Monday, September 14, 2009

Illusions, delusions and realities

The human mind is a peculiar thing. It's a smoke and mirrors con artist. I think if it ever really let us see what was happening out there we'd all quietly move back to the trees which we never should have left in the first place. And nowhere is this more true than world of writing and getting published. Still, sometimes it pays to look beyond the world as we think it should be, to the world as it really is, so we can get to the world that we really like to see.

For instance your manuscript, which you've labored long and hard on, followed guidelines precisely and sent off with high hopes and a SASE... It's precious to you isn't it? You've kept the pages clean, and neat. In the delusion, it arrives on the editor's desk, she opens it, is blown away by the prose and story, reads it voraciously and calls you up that aftenoon to offer you a nice contract and you're on your way to fame and fortune. In the illusion it goes to the publisher's mail-room and gets delivered to the sub-editor's desk, she reads it, likes it, sends it on to the editor who in a day or two has a look, doesn't like it and pops it in the SASE with a letter saying why not. In the reality... what is precious, rare and unique to you, is merely one of thousands to them. There are no hard feelings or deliberate disrespect of your art. Just reality is that your sub is a minor part in a very big business-process. At least 10 'precious jewels'arrive every day. It arrives in the mail-room, gets assigned to someone... very busy. Doing all the myriad jobs expected of the junior sub-editor. She eventually does fish it out (or waits untl she has fifty and they are going to overwhelm her desk) and yes, she likes it. And sends it on to someone else. It takes them a few days/weeks to say 'not for me', and send it back. The good sub-editor (and you get some, despite the pressures etc. ) then sends it to another editor. Two months later, overwhelmed with an inbox threatening to explode, they read it on the subway. They like it too. And send it on again to the biggest honcho. And some weeks or months later the important person either decides to buy it or puts it aside for later. Or takes it to a monthly (or quarterly) editorial board. And they decide no thanks. Now- handled by half a dozen people and read on subways and moved in briefcases, lets be frank your manuscript looks like a bit of a dogs breakfast ... Is your SASE still attached to this? Maybe, but let's be realistic here. So: to gain what you can from the process. If it comes back fast in its SASE... It doesn't mean it's a bad book. It just didn't get anywhere. If it doesn't come back, cheer. That means it has moved up the process. It also means, probably that after a reasonable elapse of time (say 6 months, if you are me), you need to query. Now in the delusion, they've been waiting for your letter, and know precisely where you manuscript is. In the illusion they're able to establish within a few minutes what is up... it may even happen this way sometimes. In the reality I've experienced... your manuscript is one of 3000 that has arrived at this publisher. It's been passed around (that's very good) and they liked it... where is it right now? Um. maybe in that pile/that folder. And maybe its very easy to find, but in case it isn't this is the time to turn your reality into that dream. This is not the time to prima donna and wonder how they could treat your jewel like that. I don't think there is ever such a time. Make it as easy as possible, offer another copy, so they don't find it easier to say 'Oh sorry, didn't work' rather than hunt for it. If you need to politely send another copy... that's fine. Appreciate that your illusion was a lot easier than their reality. Be happy you didn't get back in the nice SASE.

And this is something I wish I'd known (no it wasn't with Baen.)
So what other illusions have been cruelly shattered? Fame and Fortune? Your book will be promoted? writing is easy?
Tell me. And try not to diss anyone. It's probably your illusion/delusion that was well, delusional.

8 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Illusion shattered?

Having an editor want to publish your book does not mean it will be published.

I have a near future YA that has made it past the editor to a marketing meeting three times, only to be rejected by the marketing people, who think it won't sell because it isn't fantasy!

Kate said...

Easy. "A good book will get published."

There are so many other factors out there we can't control, up to and including how desperate the slush reader is to clear the desk and go home. Most of them aren't really anyone's fault, they're just what you get when a system kind of accretes over a period of time.

Amanda Green said...

Added to Kate's "A good book will get published" is my all-time favorite -- agents really do mean it when they say "still taking submissions". A 17 minute turnaround from time of submission to time of rejection when you've submitted query letter, 3 chapters and synopsis and they all meet the submission requirements sort of puts the lie to that. Especially when earlier in the day the agent blogged that they had over 100 queries still waiting to be read.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena - been there twice myself...

Dave Freer said...

Kate, and the corrolary to that... a good book will be successful. Some good books are, but honestly there are days when I feel that's in spite of the system, not because of it.

Dave Freer said...

Basically Amanda, that's an updated subsection to returned in your SASE. It did not get read.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I know. And I learned early on that I really do not understand those writers and wannabe writers who complain because their pages get returned and they are a little worse for wear, possibly with a coffee stain on them and -- gasp -- a handwritten note at the end of the form rejection. Sorry, those are the ones I crave because it does mean someone took the pages out of the envelop and actually read them. And, if an agent or editor takes the time to write a note, well, all the better. And, as much as I like the ease of e-mail submissions, it also makes it harder to get those small reinforcements because you don't see the coffee stained electrons, etc.

matapam said...

I was surprised to learn how constrained publishers are, as to how many books they can put out. The dance between publisher, printer, warehouse, distributor and stores was something I had never given a thought to.