Take a guess at what type of letter I recently received that included the following phrase:
"You are a fantastic writer"
No, it wasn't from a reader (although I've certainly welcomed the few letters like that when they've arrived). It was a rejection letter.
The reason this particular publishing company gave for passing on the project is the bane of many writers’ existence. Regardless of how the reason is phrased, it all boils down to the same thing: Money.
Publishing is a business, and if a company thinks that they’ll likely sell 15,000 copies of a book that’s moderately good and only 1,000 copies of a darn-tootin’ amazing piece that just isn’t quite as marketable, take a guess on which they’ll pick.
Some presses do take on the occasional book that they know won’t sell much—but they’re only able to publish it out of love because they’re making enough money on the cash cows they’re already selling. It’s the best-sellers that essentially finance the work of the occasional little fish they give a chance to, regardless of quality.
In my case, the target demographic was deemed too small to make the financial investment viable for them.
In your case, it could be any number of other things:
- The genre is currently saturated.
- The genre is no longer "hot" and sales are declining
- A book very similar was recently published (by them or a competing house)
- A similar book was recently submitted by a best-selling author (guess whose they’d rather take, a big-name author who will sell thousands just by having their name on the cover, or an unknown writer?)
- The target audience is unproven as eager book-buyers
- The publisher is unsure how to market the book and reach its target readers
- The manuscript is too long to make a profitable product with an unknown writer (Note how short the first Harry Potter book was. There’s no way anyone would have let even JK Rowling get away with a 700+ page tome her first time around. She wasn't the mighty JK then.)
- The book has lots of sub-genres, making it difficult to classify
- You don’t fit the publisher’s typical tone/voice/style
- And so on.
None of those mean your book isn’t well done or publication-worthy. It just means that the publisher isn’t ready to take a financial risk on a project that may or may not throw them into the red.
What do you do? Study the markets. Find where you belong. Revise your manuscript if need be so you can fit those requirements. Or find another market that's a better fit.
What you don’t do is throw it on the garbage heap.
Sure, indulge in self-pity and some Rocky Road for a little while. Then get back out there, keep writing, and submit again. And again.