Why no response was the deal-breaker for me

Yesterday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware brought to my attention to a post with which I wholeheartedly agree, and then some. Go read it Do editors not say no because they can no longer say yes?. In short, it is a sad commentary on the latest status quo adhered-to by many publishers and agents: that they only respond if they’re interested, and that responses routinely take twelve months or more.

Regular readers of this blog, and my other blogs, will know that I have long riled against this trend.

The compliant amongst them have–repeatedly and to my great annoyance–reminded me that “this is how the industry works” and “just be patient, Luke”.

Well, yes, there is being patient and being patient. Some examples.

In 2009, I had completed book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy. I sent out five queries to agents. I got three requests for material, two of which led to a request for a full manuscript.

It was a scary moment. I might actually sell this thing. You know, wow.

One of those agents–someone I respect very much–replied after an acceptable time with reasons why she wouldn’t take the manuscript on.

Fair enough, I thought. I’ll send out a couple more queries. I did, in two batches.


Not. A. [insert expletive]. Word.

You see, meanwhile, the effects of the GFC had hit the publishing industry, and everyone was sitting on their hands. At the end of the year everyone reported on how few new writers they’d signed. I never heard back from anyone, including the agent who still has my full (if you’re reading this, shame on you).

I also, in 2008, wrote a 10,000-word story that led to the trilogy. I submitted it to a magazine in June 2009. As of this moment, I am still waiting for a reply. Oh, yes, I did ascertain that they actually had my submission. It was “passed up to the editor”. They’ve had some one thousand and eighty days to think about it.

I mean–seriously?

Where in the world would this sort of behaviour not just be condoned, not just be accepted, but EXPLAINED AWAY by those taking part in the process?

If instead of “large publisher” or “XYZ literary agency”, you inserted “Microsoft” or “Apple” the internets would be exploding with outragedness, and said companies would meet the wall very quickly. OK, authors are not customers. They are content-providers, probably on par with the hamsters who occupy the offices at the large companies. So–if Microsoft and Apple treated their employees with such contempt, the internets would STILL explode with outragedness.

What is it that makes aspiring authors not only accept this behaviour, but pat any fellow writer who gets upset about it on the head with a “there, there, dear”?

Luke will not be patient and grin and bear it, and if that makes me Darth Vader, then so be it.

Is it really a wonder that so many writers are voting with their feet? Out of sheer frustration? Especially those writers who have something that might actually sell, because they’re just not willing to wait twelve months for someone to decide about it, and then a year and a half or more for them to actually publish it? For an average advance of $5000?

Fortunately, there are some companies–publishers mainly–who are doing the right thing.

Angry Robot responds to all of their open door submissions in timely fashion. Kudos.
A number of magazines (you can find them on Duotrope) repond very quickly indeed. Kudos.

And the latest: the other day, I made a submission to a publisher where I will not have to worry about how long it takes them to respond, or whether they will respond at all, because the submission guidelines expressly stated that it was OK to submit self-published material.

It is the future. The rest of the industry had better pull up its socks.


12 comments on “Why no response was the deal-breaker for me

  1. Last July I decided I’d never submit anything ever again. Novels, shorts, novellas … self-pubbing in e-format is too easy and fast, and paper isn’t much more of a hassle. I’m through with the publishing industry and I don’t care about fame or fortune. Even if you do manage to publish something ‘traditionally’ it’s about as permanent as a mayfly.

    • I think it is different for you because you have already been published traditionally. I think authors in general underestimate the value of audience-building that a traditional publisher will do for you through its access to sales reps.

      I will definitely continue to submit some of my work traditionally, but not exclusively so. I see more publishers moving towards a situation where they’ll consider self-published work. To those, I will be happy to submit.

      And my short stories will always be submitted to magazines first. There is just no amount of me being annoying on Twitter that can compare with having an audience at Analog. It’s a no-brainer. And most magazines respond in timely fashion, at least the important ones do.

      • There’s a tiny market for self-pubbed SS, and I certainly don’t announce each and every upload. (I recently mentioned I was going to collect them into one volume, but spamming twitter for SS pubs is off.) The point with uploading SS to Amazon is that every new genre and every new category you publish to increases your overall visibility. That’s the value in self-pubbed shorts. E.g. one of mine was (is?) #1 in sports short stories. Now, that’s probably one sale a month but the visibility may drag readers to my blokey novels.

        Re trad pub, there’s definitely an element of ‘been there, done that, have the scars to prove it.’ After publishing four novels I really had had enough with the huuuuge delays before publication, the all-too-brief moment in the shops, and then oblivion until the next release. The two most irritating things were lack of control over the finished product and waiting around for months on end for other people to do stuff.

      • Barring very rare exceptions, I don’t self-publish short stories. It doesn’t take all that long to run them through a number of good magazines. If they don’t sell, which might be because they’re long and the number of markets are few, I might consider it, but in that case, I usually do something else with the story, such as turn it into a novella. I have self-published a few short stories, but for reasons of promotion of a larger work.

  2. I’ve stopped sending stories anywhere with a long open window. I used to withdraw at 500 days, but now I won’t even give them 200….

    • I think this is probably one of the good things that e-submissions and the internet have done. Writers now talk to each other, and compare. But, same here, there are places where I haven’t sent a story and other places that will only get my bottom-drawer stories that everyone else has already seen.

  3. I’m actually making some money with my short story collections and my novella. But they are all previously published, and I continue to submit to short fiction markets. The response times for short fiction are mostly pretty reasonable.

    • I agree, it’s not too bad for short fiction. The thing that gets me most is the delay with novel submissions, or even getting no response at all. If you’ve been waiting for six months, you don’t know if they’re still getting to your submission, or if you’ll never get a reply. This is important especially if your other option is self-publishing, because quite a lot of work goes into a manuscript before it is an ebook. Now if the publisher didn’t mind a book being self-published–and more of them do these days–it wouldn’t matter so much, because the onus of waiting would be on them.

  4. This trend seems pandemic. It touches all areas of life. I had a job interview recently. The woman told me up-front (which is more than most do) that she would only contact successful candidates. I got that warning, at least. Most do not even give that much. It’s a sign of the times, and not a good one.

    • Oh, yes, the job interview thing is awful. My husband works as contractor, which means he goes to 2-3 job interviews a year. His work is highly specialised with few people working in the field, so he always gets a response; the industry is very small and a non-reply would set too many tongues wagging. My daughter is at uni, trying to get some casual/temp work as kitchen staff or bar staff. My husband was outraged at practices she encounters. He told her she shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of behaviour, and I don’t think she does, because a lot of those types of jobs are arranged through contacts, and the employees are obliged to interview, but have lilttle interest in the process, because they have already chosen their candidates.

  5. Excellent post, I had a conversation with a small publisher about the industry the other day as we sat in a coffee shop in Liverpool. All around us people were banging away on laptops as he told me, in words to the effect, “I’m scared to move until the market settles down, even if one of these people came to me and offered me their book I’d be to scared to invest in it. I can’t afford the risk.”
    I didn’t have the heart to tell him they were nearly all sales reps doing their figures!
    But, the conversation did illustrate to me the terror that has gripped the publishing world, I think, in time, it’ll calm down and normality will be restored, and buy that i mean my books will just carry on getting rejected!

  6. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #21 — The Book Designer

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