Someone wrote to ask, “If a book publisher turns down my proposal or manuscript, does that mean everyone at the publishing house rejected my proposal? Can I try with a different editor? And how long do you have to let it cool with this publisher before I try again?”
A writer needs to understand the entire decision-making process at most publishing houses. First, your work is more than likely getting into the building by way of an acquisitions editor — often a friend of your agent, somebody you met at a writer’s conference, or the person who lost a bet. They’ll read through it, maybe make some suggestions, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it is worth pursuing. (And a note on the process: more and more acquisitions editors are relying on agents to do the filtering out of junk, so the slush pile has largely moved from publishing house to literary agency… which means you may have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process.)
Second, the acquisitions editor will generally take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around and make literary jokes (“I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!” “Yeah, let’s take a TWAIN out of town!” Editorial types love this sort of stuff… that’s why they’re editors and not writers). Eventually they’ll be forced to talk about the merits of your proposal. If it passes muster, it then moves on to the next step.
Third, the ack editor takes it on to the publishing committee. This is a group of people generally made up of someone from editorial, marketing, sales, and house administration. The sales people will research how many copies their accounts might buy, the administrative people will explore what the hard costs of producing the book will be, and the marketing people will complain that they won’t be able to get any marketing for this author. The group will have an agenda of books to talk through, and bring various perspectives to the meeting. Together they’ll discuss whether your book is salable, marketable, niched, appealing, well-written, etc. They will talk through the appeal of your book and how much money it might generate. Then, if they’re interested, they’ll probably send it back to the ack editor to do some work on.
Fourth, the editor will often have to run a pro forma or a P&L sheet, in which they take wild surmises as to how many copies they can realistically expect to sell in the first year, what the hard costs of ink-on-paper will be, and how much money they’re going to have to throw at the money-grubbing author who, if she really would nice, would write her books for free, since we all know the publishers are only in it for the good feelings they can engender. Eventually, the editor will take all this info back to the publishing committee.
Fifth, the pubco will talk, argue, debate, throw the Urim and Thummim, and make a decision. Be aware of something important: a publisher only has all these committees to act as filters so that they can say “no” to you. Really. The purpose of the process is to say “no” to most everything. Therefore, CREATE PROPOSALS THEY HAVE TO SAY “YES” TO.
Okay, so to get back to your question… When a publisher has said “no” to you, they’ve said “no.” Maybe the ack editor loved it. Perhaps the marketing people drooled over the idea. But the company overall has said “no, we don’t think we can do this one successfully,” so it’s dead to them. And no, I don’t think it’s usually appropriate to try with another editor. One of the things that really ticks off an editor is to walk into a meeting and have somebody else show them this great idea they just received, only to find out it’s an idea the company rejected last week. (It happens. And the results are generally not too good.) Besides, once somebody has “no” in their minds, they’re much less apt to say “yes” later. So make sure you create wonderfully strong proposals.
The ONLY caveat I’d have to that particular “no” is to say that you might, after thoroughly revising your proposal, ask that same ack editor if you can try again. But ask first, and don’t bet the house on them saying “yes.”