6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says Yes And 6 Reasons They Say No

If you’re wondering what makes the manuscript selected by a publisher so special, you’re not the only one.

I recently attended the KidLitVic conference where that question was put forward to publishers Susannah Chambers (Allen & Unwin), Clair Hume (Affirm Press), and Zoe Walton (Penguin Random House Australia). And a room packed full of writers waited with bated breath to hear the answer.

While the answer given was that the MS needs to personally speak to them, they outlined the reasons they’ll say yes and what makes them say no when considering the manuscripts that come across their desks.

6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says Yes

Amazing Story

Above all else, the story is what matters. Each publisher said that a good story will always be the defining reason they select a manuscript. Stories that are infused by your own experiences, world, and what you know, written in a way that only you can write it, is the key to those amazing stories.

Great Characters

Next on the MS wish list is great characters. Your MS needs characters that are unique from each other, have distinct voices and are diverse. As for the gender of the MC (should it be a kick-ass female or a Mr. Nice Guy?), the publishers agreed the gender of the MC didn’t matter to them, just as long as the character is great.

Beautiful Writing

When it comes to your prose, beautiful writing is a must. As this is a subjective rule based on personal taste, aim for the best writing you can do, and anything that is clear.

Solid Structure

There’s an art to plotting a story and publishers like to see that in an MS. One publisher on the panel went so far to say that beautiful writing wasn’t enough to make her say yes to an MS when the story structure is wrong. If you haven’t already learned what makes a solid story structure, make sure you do, and that your MS is full of it.

A Page Turner

Just as a book can keep you reading until 3am, publishers are also looking for the type of MS that will keep them turning until the last page.

An MS That Lingers

The final reason a publisher might say yes to an MS is because it’s a story that stays with them. If a publisher is still thinking about any part of your MS once they’ve read the final sentence, you’ve got something special on your hands.

Now you know some reasons a publisher says yes, here is why they might turn it down…

6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says No

The MS Isn’t Polished Enough

There’s a reason you never send the first draft to a publisher. There’s a reason you probably wouldn’t send even the fifth draft. Publishers expect the manuscripts sent to them to be polished. Not just read by a handful of people for consistency and then run through a spell checker. Your MS needs to be as finished as you can get it. That may mean having it professionally edited before submission, or as the publishers suggested, getting help from the writing community to make it the best you can.

You Don’t Know The Audience

No matter how well written your words, or how perfect your plot twists, if you’re writing a middle-grade book with an alcoholic fifty-year-old man as the MC, you don’t know the audience. If your MS doesn’t include the right themes, characters, settings, and plots for the intended audience, expect a no.

The Timing Is Off

Timing will play a role in MS selection. If your book about vampires comes along just as the trend is dying, no matter how brilliant it is, chances are it will find itself in the no pile. Unfortunately, this also goes for books the publisher absolutely loved but arrived the week after they signed a similar book to their list.

The MS Just Doesn’t Connect With Them

Just as one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, a manuscript needs to connect to the publisher you’re sending it to. You can try to get around this by researching who will read your MS and ensuring they are the right fit, but in the end, if they don’t love and connect with the MS, no matter how amazing it is, it’ll still be a no.

You Don’t Know The Market

Publishers know the market, and if you don’t, they’ll know that too. Knowing where your MS fits in with the books that are selling today, and getting it into the hands of the publishers who are putting those books on shelves, is a must if you don’t want a no.

You’re Just Out Of Luck

Sometimes when you put your book out into the world, it’s at the perfect time. Your cast of characters are on trend, the theme is universal; the plot is unique, and the stars have aligned. On the more realistic flip-side, your idea is the same as the newest blockbuster, your MC being a sensitive superhero is overdone, and the theme of your novel hit its peak last year. You’re just out of luck, and the MS that could have been a hit when you started writing it two years ago, is unfortunately destined for the no pile.

