Reasons for Rejection by Lucienne Diver

Rejections are a frustrating and ever-present part of the publishing business. Twenty-three years in, and I can think of no book ever that was universally loved. Most books receive more passes than offers. So, let’s explore some common reasons for rejection.


Too similar to something the publishing house has already acquired
Sadly, there’s nothing to be done about this one. We stay on top of things like who’s bought what from whom, but we can’t know everything, especially if something’s only recently been acquired.

Too Quiet
We’ve just discussed this one at TKA because it’s a frustratingly vague response. It might mean that the emotional impact isn’t as strong as it could be—that the characters aren’t truly brought to the depths or heights of their personal challenges. It might mean that the story isn’t “big” enough, meaning it lacks implications beyond the characters’ own personal journeys. Or it could be that the publisher doesn’t think the story has a strong enough hook to get their marketing department on board and distinguish the book sufficiently in the minds of buyers, bookstores, and consumers.

Not connecting with the characters
Every art form is subjective, requiring creation on the part of the artist and connection/understanding on the part of the viewer. Writing is no exception. I’ve seen rejection letters that boil down to “love the story, couldn’t connect with the characters” and “love the characters, didn’t connect with the story”—all for the same novel! But if you’re hearing more than once that the characters are the issue, think about three things: have you given us a character with whom we can identify? This is the first rule of sympathy and connection. Have you given us someone we can love (or at least love to hate)? Have you given us someone who lives and breathes, who’s unique and original and really a product of his/her nature and nurture? Someone who’s not a caricature or an everyman, but a particular person we couldn’t meet anywhere else.

Pages aren’t turning
Some books are paced more leisurely than others by their nature. The trick is to keep the reader engaged, but not all readers will be engaged by the same books. They just won’t. Still, you can do your best to avoid this reason for rejection. How? With high stakes, emotional and otherwise, and a ticking clock—something that imposes consequences if things don’t happen quickly enough, whether it be another murder, the progression of a disease, or the fact that the man you love is headed out of town (and out of your life forever) if you don’t catch him in time.

So, rejections—we all despise them. Therefore, let’s do our best to minimize contact!