Discover the tips and tricks to avoiding the rejection pile.
You've done it! You've written the next "must have" book and everyone you know who reads your manuscript agrees it's guaranteed to be a bestseller. So why can't you find a publisher for it? For some reason (maybe even more than one) editors and agents alike keep rejecting your proposal.
So what are you doing wrong?
Discover 77 of the most common reasons why thousands of book proposals are rejected every year, and find out what you can do to make your proposal stand out from the rest. Working as an author, editor, and agent from more than 20 years, publishing industry veteran Mike Nappa knows the most frequent mistakes authors make in their proposals and then simple steps you can take to avoid catching a ride on the train to Rejection-ville.
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About the Author
Mike Nappa is the founder and Chief Literary Agent of Nappaland Literary Agency. He is an award-winning editor who has worked in book acquisitions for three prominent publishing houses.
Read an Excerpt
It Takes Less Than a Minute to Reject Your Book
I make it my goal to reject every book proposal you send me in sixty seconds or less. This includes book ideas that come in my email box, that are hand-delivered to me at a writer's conference, that are recommended by a friend of a friend who knew somebody who told them I was in the publishing business, or whatever. If you've got a book you want to publish, and you send it to me, chances are very good that I will reject your proposal in under a minute.
The sad part about this goal of mine is that it's remarkably easy to accomplish. Too easy, in fact. Over the last two plus decades, I've worked as an acquisitions editor for three publishers and also as the founder and chief literary agent of Nappaland Literary Agency. I regretfully admit to you now that in that time I've issued thousands and thousands of those hated rejection letters, in all shapes and forms, to well-meaning and talented writers just like you.
I've looked an eager author in the eye and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in publishing your book." I've sent countless emails, several variations on form letters, and even experimented with that stupid "checklist" rejection where a dozen reasons for declining are listed on the page and all I have to do is put an X next to my favorite insult for you. ("Your book doesn't meet our quality standards," "We are not able to project a significant interest for your book," and so on.)
Now, before you label me as some sort of sadist toward the struggling masses of writers out there, you should also know that I am an author myself. In fact, I've published (as author or co-author) more than forty books, sold more than a million copies of those books, won awards, been translated into various foreign languages, and all kinds of good stuff like that.
What that really means is this:
In my career, I've happily received forty-plus acceptance letters or phone calls about my book ideas. (Yay me!)
At the same time, by my best estimates, I've also personally received more than 2,000 rejections for my book ideas. (Ouch!)
And yes, I've had to sit stone-faced while some arrogant jerk of an editor looked me dead in the eye and said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in publishing your book." I've received countless emails, several variations on form letters, and even some of those stupid "checklist" rejections where a dozen reasons for declining are listed on the page and all the contemptuous editor had to do was put an X next to her favorite insult for me.
So, you could say that for the past few decades I've been a successful author, editor, and literary agent. And you could also say during that time I've successfully failed at being an author, editor, and literary agent.
And that's what this book is about. Learning why we fail-and then turning that knowledge into success the next time around.
I think Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show on CBS, sums it up best. "We prepare for glory," he says, "by failing until we don't."1 That rings true in the life of a professional writer. Still, failure by itself is of no benefit. It's just another disappointing circumstance in life. However, failure with knowledge gained...well, that's something completely different.
So, with that (and you) in mind, I've culled more than twenty years of my experience as a publishing industry professional and compiled it for you here, boiled down to 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected (and how to be sure it won't happen again!). It's my hope that you'll find this little tome insightful, helpful, and most of all, something that will give you what you need to get past your last rejection and move on to your rightful place of book publishing glory.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
I'll be wearing both my "acquisitions editor" and "literary agent" caps while we chat in the pages here. So if I say something like, "When you send me your proposal...," you can assume that "me" in that sentence refers to both "me-the-generic-acquisitions-editor" and "me-the-generic-literary-agent." I'm making myself your stand-in for those roles. If something is editor-specific or agent-specific, I'll let you know. For instance, if I say something like, "When I bring this to my VP of sales...," that'll mean I'm obviously talking from inside the publishing house-wearing the editorial hat. When I mention something like, "As I create my pitch list for this book...," that's clearly me operating outside the publishing house-wearing my agent hat. Generally speaking, this kind of thing should be clear to you as you read, but when in doubt, assume everything applies to both of those people.
