Sometimes publishers have to pass on good writing

Here’s a truth: sometimes publishers have to pass on good writing. 

To the writing idealist I’m afraid statements like this are at best unwelcome, and at worst, the catalyst that convinces some to adopt the lifestyle of an angry hermit. Be that as it may, this is a true statement. I saw it happen today. And publishers shouldn’t be criticized as quickly as some (read: angry hermits) would like to. Here’s a scenario I witnessed today:

A fine book was brought to our team to consider. The writing was strong. The ideas were sound. The construction of the content was thoughtful and easily marketable.

Despite all this, the book was rejected.

Here’s why: The ideas (while sound) have been written about before. The writing (while strong) wouldn’t sell the book (insert another hard truth: good writing doesn’t sell books). The construction of the content (while thoughtful and marketable) can’t make up for a story that’s been told before.

On top of all of this, our team has already published content similar to what was proposed today.

I say all of this not to be a downer, but rather, because looking truth in the face produces good things. Many writers I meet believe that if their writing could just be “good enough” it would get published by their favorite publisher. This isn’t necessarily true. There is some truth to it, but it’s not the whole truth. Books must also fit within a publisher’s existing catalog and publishing vision. They must say something new, or say something old in a new way. And they must be marketable. (Notice that “marketable” was listed last?)

If you’re working on getting your book published, and the publisher of your dreams turns you down, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer. It might just mean that at that particular moment, your book doesn’t fit within their goals. Be encouraged. Keep shopping your book. And resist the urge to live a life of a hermit. :)


2 thoughts on “Sometimes publishers have to pass on good writing

  1. Jessie Clemence

    When I write a proposal, you can sometimes find me banging my head on my desk. You can be assured that I’ve reached the part where I am researching other books that might be in competition with mine. Sometimes I’m broken-hearted because a married couple with matching PhDs have already written my book. Sometimes I’m irritated because I know that the publishing team knows this market better than I do, so the entire section is a waste of effort.

    But I keep writing anyway, because not writing is not an option!

    1. Andrew Rogers Post author

      Just because a married couple with PhDs has written what you want to write doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep writing. Your book might be just the thing a certain publisher is looking for. It just means that you’ll need to show that publisher how your book is different from theirs, and why that is a good thing.

      I admire your commitment to write!


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