I recently read another author’s summary of the editorial presentation given at a large writer’s conference this past summer. The editors are with a large, well-known NYC publishing house. While I can’t take exception to everything they said as outlined in the recap, I take exception to some. Okay, a lot.
The first on the list is this: “The most common reason we don’t buy a book is not because it’s bad, it’s because it’s average.” I read this and I gave it my Scooby-Do startled response. Ywwa?
I’m an expert on very few things in this world, but I’ve probably read more fiction than the average bear, and I can tell you this: A LOT of fiction that is published is CRAP. It’s not just below average. It should aspire to be average. It’s C-R-A-P. Crap. I’ve read books by well-known bestselling authors that didn’t even make sense. Plot? No need. We’re selling on name recognition alone. We don’t need no plot. We don’t need no editing. We don’t need a story that makes sense. Just slap her name on there and let’s sell a bunch of them there books.
About a year ago I actually threw a book in the trash, it was that bad. It hadn’t been published all that long ago by a major New York publisher. I didn’t want to be the reason someone else read that cliché-filled romance. I looked up the author online. She has multiple books published. So whenever I hear an editor say how great and wonderful a book has to be, how it has to sweep the reader away, draw them into the story, make them forget where they are, I am so tempted to do a Joe Wilson and stand up and yell, “LIAR.”
If editors only bought wonderful books, there’d only be wonderful books on the shelves. There would be no crappy books at all. Perhaps this falls under the “one man’s crap is another man’s creative brilliance.” But I’m not buying it. Figuratively or literally. If I can help it.
“Don’t pay attention to trends.” Why not? The publishers obviously do. Write a vampire book. Instant sale. Nuff said.
“We want to find a brand new author. Nothing is more exciting to us.”
Uh, no, what you want to find is a brand new author like Stephanie Meyer. Or maybe another J.K. Rowling. The problem? For many of us who’ve written good, but perhaps not stand-out books, an editor won’t give us the time of day, because we’re not worth an agent’s while. And really, how many stand-out books are published on an annual basis in any one genre? Or in all genres combined for that matter? I’m desperately trying to remember the last time I read one. My fault. I’m the only person on earth who hasn’t read the Stephanie Meyer vampire books or the Harry Potter series.
If you can’t get an agent to represent you (oh, no, I’m not bitter) an editor at a major house is unlikely to see your work.
And another thing about those sell-on-name-recognition-alone-authors. Their names weren’t always known. Somebody at a publishing house had to take a chance on them. They couldn’t possibly have known they had a bestseller on their hands. Everyone knows who Dan Brown is right? Mega-bestseller, movie deal author? Does everybody know his first two books went virtually nowhere? And may I just say, being a best-seller does not always equate to being a great writer. What it means more often is you were the first with a mind-boggling and unique twist on an old idea. Because, as we all know, there are no new ideas.
Which leads me to the next fallacy: “Editors at major publishing houses are open to query letters.” Yes. Of course they are. What they don’t say is your query letter will most likely sit in a slush pile for 3-12 months before the editorial assistant gets around to scanning it (maybe) and popping a form rejection letter in the mail to you. But technically, yes, the editors are open to query letters, in that their office is open to receiving mail.
Ah, I’ve discovered a nugget of truth in the summary. “If we’ve rejected you in the past, you don’t have to be embarrassed to talk to us, because we don’t remember!” The truth part of this is that they don’t remember because you are not memorable. Nor was your story idea, your presentation, your query, or anything else about you. Editors talk to hundreds of people at any one conference. The likelihood of them remembering you is about as likely as my husband bringing me flowers for no reason. The good news is, if you made a complete fool or ass of yourself with an editor before, she won’t remember that either. (Most likely that means any editor who reads this won’t remember who wrote it or what it said by tomorrow.)
Here’s my personal truth gleaned from almost twenty years of observation:
Writers who give up easily will never be published.
Small publishers are more inclined to deal with authors directly. They don’t need an agent to screen for them, but they don’t pay big advances as a general rule, either.
Authors first published with small publishers, even e-book publishers, can and do go on to bigger and better things.
Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t” or “you won’t.” Every time you hear those phrases it should serve to make you more determined to show that you can and will and have.
Practice makes perfect. The only way to be published is to keep writing.