Friday, July 13, 2012

Decoding the Reasons Why It Didn't Get Published

by Malena Lott

It's fun to hear about the stories of manuscripts passed over by a kajillion editors and publishers before finding the "match made in Heaven" and then going on to sell a kajillion books (J.K. comes to mind). But as we've seen this last round on GBC, it's a hoot to hear about the novels that are still gathering dust or were resurrected after years of cave dwelling in our computers.

I thought I'd discuss my journey my decoding the reasons why those trunk novels didn't get published, because it's not just one, and how it doesn't mean the end of the road when it isn't pubbed. I speak from an author standpoint, but also as an executive editor at Buzz Books.

What does the project not getting published really mean?

  1. "No." This is the one that likely hurts us the most, but we're told we need a thick skin and to wear those rejections as badges of honor. Yes, do that if you can. The "no" is the hardest to decipher if you are only getting back a form letter (or nothing at all) but it usually means, "not right for us," "needs more work than we can handle in the editing process." I often heard, "we have too many of *those* types of books. Case in point, my Fixer Upper novel, which many readers tell me is their favorite of my books, was turned down several times because the house felt they had too many books "about a woman leaving or infidelity." You can still get glowing reviews on one aspect of your story and get turned down so a "no" doesn't have to mean you suck. So pull up those big girl panties.
  2. "Not yet." Typically, this means the story isn't developed to the point it needs to be for the house to publish it. I know at Buzz Books, since we're a team of five people, we can only take on the projects we absolutely feel the most passionate about and if the hook is strong and the writing is solid, we will take the time to work with the author to improve it, but the pub industry is tightening its belt, fewer editors with way more demands on time and turnaround, so just keep trying and do take any notes and make your work better for the next editor to see.
  3. "Not this." For a myriad of reason that particular manuscript might not be what the house is looking for, but they see such potential in the writing that they will ask to see what else you have. (Hopefully you do have something else to show them.) Or the "not this" could be from your critique partner or agent saying, "this just isn't strong enough/doesn't have a big enough hook, etc." In some cases you'll be able to rework the manuscript to something that does work, but other times, it deserves to be left in that dark cave and offer up your other ideas. 
My "never see the light of day" manuscript was written in 2003, "Rise and Shine," and dealt with a morning show anchor who gets cancer. I don't even remember what it was all about, but the whole thing was rubbish. But that's okay! Since then I've learned how to structure a novel, develop characters people care about and put in thousands of hours of writing to improve my storytelling all around. That's what we have to be: work horses. 

Now a gift for you: pop over to Buzz for a free poolside recipe book, a delicious companion to my saucy summer short, "The Pool Boy," about what happens when the Lonely Hearts Book Club hires a pool boy for the summer. Download the cookbook (as a pdf) here. 

I'd love to hear how a "no," "not yet," or "not this," story in comments. Happy summer, friends! 

Malena Lott is the author of humorous and heartfelt novels including "The Stork Reality," "Fixer Upper," and "Dating da Vinci," and the popular beach novellas, "Life's a Beach," set in Mexico and "The Last Resort," set in Maui, Hawaii. Her short story, "Snowflakes and Stones," is featured in the winter anthology, "Sleigh Ride," and "The Pool Boy," is available in July 2012 as a single short. "Something New," her next novel, is scheduled for a fall 2012 release. 

She also writes young adult under the pen name Lena Brown. Her first short story, "Every Breath You Take," was included in the paranormal prom anthology, "Prom Dates to Die For," and her next story will be featured in the Halloween anthology, "Something Wicked," coming in September, 2012. Her first young adult series, "The Goddess Sisters," will debut in fall 2012.


  1. Love this post, Malena! Really sheds light on the whys of how novels become trunk novels. Off to check out Buzz Books. When do you sleep?!

  2. So many good point, Malena. I finally learned that "no" means "keep writing."

  3. Brenda, sleep is for wussies. I kid. Without 8 hours I 'm a zombie! Coffee is my friend. My good, good friend.

  4. Thanks for the recipe book....if the recipes are as good as the cover, they'll be yummy!

  5. Love the post, Malena. It's really helpful to think about the meaning behind rejection. I got one "no" on a non-fiction book that included a single sentence of feedback. "I love the writing but think it would be hard to place." I actually found that one line extremely helpful and I moved on to another project.

  6. Judy, yes! It's the best thing we can do.
    Christa, let me know if you try them.
    Samantha, yes feedback is soo nice. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Great post, Malena. Like many novelists, my books didn't fit the brands of romance or women's fiction or cozy mystery. Which is precisely why Indie Publishing has produced so many success stories--some writers enjoy writing novels that blend genres. And why not? Great storytelling isn't about filling a niche for a publishing house.

    Here's hoping writers everywhere will pull out those dusty manuscripts, polish them, and either query a literary agent or head down the Indie Road.