A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: How to React When Told Your Book Needs Work

It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic focuses on what to do if a publisher tells you that your book needs work. Editors will rarely tell you this. It takes time for them to write back to you, and it takes time for them to give you specifics about your book's lack of merit for publication. How should you interpret their words when they actually communicate with you?

If a publisher says that your book needs work (and nothing more), there are a few responses and interpretations:

  • Generally, this is a kind (though it may not seem so) comment, helping you to understand why the book is being rejected rather than the typical "does not meet our needs at this time" generic response that is much easier for a publisher to give. Take it to heart and work on the book. It might be worthwhile to find a developmental editor to work with you.
  • It also usually means that this publisher will not be publishing your book, but an improved book will give you a better chance with the next publisher you contact.
  • In some cases, however, a developmental editor's work can give you a hook into asking the publisher to take a second look (or the editor might do that on your behalf) -- and, upon occasion, a publisher might change his/her mind and publish your book. We have done it upon a few occasions.

If a publisher tells you what about your book needs work, pick up your ears. This is unusual, and it usually means that the publisher is interested in your book but cannot publish it because of the defects listed. You now have some choices:

  • You can turn a deaf ear and tell the publisher to bug off because your book is the best thing since sliced bread. You would be surprised how many first-time authors, who really do have some writing deficits, take the stance that they know more than an editor when it comes to the quality and marketability of their book. Nearly 90% of those for whom I take the additional time to provide help with might actually get their book to the publication stage reply with vitriol, unwilling to put in the effort to take the last bit effort that will make the difference between publication and no publication. Some of them act like they are trying to educate me on what a gift I am giving up. I simple trash their notes and count myself lucky that I avoided the "opportunity" to work with them.
  • A few actually take the advice to heart, make the changes, and resubmit. In nearly all cases, we have published their re-submitted books.

The bottom line is that if you do not listen when you are told this kind of helpful information because it hurts your pride that someone has called your baby ugly, chances are no one is going to be willing to publish your book. You may spend a great deal of time and money chasing one publisher after another and getting generic rejection letters until you decide to go ahead and self-publish a book that does not meet quality standards for publishers and will tarnish your reputation with the reading public.

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Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Listen to publishers; they know what they are talking about. Publishers have been in the business a lot longer than first-time authors and are far more knowledgeable and experienced in the industry. One fails to listen at one's own peril.

 Read more posts about publishing HERE.

The Tuesday talks reflect real discussions between the management of MSI Press LLC and our own authors or those would-be authors who come through our doors but don't make the cut--yet. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, leave the question in the comment section. Chances are, in our 17 years of publishing first-time and experiences authors, we have had a conversation with one of our authors that we can share with you.


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