Monday, November 5, 2007

Editors Q & A: Where Has All the Inspiration Gone?

Q. I was wondering about something. It seems like more and more publishers, book publishers, require that writers submit their material exclusively through agents. Some come right out and say that unagented material will be returned unread. This seams ridiculous to me. Is it some sort of good-old boys club, in which you have to be a member, go through the hoops, hire an agent before a publisher will stoop to reading your stuff? I don't understand the concept. Do you? - Mark G.

The Editors Respond
We're not sure what the percentage of publishers demanding agented submissions is, but we agree that it seems to be growing, and for good reason. Basically, publishers use agents as a filtering mechanism. Since quality agents (those who don't charge reading fees and who actually think long and hard before taking on a new client) only handle quality writers, writers dedicated to writing--not only today, but also years down the road--the submission of a writer's material by an agent to a publisher automatically weeds out the wannabee-writers and those with no talent and nothing to say. Sure, there are some unscrupulous agents who will handle anyone for a "fee" (something no scrupulous agent would ever do); but it doesn't take long for a publisher to identify those agents and steer clear of them and their writer-clients, both. So, it makes sense from a publisher's point-of-view to demand to see the works of agented writers only, although it does put more pressure on a writer to do things "by the book." Still, if you wanna run with the bulls, you have to go to Spain. Or something like that. The bottom line is, if you're unagented because you haven't been able to find a legitimate agent to handle you, stick to submitting to publishers who will accept material from writers lacking agency representation (there are still a lot of them around). Otherwise, start looking for the agent of your dreams ... and, hopefully, of your very successful future. - The Editors

Q. Hi. I have read the many frustrating emails, and it is the same old stuff about editors and how busy they are and not wasting their time or ticking them off. I say this is a very arrogant profession and we work very dedicatedly to get the job done and it is like walking on eggs with them. I see Stepford editors and ones who have no heart or retrospect about how hard it is to get started out here. To me and many of my writer friends it seems that it is all about "who one knows" and it seems to be if that is the case it can be 10%talent and 90% who one knows and that really gets on my last nerve. I just wanted to express truth rather than fiction for it works for the real world and not this stuffy little society whom I believe gets their cookies off of rejecting people. I say they are drunk on power and I suggest that they hire more editors so that the bunch of little know it alls who corner the market can find some real talent. New and untapped talent is constantly being rejected, and when the books come out it is the same old rehash of something everyone already read or a take off of it. That is ridiculous, and I say get more editors and get ones who have some compassion and have not forgotten about how hard it is down here since they are at the top. Sincerely, IGAA

Do you feel that the role of the writer and publisher have changed in light of the information age. In other words don't people want information that is both accurate and fast. This would obviously not apply to fiction. But what about a book that is non-fiction and more or less investigative.

Point in question. I have spent up to 4 years working on a book covering the assassination of JFK. It is speculative to a degree, but I feel rather accurate. It has only something like 15,000 words and several publishers have turned it down because it's too short. Many thanks, Bob Cornell

The Editors Respond
Without a doubt, publishers today--especially those having any connection to the Internet whatsoever--are being asked for more information delivered more quickly than ever before (yet, without sacrificing accuracy). In essence, our Information Age has revitalized and revised an entire industry. But it has also placed an enormous strain on our information-gathering resources, i.e., the modern-day journalist.

As for your work on JFK, we understand your frustration with not having been able to place it with a publisher because of its shortness, but that's the nature of the beast. Books, are of essence, book-length. Have you considered either trying to sell the work as an investigative article to someone such as Mother Jones or Rolling Stone magazine? Or, at the other end of your options spectrum, make it longer and try it again as a book. You may feel there is no more new information "out there" to warrant expanding the work to, say, 60,000 words. But there's plenty of history and new ways to present previously published material that could bolster your own investigative findings. - The Editors

Q. I have a question that may sound stupid, but just exactly what does S.A.S.E. mean? I see it most often in writers' sights, and I know it has something to do with submitting your work for publication. But what is it exactly (please excuse my ignorance, I'm pretty new at all this). - Doris J.

The Editors Respond
Ohmahgawd, it's been a long time since we've seen that question. But that's good! It means new writers are still coming along ... and still anxious to learn everything they possibly can about the writing game. S.A.S.E. means simply Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, which is what most publishers expect you to enclose if you want your material returned in the event that the publishers chooses not to publish it. Agents and other media professionals, too, are increasingly demanding an S.A.S.E. for the return of your work.

As a phrase, S.A.S.E. is used most often like this: "Enclose S.A.S.E." or like this: "If you don't enclose S.A.S.E., we won't return your manuscript" or, in worst-case scenarios, like this: "Listen, blockhead, either enclosed an S.A.S.E. or we're sending Guido to your front door to have a little 'talk' with you, get it???"

We get it. And so should you. Good luck with your writing. - The Editors

Q. Where Has All the Inspiration Gone? - I'm not normally the kind of person who needs to be inspired in order to write, but I was thinking that a shot in the brain on a regular basis might be just the thing I need to get my creative juices flowing first thing in the morning. Do you know of any worthwhile inspirational books for writers? - Frank J.

