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Writers Don't Get Any Respect -Why?
I want you to imagine an industry in which there are thousands of suppliers of a product, the suppliers have to beg the producers to use their material, are forced to pay for all business correspondence in either direction, have to use several “go-betweens” to get their products to market, and are generally treated with disdain. Would you do work in such an industry? Well, if you’re a writer who wishes to be published, I must assume that is exactly what you either do or wish to do. I write of course of the publishing industry -- those companies who publish books as well as those who publish magazines. Anyone who has attempted to publish his or her writing, especially if it is fiction, has experienced the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude which has been prevalent for years, but never more so than now.
I’m not writing this to complain about being rejected –- that’s a fact of life and it’s to be expected. If you don’t market the right product with the requisite quality to the right place, you get rejected, in any business. No, what I want to kvetch about is the treatment writers get when trying to deal with agents, editors, and the rest of the members of our industry. Some examples:
- What other industry can you think of in which you have to pay for the business correspondence of the company with which you are dealing? I can understand an editor not wishing to pay the return postage for a several-pound manuscript, but book and magazine publishers expect a SASE for everything. Can’t they afford envelopes and stamps?
- Magazines expect writers to be familiar with their content and that’s fair enough. In the case of the “little” magazines, however, if you cannot find a copy at a bookstore or newsstand (which all too often is the case), they expect to you order a copy for four or five dollars plus (altogether now) a SASE. Why not offer a free copy for the price of postage and handling to a potential contributor?
- Even worse, how about the magazines (and I’ve come across a few) who will only accept submission from people who subscribe to them? It will be a cold day in Hades when this author falls for that. Is this perhaps a ploy merely to increase subscription sales?
- Don’t you just love the book publishers who say “Submit through agent only” as if all you had to do call one up and hire him/her to represent you? If only it were that easy!
- And how about the agents who refer you to a “literary service” to “pre-screen” your manuscript prior to an agent screening it for a publisher (and, of course, charging for it)? How many levels of “screening” do we need? ) I assume it isn’t necessary to even mention the literary agents who charge a “reading fee” for considering manuscripts . . .
- And there the agents who don’t even bother to respond to queries. I know, they say on their website something like “responds if interested.” Okay, fair enough, but would taking two minutes to send an email saying something like “Got it, not for us, thanks” be too much to ask? After all, it is the writer trying to hire you, not the other way round.
It’s bad enough to read something like “receives 100-200 manuscripts per month; accepts 1-2 per issue.” To have to jump through literary hoops to get into those 100-200 to my mind adds insult to injury. I fully realize it’s a case of too many “sellers” and far too few “buyers.” It always amazes me to read of some small “zine” in Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market that has a circulation of less than 100, pays in contributors’ copies (or nothing at all), and receives hundreds of submissions per year. It’s as if there were thousands of small, independent manufacturers of, let’s say, widgets. In addition, there were hundreds of stores that sold widgets. But, the only way to get the widgets to the stores is to go through a few “middle-men” who control the distribution of widgets. (Oh, you can try and sell your own widgets but you end up reaching a very small portion of the market. On top of that, no one will review your product in the widget-enthusiast magazines.) Discouraging, isn’t it?
(A few words about electronic-publishing: yes, you can publish your own works on Lulu, Amazon.com, Smashwords etc. and I have done that. But, at least for now, e-publishing is not where the money is. It’s probably the future, although I’m one of those old-fashioned types who would much rather hold a book in his hand than an e-reader.)
In spite of all the negative statistics we always read about the chances of being published, and in spite of the incredibly cavalier treatment we receive (at least in this writer’s opinion), we continue to write and to submit. Just a thought -– what would happen if everybody said the heck with it and stopped? What would all those pompous editors do then? Beg?
Rise up, ye writers, you have nothing to lose but your rejection slips!
No, I’m no revolutionary. I just want to be published like, presumably, those of you reading this. But, as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, wouldn’t be nice to get “a little respect?”
UPDATE - MARCH 2013
I have recently published my novel, "Duly Constituted Authority," online. Prior to this, I tried to get it published the "traditional" way. After a couple of rejections from publishers, I decided to try the literary agent route. After all was said and done, I submitted to 80 agents, all via email. Here's the breakdown:
37 agents (46%) rejected the manuscript, usually with a form note. Some took literally months to respond.
43 agents (54%) never bothered to answer at all.
One agent accepted the manuscript but did next to nothing with it and I "fired" her after one year.
I was particularly incensed about one agent who asked to see the manuscript and I promptly sent it to him. After a week or two, I requested some feedback. Nothing. I waited a little longer and emailed again. Zip. Why in Hell ask for the manuscript and then say nothing at all about it?
I complained about this on one of the writers' fora on the Writer magazine website and was told basically "that's tough," and "agents don't owe you anything" or words to that effect.
Aaargh! Anyway, if anyone's interested, you can purchase the novel here for only $2.99:
Find out more about me at my website:
This is the website of Alex Drinkwater, Jr., author of fiction. including the novels "The Ghosts of Hanoi," and "Duly Constituted Authority."