Thursday, June 24, 2010

Submitting a manuscript - You DO realize it’s hopeless, don’t you?

The frustration continues. One publisher that I really, really wanted for Book Five of my series set their word limit at 100,000. I stressed for weeks trying to cull and rewrite so it would still make sense at that length (how the heck does Reader’s Digest do it?). Then, checking back on their guidelines before submitting, I find they’ve lowered it to 90,000.

Another publisher that I really, really want for my sci-fi only takes submissions on certain dates. Given the deluge of manuscripts out there, that certainly seems reasonable. Only trouble is, when I go to that date outlined in heavy red Magic Marker on my calendar, I find they’ve moved it up a couple of months.

Then there’s the specter of the slush pile. Forever burned into my brain is a pic I saw once of people sitting around on piles of manuscripts having lunch. Behind them were stacks reaching to the ceiling. Of course, most submissions these days are electronic, but you get the picture.

To add to your depression, here’s excerpts from an article by former slush reader, Patricia Chui: (BTW, I strongly urge aspiring writers to follow this link…)

Every editor's inbox is piled high with mail from big agents, small agents, writers met at conferences, friends of his wife's dentist and people who plucked his name off a book's acknowledgments page. Some of these submissions, generally the ones sent by respected agents, will be read carefully; some will get little more than a glance. There's really no other way to do it.

The sad thing is that I have this attitude now toward authors who send in unsolicited manuscripts… Now, I consider every unagented author to be slightly psychotic and deranged, and every unsolicited manuscript to be bad.

Was it cruel of us to make fun of the slush? Sure, maybe. But we were overworked, underpaid assistants at the bottom of a lofty totem pole, and putting down bad writing was our way of lifting ourselves up… To our credit, we readers did give every single submission, no matter how ludicrous, a fair and honest appraisal. During my reign as slush handler, a few projects garnered further consideration from our editors; one was even published.

I moved on to other jobs. And these days, as a freelance writer, I am chagrined to find that the worm has turned. Suddenly, I'm the desperate one, the hopeful neurotic who waits impatiently only to be met with rejection or no response at all. Interestingly enough, my background in slush sometimes works against me: I am less persistent than I could be, worried that editors will find me annoying and pathetic. In my weaker moments, I wonder if my story pitches are being passed around, ridiculed and ignored. I wonder if the people I'm querying even exist. Maybe what goes around really does come around.

So what are the chances? Slim and none. Well, I got lucky once. And hope springs eternal, as they say.

Note to Patricia Chiu: if you happen to Google yourself one day and run into this blog, please be advised I did my level best to get permission for this quote. I used the contact form from salon.com and checked Facebook and LinkedIn.

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