By the Publishing Industry’s own admission they (as a group) reject 19 out of 20 books and book ideas that are presented to them. I’m a big fan and enthusiastic customer of the traditional publishing industry, so this is not meant as a compliant, just the description of a problem.
The top three reasons traditional publishers will send you a rejection slip when you’ve submitted your brilliant manuscript are:
3. It isn’t any good.
This is the reason most publishers will cite most of the time when trying to explain why such a limited number of new books are published each year, from the large number submitted in the hopes of publication.
And it has some merit. Not all of us write well, but many of us who don’t write well don’t recognize our need for more writing training or at least a good editor. A good example is The Great American Parade, reviewed by the Washington Post a few years back:
But this argument that the Publishing Industry is somehow saving the world from having to read badly written books is only one reason, and not the primary reason, for a given book’s rejection slip.
2. The Publisher has already published one of those.
Most publishers are, quite rightly, concerned about making a profit on the books they print. So if they have published an Economics 101 textbook, why would they publish a second one on the same subject?
It would just compete with the first title and now they have to handle and promote two books for the same amount of sales revenue. This problem is so bad that there are only approximately six Economics 101 textbooks available in the US English speaking market today. The reason for this is that there are about six major US textbook publishers and they each have their Economics 101 textbook.
Yet there have to be 100,000 Economics professors and others in the US alone who are qualified to write a better Economics 101 textbook. The odds are that at least a few of those potential authors have to be able to write a better textbook than the six titles currently available.
So if your book is a better version of a commonly available book, such as another Legal Thriller (John Grisham et al) or another book on how to get the most out of your Apple iPhone, good luck getting a traditional publisher to return your phone call.
1. The market for your book is too small.
All publishers need to make money from the books they publish. So the first thing they do when they receive a new book or book proposal is to calculate how big the market is for the book they are looking at. If the publisher concludes that the book is only going to sell a few thousand copies per year, they won’t even bother to read it. Some junior editor fresh out of State U with their English degree will hit the “rejection letter” button.
This need for volume that traditional publishers have is a big problem for aspiring authors and for the marketplace for books, because it effectively shuts the door on both new authors who need the opportunity to hone their craft, and it shuts the door on all the specialty books which may be of huge value to some, admittedly small, community.
In books this problem is important, because books convey human knowledge. To maintain our complex western democracies requires that we educate the next generation better than the current one. Rejecting books simply because they won’t sell more than some arbitrary number is harmful to this important goal. As the “Long Tail” theory explains, the potential readership of millions of specialty books can be greater than all the readership of just the few thousand titles the traditional publishing industry is willing to publish each year.
The good news is that in the age of the Internet there is no reason to reject books simply because they might not sell thousands of copies. Authors can become their own publishers. Or they can partner with any number of new “NextGen”, or Next Generation, publishers who have sprung up to serve the needs of these authors
There are now thousands of authors who make good money writing and selling books that only sell a few hundred copies a year, because these books are of very high value to those few hundred customers.