(Next week -- the character driven story.)
One of my students finished her first novel and sent it off to five publishers, two accepted, she selected one… and what’s wrong with this picture?
She emailed me and said that publisher number two had asked her not to submit any more work. “But I was going to go with them from the second manuscript, did I do something wrong?”
Yes you did.
We editors know that authors often submit their manuscripts to several publishing houses. You want to get published. You spread your manuscript around like compost and somewhere lovely flowers will bloom.
Did you read the guidelines for submission? Did the publisher ask for NO MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS? If they did, they mean it. Publishers will typically spend three-eight hours looking at each manuscript before deciding to offer a contract. Don’t waste our time. If you’re shopping your manuscript around, tell us. If it’s a great manuscript, it might jump to the top of the stack – or not. I’ve passed on great manuscripts because the author said they were also submitting to ABC Publishers and I knew that the story is a better fit at ABC.
Really, all we want you to do is be honest.
OK, so you followed the guidelines and it's been months since you heard from the publisher, despite polite queries on your part. Now what?
(1) Submit to another publisher, but tell them that La-Di-Dah Publishing is also looking at the manuscript. However, it's been six months since you submitted and they're not responding to your emails, etc. The second publisher may pass on your manuscript, or we may suggest that you withdraw the manuscript….
(2) Tell La-Di-Dah Publishing that you’re withdrawing your manuscript. If they don’t respond in a timely manner, tell the next publisher you submit to that you submitted to and attempted to withdraw your manuscript from La-Di Dah, but they haven’t responded. We may know that La-Di-Dah is like that and be very sympathetic.
Follow the protocol. If you are querying a publisher who allows made multiple submissions, say so: "This manuscript has been submitted to you, DFG Press and WXY Publishers."
Even though it seems like there are a zillion publishers out there, the publishing world is still a very small place. Editors often read for several publishers*; I once saw the same manuscript five times when I was a freelance editor. To be fair, that author stated up front that he was making multiple submissions; on the other hand, none of the five companies I worked with accepted the manuscript.
MULTIPLE QUERIES, SINGLE SUBMISSION
What if you’d really like to be published by ABC, DEF and GHI Publishers, in that order? You can try multiple queries, single submission, but to do this, you must do your homework. When is the publisher accepting submissions: year-round, monthly, quarterly? Line up the publishers you're interested in; figure out when you have to submit and what (query letter only, query letter and sample chapters), and state clearly in your cover letter that if you don't hear back from the publisher in (30 days, 60 days, etc.) that you will withdraw your submission.
The publisher's web site should tell you what their turn-around time is on submissions--if it doesn't, ask before you submit. If they say it can be 90 days or more before you hear from them and you don't want to wait that long, don't submit.
A SAD TALE
...that was the title of a manuscript submitted to the "Als" (see posting May 20) . The author had sent sample chapters and a cover letter to the Als, looking for an agent. The story was quite good; Al offered to represent the author. Ah, but the author had been shopping for agents; decided to sign with another agent. Fair enough, that’s business.
Al ran into the other agent and kept me entertained for a month with tales of A Sad Tale**. The author wanted the first agent to aggressively market the book to several publishers; after four months and no contract, the author fired the agent and hired another; and without firing the second agent, hired another. The two new agents found out and both resigned.
The author was effectively blackballed among agents and started representing himself, calling publishing houses big and small, whether they published the sort of manuscript he had or not. The author and the manuscript got to be a joke: "Seen A Sad Tale yet? Only a matter of time!"
The author eventually was published via a vanity press. I’d forgotten all about A Sad Tale, until I found three new copies of the book at a yard sale in 1998, about fifteen years after they’d been printed. The books looked like they had never been opened, all three covers inscribed, “To Don….” and signed by the author. The folks running the yard sale didn’t know who Don was or where the books had come from.
I sent the books to Al; he called me as soon as he got them. He was laughing so hard that I could barely understand him. “Been years since I thought about this guy,” he chortled. “He tuned up at writer’s conferences representing himself as an agent for those vanity publishing folks. That was their MO back in the day – you could work off some of the cost of publishing your book by getting other writers to sign. A pyramid scheme, right?”
Alice chimed in from the other phone line, “They had the most horrid reputation. The conferences wouldn’t let them in as publisher reps. They had to register as participants -- we couldn’t keep them from coming to the conferences, of course – and they’d try to do these back-door deals. Al and I did a workshop at the conferences – ‘Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing and the Vanity Press’ – and they’d come to the workshop and sit in the back and take notes.”
Al came back on, “And at the next conference they’d sign up under fake names and try to give a workshop on ‘self-publishing’; which was just a shill to get writers to sign with that damned vanity press. They were like crabgrass; they finally went away, but bingo, here’s that internet and they’re all over it. I’ll have Alice send you the what’s-it-called…”
“URL,” Alice said.
And there it was: Sad Tale Publishers**, formerly the V-Press, now owned by the would-be author.
At the end of the posting is a link to another excellent article titled Those Terrible Multiple Submitters by Aaron Sheppard. The article was written in 1994 and is still accurate (and funny). http://www.aaronshep.com/kidwriter/A60.html
*And not because editors are at a premium, I assure you. We have to work for several folks to get ends to meet. I make more money mowing lawns than I do editing.