No one likes rejection. Whether you’ve been rejected by a love interest, a hiring manager, or your dream school, rejection can make you feel like you’re not good enough and discourage you from trying again.
When it comes to publishing, however, rejection isn’t something you should take personally. There’s nothing wrong with you, and as you’ll discover in this post, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with your writing, either.
There are many reasons why a publisher might reject your nonfiction manuscript. The good news is that in most cases, there’s room to improve or make some simple changes that can increase your chances of getting a deal.
Why Nonfiction Manuscripts Get Rejected
If your nonfiction manuscript was rejected by a publisher, try not to take it personally. There’s a good chance that it’s for one of the following reasons:
Things You Can Control
Your nonfiction manuscript might have been rejected for reasons that, fortunately, you can control and improve, such as:
1. Your submission didn’t follow guidelines.
This is one of the most common reasons for rejection, but also the easiest to avoid. Always read the submission guidelines on a publisher’s website (you can find ours here) and review your submission several times before hitting ‘send’ to make sure it adheres to their requests.
If you’re sending your manuscript around to multiple publishers, don’t just do a mass, generic send-off and assume that the guidelines are the same for each.
Let’s say your manuscript is in a format other than what the publisher requested. They may not read it at all (and even if they want to, it might be in a file format that’s incompatible with their system), resulting in immediate rejection.
Other reasons for instant rejection can be failure to include all the requested materials (such as an author bio, marketing plan, synopsis, chapter summaries, etc.).
Publishers receive a lot of submissions each day—they don’t have time to follow up with every single writer to request the information that wasn’t included the first time.
Carefully read and follow instructions every time you submit your work. Just taking a few minutes to slow down and make sure you’ve got everything in order can save you the pain and frustration of a rejection letter.
2. The writing needs improvement.
When it comes to nonfiction, if you have truly great ideas at the center of your manuscript, you might still get picked up by a publisher. The editors can take your brilliant ideas and add more finesse to your writing, while hopefully teaching you how to improve as well.
However, if your writing is so poor on a technical level, to the point that the editor needs to reread sentences several times just to follow your thought, your great ideas might not come through.
And if your writing really needs that much work, the editor might look at your manuscript from a cost perspective and decide that the many hours of editing needed make the project not worth pursuing.
Another possibility, especially in nonfiction, is that your writing is good, but too academic or technical. If your book is research heavy, you might present great information, but if it isn’t easily accessible and able to be understood by mass audiences, publishers might determine that it’s not marketable.
Think about your intended audience, and try to match your tone accordingly. If you want to appeal to a broad market, you should probably aim for a simple, conversational tone that readers won’t need a PhD to understand.
3. It’s clear the manuscript was never edited.
In addition to poor writing, sometimes it’s immediately clear that a writer didn’t read their own manuscript even once. Every manuscript contains a few typos here and there that the author or even a professional editor didn’t catch; that shouldn’t be a reason for rejection.
However, if your manuscript is flooded with typos, inconsistencies, and puzzling run-ons that a simple read-through would have caught, then you’re not only making the editor’s job unnecessarily difficult, but also telling them that you didn’t care enough about your manuscript to read through it once. So why should they?
You should always self-edit and revise your manuscript at least once (a few times is better) before submitting. Not everyone wants to spring for a professional editor before submitting their manuscript, but it would be a good idea to ask some trusted family members, friends, colleagues, or professors to look over your work.
Even if they’re not in the publishing industry, they might be able to point out areas that are underdeveloped or that don’t make sense—things you didn’t notice because you were too close to the manuscript.
4. Your book doesn’t add value for readers.
But I’m writing a memoir, you say. It’s supposed to be about me.
Well, not quite. Even if you are writing a memoir or autobiography, your focus should still be on offering something to your readers.
Memoirs of people like Michelle Obama and Amy Poehler sell fast, because readers are already interested in knowing more about their favorite celebrities and public figures.
But if you’re just an average Joe or Josephine, you need to give people a reason to read your book. Why should they care about your life? Your story should feel relatable and offer insights and lessons that readers can use in their own lives, or at least be really entertaining.
