One of my authors just submitted a book. Well, I say she’s one of mine, but so far we haven’t engaged in actual financial business. She’s an old friend that I give advice to and help craft things. I haven’t had time to go over her book, but I’ve seen her writing and I hand-picked her for an upcoming series I’m managing next year (so she will be one of my authors, officially, in about six months). I’ve also helped her craft her cover letter, pitch, and so on.

She just bit the bullet on a submission she’s been putting off for literally years now. Now she has to wait for up to a year to get a response. It can be an intimidating thing. In fact, it can be a stressful thing — for good reason, though not a “good enough” reason.

With apologies to Howard Tayler. Click on the picture and become a fan.

With apologies to Howard Tayler. Click on the picture and become a fan.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t tempt fate (or menehune) by saying things like “What’s the worse that could happen?” We authors and editors know that just invites disaster, because we take advantage of it in our own writing. We’re good at imagining the worst that could happen, because that generally makes for some decent plot twists. At the same time, though, the most talented writers in the world get rejection letters and many of them go on to become famous authors. It’s a matter of perseverance and understanding that if your book was rejected, it may not be because it was bad.

How does that work? Well, a publisher is in the business of selling books. Period. That means they might pass over a book that’s actually quite good, but not what they’re looking for. I once (on behalf of a small niche publisher) rejected a solicited submission. That is, I invited the author to submit because I liked what I heard. Ultimately, I had to turn it down, because it wasn’t enough like what the publisher wanted for us to rearrange the schedule. I told the author that it would be best if she submitted to another publisher, and if she didn’t get a contract she could come back to us in a few months. She almost immediately got a contract with another publisher and has been getting some seriously rave reviews from her audience.

A publisher has a supply-and-demand problem when it comes to accepting books. They can only handle a certain number of books per year. A major publisher might be going with as much as five books in your genre per month. That’s sixty books per year. That’s a major publisher. A lot of publishing is done with indie and small-press publishers these days, which means you could go as low as four new titles per year.

It’s a good rule of thumb to assume at least ten times as many submissions as there are publishing slots, and it’s my experience that this is still very low. I’ve done acquisitions work for a medium publisher, and we were getting 4-10 manuscripts per week for a fiction arm that only had maybe two dozen slots that year. I did a lot of rejecting.

With that sort of volume, a publisher can afford to be picky. A book that’s written well might not be what the editors think will sell well with their audience. Alternatively, it might be that your book is the sort of thing they’re looking for, but they just don’t have the room and have to make some hard choices. That book I mentioned before? That was a hard choice for me. I still wish I could say I was the one who selected it.

So how do you know why your book was rejected if the acquisitions editor didn’t give you any feedback? Write back and ask. (Politely.) With that huge volume, most editors won’t take the time to respond individually. I do, if only a single paragraph, because it’s the right thing to do and the editor who taught me did the same. Most editors just don’t have the time . . . but most of them will give you something if you just write back and show you’re willing to learn from them.

(And if they don’t, then don’t fret. My advice is to assume they’re in a bad mood or that they rejected based on personal taste. It happens. Don’t let it interfere. Find someone else who will give you feedback. Heck, send me a pitch and I’ll give you what I can.)

Like Every Book I Never WroteSo if you submit a manuscript, don’t let yourself stress. And don’t pull out the manuscript and pour over it thinking “Is it perfect enough?” It will never be perfect if you’ve got that attitude. Lock it in a drawer or a file directory and don’t look at it for a while. In fact, start a different story. Refresh your mind. That volume of submissions means the publisher will take a while to get to your manuscript, and you can’t do anything until you hear back in the first place. And when you do, you’ll be able to look at your book with a fresh mind — and maybe even a few new tricks you couldn’t have learned just doing the same-old, same-old for the last six to ten months.

Pour yourself a drink, pop in a DVD, and focus on this: you just wrote a book! How many people say they want to write but never do? You finished it and got feedback from other people and made it as good as you can get it, and now you’ve sent it off into the wild blue yonder. Who knows what adventures await?