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5 reasons why publishers reject business books

The 5 Main Reasons Why Publishers Reject Books

Nobody likes to be rejected. Yet publishers do it all the time. In fact, they reject over 99% of the books proposed to them.


If you’re a business owner who wants to get their book traditionally published, that might seem like a depressing statistic. But you can do a lot to improve your chances of having your book accepted.



Let’s take a look at the five main reasons why publishers reject books, so you can do more to ensure yours is considered – and hopefully accepted – by a publisher.


1.  The book doesn’t fit the publisher’s plans

The most common reason why publishers reject a book is because it isn’t a good fit for their publishing plans or ‘list’. Each editor within a publishing house has financial targets they have to meet. An editor may think your book is good but still not be interested in taking it.


It could be that the sales potential for your book is too low for that publishing house. If the minimum projected sales target is 8,000 and the editor thinks yours will only sell 3,000, they’re going to reject it. Another publisher might have lower targets and be happy to take it, which is why it’s worth submitting your book to multiple publishers.


Even with all the market research in the world, you just never know an editor’s long-term plans. When I started as a commissioning editor at Cassell, the first thing I did was to assess all my lists in terms of their performance and the direction I wanted to take them. I looked at sales figures, market trends and profit margins before recommending changes.

What is a List?
A list is simply a collection of books around a particular topic, such as gardening, business or personal development. Each publisher has a number of editors who are responsible for acquiring books for a specific list. Some editors manage multiple lists, some just one. These editors are often called commissioning editors, or acquisition editors.


2.  The author’s profile isn’t high enough

This isn’t about being famous, though that definitely helps! But it is about having a sphere of influence or being a recognised influencer in your field. If you’re an unknown author, you’ll need a big email list and a big social media following. What ‘big’ means will depend on what a publisher wants, but they’re probably looking for tens of thousands.


It isn’t all about numbers though, it’s also about engagement. If your followers respond to your messages, buy your products and services and act on your recommendations, it means you have a responsive list. When your book is published, your followers are likely to buy it and tell others about it.


The other factor is the author’s connections with other major influencers. If your own email list is low but you have strong connections with other well-known influencers, it’s a whole different ballgame.


3.  The book lacks a clear readership

Sometimes a book is good and well-written, but it lacks a clear readership or niche. That’s probably because the author hasn’t nailed their reader profile or it could be that the concept isn’t sufficiently thrashed out and clarified.


If the publisher can’t instantly see where a book would be positioned in a bookshop, they’ll struggle to understand it from a commercial perspective. How can they sell it to the book-buying public if the bookseller won’t know where to put the book in their shop? Finding the right category for the book on Amazon could be tricky too. Even more importantly, if the ideal reader sees the book, they might not know whether it’s for them.


When you have a well-defined reader in mind, you can position your book to suit their needs. You can refine the concept to ensure the book has its own unique place in the market. And that will make it easy to sell.


4.  They’ve just published a similar title

You’ve spent months writing your book, crafting your proposal and finding an agent. You just know this book has the potential to be a success. Then your agent tells you the publisher they were targetting has just published a similar title (or signed a contract to do so with another author).


To be honest, that’s just the way it goes. You have to be resilient and not get put off by a ‘no’. It also highlights the point that while it’s your agent’s job to submit your book to the right publisher, it’s your job to ensure your book is suitable for a number of different publishers. That way, even if one publisher says ‘no’, you’ll have a higher-than-average chance that another will say ‘yes’.


5.  The book doesn’t have a clear USP

A USP is a Unique Sales Point – it’s the defining factor that helps a book stand out from the competition. It’s what makes it easy to sell. With a USP, you can easily communicate to a reader why they should buy your book rather than someone else’s.


The lack of a Unique Sales Point makes it hard for a book to stand out in a crowded market. There are three key reasons for this:


  1. The author hasn’t researched the market and identified where the book sits in relation to others in their market.
  2. The author hasn’t delved into their own idea and dug out the unique factor that’s going to make buyers want it.
  3. There is a lack of any real pizzazz in the sales copy, title or description of the book. It feels as if it’s a ‘me too’ rather than a ‘just me’ book.


When an author provides a strong USP, it tells the publisher that they have an author who’ll promote the book wholeheartedly because they’re invested in its success. And that matters, because no publisher wants to push the author or gee them up – they’ve got enough to do! They want a proper partnership that’s geared towards success. 


What does it all mean?

You may have noticed that all these points focus on the sales potential of a book. That’s because book sales are the holy grail of publishing. The bottom line is that if you can’t offer enough evidence that your book will sell, it’s unlikely that a publisher will take it.


This isn’t just something that matters if you want to find a publisher, it matters to you as a business owner and self-publisher too. 


Because even if you self-publish, you need to know your book has the potential to sell. That’s the only way you’ll be able to get a return on your investment or ensure your book can take your business in the right direction.


After all, if you can’t achieve a profit or increase your visibility, how can you justify the investment of time, resources and energy it takes to produce a truly outstanding book?