Submitting Submittable Submittals – Part 2

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The last post here was all about the Good Old Days, when writers dealt with the business end of things via the Post Office, and not a small amount of clerical work in making submittals to agents and editors.

But things have changed. Drastically.

First, the publishing industry has changed and that affects all those persons downstream from the published manuscript. The larger publishing countries are now run by corporate entities. They don’t spend  time developing writers any longer. Business dictates that profits be maximized and maximized quickly. So now, when editors at these corporations meet, each one’s job is to persuade the rest that his/her client’s “product” is the most valuable among all the others vying for preferential treatment.

This means that any necessary development of a writer will happen through a literary agent’s relationship with the writer. I’m sure that this is occurring in some agent/author relationships, but I’ve not heard of them personally. What I DO hear is that agents will work with writers on specific manuscripts, not in the context of the writer’s overall development. And what I hear in that regard as well is that agents will ask a writer to tailor the manuscript to the corporate standards of characters, genre, story flow, point of view and style of writing. Clearly this retards creativity and innovation.

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But be that as it may, there may be a tremendous amount of time expended between the agent and writer, and the writer may be asked to spend a great amount of money resolving issues with the agent. In the best of cases, however, most agents are accepting digital query letters, and many of these receive quick turnaround. In many cases the writer may receive a reply to the e-query within one to three days. And many of these agents will accept electronic manuscript files, again saving  the writer a great amount of money and a not insignificant amount of time in negotiating this hurdle on the way to publication.

But this applies mostly to the largest, most prestigious publication houses. In submitting to the smaller houses, the writer may very well be dealing almost completely with the publisher/editorial staff. And these are more open to innovative structure, writing style and type of style, including hybrid genre manuscripts. In these cases it’s not unusual for a capable writer to be signed immediately to a publication contract.

So the digital revolution and the corporatization of publishing are remarkably different in nature now than then. Some of these changes are good, some bad, for everyone from author to reader, and what this implies is that the digital revolution as it applies to writing and publication is not yet complete.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Turning Point

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My third book, The Blue Bicycle, proved to be a turning point, both in writing and in publishing. As I wrote in my last post, while there’s always something to learn, voice and style to smooth out in a piece of creative writing, I was beginning to doubt whether I could compete with accomplished writers in attracting publishing contracts. So I set out to find out whether my writerly chops showed promise or not.

I spent the better part of six months writing a novella consisting of four parts, about a young boy abandoned by his parents and living with a colorful old man – his great-grandfather – who proved to be both enlightening and dangerous. Each of the four sections was written in a different tense and varying point of view. My logic here was that in writing something as complex as this, any holes in my writing ability would be glaringly obvious.

With the novella finished, I decided to submit it to a professional editor to see just what I and it were made of. A month or so following my submittal, the editor called, asked me to visit her and we could go over the manuscript face to face. She lived in another North Carolina town not far away, so I swallowed hard and agreed. In short, she only had three major complaints with the manuscript (I say “major” in a relative sense), which were easy enough to fix. Most of her comments, however, were laden with praise.

At about this time, I was awarded a gift – a summer-long writer in residence position to work with the famed Doris Betts. Over that summer, with her critiquing both short and long fiction projects I was working on, I gained from her enough insight into fiction writing to to eclipse a full decade of struggling to learn how to write on my own.

But back to The Blue Bicycle.

I accommodated the editor’s few comments, cleaned up the manuscript, and decided to hit a few agents with it. My second or third submittal brought a response back from a widely known New York agent. He really liked the story and was sorely tempted to represent me. But, he said, its complex structure would make it very hard to sell. And novellas were looked at by traditional publishers during that time with jaundiced eyes. So no, he wouldn’t represent me. Sorry.

A month or so later my good friend, songwriter and performer Eric Taylor, hit town and while we had a beer, we talked shop. I told him of the near miss with The Blue Bicycle. The trials of music publishing apparently aren’t that far removed from  those of books -Eric’s comment: “So this guy told you that you’ve done your job with this manuscript, but he couldn’t do his.” A unique perspective that, and bitingly humorous.

I shopped the manuscript around some more and eventually decided to do the
CreateSpeace thing again. Not an especially good choice, I subsequently discovered, but the readers who have found The Blue Bicycle  loved it. In fact, it’s been my bestselling book world-wide.

Oh, and by the way, American publishers may not like novellas, but European and British readers do.

Next, my writing bears fruit. Serendipity prevails in my favor.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.