This rule doesn’t just apply to memoirs. Sometimes authors of self-help or other nonfiction genres put too much of their own stories, emotions, and opinions into a book that is supposed to teach or guide readers to improve their own lives. It’s great and even helpful to sprinkle some relatable, personal anecdotes here and there, but a successful book shouldn’t be all about you.
5. You or your text lack authority.
This tends to be an issue especially for books that seek to teach and inform. Let’s say you want to teach people about a new diet, or a new way of dealing with their anxiety.
These are important issues, and readers need to be able to trust the author to provide accurate information and sound advice that will help (and hopefully not hurt) them.
Publishers will often reject authors who lack authority in their field. Now, by “authority” I don’t mean you have to be the Suze Orman or Dr. Oz of your field, but you should at least have a degree and/or some real world experience walking the walk.
For example, Yuval Noah Harari wasn’t a household name in the way that someone like Michelle Obama is, but as an acclaimed historian and professor, he was more than qualified to write Sapiens, which made best seller lists upon its release in 2011.
Furthermore, if you’re making scientific or statistic-based claims in your manuscript, you should cite your sources to establish credibility.
6. Your marketing platform is weak.
Let me start by saying that marketing isn’t everything when it comes to your submission file, so don’t worry if you aren’t a mega-influencer yet. (If your writing and ideas are really powerful, publishers will probably overlook that.)
However, publishers do like to see that you have a decent plan put together, done your book market research, and ideally, even put some of those ideas into practice, like building your email list, creating a website, or hiring a publicist.
If it’s clear that you have zero clue of what’s what when it comes to marketing, publishers might figure it will be more work than it’s worth to train you and try to get you on board with their marketing efforts.
To learn more about what you can start doing now, check out our guide to marketing a book.
7. The proposal failed to explain your book’s concept.
Another possibility is that your proposal or query letter failed to convey your book’s message or concept.
If you submitted a proposal (as opposed to a full, complete manuscript), you need to be sure that your synopsis and sample chapters really sell your book’s idea and accurately convey its message.
It’s hard for publishers to get excited about your ideas if you don’t even sound excited, or if you can’t neatly summarize and explain why anyone should care about the book.
Even if you do submit your full manuscript, you should still include a one-page book synopsis (or whatever the publisher requested in their guidelines) to really sum up the value and message of your book, because acquisition editors are still unlikely to go through every single line of your 40,000-word manuscript to make their judgment.
Make their jobs easier (and show off your marketing copy skills) by writing a killer pitch in your synopsis.
Things You Can’t Control
Sometimes, the reason for the rejection is beyond your control. You might find luck with another publisher,
8. Your book’s topic is too “niche” or isn’t marketable.
Many times, the problem isn’t your writing—you might have the loveliest prose, but the publisher determines that your book isn’t marketable enough for them to turn a decent profit (or even break even).
This often happens when your target audience is extremely narrow, or your topic only appeals to a small group of people with highly specific interests.
This can be hard for aspiring authors to understand, since they probably know how much people like them would love the book and find it valuable. However, you have to remember that this isn’t a personal matter. The publisher might have loved your writing, but simply couldn’t see a viable way to market it successfully.
9. The publisher isn’t looking for that genre right now.
Yet another possibility that isn’t really your fault is that the publisher simply isn’t interested in publishing your genre right now.
Hopefully they’ll add a note about that somewhere on their submissions page to save you some time, but that isn’t always the case. (Likewise, you should check their submissions page before you waste yours and their time as well.)
We, for example, have a note about how we don’t publish picture books or books of poetry; however, that doesn’t always stop people from submitting them, to which I must answer with a rejection, no matter how good the writing is.
What to Do After Receiving a Rejection Letter
If your novel has been rejected by TCK Publishing or another publisher or literary agent, you should use the information in this article to go back over your writing and revise any areas of your book or proposal that may need work. You can also review our post on how to write a great nonfiction book.
Even bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling received multiple rejection letters, so you’re in good company if your manuscript has been rejected. The important thing is that you stay open to feedback, keep working to improve your skills, and never give up on your dreams.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- Why Novels Get Rejected: Acquisitions Editors Share What They Look for in Manuscript Submissions
- 10 Great TED Talks for Writers
- How to Become a Successful Author: Your Ultimate Guide
- Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Tips for Success
As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working from home allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.