As fate would have it, the new deal with Down & Out Books to publish the Penns River series went down as I was finishing the fifth Nick Forte story, Bad Samaritan. The agreement with D&OB covers Penns Rive only, so I decided to see if my new cred might help Bad Sam to find a home instead of self-publishing right off the bat.
Before we go any further, I’m looking for a publisher, not an agent, though the comments below could apply to some agents just as much as they apply to some publishers. Some, in both cases; not all. It will be easy to decide to whom this essay refers, even without naming names. Just substitute “agent” for “publisher” if that’s where the process is currently breaking your balls.
The first thing I look for when submitting to a publisher is whether they want the kinds of books I write. That seems self-evident, but I have heard too often of people sending slasher novels to Harlequin or cat mysteries to Thuglit (rest in peace) or swashbuckling bodice-rippers to Hard Case. Extreme examples, but we all know it happens. Don’t be that guy.
Then I check to see if the outlet I’m looking at is currently accepting submissions. Entering the slush pile is enough of a pain in the ass as it is. No need to make it harder. This should also be self-evident, but it’s a safe bet people who don’t check the publisher’s genres of choice don’t look here, either.
The third thing I look for—even before who their other authors are or their submission guidelines—is whether the publisher will get back to me even if they don’t want the book. It becomes more common all the time for publishers (and agents) to say things like, “If you haven’t heard back from us in 90 days, we’re not interested.” That’s bullshit. I will do anyone with such a policy the courtesy of not hearing from me at all, thus not adding to their apparently overwhelming backlog. You’re welcome.
Why am I such a hardass about this? It’s not because I don’t know small houses are primarily labors of love with small staffs and tight budgets. They are. No argument. Guess what? Nothing is more of a labor of love with a small staff and tight (read: no) budget than the actual writing of the book. It comes down to one thing: professional respect. It the author can spend a year or more writing a book and following the publisher’s sometimes arcane submission guidelines, the publisher can at the very least reject that book, especially in these days of e-mail submissions.
An e-mail response is essentially free. There is no paper, no envelope, nor printer ink nor toner. You don’t even have to type the damn things up. Here are the steps for a publisher that uses Microsoft Office with Outlook or Mail tied into Word as the word processor:
- Create Auto Text entries for however many form e-mails you might want to send, depending on how cold/realistic you want to be to the author. (You do this once, way ahead of time, and can re-use them as often as you wish.)
- On the submission e-mail, click Reply.
- Enter the designation you used for the Auto text entry. This can be as short as a single character no matter how long the reply.
- Press F3.
- Click Send.
If your operation cannot afford Office and is using some cloud-based word processor and G-Mail or Yahoo (which is fine, no slur intended), create a document with the reply or replies you wish to send. They’re only likely to be a brief paragraph each, so it’s not going to take long. I do this at work all the time for frequently sent responses: “The training in question was assigned at the behest of [organization redacted]. Please contact [name redacted] with any questions.” Then the rejection steps are as follows:
- Triple click the paragraph. (Or click Ctrl-A to select the entire document if you only have one reply.)
- Press Ctrl-C.
- Press Alt-Tab to switch to the submission e-mail.
- Click Reply.
- Press Ctrl-V.
- Click Send.
I realize one can’t knock out more than about ten a minute like that, but maybe you’re in the wrong line of work if your budgets for time and money are too tight to allow for that minimal effort.
The longer I’m in and around the publishing business, the stronger I feel it’s just like pretty much everything else: you get to put up with as much bullshit as others think you’re willing to put up with. Publishers treat authors like this because the publisher knows the author will stand for it. It’s not like we have anyplace else to go, right?
That’s not exactly true. There are publishers (and agents) who treat potential partners better than this. There’s also self-publishing. We’ve brought on this “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” treatment ourselves. Only we can stop it.