Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why doesn't anyone want to publish me? by Terry Burns

“My project is good enough to publish, 
so why does no agent want to represent it 
or no editor want to publish it?” the 
frustrated author asked the panel. 

Good question.

Several things are involved, and the first is 
competition. I’ve said before that agents 
receive hundreds of submissions a 
month, and a large number of them are 
good enough  to be published.

That means good is just not good enough, it takes exceptional. 
If your manuscript is really good but it is sitting there beside one 
or more that are simply better, that editor or agent is going  to 
go with better. It’s just how things work. 

It is not about judging you or judging your work, it is simply the 
editor or agent picking the best offering. That brings taste into 
the discussion. Things I really like might not be to someone else’s 
taste. I have editors whom I really like and who like me, but I 
have never sold them anything. Our tastes are too dissimilar. 
There are other editors I sell to all the time because we have 
very similar tastes. This is the second factor an author is up 
against when submitting: is your work something that will appeal 
to the particular taste of the editor or agent? Not a question of 
whether your work  is good or bad, but whether it fits within 
their tastes.

The next factor is “does is fit the slot?” A particular editor is 
probably trying to fill a catalog slot. He or she is looking for 
something specific, and an author’s work may or may not fit the 
criteria at that particular time. Again, does it mean the manuscript 
is being judged up or down? No, it just isn’t what the editor is 
looking for at that time, so out comes the dreaded “This is not a 
fit for us” letter. You can multiply that by multiple editors for the 
agent. It’s our job as agents to try to know what editors are 
looking for so we asking the same question, “This is good, but 
does it fit what some of the editors are looking for?” 

The kind of manuscript it is can affect whether it fits the slot. 
Projects that neatly fit in some genre, style, or category are easier 
for an editor or agent to deal with. They are easier to sell, but 
such books also tend to be a bit average and are seldom a 
blockbuster or a best seller. The manuscript that stretches the 
envelope is the one that becomes a best seller, but they are also
 much harder to place, as a rule. Some editor has to take a 
chance on it. 

And the agent has to know that editor.


Catherine said...

Dear Terry,
I received just such a rejection letter yesterday. What you wrote above applies to my novel. After I thought about it, I realized that the agent I queried can't just pull a publisher out of a hat no matter how much s/he might like my work. It just wasn't a good fit. I hope all authors are encouraged to keep trying no matter how many rejection letters they receive. That perfect fit is out there, we just have to keep looking until we find it. Thank you for writing this. Catherine

B. J. Robinson said...

I received a rejection like that years ago from a "big name" traditional Christian publisher. I save the letter and still have it because it was the best rejection I ever received. After reading praise after praise about my characters, I finally read the let-down line, but that editor encouraged me to keep writing and not give up because she took the time to care and let a new writer down gently, something they no longer have time for, hence form rejection letters. I just blogged about that experience this morning, my publishing journey, but I haven't posted it yet. Your post rings a bell. I never submitted to them again during he time they would still accept submissions without an agent. Perhaps I should have. Oh well, what's done is done. Blessings, BJ

B. J. Robinson said...

Keying so fast my keyboard is skipping letters on me. Sorry.

Ron Estrada said...

It helps me to have been involved in the management of a small business. We have one goal in mind: make the largest possible profit. This is counter-cultural these days, but it is actually a manager's moral responsibility to make decision with profit in mind. He has employees relying on the profit. Customers, share holders, suppliers--all rely on the company making a profit. A publisher is no different. He may actually be considering lay-offs in a tight economy, so rejecting an author, while not pleasant, isn't exactly causing him to lose sleep. For the most part, writers dream of publication, but have another means of income. The publisher has much higher stakes. He's the one that will suffer for a wrong decision. We should try seeing it from his side of the desk.

Bonnie Doran said...

Thanks for the post, Terry. I'm thankful I have both an agent and a publisher who are enthusiastic about my newly published novel. It happened after pitching for 15 years. In those years, I learned the craft and waited--impatiently--for God's timing. It still took a lot of work with the editors, but they took a chance on me, and I'm grateful.

Walt Mussell said...

Eloquent post, Terry. I know these feelings well.