Thursday, 3 June 2010

Guest blogger: Melinda Szymanik - Anonymous Gripes writes… If my manuscript was the publisher’s girlfriend and they seemed to be getting along fine, why did they just break up?

Anonymous Gripes writes…
If my manuscript was the publisher’s girlfriend and they seemed to be getting along fine, why did they just break up?

Well dear Anonymous, sometimes there is nothing wrong with your manuscript. You have polished that gem to a blinding shine and non-publishey people who read it go, ‘Gosh, this is just like a bought one.’

You know you have something good on your hands but every publisher you have sent it to has said no, usually with their standard ‘NO’ form from which there is no chance of gleaning why your masterpiece isn’t grabbing their attention. You thought only the slushiest slush got a form no. A ‘this is good, but…’ would be sooo helpful. And then, heaven forbid, you begin to wonder if your manuscript would be better on the bottom of the bird cage.

STOP.  Don’t line the bird cage yet. And don’t change your story just yet either. It is important to remember that there are lots of reasons why publishers say no to good writing.

1.  They had a bad experience with a pet turtle as a twelve year old and your story is all about turtles.

2.  Turtles are so yesterday. Iguana’s are hot right now.

3.  They just contracted their THIRD book on turtles and that’s their turtle quota for the next three years.

4.  Lagoon amphibian stories are something they just don’t publish.

5.  The publisher doesn’t think there will be quite enough interest in a book with a turtle as the hero to enable their investment in it. Turtle lovers are too small a subsection of the population

6.  Their last turtle story bombed

7.  There is a world wide recession

For all of these reasons the publisher has said no, none of them is about the writing.

When I sent out a novel I’d written to six publishers, I had three straight out form no’s (one of which I doubted that they’d even read the manuscript), one no but they’d take another look if I fixed a problem they saw with the main protagonists voice, one we’d like to see a rewrite and one straight out yes. The book was ultimately published pretty much as I’d first written it.

Tastes vary. Publishing lists vary. Publisher’s are individuals with opinions. Yes your manuscript will ultimately be judged by more than one person but it will still be decided upon by a small group of individuals who invariably have an agenda that includes much more than just the quality of the writing. And opinions on trends and reader interest are not fact, just opinions.

There are also lots of reasons that have nothing to do with your writing for why they just send a form response. There are some crazy people out there who have made the form response essential for publishers. The publishers probably realize you are not crazy too but it’s more than their sanity is worth to take the risk of responding personally to you. Don’t take it to heart, just blame it on the crazies and tell them to stop making it difficult for the rest of us when you see one (although I’d say nothing if they are carrying something sharp).

And don’t try to fix your story unless you are SURE it is broken. The reasons I have mentioned above are not telling you your story is broken. It’s a perfectly good turtle, but the gap on their list is iguana shaped. Keep submitting it to other publishers. Maybe the gap on their list is turtle shaped. Maybe the publisher had a special relationship with a pet turtle as a child.

A story I once had accepted reflected a sibling relationship the editor had had as a child. I didn’t know that before I submitted the manuscript but that’s one of the reasons she loved my story enough to say yes. You can’t stop at the 39th publisher, if the 40th is the one who will say yes. And don’t forget to keep writing new things in the meantime. I hear Iguana stories are hot right now.

Melinda's previous posts on tall tales & short stories -

Melinda's publisher
Scholastic NZ
Publishing Manager – Diana Murray

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