How Many Rejections Does it Take to Self-Publish a Book?

Q: I’ve submitted my manuscript and query letters to various agents and publishers and have received several rejections. I feel this book is pretty marketable. How many agent rejections and how many publisher rejections do you think I should take as a signal to self-publish this book? I’m pretty tenacious. If need be, I could probably send out a query letter a day per day to 100 agents, but I’m wondering if there’s a cut off number of rejections after which it’s prudent to give up?—Barbara Bullington

A: There is no standard on how many rejection letters it takes to push an author into self-publishing mode—mainly because every author (and manuscript) is different. Some authors don’t see self-publishing as a viable option for their work, while others—especially nonfiction writers who are also good marketers—see the opportunity to make more money self-publishing than they would spending time trying to traditionally publish their work.

If you believe self-publishing could work for you, you can certainly set a rejection threshold. But I’d recommend against it. This puts the timetable in the hands of agents and publishers, not you. And trust me, you don’t want to have to waste your life away waiting for essentially bad news: “Well, there’s rejection letter number 50. Thank goodness it came. Now, after 35 years of waiting, I can stop sending out all of these silly queries and self-publish!”

While I joke about the rejection-letter model, I absolutely do think it’s good to set a timetable—just one that you control. For example, let’s say I’ve sent out a dozen queries for my memoir, The Brian A. Klems Diaries: Editor by Day, Superhero by Night. I have set a deadline of 18 months to either sign an agent or get signed by a publisher. For each rejection I receive, I send out another query and continue this for the next year. If I don’t get any bites by the time the 18-month deadline passes, then I look into my self-publishing options.

Now I’m not saying 18 months is the best timetable (depending on your work, you may want to consider giving it a few years or limiting it to one year). That’s completely up to you. But by setting a timetable as opposed to a rejection-letter count, you have a clearer picture of when it’s time for you to move forward.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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4 thoughts on “How Many Rejections Does it Take to Self-Publish a Book?

  1. Claudia Brown-Mosley

    Self publishing only works if you are not shy, if your personalite is outgoing. You have to have these qualifications

    1. Talkative
    2. Sell ability
    3. Must be a speaker
    4. Don’t take no for an answer
    5. Continue to write and promote everywhere you go

  2. Roger C. Parker

    To me, the appropriate answer to the question of whether or not to self-publish involves the author asking themselves: "How do I want to spend my time?" and "How much can I afford to invest in my project?"

    Do I really want to pack-up books and take them to the post office? (During a recent Published & Profitable interview, I learned that Richard Bolles, author of the 10-million copy best-selling What Color Is Your Parachute?, had originally self-published it.

    He recounted how he got to be rather well known at the Berkeley post office for coming in carrying stacks of books each day, before he finally went with Ten Speed Press, which gave him more time for writing.

    To me, the idea of dealing with distributors, inventory, and fulfilling orders is not as much fun as exploring new topics and learing to express my ideas as concisely as possible.

    But, every author should consider more than just the "schedule" and "costs" of self-publishing.

  3. R.W. Ridley

    For me, it wasn’t the number of rejections that pushed me to self-publishing. It was the subjective nature of the rejections. There is one in particular that drove me to the self-publishing route. In my young adult novel, my main character has mono, and an agent felt like it wasn’t a hip enough disease -that kids today couldn’t relate. I realized in an instant that self-publishing was right for me. It was the best decision I ever made. I’ve sold in the thousands. I’ve won a few awards (including the WD International SP award), and I’ve signed with an agent that thinks kids today can relate to mono. 🙂

    When it comes to deciding to self-publish or not, you just have to follow your heart.

  4. Cathy Goodwin

    I don’t think the question should be, "If I can’t get a publisher I will self-publish." Certain books do very well when self-published by certain authors. If you have an active speaking schedule and/or a way to sell your book, you might as well self-publish.

    As a reviewer and a copywriter who writes sales letters for books, I would say, "Talk to a marketer (not an editor) before you write your book." Too often books are created that are lacking in originality. Or they have no hooks that allow a copywriter or publicist to promote them truthfully and effectively. Or they don’t have a theme so they jump all over the place.

    Some of these authors paid a lot of money for editing and/or packaging. They needed a marketer. For non-fiction, a good piece of advice is, "Write the sales letter before you write the book."


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