I think what many authors tend to either forget or not realize in the first place is that publishing is a business. With any business, there are rules, regulations, and requirements for those who want to be employed. Writers sometimes don’t do their homework. I admit, I didn’t, but in time I learned the rules, and am still learning.
When applying for a job, there are proper and improper ways to interview. A good thing is to research the company either online or talk to some of the employees before the interview. Know about the desired position as much as possible. Dig into the history of the company. At the interview how you present yourself is key. Proper dress, proper resume, intelligent, practical and acceptable answers to questions.
These same principles hold true for publishing. Before querying a publisher, check the company’s record. Find out about the authors published. Do they have multiple books or one? What’s the reputation of the publisher? When querying, follow their guidelines. If the website says email only, then don’t phone. If you’re to send the first three chapters, don’t send five. If they want the first fifty pages, don’t send the entire manuscript in fifty pages in type so small the editor needs to use a magnifying glass. Already be a presence on the Internet. Already be an author promoting your book. Don’t wait until the contract signing. Being contracted to a publisher is a job and you’re working for a company.
As with the proper presentation at an interview, your manuscript needs to be in tip top condition. This means edited to the best of your ability or to the best of the ability of someone you’ve hired. Don’t send your manuscript using both sides of the paper or on recycled paper. Format your manuscript according to the guidelines. Double spaced means double spaced. Do not use colored paper for queries or manuscripts. They will immediately be rejected. You had better understand the fundamentals of writing, which means using correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling (exceptions accepted when appropriate to the story).
Just as your ability to do a job will help get you the job, story needs to be decent for it to be accepted. Remember, this is a business deal and publishers are providing their customers with products they want. If you give them a Western when they really want vampires, then you’re out of luck. If you give them a story that doesn’t make sense, with unbelievable characters, a laughable plot, you will be rejected.
On the other side, however, I think too often writers see publishers as the overlord gatekeepers who peer down their snobbish noses and laughingly refuse entrance to those deemed unworthy. When I am turned down for a job I don’t think badly of the company or envy those lucky few who are hired for employment. When it comes to publishers, however, I sometimes envision the masses clamoring at the gates waving their manuscripts, all desperately vying for the attention of the guard whose role is played by the acquisition editor or the literary agent. When a poor soul is refused admittance he slinks away dejected with his tail between his legs, dejected and wondering, “Who does that editor think he is, rejecting me?” Part of the answer lies in the first sentence of this discussion. Publishers are businesses. They don’t have a personal grudge against a particular author (unless that person has, in the past, committed an egregious error such as throwing the manuscript at the editor under a restroom door or calling fifty times a week wondering where the contract is before the manuscript is even accepted). Nor do I think them ruling monarchs blessing the few with favors.
Publishers, like all other employers, are looking for the best person to fill their needs. Publishers need authors with a ‘sell-able’ story who will do their part. This doesn’t mean, however, that publishers don’t have their role to fill. I think publishers need to present themselves as friendly with a friendly, family type atmosphere, yet professional. The publisher’s website needs to be energetic, exciting, and enticing. It needs to be easy for people to move around and explore. Contact information and guidelines need to be accessible without having to dig through too many layers. When a new author is accepted, publishers need to be loyal and supportive. Both sides are out to succeed.
In other employment arenas, if there are problems between company and worker, there are options depending on the nature and severity of said problems. Discussions, reassignment, probation, further education or training may be warranted. In extreme cases, the worker may choose to resign or if the offense is grievous enough, then the individual may be terminated. With publishers and authors the situation is similar. Publishers may need to discuss options for future relations. Authors may feel the publisher isn’t being fair and decide to seek others.
The publishing industry, in reality, no different from any other business. The perception is different, especially from the writer’s point of view, because the writer is affected directly and it feels more personal. However, if the writer knows the craft, does a little study into the people (and the company) with whom he or she wants a relationship, then the path may not be strewn with as many obstacles.
For a few years I have attended a series of seminars at a particular conference that discussed the publishing industry. The moderator conversed with sampling of: authors, agents, editors, publishers, book distributors (i.e. Ingram), and book sellers (i.e. book stores). Everyone had an opinion on the present and future conditions in the world of books. I will admit, I came out of that seminar with a rather dim view. As an author still looking for better success, I thought I could sum up the seminar in five words. Basically, everyone said the same thing: Do your best. Good luck.
Unfortunately, part of me still feels that way, especially when I get frustrated. However, I have to remember that I’m also involved with martial arts. I attend camps and tournaments and seminars and I never come away from those with a feeling of, “Do your best and good luck.” I don’t instruct my students in this fashion, either. If I failed to win a trophy, I have to accept the responsibility. I can’t blame the tournament host or the organization. With martial arts one has to persevere, train harder, and constantly strive to do better. Only then will one be successful. I have a support network behind me in my students and instructor and the organization who will offer training opportunities. I have to have the initiative to seek them out and participate.
The same can be said about publishing. It’s not a ‘good luck’ situation; it’s about perseverance and constantly striving to succeed.
So I don’t say “Good luck,” but rather, “Keep going. Have fun. Do your best. If that best means digging in, taking hold, and learning more about how publishers operate, then do it.”
Instead of getting frustrated, think of all those authors who had dozens of rejections before they found success.