What I Learned This Week: Why I Say No


Reading literary agent Janet Reid’s interesting post on the reasons she rejected manuscripts last year gave me the inspiration to tally up my own thanks-but-no-thanks to see what came across my desk during 2009. We moved offices last February and I’ve never relocated my copies of reject letters from January and February ’09, but from March through December I passed on 133 manuscripts. Here were the reasons why:

Not what Del Rey is looking for (meaning we had enough on our list already of whatever subgenre was on offer): 22

A good manuscript but not right for our list (included a couple of nonfiction SF-related titles more suitable for a small press, the odd children’s book, etc.) 14

Not a genre that’s doing well right now (horror, mostly; some foreign novels being offered for translation, anthologies whose concepts weren’t strong enough) 18

Simply not good enough (a combination of mediocre writing and/or storytelling) 43

Contains major plot flaws (the story was too predictable, or the author made a choice I didn’t agree with which affected the entire manuscript) 5

Pretty good, but show me the author’s next effort 5

Main characters not strong or likeable enough 3

Needs too much editorial work (a manuscript has to be 95% of the way to book-ready for me to be willing to take it on) 7

Falls between genres (these were some of the most frustrating ones I had to reject; several were quite beautifully written but would be hard to promote in such a tough marketplace) 14

Writing quite good, but this isn’t the story to launch an author with (applied to first-novel manuscripts) 2
And the tally of what did I end up buying?

  • Bid but didn’t win in auction (dang!!!) 1
  • Bought at auction 2

Keep in mind that most of what I buy is new work from my current Del Rey authors, or books that I commission from scratch. Del Rey editors in total bought quite a few books last year.

I’ll expand on some of this next week. Any questions, post away.