Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Once in a Blue Moon (01/06/11)
TITLE: Getting Past Lousy and Stupid
By Steve Fitschen
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“Writes are lousy and editors are stupid.”
“I don’t get it. That seems like a strange thing for the CEO of a new publishing house to say. And, with all due respect, it doesn’t answer my question.”
“Well, let’s look at the writers’ side first. Maybe 1-2% of unsolicited manuscripts get published. Even though I said ‘editors are stupid,’ they’re not stupid enough to account for that statistic. The simple fact is that most unsolicited manuscripts are garbage. That’s why it’s getting increasingly hard to even get an unsolicited manuscript looked at—especially for an unpublished, unrepresented author.”
“Again, I’m a little surprised to hear you speak this way. It’s not just that you’re a publisher. It’s also the fact that you say you specialize in first time authors. I would have expected you to speak a little more kindly of them.”
“Well, I’m just speaking the truth. Most would-be first time authors fall into one of two categories. First, some authors don’t bother to educate themselves about the rigors of the industry. Second, some think all the agents who have rejected them are idiots. Either way, they usually haven’t developed their craft nearly to the point of being publishable. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from thinking they’re God’s gift to the writing world. Never mind that most of the time, the manuscript hasn’t even been decently proofed. And if it has, you can almost always tell the thing is otherwise a first draft or a very superficially edited second draft written by someone insufficiently skilled in plotting, character development, dialog, etc., etc.”
“You keep saying ‘most’ and ‘usually.’ Obviously, since you specialize in first time authors, you must think there are some exceptions.”
“Oh, yes, there are. But those poor slobs have to make it past the hurdle of stupid editors.”
“I see you’re just as kind to the gate keepers as you are to the Pulitzer seekers. But, I must confess that I’m completely in the dark as to what you consider ‘a stupid editor.’”
“Surely that can’t be a mystery. There are too many horror stories. Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was rejected twelve times; Frank Herbert’s Dune, 13 times; Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, 14 times, J.K. Rowley’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 30 times. John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by 15 publishers and 30 agents. Mary Higgins Clark’s first publishing success was a story she sold to a magazine for a whooping $100—after 40 rejections. Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by an astounding 121 publishers.
“And sometimes it’s not just one novel or story. Some writers have had numerous projects rejected: Before he wrote Roots, Alex Haley received 200 rejections; before he published his first novel, Louis L’Amour also suffered 200 rejections.
“And this is nothing new. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was rejected by 20 publishers.*
“That’s what I mean by ‘editors are stupid.’”
“But I assume you think your editors are the exception.”
“That’s certainly the hope. Not everyone who’s jumping on the self-publishing band wagon is someone who shouldn’t be published traditionally. A few—a very few—of them are actually repeat victims of stupid editors.”
“Wait. There’s one more piece to the puzzle. As hard as it is for a first time author to break in, some first time authors really don’t deserve publication. At least they wouldn’t if quality were the only criterion. But they figure out what is hot—or about to be—hook up with a savvy agent, and land a contract. Publishing is a money making enterprise, after all.”
“I assume you intend to avoid that problem?”
“Yes. Our model has been to hire smart acquisitions editors. The ones who can sift through the mountains of manuscripts, proposals, and query letters; and spot the really great unpublished writers whose first novels will sell, not because they are trendy, but because they are outstanding. We think those writers deserve to be published through a traditional royalty-paying publishing house.”
“And how often do you think a smart editor will find an outstanding writer who hasn’t given up on the industry and already self-published?
“Well, right now we have seven active ISBN identifiers. But remember your original question? I think the name ‘Blue Moon Publishing’ speaks for itself.”
*The stories of multiple rejections of famous books and authors are legion. Those used in this story were obtained from http://people.morehead-st.edu/fs/d.mascle/statistics.html (with some supplemental facts from other sources).
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