What publishers really mean in their rejection letters

You see Barbara? It's not all dogs here.

Not that I’d know myself, you understand. Well, er, except maybe a wee bit… I guess it applies to agents too.

Jonny Geller‘s piece in the Guardian this week pulled back the curtain of euphemism and laid bare the squatting toad of honesty. He’s been tweeting the real meaning of phrases that publishers use to say Get Stuffed under the hashtag #publishingeuphemisms – glib phrases translated below:

“this is too literary for our list” (it’s boring)

“the novel never quite reached the huge potential of its promise” (your pitch letter was better than the book)

“sadly we are publishing a book similar to this next spring” (it too has a beginning, middle and end)

“You should join Twitter” (we are not spending a dime on your publicity) – that one came from the US

“we all fell in love with the book” (my assistant took your manuscript home and has now lost it)

“do you think we need the back story? (I hated the first twenty chapters.)

 “In a way I think the back story IS the story” (I hated the last twenty chapters.)
“I believe X at X publisher is looking for exactly that” (revenge)
“this is too British for the American market” (I have no idea what this is about)

“Just a couple of tiny changes needed.” (I’m about to send you 27 pages of edits.)

“Intelligent” (author has 3 GCSEs)

“Fiercely intelligent” (one of them is in maths)

“meticulously crafted” (anal)

“ambitious” (way out of your league)
Care to add any?


Filed under art

24 responses to “What publishers really mean in their rejection letters

  1. but take heart fellow writers, bloggers, alcohol soaked wordsmiths, many great pieces of work are rejected and go on to be literary masterpieces.

    My favourite of course.:

    ‘for your own sake do not publish this book,…. Lady Chatterly’s lover by D.H.Lawrence

  2. Wow. I posted same topic yesterday.

  3. This came at a really good/bad time Paul….I am trying to pick up my courage to send book ideas to Publishers. I have a huge fan following….my family and LBC…..who seem to think that a publisher will happily sign me on. Do you think this is enough?

  4. Love it.

    The beauty of the internet is that you are your own publisher and can keep stuff up to the minute.

    The shame is that it doesn’t pay and you’re not guaranteed readers. So writers will continue to have to put up with the above cant for the forseeable future, I’m afraid.


  5. “Hard-hitting”

    = We can’t afford a libel lawyer

  6. Oh gosh! Now that’s scary! What do they actually say if they like it!?

  7. “Not what we’re looking for at this time” Hmm, guess only manuscripts of past or future need apply.

    Blessings – Maxi

  8. “this is too literary for our list” – Did someone send a War & Peace type epic to Mills & Boon?

  9. Yes, the slush pile. Sad fact is, all you aspiring writers out there: Just because it’s your baby doesn’t mean that the doctor (sorry, publisher) won’t declare it “stillborn”. An expression I use by way of metaphor rather than euphemism.


  10. Cracking up at the post and various responses. Just last week I received a rejection letter from a literary agent that was a sales pitch! Translated it said:

    “Not interested in your manuscript right now. But if you buy my book on pitching your project, would love you to resubmit and we’ll have another look-see.”

    Thank you very much, but I think not!

  11. Publishers have the most amazing euphemisms for “Piss off, we’re not interested”. But what amazes me more is the number of books that are actually published despite being badly written, rambling, boring etc etc. It’s rare to find a book that’s so well written you don’t want it to end.

  12. After ‘squatting toad of honesty’ I pretty much gave up on what followed. As it will never be a issue ‘here’ as to what publishers write.

    Now the ‘squatting toad of honesty’ I just can’t get out of my mind.

  13. 29

    J K Rowling apparently had a dozen rejections of the first Harry Potter book
    so just think how those publishers must have felt subsequently.
    Re euphemisms, do they not help to smooth one’s passage through life….or even in death. I remember about 30 years ago seeing in the Lancet a small glossary of obituary comments with their translations. Two I can remember,
    ‘perfectionist’ = a total pain in the posterior, and ‘did not suffer fools gladly’ =
    an absolute bully.

  14. Rebi

    Great post! I love the insight.

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