While these yes and no reasons don’t cover every publisher’s opinion, they’re good ideas to keep in mind as you craft your MS. One of the biggest takeaways from the panel was to keep writing and to keep trying, knowing that every MS you create makes you a stronger writer.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

33 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says Yes And 6 Reasons They Say No

  1. Years ago when I attended my first writing conference Dempsey’s Grill was in the early stages. I sat at a table with an agent. After giving her a brief pitch she asked who my audience was. I had no idea. I remember she said to me: If you don’t know your audience you don’t have a story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That seemed to be one of the takeaways at this conference too. To be honest, when writing my series, I didn’t think of the audience. I just wrote what I wanted/loved to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. More great tips, thank you! It’s so important to understand both the yes reasons and the no reasons. Especially as sometimes, a no is simply bad luck, as you say. But knowing how to improve the chances of a yes is super helpful, and they’re laid out so well here ❤ xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this informative post. I am not sure how the advice regarding getting input from the writing community would work (if at all) as regards poetry. For me poetry is highly subjective, consequently it would be difficult to take on board comments from readers. Also the use of grammatical errors may be deliberate when composing poetry. Having said that, I always have my poetry books proof read prior to hitting that publish button! Best wishes – Kevin

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  4. Great post as usual, this are very helpful. I know so many people who STILL think they don’t need to polish their work if they are sending it to a publisher because the “publisher will take care of that” or the ones who are convinced their audience is “everyone!”

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Ari 😊. I’ll admit when first starting out that I thought rookie errors would be overlooked or fixed by a publisher. I did pay to have things line edited and proofed before sending out my first round of queries, however, but I was naive about the real level of polishing needed to make your MS stand out.


  5. Good points.
    Unfortunately, it happens that one can write something one totally enjoys reading — but seems to be the only one! If you hate it but everyone else loves it, you are a success!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. More excellent advice, as always – important to remember both the encouraging reasons a publisher might accept you as well as why they might turn you down! These were things I definitely had to keep in mind when sending off my first MS draft plus my synopsis – probably the more daunting piece to write! Thanks for explaining it so clearly 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. And the truth is that some stories simply NEVER are “trendy” or popular. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the characters are, it isn’t a genre they sell.

    Some genres never seem to fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for we beginners to the field but is ALSO true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want that author to keep writing what they have written before and not veer from it. They don’t want to pay real money, either.

    I’m not making this up. I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at their jobs, but publishers like books to be the same as the previous one which sold and if this is something new, then they do not want it. At all.

    They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

    I worked IN publishing back when books were published that weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript would get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), it was the job of their editors to help fix manuscripts and turn them into gems. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do all the work the publisher used to do.

    In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the gems they completely ignore. It isn’t just the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published. What was art is now “just business.” Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or had the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is very different.

    Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It was not always quite like this. I was working there when it was NOT like this.

    Everyone is very busy blaming someone else or the Internet or Amazon for their business woes. None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our refusal to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is OUR responsibility?” The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they speak.

    And remember: you can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and they won’t publish it because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it is. It’s just important people understand that sometimes, they don’t get published NOT because they didn’t do the right stuff, but because publishers aren’t interested in their manuscripts and it doesn’t matter how good they are. I’m hoping this will change, but right now, that’s the way it is.

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      2. Very true. This is something I wasn’t aware of until I went to this panel and heard the reasons why a publisher rejects an MS. It’s all very subjective and depends on the personal taste of who is reading, not whether the MS is good, bad, or great.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for another useful post with common-sense advice. I do value your advice.
    I have never pitched any of my books to a traditional publisher. I had come through a life-changing car accident, and didn’t have the time to wait around for publishers to make up their minds. Instead, I used hybrid or boutique publishers, and I seem to fare as well or better than many trad-published authors.
    Yes, it’s more work. Yes, I am lucky to have help. But I believe name-recognition, timing (in the book editor’s read of the current appetite of readers) and good luck (as in Life of Pi, which the author said became a blockbuster because of the environment created by 9/11) play an enormous role in a book’s success. Many well-written books with strong storylines and great characters are rejected, or fail to do well, if they fail those three tests.

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