Thursday, January 13, 2011

Editorial Silence

In the seven (almost eight, actually) years I've been trying to be published, I think my biggest gripe against the publishing industry is what I call editorial silence. Let me think, though, if you include submittals to literary magazines I've actually been submitting for about ten years. There's always a time lag between submittal and answer. Magazines, agents, and book acquisitions editors almost all state what their response time is: 6 weeks, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, whatever. It's a little different if you meet an agent or editor at a conference and they ask you to submit something. That's a little less formal, though I suspect their posted response times could be considered to apply.

From my perspective, I don't mind the slow response. What I mind is non-response, or responses so long after the stated response time that it might as well be a non-response. That's the way this business works. A non-response most likely means a no. Most editors say to send them a reminder e-mail once you're a little past their stated response time. When you do you'll get a no.

Some examples. I met with an agent at a conference in Kansas City in November 2007. He asked me to send him the complete manuscript of Doctor Luke's Assistant, as he was planning to represent more fiction in the coming years. I did so about a week later, and heard nothing. The following April I learned this same agent was going to be at a conference I was hoping to attend the next month in North Carolina. I thought we could meet then to discuss my manuscript, if warranted, so I e-mailed him, now five months after he requested the material, and asked for a status report. He said he couldn't find my mss and would I send it again. I did, and talked to him briefly at the next conference. He said, "Your writing is strong, but I don't know if I can sell it. I'm still reading it. Send me a reminder e-mail every week until I respond."

That sounded strange, but I did as he asked. About two weeks later he passed on my book. Looking back, I now suspect he hadn't even looked at the book when I saw him the second time, and he was just giving me "agent-speak".

Another example. At that same North Carolina conference in May 2008, I met with another agent and pitched In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. She asked me to send her a partial (30 or so pages) and a proposal. I did so promptly, and heard nothing for four months. I sent a reminder e-mail, and heard nothing for two months. I sent another reminder e-mail, and she responded, passing on my book because she already represented something similar.

How strange that these two agents, who I met with and who requested me to send them some material, should totally fail to respond. Add to that about thirty magazine submittals where I've either never heard back or heard back up to a year after submittal, and I've concluded that the submittal process is broken across the board. Some writers call it the "query-go-round". Others have a less complimentary term for it.

It's enough to drive an unpublished author to self-publishing. For now, I guess I'll go do something that will make me some money.


Gary said...

Buyer's market. Plus maybe some incompetence or, more likely, insincerity. There's truth to the adage: the best way to get something done is to do it yourself.

David A. Todd said...

Gary, you're absolutely right: It is a buyer's market. And the buyers know it only too well. They come upon what they think is a good book at a November conference and request the manuscript. Then at a February conference they come upon a better book and forget all about the former, not seeing any need to contact the former author. They assume everyone else will assume that silence is a no.

Do it myself, huh? As in self-publish?