Thursday, March 18, 2010

Submission! (No, not that kind of submission....)

I mean manuscript submissions. Geez. Get yer minds out of the gutter.

I wrote a novel in November. Then spent February expanding and revising it to publishable length. Then I sent it off to five publishers. I did not send it to an agent. Agents don't buy novels. Editors buy novels. Thus, sending a novel to an agent would violate Heinlein's Rule # 4 for writers (You must send your story to someone who will buy it.)

But...what about the requirement that you have agent before a publisher will look at it? Forget it. It's not true. I've been told this repeatedly by writers who ought to know, and now I have first-hand experience.

I got a rejection letter yesterday. It said:

Thank you for your submission to [Publisher]. Though your material sounds quite interesting, at the present time it does not meet our cuirrent editorial needs.
 As you're unagented, the best way for you to know which publishing house might be interested in your material is to try to acquire a literary agent. The best way to do this is to go to your local library and look for a reference book called THE LITERARY MARKETPLACE, which lists names and addresses of agents and the types of material they're looking to represent.
Thank you again for considering us. We wish you the best of luck with your writing and in placing your manuscript.

Yes, they suggested I get an agent. But look what they told me first. My manuscript does not meet their current editorial needs. Or, in other words, they're not interested. How do they know this? Because they looked at it. They can't not look at it.

"Get an agent" is just boilerplate. An obstacle put in place to weed out the unmotivated and unknowledgeable. Editors have to look at the manuscripts that come in. Why? Suppose the next Stephen King or Nora Roberts (or Stephanie Meyers) sends them a manuscript, and it gets rejected sight unseen, unread and unconsidered, because of the "no unagented manuscripts" policy. Suppose the novel does eventually find a home and becomes the Next Big Thing. The author becomes a household word, rich and successful beyond the dreams of avarice...and mentions publicly that, "Oh yeah, Publisher X rejected me without looking at my manuscript."

The CEO of Publisher X is not going to be happy. And someone is going to lose his job. If he looked at the manuscript and rejected it (for any number of valid reasons), that's different. But turning away what amounts to a license to print money because you didn't go through an agent? To quote Donald Trump, "You're FIRED!"

So they look. They have to look. If they reject you, they'll tell you to get an agent...but if they'd thought your book was worth buying, don't doubt for a moment that they'd have made you an offer. And the lack of an agent would have been meaningless. They won't care. They'll still want to make money by publishing your novel.

Now, maybe you don't agree with me. Maybe you believe that you must have an agent to submit your novel to publishers. By all means, do what you think is best. But I know what I believe, and that's how I'm pursuing my novel sales.

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