Here at the Big Bad Book Blog we know that the bane of most aspiring authors is the rejection letter, and we suspect some of you may know what we mean because you have received one firsthand or heard friends lament them. But rather than just get one rejection letter and give up, we want you to keep trying—in the style of Kathryn Stockett (the author of the bestselling The Help was rejected sixty times). Here are our helpful suggestions for turning that pesky “no” into a printed book.
- Get an editor.
Kathryn Stockett edited her book with each successive rejection so, when you think about it, after sixty edits, what she was submitting was probably quite different from her original manuscript. But you don’t have to do all the work on your own—thankfully the world is full of editors. You can hire a freelance editor through any number of sites (Elance and the Editorial Freelance Association are both great websites for finding an editor.) You can even have an especially literary and honest friend look it over. Any means through which you can get a second pair of eyes on your manuscript will help. It’s hard to catch our own mistakes because we know what we meant to write.
- Find the right publisher fit.
Are you sending your business book off to publishers best known for their science fiction? They may be rejecting you because your title won’t sell in their established niche market, not because of the merit of your work. There are innumerable publishers in America alone—from the “Big Six” all the way across the spectrum to small university presses each looking for a specific type of book. One way to find publishers that specialize in what you are looking for is to go online or to a physical bookstore, find books like yours and see who published them (Usually there’s an imprint logo on the spine but if not, the copyright page always knows). You can also take our short publishing fit quiz here to get you on the right track of finding a model that works for you.
Self-publishing has grown exponentially in recent years, and for good reason—it’s a great way to develop a following. Of course, you’ll still need to promote your book but there are many platforms online with which to publish your ebook for free and you can promote with free social media or a bit of freelance marketing. An ever growing number of authors are self-publishing their novels, developing a following and then getting traditional publishing deals for their already-published books as well as future ones.
- Rework the language of your proposal.
This one sort of speaks for itself. Is there something misspelled or otherwise incorrect in your proposal letter? Are you trying too hard to convey your personality or the tone of your book in a short introductory letter? For some ideas of what not to do, see SlushPileHell.
It’s important to remember that if you’re receiving rejection letters, you’re in the best possible company. A fair portion of what we now consider literary classics were originally rejected by publishers. To name just a few:
- Harry Potter, if you can believe it, was rejected twelve times before eventually being published. The series has now sold over 400 million copies and catapulted J.K. Rowling to stardom, both as one of the world’s most famous authors and one of its richest humans.
- Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was rejected sixteen times for, of all things, lacking an interesting protagonist. It has now sold over thirty million copies, inspired numerous other novels and films as well as the conversion of the house in which she hid into a museum.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected eighteen times because publishers were convinced that the premise was frivolous and unsellable. It has now sold over forty million copies and is considered one of the most inspirational books of all time.
- Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, was rejected thirty times and was actually thrown away by the author before his wife found it in the trash and convinced him to try it again. The paperback edition sold over a million copies in just its first year (and that was thirty-eight years ago), in addition to starting King on the path to become a prolific, household name.
- Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, still wins the most rejections with sixty before a publisher picked up her book. It has, of course, now spent over one hundred weeks on the NYT bestseller list. We do hope her current fame has made up for the ordeal of getting published.
We can’t say that six or sixty rejection letters is the right number of rejection letters to receive before reconceiving a project. What is right is different for each author—it is quite simply the most you can stand. Don’t let trying to get your book published ruin you; take a break, follow one or all of the above suggestions and send your manuscript out again when you feel up to it. Above all, know that there is an option out there for you; the work is in finding it.