Wednesday, May 6, 2009

But I Asked To See It!

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I got an email from one of our editors:

[Author] pitched a book to me at the [Conference]. She said she had met you about two years ago and pitched to you then and you said to submit the full but she was too insecure to do that.

This actually is not unusual. Which got us discussing why an author, after working so hard to finish a book and then bravely pitching it to an editor/agent at a conference or sending a query letter about it, would fail to respond to a request to send the manuscript for review. Honestly, if we ask to see it, we want to see it. We're not just doing it to be "nice"—we've got massive piles of submissions to read, we wouldn't encourage ones we didn't think might be good.

So here's what we came up with as possible explanations. If you've encountered this situation and have some other ideas, please contribute.

● You sold the story elsewhere. Great, we're glad you are being successful. But please email and let us know, so we can take it off our "expecting to see" list (or pull it from the reading queue, if you'd already sent it).

● "Life happened"—There was a major personal or family change that has severely impacted your writing time. Of course, you should already have had this story finished and polished and ready to send before you pitched it. But maybe you realistically see that if it were accepted now or if you were asked to make revisions and resubmit, you wouldn't have time to deal with it until you've had the baby or divorced the husband or moved back from Antarctica or dealt with some lengthy crisis.

If this occurs, let the editor know. Don't have her form a bad opinion of you due to your lack of response. Just email and briefly explain the issue and that you hope it will be all right to send the requested manuscript in future.

● You died. Maybe you should have left a note for your estate executor, so that person can notify us. (Okay, probably not so important in your scheme of things if you are no longer amongst the living.)

● You are living out a cliche from a novel: you've been kidnapped by terrorists, developed amnesia, been swept off your feet and to the Middle East by a billionaire sheik, or been offered your dream job at an incredible salary as long as you go live on a completely isolated island with your anonymous employer's young children. In this case, we forgive you for not getting back to us. But do contact us, because we're dying to hear all about this!

Notice the repeated refrain? Communicate! If an editor/agent asks to see your manuscript and then never hears from you, this is going to leave a negative impression. Don't burn bridges, even if you have moved on or become successful elsewhere—the publishing world is not that big, you may need this person someday.


Kimber An said...

Hmm, I haven't done this yet, but I've heard about it.

1) The novel isn't actually finished. The author figured she'd never get a request anyway and just wanted to see if it stood a chance before putting the incredible time and energy into finishing and polishing it. I've been tempted to do this, because of the time and energy thing coupled with knowing none of my stories fit neatly into a selling genre.

2) Someone told her the editor/publisher no longer takes that kind of story.

3) She learned you participated in Queryfail. If memory serves, none of you did, but that doesn't mean she wasn't told you did.

4) Someone told her you dissed aspiring authors some other way and would likely get ridiculed too. Again, doesn't matter if it's true or not. If she's been told this, she's intimidated.

5) A writing expert has told her the story will never sell because it doesn't have a vampire (or whatever) in it.

6) A writing expert has told her something else, probably based on out-of-date advice because he hasn't been in touch with the publishing industry in five years.

7) The finished and polished novel was on the computer and it crashed and she didn't have it backed up anywhere. She's sobbed her eyes out and given up on ever writing again.

8) She's been told she must include graphic sex scenes or she doens't stand a chance. And she's uncomfortable writing them or her story doesn't make sex a part of the plot or characterization. (Doesn't know about Cerridwen Press.)

There's probably more. I see a common thread, misinformation destroying shakey self-confidence.

Kimber An said...

Oh, on the advice to communicate, a lot of aspiring authors are afraid to after being told repeatedly not to bother agents and editors.

Another case of misinformation? Probably. But, when a writer's chances are so slim, she often doesn't know who to believe. One shot, one mistake, and it's all over for that one novel she's put so much time and energy into.

Bookends is blogging on a related topic today, by the way.

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, Kimber An,

Yep, I can see how an author might be intimidated or discouraged by information from others. Amazing how many people proclaim themselves to be "experts" in areas where they have limited experience or knowledge, and inflict what are essentially their personal opinions on others under the guise of "here's how the industry works for everyone".

I can't predict the reactions of every editor or agent at every company. But most of us are basically pleasant and patient people, and are not going to put a black mark against an author's name for reasonable communication. (Please, avoid the repeated emails and demands for attention or acceptance.)

