AUTHORS! Why do you write?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sorting Through (Unsolicited) Book Manuscripts (Part 2a of 5)


A small detour in our ongoing discussion. . . As the managing director and acquisitions editor for Savas Beatie, I do my best to evaluate both content and author. Both are important. An evaluation tool I use is how authors respond to my suggestions via a rejection letter.

For example, occasionally we get manuscripts we can't use, but I know agents or other editors/houses who might want to see them. So when I reject the query/manuscript, I pass along a suggestion to the author to consider posting comments on our blogs (and others) pertinent to the post topic of the day, and discuss their own situation and manuscript. I also always offer a tip or suggestion that might help them.

Why? Because you never know who is watching. And as I tell them, agents, other bloggers, other publishers, other editors, et. al., track my blog.

I like to see which authors even take the time to say thank you in a reply (about half do, which means the other half are essentially brain dead when it comes to manners and seeing past square one), and which take the time to post a pertinent comment that might help them. The vast majority of those I turn away do not.

Question: What does this tell me?

Answer: That I made the right decision to turn down their manuscript and reject them as authors.

If they can't follow simply suggestions that will help them and potentially help them get published, why would I want them as a Savas Beatie author? There is a reason for everything we do here, even in rejection-suggestions.

Another quick example: We had a full length manuscript biography of a Civil War general cross our desk (I requested to see it) a few months ago. I sent it out to a reader, paid to have it read, and he evaluated it pretty carefully. Generally he liked it as a first cut, but had some very straight-up criticism for the author on how it had to be improved before we should accept it (more tactical battle detail, more analysis, and so forth). Tough, fair, and honest. No BS.

I took the time to put all this into an email and send it to the author.

Guess what? The author has not taken the time to even reply. It looks like it was not what he wanted to hear, so he handled it by not handling it. And by doing so, he told me much about what it would be like to deal with him after the contract is signed.

Authors take heed: There is a reason for everything we do here (and this is true in every publishing house). How you handle it may determine whether you ever get your work published.

Publishing is a very, very small world, and word travels fast.

--tps

5 comments:

John Fox said...

Great thoughts and ideas! I might add that commonsense would say to make sure that everything in the query is spelled and punctuated properly.

Michael Aubrecht said...

Great stuff Ted. Traditionally the idea of a ‘ladder’ has been used to illustrate the concept of climbing one’s way ‘up’ to reach a desired plateau (like publishing a book). However, I would venture to say that in today’s world, a web would be more accurate to symbolize that path.

Meaning the idea of networking and building bridges often leads one to their desired destination whether they go straight ‘up’ the rungs or not.

It has been my experience, both personally and professionally, that making contacts - can often lead to making MORE contacts - that eventually lead to the RIGHT contacts.

The key is to show gratitude for all of these contacts along the way whether they lead you ‘up,’ ‘over’ or ‘under’ en route to achieving your goal. I have had more side-projects, speaking engagements and other blessings come from people who simply directed me along the way than the ones who were at my final destination.

An author’s extended network is a precious tool for sure and should be not only maintained, but cultivated.

Keep up the great posts.

Chris Hartley said...

I'm an author but I also have a background in consumer goods marketing. Listening to your customer - in this case a publishing firm like Savas Beatie -is the the first critical step in marketing any product well. And not only is it good business sense to reply to someone who has invested time and money in your work, it is also simple common courtesy. Ted decided to pass on the book I recently submitted to him, but his comments and suggestions will certainly play a role in my continuing efforts to find the right publisher. I appreciate the feedback, Ted.

Larry Tagg said...

I used to run into the same problem with songwriters who sent me their work to critique. As soon as I offered a real criticism, they got huffy and recoiled. Sorry to say, it's the mark of someone who is destined to remain an amateur.

Larry Tagg

Brad Forbush said...

Aha !
Ted,
You gave this advice to me and I was grateful. I double checked and I did write a thank you note & I did follow up on your suggestions of other publishers to contact. I haven't posted so much on the blogs - though I do read them. (I'll work on that).

Let me say publicly I appreciated the attention you paid my query letter.

Brad Forbush
(Stories of the 13th Mass)