My book Inclusion On Purpose was rejected by 30 publishers.
And all it takes is ONE good yes.
ONE good yes later, and Inclusion on Purpose is a #1 Amazon bestseller in several categories, sold out its initial print run and has been featured and wholeheartedly recommended as a must-read on Dare to Lead with Brené Brown (pinch me — and keep scrolling for the link!). One good yes later, and I am among the scant 11% of published authors of color.
But while they were happening, those 30 rejections hurt. And to protect myself from the sting, my agent, Maile and I agreed that I wouldn’t read any of the rejection feedback. The book ultimately went into auction and I’m proud to be published by MIT Press.
And, two years after Maile initially shopped my book proposal, I became curious about what was in those rejections.
She finally sent me all 30 of them (with publishers and names removed!).
Three trends stand out to me as I mull over these publishers’ pushback, and I want to share them with you:
1. One Book Is NOT Enough
I was surprised by how many of the 30 publisher rejections cited some variation of: “we already have a book about diversity and inclusion.”
This highlights a belief that is deeply flawed: “one book on DEI is enough.”
One book on the topic that, because of a global racial reckoning sparked off in 2020 by the tragic murder of George Floyd and others, forced organizations large and small to take action (even when it was reluctant or poorly executed)? One book on the topic that leads to greater financial return and innovation in business? One book on the most urgent leadership topic of this century?
How could one book per publisher possibly be enough, when everyone needs guidance on diversity, equity, and inclusion? This belief utterly fails to capture the nuance and complexity of DEI not only at work, but through all layers of our lives.
Furthermore, one book on DEI by a woman of color is not enough, either. One rejection spelled out this flavor of the “one is enough” belief: “I just won a big auction for a career book by a woman of color. Her book is not exactly parallel to Ruchika’s proposal, but there are distinct similarities.”
There should be as many choices for diversity and inclusion books by women of color (we are not a monolith!) as there are leadership or life-hack books written by white men.
Which leads me to…
2. Diversity is for EVERYONE
Another flawed belief that came through the publisher rejections is that diversity is “hard to publish” or a “niche market.” In other words: “inclusion doesn’t apply to a general audience.”
Let me be clear: cultivating inclusion on purpose applies to EVERYONE.
And while my book addresses it in a workplace context, big change comes from people acting across their lives to become more aware and responsible for inclusion. We need countless more books about work, school, art, neighborhood associations, community centers, politics, and more, written by and centering the experiences of people of color, especially women of color.
DEI books need to be everywhere people are.
3. Words without Action are Empty
One more trend stood out as I reviewed the pushback from 30 publishers: many mentioned that they admire and support my work. Some were even extremely effusive about how amazing I was.
This is kind and flattering. But it reminds me of something I noticed when I started my company in 2017: words without action are empty.
When I started Candour, I went out on dozens of coffee dates and lunches, taking out colleagues to show respect for their time and to strengthen our professional relationships.
All were supportive with their words. “What a great idea!” they told me. But when I’d ask for solid introductions to potential clients or to be hired, most of those same people ghosted me completely. They did not put their money where their mouth was.
It’s my experience that women of color receive plenty of “we believe in you!” mentorship and advice… and the support stops there.
Such words mean next to nothing. Action means everything.
I suspect it goes without saying, but I want to say it anyway: I’m so grateful I didn’t give up. I am so glad I didn’t read those rejections when they came in (thank you, Maile, for advising me not to read them while I was feeling raw.) And I am SO grateful, more than I can say, for the support and encouragement YOU’VE shown me and my book these past few months.
I also hope this reminds you to nevertheless persist – your story matters in whichever way you want to tell it – when you may be hearing “no” from gatekeepers. I want all of us to win. And we can, when we keep pushing those barriers down together.
Now, I want to hear from you: have you persevered through rejection to that ONE good yes? Have you experienced the trends above yourself?