Nope, none of us here at ECPI participated in QueryFail, and we don't allow public dissing of any authors.

Professional communication can only help your chances.


Elaine said...

I've never done this, but one writer in our local chapter did. She attended a conference, got a request for a full from an agent.

Then her first chapter was read at an anonymous session w/panel of editors/agents. The whole panel loved it. She stood up, proud, and the whole panel asked for a partial.

I saw her 2 mos later and asked how her submission went. She hadn't sent anything--she wanted a final run thru by her critique group, they trashed it, she felt too insecure and gave up. Hasn't attended a meeting since. It's such a shame b/c it was industry reps who loved it, and she let critique group ruin her self confidence.

Kimber An said...

Thanks, Editors!

Oh, Elaine, that is heart-breaking. It's like the girls at work telling you you're fat. Who ya gonna believe? Them or your husband who thinks you're gorgeous and can't keep his hands offa you?

Bill Greer said...

I must admit that I just don't get it, but maybe that's due to my personality. I can imagine there are people who are so afraid of rejection or losing control of their book, their baby they've coddled since conception, that they're reluctant to send it out into the big, bad world.

Writing my novel was fun. Sure, it was hard work, especially editing it, but for the most part, I had a great time writing it. I'd get a scene or some dialog just right, absolutely spot on, and I'd be thrilled. I'd reread it over and over and would feel like Tom Hanks on a deserted island dancing and yelling about what I'd just created. While he may have created fire, I'm thrilled with my literary creation. If writing isn't fun, why do people do it?

I've been divorced and raised three teenagers on my own at one point in my life. I've had personal rejection that goes far and above anything an agent or an editor can throw at me. If my novel gets turned down, sure, I'll be bummed for a day, but life goes on. If an agent or an editor wants my full manuscript, I'd send it lickety-split (what the hell does that mean anyway?). What I'd really like to do is get on a plane and deliver the manuscript in person, take the agent or editor to dinner, ply them with some wine, give them a neck and shoulder rub, and then leave them to read my novel. But I'll squelch that urge.

Kirk K said...

I just attended my first writers' conference this past weekend and was astounded when the editor/agent panel almost unanimously agreed that 9 out of 10 people NEVER send their material when requested. It truly boggles the mind. I realize that life happens but at least send SOMETHING!

As a writer trying to break in, I cannot comprehend passing up such an opportunity, no matter the outcome.

Thanks for a great post!

Anonymous said...

Bill, it sounds like life experience alone has given you thick enough skin to survive the industry.

But fear of failure is a very powerful thing. I've learned not to underestimate it. Well...not ME, of course...everyone knows I'm fearless. :)

(And just for you..."lickety-split" originally meant "very fast sprint", and first appeared, in American anyway, in the mid-1800s.)

Kelli C

Anonymous said...

I must admit, I'd sort of assumed that all editors-agents etc said - send us your first three chapters - if you pitched to them at a conference. I thought that no one would want to have authors - or would-be authors wandering around miserable because XYZ hadn't wanted to see their work - or worse still bad mouthing XYZ because they'd expressed no interest. I thought maybe editors- agents etc made a note of those they particularly hoped to see but that was all.
Sadly I was born a pessimistic cynic.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon, I can only speak for this particular editor. If I don't think a book is right for EC, I don't ask the author to send it.

I do, however, offer suggestions on what they might want to consider revising if they're firm in their desire to publish with EC or Cerridwen (which would mean revisions that are specific to our markets, of course).

And no, I'm not concerned that they'll take my sage advice and run off to another publisher. I'd rather know that I possibly helped someone improve their work.

After all, I could find their book in my TBR pile some day...and I like to read good books. :)

Lisette Kristensen said...

I agree, I don't get it. The whole purpose is to get your story published.

I remember the great line from the Godfather, "Tell Michael, it was nothing personal, just business." I try to hold fast to that quote when submitting. Don't misunderstand getting a rejection stings, but you have to just press on.

On critique groups, well ... been there done that. Over time have developed a private group of people who understand my writing good and bad. Also, I have found two people to be beta readers. I found a document called 16 questions. They read the story and answer the questions, it's a big help. One final thing, one person likes my genre (erotica/BDSM) the other doesn't.

An editor said once, "getting rejected is one step closer to being published." Because if you don't submit you can't get published. Simple as that!