When A Publisher’s ‘No’ Should Be Understood As ‘Not Now’

When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, there are four common outcomes:

  1. Acceptance
  2. No response – Unfortunately, some publishers who decide to pass on manuscripts will never inform you that they have done so. A good rule of thumb that I use is that if I have not heard from a publication one month after the latest period of time in which they normally respond, I assume they have rejected the piece and disregard any simultaneous submissions restrictions.
  3. Form rejection – A polite way of informing you that your submission was not close to meeting the journal’s standards conveyed through a form cover letter. This is sent to most writers whose works are rejected by a publisher.
  4. Personal rejection – This is a personalized rejection from a publisher, often telling you what was good about your writing, but listing the reason/s why it was not chosen for publication.

If you receive a personal rejection, it is, counterintuitive as it may seem, a good sign. Publishers receive countless manuscripts, and the amount of time it would require to personally respond to all applicants would preclude the business of the publication from ever getting done. When a publisher takes time out of their busy schedule to send a personal rejection, it means that they view your writing as solid enough to comment on. They like your writing, but feel that something about it misses the mark.

Jack T. Marlowe was the publisher of Gutter Eloquence Magazine. Aside from my friend Russell’s journal O Sweet Flowery Roses, Gutter Eloquence was the first journal where I submitted my poetry. Mr. Marlowe commented that he liked the grit of my writing, but that it needed a bit of polishing. I started my literary career with 24 rejections in a row, yet his was the only one that was a personal rejection. Not coincidentally, his was the only journal that was an appropriate fit for my writing.

After I landed my first poetry publication in Michelle McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, I decided to submit to Gutter Eloquence Magazine again. This time, having spent the extra effort in shaping my poetry up and choosing the most appropriate fit for the magazine, I had my poem accepted.

The takeaway is this, when you submit your writing to a publisher and receive a personal rejection, you should know the following:

  1. Your writing is perceived to be of excellent quality by the publisher.
  2. There is a specific issue with your writing that led the publisher to passing on it, but that the work as a whole is strong.
  3. You should consider submitting a different manuscript to this publication at a later date.
  4. You should not submit the same manuscript with revised changes there, unless the publisher specifically asks you to do so. 
  5. You should find other journals or publishers that are stylistic fits for this manuscript, and after considering the revisions the publisher suggested, submit your writing again to a new publication.
  6. You should never argue the rejection with the publisher.

So, in short, while any rejection for a writer hurts, a personal rejection is actually a good thing. It means you are quite close to the mark, and with a few tweaks, you can easily publish your writing in that publication, or in a variety of others.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno

p.s. If you want to make the arduous task of publishing your writing easier, consider hiring me as your publishing consultant and/or editor.

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6 thoughts on “When A Publisher’s ‘No’ Should Be Understood As ‘Not Now’

    • That’s a great question, Russell. Can you elaborate a bit on how that agent responded? A reason, compliment, or suggestion is usually given in a personal rejection, but there are a few exceptions, and some form rejections can be written in an upbeat or conversational style. If you want, please feel free to email a copy of the agent’s response at theliterarygame at gmail dot com and I can provide you a conclusive answer.

      • I appreciate the help. I’ve received some form rejections, but there were a couple that seemed a bit different – though I think they’re still “form”. One in particular read:
        “Thank you for giving me a chance to consider your project. I’ve gone through your query and your sample pages and unfortunately I am going to have to pass on CHILDREN OF THE ANCIENT HEROES.

        Please remember that this is a highly subjective industry, and what doesn’t work for me is probably exactly what another agent may be looking for.

        I’m sorry I didn’t have better news for you but I wish you all the best with your search and hope you find the right agent soon.”

        So, to me, it sounds form, but it is curious. Others have said similar, if not exact, words.

      • Thank you for posting the agent’s reply, Russell. Yes, I am inclined to believe that was a form rejection. Some form rejections can be written in a rather terse fashion, most are neutral, while some have a more upbeat air to them. I think in this particular situation, the agent used a particularly courteous form reply.

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