Monday, February 4, 2013

Inner Critic

Oh, my inner critic: wondering whether or not my writing is any good. Apparently Amanda McKittrick Ros was untroubled by doubts. She wins the dubious title of "Worst Novelist in History" in a Slate article about Mark O'Donnell's eBook "Epic Fail". I'd download it in a minute if  I wasn't already backed up to my hairline in other things that must be read.

Our January submission period just ended and there are fifty proposals for us editors to review. Fifty proposals that cleared the first hurdle: can the author follow instructions and send us what we asked for?

We see a fair number of proposals that don't -- (1) complete manuscripts with no cover letter; (2) complete manuscripts with a cover letter and a note indicating the ms has already been professionally edited and is "ready to publish"; (3) queries for manuscripts as yet unwritten or just a few chapters written; (4) titles already published elsewhere with the note "I want to change publishers".

(1) A cover letter is standard. Who are you? What is this story about? We will request the complete manuscript if we are interested. Subset: manuscript with cover letter telling us that the story "takes time to develop, therefore I am sending you the whole manuscript." These stories usually take five chapters to describe the wonderful magical fantasy world we are entering. This is called backstory, writers.

(2) Cool that your manuscript is already edited and "ready to go". What do you mean by "professionally edited"? Copy-edited? (I do appreciate correct spelling and grammar.) Substantive? Do we get to go any additional editing or is your prose untouchable? Occasionally I see a manuscript that is too polished and I wonder if it's already been published; there's a difference between a raw well-crafted manuscript and one that's been published.

(3) If you're an established author with a long-time working relationship with a publisher you might be able to write a couple of sample chapters and sell the book. However, most of us want to see the finished manuscript. We want to know that you can write the book, not just polish the first few chapters. We often see manuscripts with the first few chapters polished and the rest in dire need of substantive editing. But if you've got a great story with compelling characters, we'll take it on.

(4) Really? Your other publisher is cool with you shopping your manuscript to other publishers? "It's just for the eBook. The print book will be with Publisher A." However, when we check Publisher A's web site we see that this isn't true. Publisher A owns your book. Sorry that Publisher A doesn't publish eBooks. That was in the contract, wasn't it? Read that contract. If it says that the publisher has exclusive rights, they have exclusive rights as outlined in the contract and supported by law. (Not your interpretation. Imagine yourself in court saying that you signed the contract but you took it to mean...)

(And see #2 above.)

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