This week's [REALITY CHECK] comes from Patricia Robertson, an author with over twenty years of publishing experience who has had to readjust her thinking with regard to manuscript submission and the publishing industry as a whole. Like Patricia, I can relate to studying Writers' Digest--the print version--and educating myself on the ins and outs of manuscript submissions and getting published.
If you know what I mean when I say "SASE", or if you've ever sent one, you will relate to what Patricia has to say and take her advice to heart.
Unlearning What I Once Knew
By Patricia Robertson
My first book was published over twenty years ago. At that time, I had read all of the articles in my Writers’ Digest and scoured the listings of publishers. What I learned was that most publishers did not accept multiple submissions of manuscripts and that getting published was a waiting game. This was prior to the arrival of the Internet, a time when query letters and manuscripts were sent via snail mail with a SASE – self-addressed stamped envelope. If you heard back from a publisher within two to three months, it usually meant a rejection letter. If you hadn’t heard back by then, you were being seriously considered. The writer who pestered publishers for responses was summarily dismissed. And so I learned to be patient. I sent one manuscript to one publisher and waited a year or more before making inquiries as to the status of my submission.
Following this slow process, I managed to get four non-fiction books published and a series of pamphlets. I also managed to develop contacts at different publishing houses who helped move my manuscripts farther up the queue of submissions.
About six years ago, I sent a manuscript to one of my contacts and began the waiting game again. After a year I checked and, yes, they were still considering it. Another six months and I was told they would be discussing my manuscript at a January meeting, and then I was told they would be making a decision in February, followed by a total black-out. No responses to my emails for months. When I finally did get a response, I was told they had just undergone a re-organization and in the process my manuscript had been lost—but if I hadn’t sent it to another publisher and would like to resubmit it, I could. That was my first clue, but being dense, I didn’t pick up on it.
“No,” I responded, “I haven’t sent it anywhere else. My understanding was that multiple submissions are not allowed.” Since I had already invested so much time, I decided to give it another try and resubmit. One year later, after no response to repeated emails, I withdrew my submission and started the long, slow process once again. Some responded quickly with rejections, other times it sat in some e-file for a year or more until being rejected, or lost.
Since that time, my contact at the aforementioned publishing house lost her position, along with twenty-four other employees in another re-organization and down-sizing in order to stay competitive. Another contact at a different company left her position, and the pamphlet she had initially approved was rejected, and yet another contact I had developed was moved to another department after a re-organization and is no longer in charge of acquisitions. Despite repeated calls to the new acquisition’s editor, I’ve yet to learn the status of three proposals sent a year ago.
These are difficult times for all involved in traditional publishing. They are doing what they can to survive. What was true twenty years ago is no longer true in this electronic age. The Internet has radically changed the nature of publishing. I get rejections much quicker than before. I develop contacts only to have them gone a month later, though it is easier to make new contacts through email. And it seems multiple submissions are now not only allowed, but expected, something I still have a hard time accepting. After all of these years, it seems deceptive, or at least impolite, to promiscuously shop around your manuscript to any suitor. Old habits are hard to change but change they must.
Fortunately for authors, along with the changes brought by the Internet is the increase in self-publishing. We don’t have to wait patiently for traditional publishers to get their act together in order to be published. We can do it ourselves, setting our own time-line. No more waiting game!
The world of publishing continues to change at a rapid rate. If we are to survive/thrive in this environment, we need to rethink what we thought we knew.
I’m sure there are others with similar experiences and/or insights on the changes going on in publishing today. I would love to hear from you.
Patricia Robertson’s first book, Daily Meditations for Busy Moms, is still in print after twenty years. She will be releasing her novel, Dreamweavers, at the end of May. She has a Doctor of Ministry and over thirty years of experience. For more information check out her web-site, http://patriciamrobertson.com. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.