According to the International Publishers Association, U.S. book publishers put more than 65,000 new titles in print in an average year. No one keeps track of how many manuscripts are rejected in an average year, but you can be sure the number is phenomenal; even assuming that one in ten manuscripts gets published (and that's probably quite a generous assumption), that means every year well over half a million book ideas never go anywhere.
Why do so few book proposals make it to print? Contrary to the popular belief among many would-be writers, still writhing with righteous indignation over their latest rejection slips, it is not because authors are at the mercy of the capricious whims of editors or agents who are incapable of recognizing the rare and beautiful even when it is served up on a platter. In virtually every instance, a book idea is rejected because it fails to meet a publisher's standards of salability.
Those standards are high, and justifiably so. Publishers will spend a minimum of $50,000 to acquire, print, and promote a given book; in order to stay in business, the publishing house has to choose those titles that it expects will be profitable. Authors, especially first-time authors, often get so wrapped up in their own projects that they fail to recognize the very real business needs of the publishers to whom they hope to sell their work.
Talk to any editor or agent who has been in the publishing business for a few years, and he or she likely will give you the same list of common mistakes first-time writers make in trying to sell their ideas. Sometimes their ideas aren't original, or they haven't found that unique slant that will catch an editor's attention. Sometimes authors pitch ideas that don't fit in with a publisher's line, or they don't take the trouble to find the right publisher for their project. Sometimes there just isn't a demonstrable market of readers for the project.
Unfortunately, many authors are vague about how the publishing industry works and unfamiliar with the tools editors and agents use to decide which proposals land in the dead file and which earn the elusive acceptance letter. It's like going fishing, except that you don't know what kind of fish you want to land, where to find them, or what kind of bait they like. You wouldn't expect to be very successful at fishing if you didn't have this basic knowledge, as well as the tools to do the job, would you? Yet, all too often, writers send their works off like an amateur angler, hoping to hook a contract without knowing exactly what a particular publisher is looking for or even where that publisher's readers are.
No one, and especially no book, can guarantee that your next book proposal will set your telephone ringing with flattering contract offers. But you can make your proposals more complete, more energetic, and more professional. That alone will make your ideas seem like tiny islands of peace in a sea of pandemonium, naturally drawing the eye of any editor or agent and giving your work its best opportunity for thorough consideration. Eventually, you might just hit that magical combination of the right idea at the right time with the right publisher for the right readership — and, just like that, you'll be a published author.