Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 24, 2010

Editor Tallies Reasons for Rejection

After reading literary agent Janet Reid’s interesting post (Click Here) on the reasons she rejected manuscripts, editorial director Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey, imprint of Random House, was inspired to look at the numbers and reasons she rejected the manuscripts submitted to her.  Betsy’s tally starts with March of 2009 and runs to the end of the year.  During that time she passed on 133 manuscripts.  I found it very interesting.  Just remember not to let it get you down.

Here is her list of reasons why:

Not what Del Rey is looking for (meaning we had enough on our list already of whatever subgenre was on offer): 22

A good manuscript but not right for our list (included a couple of nonfiction SF-related titles more suitable for a small press, the odd children’s book, etc.) 14

Not a genre that’s doing well right now (horror, mostly; some foreign novels being offered for translation, anthologies whose concepts weren’t strong enough) 18

Simply not good enough (a combination of mediocre writing and/or storytelling) 43

Contains major plot flaws (the story was too predictable, or the author made a choice I didn’t agree with which affected the entire manuscript) 5

Pretty good, but show me the author’s next effort 5

Main characters not strong or likeable enough 3

Needs too much editorial work (a manuscript has to be 95% of the way to book-ready for me to be willing to take it on) 7

Falls between genres (these were some of the most frustrating ones I had to reject; several were quite beautifully written but would be hard to promote in such a tough marketplace) 14

Writing quite good, but this isn’t the story to launch an author with (applied to first-novel manuscripts) 2

And the tally of what did she end up buying?

Bought at auction 2

About the same ratio as what agent Janet Reid reported. 



  1. The figures don’t depress me, but if I had to do Janet Reid or Betsy Mitchell’s job I’d be a complete wreck. Accepting or rejecting peoples dreams must be very difficult.


    • Maureen,

      Very good point. It is easy to only see things from one side.



  2. Thanks for bumming us all out, Kath! By the way, note her comment that manuscripts have to be 95% there. There was a time when an editor’s role was to DEVELOP a manuscript. Ah, the good old days…


    • David,

      Won’t that be great? Everybody has so much to do, that it is rare to find someone who will take the time to place you under their wing. We can dream about it.



  3. Good post. Like Maureen, I would be a wreck as well, particularly passing on something that falls between genres but that could be the next great American novel. It’s a tough job.


  4. Jim,

    Well, she didn’t have to feel bad about passing on 43 of them, since they were not good enough. Let’s try to stay out of that part of the list.



  5. […] out the Writing and Illustrating blog where an Editor Tallies Reasons for Rejection. The most common problem was the work was not good enough. But how do you know you are submitting […]


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