Also, as you read this book, you can start at the beginning and work your way to the end (it makes most sense that way). Or you can feel free to skip around and check out the sections that catch your interest first (it works just fine that way, too).
The point is not necessarily the order in which you read, but the relevant information you gather as you read. So relax, knock yourself out, and jump in. Just imagine that you and I are sitting around having coffee and a conversation, talking over the finer points of your last book proposal. (And hopefully you're buying the coffee!)
NOW, BEFORE WE BEGIN...
Of course, there are just a few things you do need to know before we get started.
First, foremost, and always, there is actually only one overarching reason why any book is published-or rejected:
That's it, really.
Remember, publishing is an industry-a business that has at its core the innate desire for survival. And, as for any business, survival means profit. A publishing house that doesn't actively pursue profitability-no matter how noble or sublime its content goals-simply won't be publishing books for very long. Those are just the facts of this capitalist system we've embraced (which also gives us all the opportunity to succeed beyond our wildest dreams!).
So, no matter what book you are currently pitching, you must always keep the idea of profit front and center:
Remove your "fuzzy focus" lenses.
Coldly determine what factors influence your publisher's profit potential.
Position your book's content and market features to highlight profit potential.
Propagandize your book's proposal to hammer home that profit potential for the publisher. (More on this later.)
Table of Contents
Introduction: It Takes Less Than a Minute to Reject Your Book
Part One: Editorial Reasons for Rejection
No.1. Your Writing Is Crap
No.2. You Lied to Me
No.3. You Insulted Me or My Company
No.4. We're Already Publishing a Similar Book
No.5. Your Target Audience Is Too Big
No.6. Your Target Audience Is Too Small
No.7. Your Target Audience Isn't My Target Audience
No.8. Your Book Is Too Extreme
No.9. Your Ideas Conflict with My Values and/or My Company's Values
No.10. Your Book Tries to Do Too Much
No.11. Your Word Count Is Too Long or Too Short
No.12. You Are Not Credible on the Topic You Want to Write About
No.13. You Didn't Do Your Homework
No.14. You Are Lazy
No.15. You Didn't Pass the "First Line Test"
No.16. My Publishing List Is Packed for the Next Eighteen Months
No.17. I Had a Fight with My Spouse and/or Children Just Before I Read Your Proposal
No.18. You Didn't Eschew Obfuscation
No.19. You Pitched Me Two Awful Ideas in a Row
No.20. Your Agent Pitched Me Two Awful Ideas in a Row
No.21. You Don't Have an Agent
No.22. You Didn't Give Me Enough Writing Samples
No.23. I've Rejected This Book Before
No.24. You Are Clueless about Copyright Law
No.25. Your Book Is Boring
No.26. You Took the D-Train
No.27. Your Project Is Unoriginal
No.28. Your Cover Letter Was Too Long
No.29. You Stink at Grammar and Spelling
No.30. You Didn't Give Me a Complete Proposal
No.31. Bottom Line-You Didn't Do Enough of My Job for Me
Part Two: Marketing Reasons for Rejection
No.32. You Have No Idea What It Means to Market a Book
No.33. You Have No Legitimate Means for Promoting a Book
No.34. You Don't Understand the Difference between Features and Benefits
No.35. You Have No PR-Worthy Accomplishments
No.36. You Are Not Able to Run a Grassroots Publicity Campaign for Yourself
No.37. Amazon.com Reviewers Don't Like You
No.38. You Have No Internet Presence
No.39. Your Internet Presence Is Shoddy and Unprofessional
No.40. You Are Not Engaged/Poorly Engaged in Social Media
No.41. Your Title Stinks
No.42. Your Introduction Is Useless
No.43. You Look Unprofessional
No.44. You Are a Poor Verbal and/or Informal Communicator
No.45. You Demonstrate No Knowledge/Faulty Knowledge of Your Competition
No.46. There's Too Much Competition for Your Book
No.47. You Aren't Able to Significantly Differentiate Your Book from the Competition
No.48. You Can't Quickly Evoke the Right Emotions When Talking about Your Book
