May 21 2009

Unsolicited manuscripts almost always get rejected

Published by at 11:29 pm under Getting Published,The Publishing Industry

Patricia Chui did an article for Salon about her experience reading unsolicited manuscripts.  Here are some choice excerpts.

To our credit, we readers did give every single submission, no matter how ludicrous, a fair and honest appraisal. During my reign as slush handler, a few projects garnered further consideration from our editors; one was even published. [emphasis mine] …

The slush pile [is] a teeming smorgasbord of mediocrity sprinkled with healthy doses of the awful and the insane. Fair or not, there’s a kind of self-selection process that governs the pile, the perception being that good writers are the ones who manage to stay off of it in the first place. The job of our readers was to sift through the pile and find the exceptions to the rule. It was a Sisyphean task at best. Every day, boxes of self-help, pet-inspired wisdom and near-death experiences would cycle through my office to be read and rejected in what seemed a never-ending stream of futility. Being on the slush pile was the literary equivalent of being on death row…

It was the phone calls that were the bane of my existence. Most of those who called were probably hardworking folks who showed courage just by picking up the phone. By God, I hated them…

The callers who irked me most were those who hadn’t done their homework and were using me as some sort of research tool. They asked me how to publish a book, how to get an agent, what kinds of books we published. One gentleman inquired, “When you publish my book, how much will you pay me?*” Another wanted to know, “How many copies of a book do you usually print?**” (When I said it depended, he countered, “So, what then? Millions?”) I was astonished at these questions; I couldn’t imagine dialing the general number at Miramax and asking how to make a movie. There’s a place you can find this information, people. It’s called a bookstore. Look into it.

*– It depends, but Tobias Buckell found that the typical first-novel earns a cash advance of around $4000. Around $5500 if you have an agent.

**-Again it depends, but most novels get an initial print-run of a few thousand copies.

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