The publishing house I work for has been open for submissions since last summer. We accept submissions of full manuscripts with or without an agent, and we accept book proposals through agents and by request.

This is still a fairly new job for me, and I’m learning so much as a writer. Here are some things it’s taught me about submitting…and about writing in general.


WHAT WORKING IN PUBLISHING TAUGHT ME AS A WRITER. Read about why you should never take a rejection personally...and more. #why do publishers reject manuscripts #dealing with writing rejection #novel #fiction


1. A rejection or acceptance is about way more than the quality of the writing.

I’d heard this before, but part of me thought it was one of those things we way to make ourselves feel better as writers.

Now I know, deep down in my bones, how true it is. Because I reject good writing all. The. Time.

As a publisher, we’re looking for a very specific type of story. I know as a writer, I sometimes tended to think of publishing as sort of a writing contest, with the best writers winning. That’s not how it works at all.



A publisher will decline for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they feel your subgenre isn’t hot right now. Or maybe you submitted a cozy mystery featuring a zookeeper, and they are already working on a project featuring a zookeeper. Or maybe you turned in a story about a nanny, and a higher-up at the company has just declared that they hate stories about nannies.

I get a lot of submissions that aren’t even in the genres that we’re looking for. I think it’s because people figure, “Once they see how good the writing is, they’ll publish it, anyway.” It’s a waste of everyone’s time (but more of the writer’s time than mine, because it takes a lot longer to submit than it does to decline.)

It feels awful rejecting good writing, in case anyone was wondering. It’s in my nature to encourage other writers, not reject them, and I’m struggling with it.

I always imagined editors who rejected me turning up their noses at my work…or even at me, personally. I don’t think most editors feel as bad about declining as I do (honestly, I hope not), but I realize now that they’re probably not looking down on me when they do.

Anyway, as a writer, I will never be able to take an R personally again. I’ll know it’s not a judgement of the inherent quality of my work.


2. There’s nothing like a tight, clear query or proposal.

For me, it’s always been hard to take my complex, layered novel and explain it in two or three compelling paragraphs. It’s hard for everyone!

And it’s so important when you’re querying or pitching to traditional publishers. This is another thing that I sort of knew before, and now I really know. (For self-publishers who have to write a blurb, it’s even more important.)

When I’m reading a query or a proposal, I want a good sense of who the characters are, what motivates them, and what the conflict is. I think it’s probably worth writing a blurb or a query letter about halfway into the rough draft, so you’re clear in your head about what you’re trying to do. Sometimes just doing this will reveal a weakness in your story that you can address.

Some writers sort of apologize in their query letters for not being a published writer yet, which is bananas. Everyone starts out as an unpublished writer! If a house is open to unagented submissions, that means they’re expecting submissions from unpublished authors. Just focus on a great query.



3. An editor’s email inbox is insane.

I’m always behind on submissions and proposals. I’m really trying. I use weekends, evenings, and holiday breaks to try to get caught up. Any time I’m doing other things, like taking a walk on a Sunday afternoon or writing a blog post, I’m feeling bad about all the emails I need to respond to.

I can remember as a writer not hearing back from editors or agents for months…or never hearing back from them at all. And now some of the agents I never heard back from are waiting a long time to hear from me, and I hate that. In my other jobs, I was good at responding promptly to all emails. In this one, it’s just very hard to keep up.

If you don’t hear back from someone in four weeks, don’t send that follow-up email yet. It’s likely to annoy a busy editor or agent. If it’s been ten weeks, go ahead and nudge them. Sometimes you can nudge your way to the front of the line.

Personally, I love it when someone says, “Hey, I know how busy you are.” Thank you! You understand!


4. Storytelling is hard for everyone.

A few years ago, an author I really admire told me, “It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder.” I didn’t quite believe her at the time.

I guess as a third-tier (or I mean, 117th tier or whatever) writer, I figured that bestselling authors could crank out an airtight query or a flawless manuscript in their sleep. The truth is, even fantastic authors still have to work hard to construct a new plot that works.

I find that reassuring. When you’re getting all tangled up in the middle of your story, that’s not because you lack talent or insight. That’s just how writing is.



I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions, or just want to share your own experiences, go ahead and comment!

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