Ramona Richards

Ramona Richards started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. Twenty-five years later, she’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others. The author of eight books, she’s now the fiction editor for Abingdon Press. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.

Track Changes

Nasty Form Rejections

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head
off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one.
If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.

                                                                                                   Isaac Asimov

For over a year I continued to submit mss, and have them rejected—the last few
with rejection letters indicated the story was pretty good, but I was American.

                                                                                          Nora Roberts

Recently, a couple of my favorite agent bloggers, Rachelle Gardner and Nathan Bransford, posted about the whys and wherefores of rejection. In the comments that followed, writers expressed frustration about form rejections, those undetailed, “does not fit our line” slips of paper that most writers could paper a house―or less savory places―with. They say nothing about the work or the real reason they were turned down. Is the manuscript really lousy, or is the author’s timing off for the industry?

I understand that frustration. In the (many) years between sales, I received a lot of rejection letters. Some were mere multiple choice−type forms that the editor could check a common reason for the rejection. I got a lot “doesn’t fit” responses. I also received responses that didn’t make any sense at all, like the one where a straight science fiction piece was rejected because “we don’t accept horror.” Mmm . . . okay.

So why do editors use these impersonal forms? Three reasons:

1) Time
2) Cowardice
3) Perspective


1) You probably understand the Time thing: Most editors receive more manuscripts than they can possibly use, and they have no time to send personal responses or explanations why a work was rejected. But it goes beyond the fact that writing a critique takes a lot of time.

Writing is subjective; so is editing. Sometimes the reasons for rejection are so subtle that they are difficult to explain. Other times, they are so complex (involving such things as list development, demographics, budgeting, line focus, shifts in the industry, etc.) that they are difficult to explain. It takes much less time just to say no.

2) Cowardice because we hate to argue. Editors are notoriously conflict adverse, perferring conflict in manuscripts not in e-mails or on the phone. And the minute editors start sending explanations, the authors will want to argue the reason for rejection.

Sending a note that says, “Your characters need more depth and a broader view on life” often results in an angry e-mail response with selected passages intended to prove the judgment wrong, or a phone message venting about the editor’s ability to judge any kind of literary work.

Not all writers are professionals who know the place to vent is with their critique groups. And editors don’t like being beat up for using their professional skills―no more so than writers do.

3) Perspective. An editor is one person. One opinion. One judge. And editors don’t always agree with each other. Plus, each publishing house has particular goals and markets for their titles. “Tone” varies from one publisher to another. A book that’s wrong for Baker would be a perfect fit with Thomas Nelson. One editor could suggest a change for a book that an editor at a different publisher would reject.

This means that personal comments, in the long run, could be a waste of everyone’s time, yours as well as editors’.

If you want to know if your work is lousy, join a critique group, submit the manuscript to a contest, or take a writing course. That’s their purpose. If you really want to know why your book doesn’t fit a particular house, study that publisher’s fiction titles for the past three years, talk to authors who’ve sold to them, and review best-seller lists. If you have a “dream publisher,” you should be doing this anyway.

In the meantime, keep submitting.

Form rejections will continue, frustrating though they may be. They are the easiest way to keep your manuscript in circulation until it does find the right home.