process for these, and although the general level of the submissions was very high, quite a few would have been served by another edit from their authors. Unfortunately, only one book will be published, meaning that nearly 200 authors will suffer a rejection.

If you are trying to make it as a writer then you will experience rejection, probably multiple times. In one high-profile recent case, Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December were rejected multiple times before finding homes with Doubleday Ireland and the Lilliput Press.

From a publisher’s perspective, rejection is never personal and is often a simple question of arithmetic: one can publish only so many books in a given year, and of those slots several will be earmarked for previous authors or titles specially commissioned or long in the works, leaving precious little room for others. Many publishers have relationships with trusted agents, who know what kinds of books appeal to their tastes, how certain types of books do well for certain publishers and whether an editor likes the genre in which their client writes. That closes off a few more slots.

What’s more, with so many submissions coming in, decisions have to be made quite quickly. Right now I see up to 500 unsolicited submissions a year. At 20 minutes each, that can take almost three full weeks of an editor’s time to process and decide on – no easy task for a small, busy publisher like ours.

So if you have submitted a book and have been rejected, don’t take it personally. A publisher might love your book but know it won’t work for its audience. Also, as with nearly everything in the world of creative endeavour, timing can be key, and a book that doesn’t hit the mark with one publisher may go on to success later. Ask Donal Ryan.

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