The Rejection Window

One of the most important factors determining the future of the traditional publishing business is what I call “the rejection window.” The rejection window is the length of time an author will keep submitting and revising their unpublished manuscript to agents and large traditional publishing houses.

Before the advent of digital self-publishing, authors’ only real choices were to keep the rejection window open for an infinite length of time, or shelve the manuscript. The traditional publishing world is full of true stories of authors who waited ten, even twenty years before their manuscript was published.

Those stories are now history. No author in their right mind is going to keep their manuscript’s rejection window open for ten years or more. Not when they can self-publish their story as an e-book.

Some authors are already slamming the rejection window completely shut. They aren’t even bothering to submit their manuscripts to agents and publishers. These authors upload an eBook the moment it’s finished.

What will define the future of the major publishing industry is the length of time for which the authors who do still submit manuscripts to agents and publishers will keep their rejection windows open.

In many cases, authors are deciding to keep the window open for a year, two at most. Many authors are already advising their fellow writers to immediately self-publish rejected manuscripts as eBooks and for their colleagues to move on from there and pitch their next books to agents and publishers.

The majority of submitting authors appear not to be following this advice right now, given the massive number of queries agents and publishers are still receiving as yet. Authors’ dreams of getting a $500,000 advance die hard, especially in tough economic times. But what will happen when those dreams finally wither away in the harsh light of reality?

Five, maybe even ten years from now, agents and publishers will most likely still be receiving an ocean of submissions. The sea change I predict is: If the traditional industry rejects a first-time submission, they’ll never “sea” it again. 😉 In other words, if the publisher said “We love your story, but we want you to re-write one of your characters,” few if any authors would bother with such re-writing.

By then, the majority of authors will be likely to e-publish their manuscripts immediately after the major publishing industry’s first rejection. Revisions of manuscripts just to fit the ever-changing whims of agents and large traditional publishing houses will increasingly be seen as a waste of time and effort.

The implications of this sea change are staggering. Novels with traditional market best-seller potential will be rejected for minor deviations from established content formulas, then become successful eBooks shortly afterward. The more this happens, the stronger the case will be for major traditional publishers to accept novels they would have rejected before. The old business model of waiting for the author to re-write a rejected manuscript over and over again will no longer work. This is when the wall of large traditional publishing house formulas will at first start to crack, then finally crumble under the increasing pressure of the marketplace’s realities. The large traditional publishing houses will have to evolve, or die alongside their old business models.

In case anyone thinks my post is pessimistic:
Tech Crunch: The Future Of Books: A Dystopian Timeline

Another great blog post, by one of my fellow RMFW members:
Think Banned Thoughts: Publishing is dead! Long live publishing!

Kristen Lamb – Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World