Q&A: What to Do After a Rejection

Plus, Celebrating 6 Years of Manuscript Works

Hi Manuscript Workers,

I’ve received a few questions from authors who are a bit lost as to how they should proceed after receiving a rejection from a scholarly book publisher, and I thought their situations could be instructive for others. Rejection is definitely normal and possible when you’re trying to find a publisher for your book project, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your hopes. (In a future newsletter, I’ll share with you some of the most common reasons book proposals get rejected, so subscribe now if you want to make sure you receive that one when it goes out.)

J. asks: I was invited to submit my dissertation for review by a prestigious scholarly publisher who expressed interest in publishing it as a book. I did so, and recently received the peer reviews. While one review was very positive the other was far from, and indeed harshly so, and so the editor decided that they could not move forward. This was obviously painful; more so the negative review of my dissertation than the process being ended (I have to say that reading about your own process of your latest book helped me process this a little more). But the question I have is how you think this affects my next steps in trying to secure a publisher. It seems to me that I would have to disclose to other presses that this process happened and why it wasn’t continued and if I did so that it would negatively affect their possible interest in my project? I would of course take much of the review in mind for a new proposal, but nevertheless, it was also a fundamental disagreement with my theoretical approach which I do not believe in changing (if that makes sense).

My answer: The good news is that I don't think your experience at the first publisher will have any bearing at all on your prospects with other publishers. You don't have to disclose what happened. It sounds like that publisher was simply not the right fit, if they chose a reviewer who fundamentally disagreed with your theoretical approach. Even if the publisher had said they wanted to move forward, you might have been the one to decide you didn't think the suggested revisions were in keeping with your vision for the book. So I wouldn't take this as any kind of reflection on your chances with another publisher. I think you're wise to use what you can from the experience to improve your proposal and manuscript for another publisher (especially to revise it so that it looks more like a book than an unrevised dissertation), but then you can just start fresh with others.

K. asks: I recently went through the peer review process at a university press. I received two very positive reports on my full manuscript and my editor was very supportive of the project, but ultimately the press’s editorial board decided not to approve a contract for my book. I am hoping to approach a new publisher now, and my editor at the first press has offered to share the positive peer reviews with the editor at the new press. Should I take her up on this offer? Is this normal?

My answer: First, I’m sorry this unusual situation happened to you, as I’m sure it was very disappointing to go through the whole peer review process and receive positive reviews, only to not receive an agreement to publish your book. I would definitely advise you to take your editor up on her offer to share the reports with a new publisher. That’s a normal thing to have happen, and your new editor will probably be appreciative. While the reviewers must remain anonymous to you, your editor at the first press can share their names with the new editor. This will allow the new editor to seek the reviewers’ permission to use their reports in support of your book at the new publisher. The new editor may wish to solicit an additional report from a reviewer of their choosing before taking your project to their editorial board for approval. Hopefully the outcome will be better for you this time around!

Follow up: After I responded to K’s email, K. was able to take their manuscript and positive peer reviews to a new press. The new press asked the previous reviewers to make small additions to their reports offering their impressions of the book’s fit with the new press. The editor also solicited one additional statement from someone close to the new press. The manuscript did not have to go through another round of formal review, which allowed things to proceed quite quickly at the new press. After gathering these statements, the new editor presented K.’s project to the editorial board and K. received a contract. So the story had a happy ending!

If you have a question for a future Q&A go ahead and send it over. Even if it feels quite specific, I’ll do my best to answer you directly, then anonymize it for the newsletter so it’s helpful for everyone.

This week marks the sixth anniversary of my launching Manuscript Works in 2015. I reflected on my mission for this editing and consulting business last year; here are the highlights:

  • My central goal is to help academic authors to not only get published but to also feel good about their output when they do. I want you to find the right press to collaborate with, I want you to be thoroughly proud of the book you’ve written when it comes out, and I want you to feel certain that the readers you care about reaching will understand and appreciate what you’re trying to do with your work.

  • My other main goal is to demystify the norms and conventions of scholarly book publishing. The publication process is simply easier for prospective authors who possess the cultural and social capital that makes it possible to for them to access professional connections and be confident that they’ll be taken seriously when they do. There are few guarantees in the publishing industry—editorial tastes, topical trends, and economic constraints mean that not every project is going to get a green light at the author’s top choice of press. But my goal is for no client or reader of mine to lose out on an opportunity because they just didn’t have clarity on how to navigate the common expectations.

Ultimately, I want authors to be clear on what their books are about, who their books are for, and how to get their books published successfully. If this newsletter has helped you get that clarity and thus approach the publication process with more confidence, then I’ve done my job effectively.

In keeping with my goals for Manuscript Works, I’ve expanded my offerings beyond one-on-one client services to help more authors. Most immediately, I’ve developed a couple workshops that I’ve been presenting to institutions who want to bring me in (via Zoom). Because I can only do a few institutional workshops per year, I’m also offering the workshops publicly so individuals can sign up as well.

The first workshop, which explains what goes in an academic book proposal and how to write one that will stand out in the eyes of scholarly publishers, will be held on August 20th. (Click here to register.)

The second workshop, which will cover the more intangible aspects of submitting a book proposal, such as how and when to approach editors and how to make sure your pitch doesn’t sound like an unrevised dissertation, will be held on September 24th. (Click here to register.)

Both workshops will have ample time for Q&A.

Each workshop has a recommended registration fee of $50. Once I get enough people to sign up at that price (to cover my prep time and overhead costs), I’ll open up pay-what-you-can options to make the workshops accessible to more people. I’m hoping that those who can afford it will go ahead and register soon so that I can open up the discounted options as soon as possible. (If you’re holding out for the pay-what-you-can option, how about suggesting to a well-funded friend that they sign up now? :D)

That’s all for today, Manuscript Workers. Thanks for reading this newsletter and telling your friends, colleagues, and advisees about it. Keep your questions coming for the next Q&A. I’ll be back next week with more advice about book proposals!