Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting published: treasure from the slush pile?

I saw this a couple of days ago at The Guardian Book Blog, but didn't link to it because it looked like one of those items everyone else would link to. But I haven't seen anyone pick it up, so here's a snipet from an eye-opening article called, "The shocking truth about the slush pile":

If your typescript comes back to you in your self-addressed stamped envelope and it looks like the whole thing hasn't been read, it probably hasn't, because it isn't very good. If your reader doesn't feel compelled to turn the first page, she's not going to read to the end.

But before you start sticking knives in your publishing assistant voodoo doll consider this: when someone tells you that your sample chapters don't set her heart and mind on fire, it doesn't mean that your work won't sparkle for someone else. A couple of months ago, a photographer friend of mine took the jacket photo of an author for a forthcoming title from a major house. I had rejected the book. Twice.

I get in trouble every time I suggest to my romance-writing friends that editors probably don't read every word of every submission--not even the query letters. "That's not very supportive," someone will always say, causing me to wonder yet again how warm fuzzies could be more important to some writers than actually learning how this industry works.

Publishing is a business. Editors don't read manuscripts to encourage writers, but to find books they can make money on. Facing that reality is the first little bump on the road to publication. Get over it and get on with your journey.


TrudyJ said...

Very timely post for me, as I've just gotten a rejection from a new publisher I was trying to pitch to (though I also got a "Yes, we'd love to see the rest of the MS as soon as possible!" from my regular publisher, so that made me feel a little less borderline-suicidal). I'm really clinging to that hope that what doesn't grab one editor's attention may shine for another, since I fully intend to throw the darn thing right back in the mail at someone else!

Brenda Coulter said...

A lot of people don't seem to realize what a huge accomplishment it is to finish a manuscript and then actually start sending it out to editors and agents. Then after all that work, some writers throw in the towel after a rejection or two.

You hang in there, Trudy. I'm wishing you all the best.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Amen to that sister...the buck stops at the dollar..I'm back...I've got DSL!

Hey what happened to your BlogRoll?

Brenda Coulter said...

Hey what happened to your BlogRoll?

I'm not sure yet.

I had over a hundred links that I was adding and editing by hand, and the whole thing just got to be too difficult to manage. So I'm trying out an automated referer list, but the ride's been a little bumpy so far.

Anonymous said...

I feel the biggest reason that writers keep submitting "subpar" manuscripts is because publishers keep publishing subpar books.

How many times have you read a book and couldn't believe how bad it was? And usually (lately) the author has published ten or twenty books already! It's as though the author got lazy and wrote dull and the editor got lazy and didn't edit.

This sentences from my latest "wallbanger".

"He got tired easily because that's what happens when you get injured."

And this from an author that I historically loved! I'm not buying anymore of her books. The quality has dropped.

So, I say to myself. I can write better than that.... and I do.

But an editor (who will publish garbage from an established author) will not accept anything less than stellar from me.

And they still wonder why the slush pile of full of crap...


Peter L. Winkler said...

It strikes me as oxymoronic that, on the one hand, editors are supposedly reading manuscripts looking for what's best, yet often can't be bothered to finish reading a query letter.

I'm really getting rather tired of making excuses for people in publishing. Reading words on pages is part of the job. Many submissions may turn out to be sub-par, but reading them to get to the gold is part of the job. If you don't like it, find another job.

Brenda Coulter said...

Peter, I've often wondered how many gems are passed over because the authors failed to write attention-getting query letters.

Genny, I agree that first-time novelists have a bigger hurdle to jump than established authors in order to sell. Publishers routinely buy not-so-great novels from established authors because they have fan bases that can be counted on to buy the books. But you don't have a built-in audience, so your first novel will need to be pretty impressive.

I can't agree with your implication that there's something inherently unfair about that. After all, every established author was once a newbie just like you.