Having sent my novel to literary agents rather than publishers (as recommended in the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book) without success, I decided I might just as well start sending it direct to publishers as well. I got nowhere with the literary agents. Over half of them didn’t even bother responding (despite the SAE’s) and those that did gave me no indication of why they didn’t want to represent me; why they didn’t want the book – leaving me with no idea of what I’m, doing wrong (if anything). The trouble is, they don’t give feedback. Why? Apparently they’re all far too busy (and important) to be able to spare a moment to let an aspiring (or is it expiring?) writer know how they’re doing.
This time, for the publishers, I thought I’d be clever. I put in a feedback card with four boxes (basically Good, Fair, Bad and Terrible) and asked if, should they not want to publish the book, they could tick the box that most closely corresponded to their view of my writing. I’ve just had my first reply. I opened it with trepidation – what if they’d given me a ‘bad’ or even a ‘terrible’? Guess what? they hadn’t ticked any of the boxes. Instead, they’d written a comment on the card (in a printed hand that a five-year-old wouldn’t be proud of) saying that they couldn’t make specific comments on their decision (they also sent a ‘not right for us at the present time’ compliments slip). I thought, ‘No – I’m not having that!’ So I rang them. The person who answered the phone said it was because they get so many submissions. I said, ‘does that mean that you wouldn’t have had time to read it then?’ ‘Oh, no; it would have been read.’ I made the point that it would actually have been quicker for them to put a tick in one of the boxes than to write a sentence saying that they don’t make comments!
I wasn’t asking for a full critique; just a rough idea of how the writing had seemed to them from the little of it they had read. They must have read enough to have made the decision that they didn’t want it, after all. Just what are they afraid of? Do they think I might fire-bomb their offices if they are critical of my writing?
I may not be a professional writer (yet!) but my approach is professional, which will have been clear from my submission. I think I’m a good writer. Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps I’m not very good at all, and when I send a submission to a publisher I’m wasting their time (as well as my own). Wouldn’t it be better for them to tell me? Otherwise I’m going to assume otherwise, take them literally when they say the submission is just ‘not right for them at the present time’ and continue sending it to other publishers. And if I have no joy, I’ll go through the same process with my next novel. And the one after that too. Until someone has the decency to say ‘Look, Graham, mate, I know you want to be a writer, but…’ Alternatively, if they tell me that my writing is good, but it just really isn’t what they’re looking for at the present time, I’ll know that I can send it elsewhere without wasting anyone’s time.
I wonder if these people understand the amount of work that goes into preparing a submission (never mind the work involved in writing a novel). I’m sure they receive a lot that are nowhere near the required standard. I’m also sure that many of the authors on their books came through contacts rather than unsolicited submissions (Ah, nepotism – a game for all the family). But what’s the betting that somewhere in that slush pile each year is the next best-seller, along with two or three others that could also turn a good profit? Of course, it could be that publishers manage their slush piles better than I think, that they do find the best submissions from the pile, and make use of them. If so, it would be nice if they were then to give something back by finding the time to give some encouragement (or discouragement, if necessary) to those that don’t make the grade.
I know I’m cynical, but I imagine most publishers giving the submissions pile to the office trainee – straight out of university, no experience, no idea of how to tell good writing from bad, and more interest in texting their friends than doing any work. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the process isn’t:
– Take the submission out of the envelope
– Put it in the SAE with a copy of the standard letter of rejection
– Seal it and put it in the post.
But what do I know..?