[REALITY CHECK ] Advice for All Authors: Adapt or Die

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 patricia@patriciamrobertson.com

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)


©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.

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Comment by Patricia Robertson on May 9, 2014 at 5:46am

Thanks, Kathryn, I'm trying out self-publishing. I hope I have the same success you have!

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on May 8, 2014 at 5:25pm

Ah, the memories! Most of them bad or cringe worthy.

Writer's Market. Printed out copies of my books stuffed into copy paper boxes...large manila envelopes...postage I couldn't usually afford to send partial or whole manuscripts to publishers that may or may not even read them. SASE's. Rejection letters or those letters that led you along telling you to fix this or that; taking up more of your precious life...only to end with a sorrowful rejection months and months later when their "needs" changed or your editor "disappeared".  4-6% royalties that took a year to collect...and the explanation of them hidden in royalty statements that made little sense...other than you sold a lot of paperbacks, but, here's your share, a few dollars - and be happy we gave you this much. Yeck! The heartbreak. The poverty. The self-doubt.

I, like you Pat, started writing and publishing decades ago in the dark ages of traditional publishing...42 years ago. My first book (of 19) came out in 1984 (and took me 12 years to get published just because of those old rules of sending to one publisher after another and wait...wait...wait. My very first manuscript was finally about to be published in 1982 and the company -Towers Publishing- went bankrupt and sold out to Leisure...who finally took the book two years later.) I worked my fingers to the bone to write my books and, in the end, got pennies for them. Always thought I wasn't a good enough writer to be one of the better paid writers. My books made the money, I just didn't get much of it. Ha! I am so THRILLED those days are over.

Now I self-publish and last month alone I made MORE money than I ever, ever, ever made from my traditionally published paperbacks and books. In one month as much as I'd make back then in two years. I just wish the age of self-publishing and eBooks had come sooner. I look to the future now with a smile.

Comment by Patricia Robertson on May 8, 2014 at 1:00pm

Meg, love your experience with tracking. That's fantastic. I have yet to experience this but hope to someday. Congratulations on the offer!

Comment by Meg E Dobson on May 8, 2014 at 12:23pm
When publishing moved to "If you do not hear from us within X weeks, assume we are not interested.' I stopped querying those people. If they can't hassle a finger push form letter?

It does seem to be moving toward a more writer friendly, "Our policy is not to reply if we are not interested, I try my best to respond to all queries within 6-8 weeks." I appreciate his honesty.

With the internet cool tools, my greatest experience was an internet submission process where I could TRACK (yes, excited caps!) my manuscript through their system. I knew when it was pulled from email slush list. Then see when it was assigned. And miracle of miracle, when it was opened by the editor. All without a call or email. And it was fast. My offer came soon after that.

Please let that be the tech wave of the future. Our lives will be so much easier.
Comment by Patricia Robertson on May 7, 2014 at 11:05am

Congratulations on the rejection letters - now you are part of the club! I stopped collecting them years ago but at a writer's conference I attended last year one of the speakers circled the room twice with her collection of rejection letters taped together. :)

Comment by Adela Crandell Durkee on May 7, 2014 at 10:21am

Great advise, Patricia.  I just started my collection of rejection letters.  Each is encouraging, but not a good fit, or the queue is too long.  My next step is along the path of artisan publishing.  I can use all the encouragement and networking I can get.


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