seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

The Process of Publishing -- Why it Works That Way...

In the spirit of my earlier posting, I'm reposting something I put on Usenet earlier in response to someone who sees the basic process of submission as demeaning and nonsensical.

(Original poster)
> I do not comprehend the whole process. It seems ridiculous to me.
> If the rules said you must only apply to one prospective employer at a
> time, then wait until you hear a definite answer from that employer
> before moving to the next one, the world economy would collapse in
> short order because the unemployed would mostly remain unemployed.

Unless that was the way it was done all the time. And if there were *ALWAYS*

and I mean


Vastly More applicants for any job than there were jobs.
And if most of those applicants... not to put too fine a point on it... sucked. And of those who didn't clearly outright suck, there was SOMETHING wrong with their product or skills that made them unsuitable choices for you.

This is the case with publishers with respect to slush submissions. To about 100:1 ratio. Or more.

(original poster)
> It's an untenable process. It attempts to limit publication to only
> the most needy writers.

How's that? It limits publication to those who ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD OF SUCKITUDE.

Or those who are lucky.

(Original poster)
> I'm not saying that to purposely insult those who grind their way
> through the process. I know it sounds insulting, but given the level
> of grovelling submission

There isn't any grovelling. I send in a manuscript with something that says "Dear XXX, please find enclosed My New Novel. In a nutshell, My New Novel is about Exciting Characters and Stuff. Please send money."

I then pretty much forget about it until I get the yes or no.

Where's the grovelling? If it's saying "please", then I'm sorry that your parents taught you no manners. Otherwise, there isn't a trace of grovelling. It's offering the publisher the chance to publish your manuscript.

Of course, YOU are asking THEM to risk $20,000+ on Your Book. If you're not an established author, that's how much they will probably LOSE on your first novel. Flushed down the toilet.

Wouldn't you expect to at least provide a little evidence you were WORTH that much money before someone threw it at you?

(Original poster)
> The volume of manuscripts to be gone through must be massive, but are
> those who do the weeding incapable of recognizing wheat from chaff
> within the first handful of paragraphs?

You have never gone through a slush pile, so you simply can't understand it, and you speak from utter ignorance.

Sure, about 90% of the thousand manuscripts can be tossed out within a few paragraphs. Sometimes by the cover letter alone.

That still leaves 200. Of those, you need to read a chapter or two before discarding 75% of them. The others you actually read, or mostly read. Most of those still aren't QUITE right.

In the time this took, you have now received 1,250 more manuscripts.

Are you starting to see the problem here? The slush NEVER ENDS. There are, perhaps, 20 major publishers (less than that in SF -- I think there's like 7?), and these publishers are probably seeing a few MILLION submissions every year. Of those million, a couple thousand, maybe, will see print. (These numbers are brought to you courtesy of a free-range donkey's guess)

(Original Poster)
> There must be a reason the the process works this way, and there must
> be a reason writers put up with it, but I do not understand either.

Because there is no better way to do it. You're welcome to suggest one. Plenty of people have tried. How are you, the publisher, going to get the Publishable Gems you need without having, yourself, to winnow through all the Total Losers and, more time-consuming, the Almost Made Its?

How are you going to GET their stuff if they -- like [Original Poster] -- WON'T GIVE IT TO YOU? That's what submission is. It's not "kneel before Zod" it's "send it to us so we can see if it's worth publishing". To YOU it's an important work, something perhaps that you've invested lots of your life and thought into. To the PUBLISHER, sorry, it's not. Until they've evaluated it, it is no different than any of the thousands of other badly-written semi-fanfic pieces submitted by hopeless dreamers which make up 95% of the slush.

AGENTS are the only other avenue, and of course some publishers ONLY accept agented manuscripts. But there you have just moved the problem out a layer. An agent will basically read his or her slush pile to find authors with promise, and then will bring their manuscripts to the attention of the publishers without THEM having to wade through the slush pile, so they'll spend a bit more time and effort evaluating the work in question.

In terms of "no parallel submissions", that's because this compounds the problem in TWO ways.

1) Suddenly, instead of the slush being split 7 ways for SF (with individual authors choosing a particular publisher to submit to first, then going to the next as time goes on), it's ALL dumped on ALL publishers at once. This will make EVERYONE's wait time longer, because now ALL publishers have to go through all the slush.

2) If you've submitted to two publishers, conflict of legal interest arises when both like it. There are cases in which publishers are offered, through an agent, a chance to bid on a property, but that's different than two publishers receiving an independent submission and both making offers. You are offering first publication rights to the publisher, but only one of them can actually get it. The publishers have neither the time, nor the inclination, to get into a bidding war over every single manuscript that looks promising; therefore, they simply won't accept parallel submissions.

This is a buyer's market, not a seller's market, is the short answer. There are ALWAYS other authors, in fact, almost certainly other BETTER authors, than you. Always. So if you don't feel like doing things their way, THEY DON'T NEED YOU.

You want them to spend that $20,000 on you? Do a little work for it. If you can't be bothered to even follow the relatively simple directions for sending in your work, why would they believe you'll follow the far more painful directions involved when their editors ask you to CHANGE things?

This is akin to the reason why actors like Keanu Reeves, who is a serviceable but far from brilliant ACTOR, keep getting great roles, even when occasionally they make a bomb; because they can be depended upon to show up sober, know their lines, and not start fights with the other cast members. The prima donnas only keep getting roles for as long as their star power exceeds their Pain In The Ass power.

Again, there's hundreds of times more Author Wannabees out there than there are slots for authors. If you paint yourself as a Prima Donna who doesn't want to do things the way everyone else does, who wants to be treated Special, or who's overly sensitive about how their work is treated... you aren't likely to be considered to be worth the pain in the ass you'll be to work with.

There are fairly well known authors out there who have had good careers but eventually torpedoed themselves by becoming just such a pain in the ass.

Just another addition to the discussion.
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