Reading Rejection

Like most authors, I’ve had more than my share of rejections from agents and publishers. The most frustrating part of the process was trying to figure out if I could glean anything positive from the process. Most of the time, all you get is a post card saying: “Thank you for your submission. We don’t think your manuscript is right for our list at this time. We are confident you will be able to place your book with a suitable publisher.” Yeah, right.

But, the truth is, this little postcard says a lot about the approach many agents and publishers take to accepting or rejecting manuscripts. It’s not a complete blow off. As the publishing market becomes more competitive, agents and publishers can only accept manuscripts they are excited to represent and publish. The margins simply aren’t there to carry a manuscript that they can’t be excited about.

More telling, and helpful, in my view are rejections where the agent or publisher has taken some time to give you feedback. One of my more disappointing rejections from an agent (for A Warrior’s Soul) said: “Alas I am already representing an author whose work is too similar to yours so I am going to pass on reading more.  Best of luck with your body of work.” Of course, I don’t know who that other author is. (There are only two other teen martial arts series I’m aware of and neither one takes the contemporary reality-based approach I do.)

The letter that left me scratching my head was a New York publisher’s rejection of The Pirate of Panther Bay where an editor wrote a very complimentary letter back saying: “The writing and the storyline is tight and well developed…and you have done a wonderful job of weaving historical elements into the story line while keeping them relevant and interesting.”

Okay, great, so why didn’t you publish it?

In truth, the sobering reason is pretty straightforward: As good as the book was, it just wasn’t right for that publisher at that time.

Such is the world in which authors, particularly new and the not-so-famous ones, operate.

What we (authors) should not assume is that our book isn’t any good because it was rejected.
A Warrior’s Soul is “highly recommended” by Midwest Book Review and the reviewer from said he was “inspired.” Former teachers and librarians have recommended it for the classroom. The Pirate of Panther Bay has recieved reviews calling it a “swashbuckling tale of piracy, action and romance,” “A grand high seas adventure any teen would love; many adults as well,” and “masterfully captures a sword fight, building tension it seems hard to believe possible short of seeing it on a huge movie screen.”

So, I’m confident my books are solid contributions to literature and my genre. (I guess I’m just a little ahead of my time.)

Now, on to editing the completed draft of that third novel….

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About SR Staley

SR Staley has one more than 11 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. He is on the full-time faculty of the College and Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University as well as a film critic and research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series ( has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).