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9 Reasons Publishers Reject Books (And What You Can Do About It)

As a self-published author, it’s likely that you’ve faced rejection from prospective publishers before. It’s just part of the business.

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Even some of the most famous books of all time faced many rejections before finding a publisher. Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before the daughter of an editor at a big publishing house insisted that she get to finish reading the entire book. It wasn’t until then that the editor realized he was sitting on a goldmine.

The reality is, most manuscripts get rejected. There are a lot of authors out there, and only so many publishers. Rejection is so common, as a matter of fact, that there’s even a book that did get published that’s all about why your book didn’t get published. The irony.

There are many reasons why a publisher might reject your manuscript. While some of these are out of your control (like a publisher whose budget is in the red), there are many things you can do to increase your chances of getting published — like tidying up your manuscript and focusing on the right publisher for your book.

Here’s our guide to the top 9 reasons publishers reject manuscripts, and what you can do about it.

1. Your Writing Needs Work

Out of everything on our list, this might be the most important. Your writing may be great, but maybe your manuscript still needs work to be on-par with the level of quality that publishers are looking for.

Maybe the voice or plot could be more original, or the characters don’t have enough at stake. Or perhaps the very beginning of your book isn’t as compelling as it could be.

If a potential publisher starts reading and is yawning at the end of the first page, they probably aren’t going to read on much longer (even if you swear it gets really good on page 3). After all, there a lot of other manuscripts in the slush pile.

There are two things you can do about this: First, get an editor

If you just don’t have the dime for a professional editor, you can at least lean on a friend, as long as they’re an avid reader who appreciates the genre and style you’re working in. And it helps if they rocked the English portion of the SATs — you’ll want a keen eye to help spot typos.

At the very least, check out our guide on tips for self-editing »

The second thing is you can always work on improving your writing, no matter how good you are. Sign up for workshops, join a local writers group, or even go to school to pursue a degree in the type of writing you’re interested in.

And if it’s simple grammar and spelling errors that are holding you back, be sure to follow these steps to make your book more readable and ready for the shelf » 

All of this work will improve the quality of your manuscripts. But even the perfect book will face a lot of obstacles between being submitted to a publisher and hitting the bookstore. So let’s move on.

2. Your Book Proposal is Wanting

When you send out your manuscript to publishers, you should be including a book proposal. This outlines what the book is about, the genre of your book, what you as an author are all about, the target audience for your book, and how you’re going to market it.

If you have a sizeable existing audience for your writing, be sure to include information about them. How many followers do you have on your author profiles on social media? How much traffic does your website get? If you’ve published previous books (self-published or otherwise), how many copies sold?

Read our full guide on how to write a killer book proposal »

3. The Publisher Doesn’t Work With Your Genre

This one is just a matter of doing your homework before sending out your book manuscript. Sending your amazing science-fiction novel to a poetry publisher is almost certain to land you a rejection, and annoy some poets while you’re at it!

Understand which publishers specialize in your genre, and focus on them. If you aren’t sure which publishers you should be sending to, look up who is currently publishing books in your genre and start putting together a list.

4. The Publisher Isn’t Buying Your Genre Right Now

A publisher might typically publish books in the same genre as yours, but maybe right now they’ve got too much inventory in said genre. Or maybe sales of that genre is trending down, so they’re less willing to take chances on it. 

This is something you can’t really control, so just move on to the next publisher on your list.

5. The Publisher Isn’t Buying Anything Right Now

Forget genre — maybe the publisher is in a holding pattern on securing new titles because profits are down, they’re in the middle of a merger, they’re being bought out, etc.

The list of possible things you can’t control in this category goes on and on…move on to the next publisher.

6. The Publisher Doesn’t Think They Can Make Money On It

A publisher is in the business of selling books to (hopefully) make money. They may think your book is a literary masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to rake in millions.

If you can show a prospective publisher a concise marketing plan that illustrates who your book’s target audience is and how your book is going to reach them, you can help the publisher see the profit potential of your title. 

And it helps if you can show the publisher you have an existing audience of fans. Those fans are all likely buyers who can take some of the cost burden off the publisher from the day your book hits the shelves.

If you don’t have much of a current fanbase, then you should start working on building one now. An effective avenue for this is social media — read our guide on how to engage with readers on Facebook »

7. Your Agent Is No Good

Maybe you have a literary agent — yay! If they’re good, that is. On the other hand, maybe your agent has built up a negative reputation with publishers, or is just unorganized and poor at communicating clearly and regularly. Are you even sure your agent has been submitting your book to publishers?

Communicate regularly with your agent to find out what they’re doing to land you a book deal. And maybe before you sign with an agent, ask some of their previous author clients how their experience was before you take the dive.

Check out this guide to what a literary agent does (and what yours should be doing) »

8. You Don’t Have An Agent

Literary agents are very important in the publishing industry — they’re like the personal talent scouts for publishers, a direct line to get your book on the top of the pile at any major publishing house.

As a self-published author, it’s difficult to get noticed by publishers without an agent. So if you’ve been submitting yourself and have had no luck, you might want to step back and see about finding a literary agent to represent you.

Read our guide on how to hook an agent with a killer query letter »

9. The Publisher Is Just Plain Wrong

You could have a mind-blowing book, a powerful marketing plan, a professional agent and still, the publisher passes. It happens. In this case, they’re probably just wrong. Their loss.

Keep trying!

Tired of Rejection? 

If you aren’t having luck with publishers or just want to be in complete control of your book’s publication from beginning to end, there are many perks to staying the self-published author route.

Self-publishing puts you in charge of everything from final edits and your cover design to the marketing plan and distribution. It also means you get to keep all the profits.

Learn more about how much you can save when you self-publish your next book »

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.


I’ve had three books printed by the team at Steuben Press. The folks here are generous in their advice and insights and efficient and timely in delivery. As long as this team exists, and I author books, our relationship will endure.

– Fr. Joseph Oblinger, Montana

Check out Fr. Joe’s new book, “A Mighty Wind!” at