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Author Advice from an Editor

 Hi, folks!

The following is a re-post of some advice I offered on a writer newslist to an author who was publicly blowing his stack over a rejection. Three weeks after the submission, he asked for/ demanded a reason for said rejection. When the editor wrote back (!) and said that s/he couldn't remember the exact reason but would check into it again, the author vented on our list, asking if "anyone else had ever encountered such f***ed-up unprofessional bullshit." My response is below. Although many of us already know these things, I figured that my observations about submissions and publishing might be of interest here.

PS: My use of all-caps was necessitated by the newslist's cranky formating. Any other use of emphasis probably would have been turned into gibberishtic wingdings.

Enjoy!
 

-----------------------------------
 

As a professional author, an occasional publisher, a writing professor, and an editor for over five years, I think I can answer your question... though my response might not be the answer you want.

Editors receive massive numbers of manuscripts. In order to process even a fraction of them, they (and/or their assistants) must scan copious submissions, applying a number of criteria(*) to see whether or not the submission in question warrants deeper consideration. This is not an elitist power-trip, but an absolute necessity. After all, even editors need to eat and sleep, and there's far more to an editor's job than simply scanning, reviewing and polishing manuscripts!

From my own experience, I can say that barely 15% of submissions get beyond this stage. The majority of submissions are poorly written, grammatically appalling, stylistically unsound, unproofed, badly-printed (if printed at all!), or otherwise violate basic publishing standards. I have no idea whether or not your manuscript fit any of those categories, but the overall rule is usually "If it violates Standard A, B or C, I'm not reading past page 1." Again, this is simple practicality. An editor simply does not have the time to make personal in-depth evaluations of everything s/he receives. There isn't time or energy enough to do so!

Beyond that, an editor must judge submissions by other criteria: whether or not the author(s) meet the promise of their premise; whether or not the project holds that reader's interest; whether or not the proposal fits the plans, needs, identity or limitations of the publishing company; whether or not a similar project is already in the works or on the schedule; whether or not the book is likely to exceed the H-U-G-E costs involved in producing, printing, stocking, shipping, marketing and producing said book; and finally, whether or not the editor enjoys, agrees with or believes in the proposal at all. Any or all of these considerations may derail a book during the reading stage - and believe me, an editor is  too busy to keep detailed records about each element of every project that crosses his/her desk, especially at a major publishing house!

Publishing is not an infinite-resource industry. In order to stay in business, a publisher must establish a market presence, reach a core audience, and then supply that audience with ONLY A CERTAIN NUMBER of products per year. This number depends on the financial resources of the company and the projected cost/ profit ratios of the estimated publications. Publishing costs money - there's production(**), manufacture(***), distribution, warehousing, taxes, returns, damaged copies, overhead, etc., etc. etc. To meet those expenses - much less make a profit - the publisher receives 20% to 40% of each sold book's cover price. The other 60%-80% is taken by the author(s), distributors and retailers.(****) In order to meet those costs and stay in business, any publisher must balance the potential profit of each book with the resources needed to publish it. Again, I have no idea what your book is or how potentially marketable it may be, but that cost/ time/ profit ratio is a MAJOR consideration to any publisher who wants to keep publishing.

The bottom line here is, your prospective editor looked at your manuscript and for whatever reason decided it didn't meet their needs, standards, audience or projected schedule. He got busy, put the manuscript aside, and now isn't exactly sure why he decided against it. If you're nice and he's in a good mood, he might take a second look at it, and may even decide to change his mind... or at least write you a detailed letter describing his reasons. Those letters and evaluations take TIME, however, and it's neither reasonable, realistic nor (if you want to stay in an editor's good graces) SMART to blow up because you didn't get said detailed evaluation or acceptance in a hurry.

(Oh, yeah - and bashing editors by name in Internet forums is usually a pretty bad idea.)

Does that mean you're S.O.L? No. As I wrote above, the majority of submissions to any publisher violate basic professional standards. You can put yourself ahead of the pack simply by turning in clean, polished, proofread, well-written and appealing manuscripts. In my experience and observation, an author who takes the time and effort to do even that much usually receives more time and effort from the folks on the other end of that submission.

Good luck!