No.49. You Can't Provide Impactful Endorsements for Your Work
No.50. My Marketing Team Tried to Promote a Similar Book in the Past, and It Failed
No.51. My Marketing VP Is Unfairly Prejudiced Against You
No.52. My Marketing VP Doesn't Care about Your Topic-and Doesn't Think Anyone Else Will Either
No.53. Bottom Line-You Weren't Good to Mama
Part Three: Sales Reasons for Rejection
No.54. You Are Not a Celebrity
No.55. There Is No "Brandwagon" Trend You Can Latch Onto
No.56. You Have No Sales History to Speak Of
No.57. You Have a Sales History, and It Sucks
No.58. You Self-Published Yourself into Oblivion
No.59. Women Just Aren't That Into You
No.60. My Sales VP Thinks of You as an Unknown (the "No Froofies" Rule)
No.61. My Sales VP Is Hostile toward Me or My Editorial VP, and Is Sabotaging Our Careers by Undervaluing Proposals We Bring to Publishing Board
No.62. My Sales VP Can't (or Won't) See the Future
No.63. You Are the Wrong Gender
No.64. You Have Unrealistic Expectations about Your Publishing Potential
No.65. You Don't Know Why People Buy Books
No.66. Other Books We've Done Similar to Yours Did Not Sell According to Expectations
No.67. Nothing Similar to Your Book Shows Up on Industry Bestseller Lists
No.68. You Can't Identify Specific Sales Channels That Your Book Will Sell Through
No.69. Your Book Costs Too Much to Make
No.70. You Want Too Much Money
No.71. Your Novel Is Not a "Romance"
No.72. My Sales Team Is Struggling to Sell Our Current Line of Books
No.73. There Is No Real Sequel Potential for Your Book
No.74. My Sales VP Asked a Spouse/Friend/Baby-sitter if They Would Buy Your Book, and the Response Was Unenthusiastic
No.75. My Sales Team Asked a Few Key Book Buyers if They Would Stock Your Book, and Their Response Was Unenthusiastic
No.76. Your Book Failed a Focus Group
No.77. Bottom Line-Not Enough Profit Potential
Appendix: Recommended Resources for Writers
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book would be most highly valued by those authors seeking to break into the traditional publishing sphere. As a younger writer, I found this book crucial to my ambitions for traditional publication. The author provides many the reasons why one would be rejected AND what to do about them. For every problem, he gives three solutions. Some of the online resources and information might be a tad outdated, but that's the nature of the printed book. Traditional and indie (or self-publishing) tactics have shifted dramatically in recent weeks. The format makes it easy to read in short chunks of time. If you want to query agents and editors, read this book first.
Typically, authors set themselves up for failure with their simplistic view of publishers' decision-making processes. "If my writing's good enough," we imagine, "they'll eagerly offer me a contract." If only it were that simple! In real life, publishers reject manuscripts for a multitude of reasons, of which Nappa lists 77, including: . You failed to convince me that you could market the book. . We've already accepted our quota for the year. . We don't publish your genre. . You failed to demonstrate the uniqueness of your book. . Your audience doesn't match our target audience. By understanding how publishers think about acquisitions, authors stand much better odds of getting accepted. Nappa presents this information in a clear and lively style that makes it a pleasure to read. By limiting each point to four or five pages and moving quickly to practical tips, I profited by reading a section at a time, similar to a daily devotion. Although I primarily self publish these days (I've been traditionally published as well), I found these insights invaluable, simply because self publishers are publishers. How insightful to learn from successful publishers the characteristics of marketable books! Nappa's experiences as acquisitions editor, marketing copywriter, and literary agent uniquely qualify him to write on this topic. Beyond his personal experiences, he quotes and recommends other authorities and studies which add weight to his recommendations. Highly recommended for all authors.