The Editors Respond
Hmmm, we're almost positive we've seen a book on just that subject (inspirational messages arranged by day of the year) somewhere, but a recent search of Writer's Digest and a few other likely sources turned up negative. Perhaps a leisurely perusal of the e-bookshelves will help. As an alternative, you might try taking one of your favorite authors and keeping one of his or her books close at hand. Read a few paragraphs a day before starting your own writing program. In that way, not only will you enjoy what you're reading and be inspired by it (knowing that your favorite author would never steer you wrong!), but also you'll subliminally pick up on the author's literary voice, mannerisms, etc., and get your brain primed to create. We think that will help. In the meantime, if anyone else knows of a book of inspirational sayings suitable for writers, just click here to send us an e-mail so that we can put your submission in print. - The Editors

Q. About That First Novel - This may sound like a silly question, but I'm wondering how you know if you're ready to try writing that first novel. I've written numerous short stories and even had some published, both in anthologies and on the Web. But I really want to write a novel. I've had the idea for years. Of course, I want to do it right so that it gets published. But maybe I lack the confidence to just do it, or is there a way of telling when you're ready? - S. J.

The Editors Respond
There's really no gauge that tells anyone, "It's first-novel time!" If you want to write it, go ahead. It won't get written, remember, unless you get started. Now, if your hesitation stems from a lack of understanding how to write a good novel, that's another matter. There are numerous books on the market, telling at least one author's approach to writing a novel. There are also numerous courses and workshops--both real-time (at colleges and universities, mostly) and on-line. Of the on-line workshops, the best offer personal attention (since novel writing is such a personal matter, you really need someone guiding you through your work, step-by-step). One of the most effective we've ever seen is our own: From Outline to Publisher ... Guaranteed! It not only guides the writer through the act of writing the novel he wants to write, but also involves an agent in the presentation of the manuscript to one or more suitable, legitimate (not vanity) publishing houses. The rest, as they say, is history (or, in this case, future history?). You can check it out by clicking on the workshop's title, above. So get going, and good luck! - The Editors

Q. What Do Publishers Want? - I'm wondering, with all the rejection slips I've accumulated lately, just what is it that publishers want? Sometimes I get the feeling they don't even read what I send in, just tack a "No thanks" slip to it and send it back. Could this be true? If that's the case, how does a new, unpublished writer ever get published? - L. J.

The Editors Respond
Certainly we understand your frustration with getting published. And, yes, we have heard of and even seen proof of some editors moving a manuscript from the "in" to the "out" pile without ever even glancing at it. However, that is relatively rare. Most editors will at least read the first few paragraphs of an article or short story and the first chapter or two of a book to see if they feel excited about it. If so, they'll go on to read the rest. Fair? Perhaps not. But you have to remember that few editors have the luxury of excess time on their hands. Some we know actually have to take manuscripts home with them to read at night, because their other duties (copy editing, jacket copy creation, scheduling, meetings, etc.) don't allow them enough in-office time.

With that said, it becomes obvious that you want your best "stuff" loaded up front in whatever it is you write. Catch an editor's eye early, and you'll do the same with the reader after your work is published.

As for what you may be doing wrong, possibly nothing. Many published writers, including some of our most famous, spent years collecting rejection slips before breaking into print. We do have a few suggestions for you to follow in approaching editors with your work that might help boost your chances for publication, however.

1.) Query first. Either by fax, phone, e-mail, or snail-mail, depending upon the publication's preferences (check the market listing). Make your query short, punchy, and to-the-point (and, yes, you can be light and even humorous, if so inclined). Spell out your idea and why you think the editor should review it. Never submit your work without a query letter unless the publication specifically requests that you do so (as in their market listings).

2.) Always include an SASE (self-address, stamped envelope) with every query letter submission and short article or story submission or include sufficient return postage for longer works, like books. Failing to do so alerts the editor to the fact that you're a novice, probably therefore not good enough to be published by him, and/or unconcerned about traditional values within the publishing industry.

3.) Don't telephone, fax, e-mail, or write to check up on a query letter or a submission unless the editor has had it for an extraordinarily long time. Remember, editors are busy. Your cutting into an editor's work day with unnecessary correspondence will hardly place you in a good light. If the market listing says an editor reports within four weeks and you haven't heard anything for five, we suggest a short letter or e-mail requesting if the editor received your query or submission.

4.) Follow up when asked. Sometimes an editor will turn down your suggestion or submission but tell you to feel free to query again. This is an open invitation saying that the editor likes your writing and your approach. So make sure you follow up with something you feel might be appropriate! - The Editors

Q. On Failing To Sell - I have a question that may or may not be appropriate here, but I hope so. Lately, I've been getting some positive responses to my queries, but when I write the articles (most of them are travel or sports-related) and send them in, they've been getting returned to me, along with a nice letter, as not being right for the publications submitted to. I've gotten four in a row, now, and it's disappointing from several points of view not the least of which is all the work I put into the articles without getting anything back. Is it the economic climate we're in? And why would these editors (all different publications by the way) request an article and then turn it down? The pieces are pretty well written, if I do say so myself, so that's not the problem. What gives? - Don Martindale

The Editors Respond
It's impossible to know for sure, but we wonder if you're "overselling" your ideas. We know from talking with numerous editors that a query letter written too creatively can lead the editors to expect one thing and get something else. This may not be the case with you, but it may. The only way to find out for sure is to write or call the editors, express your concern ("I'm worried that I might have misled you with my query and, if so, would certainly like to know so that I don't do so again in the future" is a good way to phrase yourself), and ask for some clarification. If you are overselling your ideas in a query letter, back off. Present your queries honestly and concisely, without the "puff" so many beginning writers, especially, like to throw in to catch an editor's eye. Remember, catching an editor's eye with a query letter doesn't result in a check--making him happy after reading your article does. Good luck, and keep us posted if you learn more. - The Editors

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