No luck submitting my book to agents and publishers – should I hire a different editor?

I had this interesting email.

I’ve written a thriller. I worked on it for a few years with an editor who said it was ready to submit. However, following lots of submissions but no requests for the full MS I began to work with another editor. The two are like chalk and cheese and I`m now in a quandary as to the way forward. Is this something you can help with?

There aren’t any easy answers here. You’re dealing with a massive unknown – the reactions of the publishers and agents you submitted to.

No news is… no news

It’s possible that your manuscript is perfectly publishable in terms of writing standard, but not what agents and publishers are looking for in other ways. You might not be on trend, or you might be too close to a trend they have decided will soon be over (even if it won’t).

There was a time, a few years ago, when a publisher or agent might tell you if your writing made the grade in terms of quality. It was a thing: the rave rejection. Your writing’s great but we don’t know how to market it. Now they don’t reply at all.

The publishers and agents might also have reacted to personal characteristics you can’t change – gender, ethnicity, age. That’s pretty terrible, but it’s true, according to a dispiriting chat I had recently with a literary agent. You, personally, might not be marketable.

The two editors who gave different advice about the book

To your other point, about the different feedback from the editors you’ve worked with, I’m not surprised.

It’s possible that your second editor found extensive flaws, but it’s also possible that they noted you wanted a publishing deal, and thought the answer was a complete rework. The book might need those changes, it might not. It might already be darn good from a reader’s point of view.

And this brings me to another point. Freelance editors who are hired by authors don’t look for the same thing as editors who are hired by publishers. A freelance editor will judge the book by the suitability for the reader – will it satisfy them, is it fresh enough for current tastes. An editor working for a publisher will be shaping the book for the publisher’s current agenda, which may be totally different. A publisher might, for instance, be trying to forecast the tastes in the next two years because that’s when they’ll publish.

So… what should you do?

Do you need another editor? That depends.

No you don’t…  if you’re confident in the previous editor’s advice, and in the way the book has turned out with their guidance.

Yes you might… if you think you’ve now matured as a writer and could take the book to another level.

But will a new editor help you get a publishing deal?

That’s impossible to predict. Also, you might write many versions of this book, all of which would satisfy readers, and still not woo a publisher.

Fortunately, there are other good options! You could look for a small press who handles your genre and approach them directly. You’re more likely to get an actual reply and at least you’ll know if your book needs more work. Or go indie (in which case you will need editors for the production process, but that’s another story… more about that here).  

Best of luck.

Guys, what would you tell my correspondent? Let’s discuss in the comments!

If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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  1. #1 by Mark Schultz on January 9, 2022 - 12:59 pm

    Reblogged this on wordrefiner.

  2. #3 by Annalisa Crawford on January 9, 2022 - 3:11 pm

    Rejections are hard and it’s human nature to fix the ‘problem’ but I think you’re right, Roz, that sometimes it just lands on the desk of the wrong person at the wrong time. I think perhaps the person who asked the question is not confident in their own vision of the book to be able to look at the editors’ suggestions objectively.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 9, 2022 - 7:16 pm

      Hi Annalisa! You’re so right. Rejections feel like failure, especially if you don’t understand how the publishing industry works. It’s not a meritocracy, like passing an exam. It’s a marketocracy.

  3. #5 by Beth miller on January 10, 2022 - 7:58 am

    It might be worth getting someone to check the submission (letter, first chapter, synopsis), as a lot can be done with those to improve the chance of a full ms request.

  4. #7 by sharonhughson on January 12, 2022 - 8:27 pm

    Excellent post. Your advice is spot on and I like Beth’s addition. Often, it’s the submission package that needs work. How can this writer judge if their full manuscript is meeting the mark when no agent or publisher has even read it?

  5. #9 by Neutrastaff on February 15, 2022 - 12:46 am

    I’ll put it this way: from my own ‘cut and paste’ rejection letters one of them said “H.P. Lovecraft got 200 rejections before his first story got published.” I guess the story is it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, you pick yourself back up. Of course I know the struggle of looking for a literary agent. I myself have had 102 rejections currently for my novel. Then again, getting your book published is the same as any other job, you roll the dice and hope you get selected for the position. It doesn’t always depend on how good something is. You could have a perfected masterpiece that may get glanced over because it’s not the agents interest. Like any other job, you keep applying, eventually you’ll get to where you’re meant to

    • #10 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 15, 2022 - 8:34 am

      Yes, keep going… And you might find that you’re better trying to pick a different path. If mainstream agents aren’t biting, try small presses. Or find out how to self-publish (responsibly and professionally…)

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