In the glory days of pursuing a publication contract for your story collection, novel, non-fiction book and, yes, even poetry anthology, you faced a long and agonizing process. So long and agonizing, in fact, that once your manuscript was thrown over someone’s transom, you were likely advised to start work on another project. Which you might or might not finish before you heard back about the first one.
And it could be a costly process, too. You were surely advised to have a freelance editor look it over, and that cost could run from $600-$300, depending on the detail of work needed. Time cost? All too few editors were available, and that could mean as much as four months. Then, if you had spent some of that time fashioning a query letter, advice dictated sending queries to as many as 100 possible agents or small press editors. Cost for sending those out would be around $50 to print the queries and mailing labels. And if you chose not to do your own agent/publisher research, companies such as Writer’s Relief were there to help. Cost? Well over $100. Time involved? At least two weeks, and you have to assemble the packages to send in. Some agents would want manuscript samples, too, and that could double the cost.
Okay. You’re closing in on six months by now. You can breathe easily while waiting for replies, so you return to that second manuscript. Replies pour back in to the tune of maybe two per week. All rejections, the replies canned letters, with no commentary on whether the agent/editor liked your work, cited reasons for the rejection. Some of those you sent queries to didn’t say so, but their practice is not to reply unless they want to see more.
Finally someone bites, and you send them the first 100 pages. On paper. More printing. More time elapsed.
This agent writes back three months later. Your use of a prologue was ill-advised, the agent writes, and more context could have been supplied had you written it in third person instead of first person. However, your main characters are sharply defined and interesting. you scratch your head over this, and come back to it for the next three days. You decide to reply to the agent: If I make these changes, will you represent me? You wait for another three months and then you summon the nerve to call. No, the agent’s reader tells you, you can consider your manuscript rejected; we just thought we should give you that feedback from the three houses that read your work.
Well, don’t I feel the perfect fool now, you think as you hang up. By now even you don’t like the first manuscript, and you begin work anew on the second one.
The next post will cover the way – and costs – you might submit for publication in the 21st century. Note: The graphics shown above aren’t meant to be construed as recommendations.
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