Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rejected Manuscripts

It's been crazy in our house for the past two weeks. We've put an offer on a condo and are putting our house on the market in January, which means de-cluttering and, most of all, clearing things out since we've decided to update the carpets --whatever's left, which isn't much-- and freshen up the paint in the basement.

Clearing out 21 years of accumulated junk is more than daunting. Sometimes it's depressing and sometimes downright heartbreaking. We're going into a much smaller place so we have to be ruthless. Both my husband and I are pack rats, for different things, but we both love books. Getting rid of our books has been a wrench and we've already kept more than we should. What the heck, we figure we'll cull again once we see what kind of space we have.

While sorting books, I came across Rotten Reviews & Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and André Bernard and while I go through it giggling and being amazed at people's lack of foresight, I thought I'd spend a couple of posts talking about rejections and reviews, interspersing them with some of those same from authors about authors (we are our worst critics), from publishers, newspaper people, etc. taken from the book mentioned above.

My work in progess (what we call, in writer's parlance a wip) is quite different from what I usually write. It started during NaNoWriMo this year and has taken a life of its own so I decided I'd like to see if I can find another publisher for it. This is like not putting your eggs in the same basket principle; I'm not, however, looking forward to the process.

Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865: "We fancy that any real child might be more puzzled than enchanted by this stiff, overwrought story." Children's Books

Looking for a publisher, or even an agent, can be an exercise in frustration. As a writer, you believe in your story, in your writing. You want to put it out there because most writers write to be read. (Any writer who says differently should be journaling instead). The fact that most writers would like to write full time and can't is a source of frustration. Writing full time means giving up food and shelter because, unless you sell a lot of books, you basically make little if no money.

"But... aren't writers loaded?" Ha! There are literally tens of thousands of writers, fiction and non-fiction, and I'm talking only in the English-speaking language. If you chop the heads off the J. K. Rowlings, Stephen Kings, and Doctor Phils, who allegedly rake in millions, the average yearly salary for a writer is in the four digits.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain, 1934: "...I think it is only a matter of time before you reach out into more substantial efforts that will be capable of making some real money as books."

So when you send out your manuscript to a publisher and agent, it's not only your hope that it will be published that goes with it, but also your hope that, maybe, you'll be able to afford one day to do what you love full time.

The disconnect comes right here: publishers are strictly a business. They don't exist to help up-and-coming writers, or to present new, talented writers to their readership. Publishing must be, to survive, a low risk business. That's why publishers would rather publish well-known writers (that's why you see so many reprints) than throw good money after bad on an unknown. There are additional factors, as well, of course, such as the sheer volume of --often very bad-- manuscripts they receive. The number, let alone the quality, would daunt and discourage any editor. Add to that a decreasing readership and the disconnect between hopeful writer and publisher becomes the Great Divide.

So are we silly idiots or great dreamers? Depending on the day, I feel like one or the other. Or both.

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