- Phil Brucato

PS: Your editor's response was pretty reasonable. S/he didn't go off on you, gave you an explanation, and offered to look over your work again and get back to you.

This isn't "F****ed-up bullshit," it's reasonable - more reasonable than an editor is required or even expected to be. S/he was being nice to you. Appreciate that.

If you want to play the game, chill. Don't take rejection personally - it's part of the business. And put things in perspective.

PPS: Three weeks is REALLY SHORT for a response time. The industry average is six-eight weeks.

And I hope your grammar, spelling and etiquette are better in your manuscripts and correspondence than they are in your post. I know that venting net posts are informal, but strive to achieve professional standards even in an informal venue. It's a good habit to have!  

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* - Spelling, grammar, proofreading, clarity, dynamism, subject appeal and other basic style considerations. 

** - Editing, proofreading, illustration, cover art, marketing and layout.

***- Printing, correction proofs, shipping, customs fees, agents' fees.

****- The exact amount depends on the deals that said publishers work out with their distributors. The industry average, however, involves 5%-10% of cover price (after advance is paid out) to the author and 60% of cover price to the distributor (who then sells it to the retailer for 50%-70% of cover price). Lest that sound usurious, remember that retailers and distributors have huge bills to pay as well!
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Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
antonstrout
May. 20th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
Nice
Somehow I think the person who reacts like that in the first place will look at your letter too and think it's unprofessional Bulsh*t too.. hehe.

Here's to education all the writers out there that editors aren't really kicking your precious childs teeth in...!
psynde
May. 21st, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Re: Nice
wellsaid..nicely done!
Synde
cheymccray
May. 21st, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
"To meet those expenses - much less make a profit - the publisher receives 20% to 40% of each sold book's cover price. The other 60%-80% is taken by the author(s), distributors and retailers.(****) In order to meet those costs and stay in business, any publisher must balance the potential profit of each book with the resources needed to publish it."

The word "author" so close to the 60-80% sure makes me wonder what I'm missing in my checks...

Ah, hell, I don't get the numbers anyway.
tybalt_quin
May. 21st, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)
You're way more patient than that twit deserves
When the editor wrote back (!) and said that s/he couldn't remember the exact reason but would check into it again, the author vented on our list, asking if "anyone else had ever encountered such f***ed-up unprofessional bullshit."

Okay, the fact that the editor actually took the trouble to write back and say that they'd look into the reason for the rejection reinforces the fact that the only effed-up unprofessional bullshitter in this story is the original poster.

Any editor who is prepared to do that is doing a writer a major, major favour and should be loved, cherished, snuggled and adored. The original poster should go away, see how most editors usually give a form rejection with no reasons beyond "not for us", and be grateful for the fact that they might just get some valuable feedback on their novel and then quit being such a whiny-arsed little baby about it.

Rejections suck. We all know it and we know it's not to be taken personally. The more I read about the industry, the more amazed I am about the crap that editors and agents have to take on a day-to-day basis by people with entitlement issues.

[/rant]

:breathes:

:has a cup of tea:
jeanne_stein
May. 21st, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
Re: You're way more patient than that twit deserves
Okay, the fact that the editor actually took the trouble to write back and say that they'd look into the reason for the rejection reinforces the fact that the only effed-up unprofessional bullshitter in this story is the original poster...


Nicely and succinctly put....Nail/Head. :-)

Jeanne
johnlevitt
May. 21st, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
Nice to see some reality injected here. I think most, if not all, posters on F,F,&F are perfectly aware of this.

Which reminds me, my editor hasn't replied yet to my email sent yesterday. I need to find another board and trash her.
yasminegalenorn
May. 22nd, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
Great response, but I bet it wasn't taken well. Generally, I find volatile people like this believe their work is a shining star and that anybody who doesn't see this is an idiot. They'll never get anywhere till they get over their ego and learn from their mistakes.

Color me jaded. :) But you gave a great response.

Yasmine
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
yasminegalenorn
May. 22nd, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
I JUST finished my major deadline last night. I'm brain fried (and having an allergic reaction, hence I'm up way too early), but am now able to schedule some fun things like meeting people for coffee, etc. *grins* I'm generally good on Sundays, sometimes on Saturdays. This Sunday is booked, but what about the first or the 8th? PM me if either one work for you and we'll set up time/place.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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