Are Rude Publisher Rejection Letters Preventing The Next J.K. Rowling?

Rejection is a part of life, and it's most definitely part of trying to get published. But Hannah MacDonald, the founder of September Publishing, says that rude rejection letters from publishers may deprive us all of the next J.K. Rowling. Instead of being cruel, MacDonald says, it would be better for everyone if publishers were constructive in their rejections.

If you've ever tried sending out a manuscript, you have almost certainly gotten some rejection letters — I've never met a writer who hasn't — and you've also probably seen the many posts showing you how many bestsellers have been rejected before getting their book published. But trying not to let rejection get to you is still hard, and that goes double if you get something more pointed than a form letter. And according to MacDonald, in the age of self-publishing, publishers need to start being more constructive in their rejections. At least if they don't want to risk losing the world's next J.K. Rowling.

The publishing industry has always been hugely selective,” MacDonald told The Independent. “Getting your book published is notoriously difficult. We need to reach out and nurture talent. Publishers could do more to help writers." And since self-publishing is a viable alternative to traditional publishing, she adds, "there is a risk of driving people away.”

Now of course, there's nothing wrong with being selective — there's a limit to the number of books publishers are going to put out each year and as such they have to pick titles they really believe in and see the value of. But MacDonald also has a point that it's better for everyone if publishers are constructive when turning down aspiring authors. Although it takes more time to give someone some advise with their rejection, it also helps authors improve and encourages writers to keep trying. Plus, that kind of professional advice is something authors don't get if they simply self-publish their book. Advising potential authors, even in rejection letters, is one way that traditional publishers can ensure that they foster a high-quality talent pool. If all the talented authors feel like they can't get anything from traditional publishing that self-publishing wouldn't offer, then why go through the gate-keepers at all?

But this isn't just something for people who work in publishing to worry about. Mean rejection letters could easily have kept some of the biggest names in literature off the selves. History is full of examples. Louisa May Alcott, when she tried to find a publisher for her now-classic novel Little Women, was told "stick to your teaching." Ursula LeGuin, now one of the biggest names in fantasy, was told her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was "unreadable" before it went on to not only be published but also win numerous awards. One publisher told Vladimir Nabokov that Lolita should be "buried under a stone for a thousand years." And shockingly, not only was J.K. Rowling rejected by multiple publishers for the series that went on to be one of the most popular and famous in modern times, she was also advised not to quit her day job.

In other words, if everyone gave up after a rude rejection letter, literature as we know it would be far poorer for it. For readers, that should be reason enough to want publishers to try being more constructive — or at least not derisive — and for writers, that ought to be a good sign that rejection isn't a reason to throw in the towel.

So here's hoping the "author-centric" model that MacDonald proposes takes hold.