Monday, August 16, 2010

Publishing Is Business Not Charity

Every agent receives letters like this. Following a rejection, we get a follow up letter complaining that if we would just have read the full story, or if we would have just signed the person, we would be able to help this person in their career. While this might be true, and writers may gain a great deal of experience and assistance from working directly with an agent, taking on writers just for this purpose simply isn't possible.

This is a business for agents. While many of us do all we can to assist writers by blogging, providing critiques, and attending conferences, we are looking for manuscripts that can be successful when we sell them to publishers. We are looking for the best of the best. We are not looking for projects that are mediocre or less than mediocre. Sure, there are some times when we see a manuscript with a high concept that is amazing and the writing needs work and we'll sign it, but those cases are rare.

I mentioned this before and I think the analogy works really well (although several people responded with those single books they have read that defied this). How many times do you quit reading a book when it is just doesn't work. You never finish it. This is why we might only ask for a partial and then not want to see more.

I don't want to get into that argument of agents being too busy to deal with this. We have heard that before. I want to simply remind people to think of this as a business. You are a business owner in competition with other people who sell similar products. You want to find the best product to market to be successful. You don't just want to market anything.



  1. Scott,

    You always tell the unvarnished truth about writing (and the business of writing) and just stopping by your blog every morning with my morning coffee in hand has saved me years in trying to understand the process.

    I attended a workshop at Nationals that was rather eyeopening . . . it was a mock publishers meeting reviewing book premises and gave input from the dfferent support divisions on whether to publish or pass. It was NOT a hand holding appreciation-of-art session, it was a BUSINESS meeting -- exactly what you're telling us.

    You have clarity, and your support for authors shines through. Your blog succintly offers guidance and for that I raise my double espresso with appreciation . . .Cheers.

  2. A lot of it boils down to writers thinking their work is much better than it is. Good-- finish a novel and revise a LOT. Better-- Set it aside for 6 weeks, then revise a lot more. Best-- set aside for six months, write the next book, then come back to the first and revise again AS NEEDED before querying.

  3. Yes, it's definitley a business. Editors and agents should be choosy.

    When I pick up a book and three pages later it does little to intrigue me then down to the discard pile it goes because I don't want to waste my time on someething that isn't catching my interest (not to say that same book wouldn't catch someone elses interest).

  4. I like this line: "You are a business owner in competition with other people who sell similar products."

    I hadn't thought about it that way before. Thanks!

  5. I don't know anyone who writes follow-up letters to rejections--disagreeing or begging. I would never have the courage to do that. However, I did respond to a contest judge once. She counted off points because of something to do with my hero's profession ... certain tools he used. I just kindly told her she assumed I didn't do my research. I fact, interviewed and sold an article on the profession. I knew exactly what tools were used. I get mad just thinking about that contest judge!

    Even though I wasn't rude to her, I've regretted my response. I should have ignored her comments.

    In your case, I think because agents and editors blog and are so accessible these days, we writers feel we have more of a relationship with you all than we actually do. That probably gives us more courage than we would normally have. Of course, some people are just downright aggressive.

  6. Thanks for the comment Karen. Now get back to your writing and get those submissions out to the agents who were begging for them. (smiling)

  7. Even in my small corner of the publishing world at our magazine, I receive angry emails from writers who nag me after I send a rejection.

    Many want feedback on their work, some want an explanation, and others simply want to lash out at me. My rule is to ignore these comebacks and to press on with the mountain of submissions I have to tackle.

    In the past, I have posted editorials on our website gently explaining the submission process to writers, only to have complainers poke back when their story is returned to them.

    I have a thick skin, and I'll continue to write articles on the magazine submission process for the benefit of those who actually read the journal before sending a query.

    Thanks for allowing me to rant, and I appreciated your post.