Publishing is a highly competitive market. If you are not planning to self-publish your manuscript, you will likely experience disappointment after a publisher rejects your manuscript. To handle disappointment you can learn how to process your feelings, capitalise on rejection, improve your manuscript, seek support from the writing community and research the market. You can also consider self-publishing the manuscript to retain maximum control over the publishing process. In this post, I discuss strategies to handle disappointment and continue working on your text.
Disappointment and rejection are part of life, but when you are a writer, you must anticipate hearing ‘no’ more often. The sad reality of the publishing industry is that only 1–2% of submitted manuscripts ever get accepted and published. Next time you press ‘send’ on your submission email, remember that the chances for disappointment are high. Consider that rejection might not reflect on the quality of your work. Instead, the manuscript might not fit in with the commissioning editors’ portfolio or the publishers’ catalogue goals.
Process your feelings
Although publishing is competitive and writers get their manuscripts rejected all the time. Still, your feelings of disappointment are valid, and you should take time to process them. To handle disappointment, allow yourself to feel sad, angry, and sorry and take time for yourself. Start a new book, spend time gardening or go for a walk to avoid getting stuck and rebuild your energy.
Lean on the community
Writers set up communities on Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook and other social media channels. Take time to find your tribe of individuals who will share your experiences, write the same genre or want to work with the same publishers. They will be receptive to hearing your story and supporting you to handle disappointment, process it and continue striving to get your work published.
Becoming a part of a writing community is also a chance to seek feedback on your manuscript. External input will improve your chances of getting published. So try to reach out to writing buddies, friends and family for comments and rewrites suggestions. Narrow down your goal in asking for feedback, and keep it in mind when reaching out. Do not simply ask if they like it; be specific.
You could also contact the publisher who rejected your manuscript and ask for suggestions for improvement. They might not reply, but if they do, as publishing professionals and industry decision makers, they might have valuable advice.
Review the manuscript
Although the manuscript rejection might not reflect on the quality of your text, more often than not, it does. Reasons may vary, but over 95% of the rejected manuscripts do not meet the publishing standards. This may entail messy language (lack of copyediting) or incoherent plot/argument (need for developmental editing). To handle disappointment, take a critical look at your manuscript and consider bringing on board an editor.
Work on the big picture
Working with a developmental editor might be a good idea if your manuscript has ‘big-picture’ issues, such as those with:
- plot line,
- character development,
- evidence analysis,
- flow and sequence of the sections,
- gaps or repetitions,
- point of view
If the text has more granular issues, with clarity, tone and vocabulary of sentences and paragraphs, then consider line editing.
Work on the presentation
Another way to improve the manuscript and prepare it for publication is to review its presentation. Analyse language and styling consistency, formatting and layout, grammar, punctuation and tenses. Depending on the level of editorial intervention needed, copyediting or proofreading will help to address these problems and improve readability.
Do your research
Reaching out to publishers specialising in your topic or genre is another way to handle disappointment or avoid it altogether. (Fingers crossed!) Contact fellow writers and read online to find publishers that might be the right choice for your manuscript. Here are two steps to identify your target publishers:
- Compile a list of similar, recently published books and list the publishers and presses with the highest number of books.
- Evaluate the target publishers. For instance, consider these questions:
- Is it easy to find information online about the publisher’s books, such as synopses, endorsements, and tables of contents?
- Does the publisher have a good reputation among the writers’ communities?
- Do the publisher’s books have a reasonable price point?
- Does the press seem to actively promote its books and authors?
- Would it be fulfilling for you to be associated with this publisher if they were to publish your book?
- Does the publisher show commitment to publishing and promoting authors from historically underrepresented groups?
- Does the publisher have a public code of conduct or mission statement on their website committing to treating authors respectfully?
Now, you have a list of eligible candidates for your manuscript who are more likely to accept it for publishing.
If the disappointment experienced when trying to break through in the publishing market is wearing you down, try self-publishing. Self-publishing is growing in popularity with the rise of the print-on-demand platforms like Ingram Sparks, Draft2Digital or Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. They provide book and cover templates and only print a copy and charge the author when a book is sold.
Self-publishing has many advantages. Unlike indie and traditional publishing houses, it offers the highest royalties, the fastest route to market and complete control.
Self-publishing is brilliant, but like everything else, it also has disadvantages. It requires time and/or money investment from the author. Moreover, it may be a financial risk to them, depending on the sales success. Furthermore, some consider self-published books of lesser quality because of the lack of review and editing offered by the publishing houses. Finally, self-published books rarely reach physical bookshops, which limits their visibility and availability on the market. Still, this route is worth considering to handle disappointment or rejection of your manuscript by a publishing house.
Ultimately, you turned to writing because it brings you fulfilment, joy, and happiness. With each title you write or with each manuscript rewrite, you become better at what you enjoy doing. The process of getting published is arduous, especially if you are a first-time author, but keep it from crushing your spirit and spoiling your writing passion. Remember this to handle disappointment better next time.
If you need help navigating the publishing world, follow me on Mastodon, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter for more from me, including editing, publishing and writing tips. You can also ask me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount) to prepare your manuscript for publication.