Friday, August 27, 2010

When to Submit

Tag words: submission to forces beyond your control is not wrong; use your smarts to know when to delay submitting your manuscript; editing in publishing houses; editing your own work before submitting it; why edit; the difference between copy-editing and editing; the mood in traditional publishing these days and why; be smart and keep writing instead of wasting all your time querying and submitting.

The title of today's blog, "When to Submit",  has more than one meaning. I meant it that way.

Submission (in one definition) is an act of surrender.  You give way to forces bigger than you are. 

Submission (in the other) is proposing or sending in some kind of proposal: in a writer's case, a manuscript.

There is a kind of bleakness that weighs down the first definition: as if submission means you're a loser, or too meek, or just plain cowardly.  However, I don't think anyone, giving way to forces bigger than s/he is, should feel like a loser. I think there are major overtones of smart, here.

Smartness, strategy, these are concepts you might want to consider associated with "giving way" with your manuscript submission.  Look at it this way:

(a)  "Live to fight again another day."  I think it's really clear, from my earlier post that there are manuscripts you can work your heart out on, and submit with or without an agent, that are good books but that forces bigger than you are prevent their publication.  I look back now on the book that Lester del Ray rejected for the reasons I quote in that blog, and I think now,  "What an idiot, Welwyn.  He's telling you to submit it again and you never even saw it.  Why didn't you?"  I didn't, because I was discouraged, I felt like a loser, and I didn't see the positive in the negative.  Possibly the most significant editor of what has become modern fantasy novels for adults wrote me personally with his good reason for not publishing my book at this time, and I never submitted that book to anyone again.  Duh!!!

(b) "Wait till the time is right."  This is a strategy that is both within your control and out of it.  I cannot emphasize enough, to writers who want to be traditionally published,  the absolute necessity of putting your first draft novel away until you've written at least a few good short stories, or started another novel.  That's when you can think about pulling out that first novel and re-reading it.   What you think when you write the last sentence of your first draft will (guaranteed) be very different from what you think when you have the perspective of time and a few more eggs in your basket to keep you calm. 

When I am not under a deadline, I always put away what I've written for at least three months before coming back to it, and when I do come back to it, I always have the attitude that I have at least another six months' work ahead of me, to edit the novel to my real satisfaction.  (You could even do it a third time, but I find this method usually works for me.) 

Sometimes it does take six months.  Sometimes it's a year.  Sometimes it's only a couple of months.  But:  it always needs revision before I submit it to an editor.  I do this even though I have strong publishing contacts.  I know that whoever I submit my manuscript to is going to want me to change it no matter how good I think I've made it.  Despite the concept that editing is not done by publishers any more, it is, it is, and it is.  Some shoddy publishing houses do not edit, but all the good ones do, and even the not so good ones (who really don't know how to edit) try to anyway.  Imagine an editor who will edit a Nobel-prize-winning writer, and how that editor would feel, reading the first draft of a novel by someone who is not traditionally published yet.  The truth is, that editor won't read your first draft at all.  They won't read past the first couple of sentences, if you haven't made sure that you have done the absolute-no-holds-barred-best work you can on your own book.

Don't assume that just because there are some typos, or a lot of typos, in a book you're reading, that means the publishing house did not edit.  The problem with typos and such bare bones kind of errors is not the fault of editing; it is the fault of copy-editing.  Copy-editing is an art all on its own.  I think, for example, C.J. Cherryh's books are not terribly-well copy-edited.  Take this test:  Which of the following do you think are due to an editor's failure (including your own), and which are due to a copy-editor's?

(1) There are typos.
(2) Several pages in a row with no action and no dialog
(3) A sentence uses the word "bulbous" and it is repeated in the same paragraph
(4) A sentence uses very similar phrasing as the previous sentence.
(5) The boat is yellow on page 24, and green on page 173.
(6) The books uses dull language.
(7) The punctuation is wrong in dialog.
(8)  Someone pluralizes a word with an apostrophe before the s.
(9) You are a fan of an author and you start to get the feeling that the style of writing is the same in all the latest books.
(10) Someone has chosen not to use a symbol for a space break and one happens at the bottom of a page.

Now, having thought about these errors, why don't you ask yourself if you make them too, through carelessness or lack of your own editing before you send out your manuscript?

Answers to above: 1. CE  2. E  3. E or CE  4. E or CE  5. CE  6. E  7. CE  8. CE.  9. E  10. E.

I think that there are some writers who may not be well edited because they are famous and prolific and nobody at the publishing house wants to slow down their writing which is very lucrative to the house.  But these are not us, ladies and gentlemen.  When we earn a million dollars for a publisher, we might not be edited as well as (truly) we would have wished to have been, later, when the book is out and it is too late. 

And anyway....

These are not the times of million dollar writers for each and every big publishing house.  There is an attitude of pessimism and even deep discouragement these days in the traditional publishing industry.  I wonder if even a Booker winner could send in his/her next book and be able to count on automatic acceptance.  This negativity will not last, I'm sure.  The onset of electronic publication, the invention of Kindle and other book "readers" that carry a library, these are really scaring publishers of traditional text.  Give publishers time for the dust to settle.  I believe there will always, always be a market for text.  But right now, I wouldn't submit a novel to any of my contacts in the industry. 

Suggestion: Don't submit a novel, or any book of fiction, to a traditional publisher until Publishers Weekly (online) and other "bibles" of publishing news start to sound a bit more optimistic.  Just keep on writing new books and editing older ones.  Have lots of titles waiting (but don't submit more than one at a time) for when the traditional publishing industry has the courage to say "Yes" to newcomers again.

I hope today's post has convinced you.  Submit to the art of patience and the wisdom of knowing that your beautiful manuscript should wait, be worked on, and wait again, until the time is right for you to submit it.

Hang in there.



At 27 August, 2010 , Anonymous Jessica Subject said...

Great post Welwyn! So much to consider.

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