Mark Terry

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Today's Thought Question For Novelists

January 24, 2013
I'm editing a manuscript for a client (Yes, I do this and yes, I'd like to do more of it, hint, hint, hint).

It's pretty good, overall.

Is it publishable? Is it good enough for a publishing house publisher to ask to publish it? (Versus self-publishing, in which I think the answer to the question is Yes. It's good enough to appeal to readers. I'm not sure it's good enough to appeal to publishing house editors.)

Let's take that question to a more realistic extreme.

Imagine that you are the acquiring editor at a publishing house. Imagine that your job is to acquire, let's say, 12 novels a year, one each month. Imagine further that you are reading possibly 100 full manuscripts and 300 partial (a very low estimate) manuscripts.

Furthermore, not only is your job overall dependent on doing this in a way that makes money, the more the better, for the publishing house, but the more money it makes for the publishing house, the bigger a year-end bonus you will get if it does great.

Now ask yourself: Would I publish this manuscript?

And for grins and to make sure that we're all doing this in a meaningful way ... imagine that the manuscript you're reading reading is yours?


Blogger Jude Hardin said...

It's pretty much impossible to be objective about your own work; therefore, submitting to yourself would constitute a conflict of interest and the project would be an automatic no go--IF you cared about keeping your job as an acquisitions editor.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

More of a question of: Does this stand out enough to be one of those 12 books?

It's a tough call and a lot of factors go into it: is it original, is it compelling, does it fit into a certain reader demographic we're trying to meet here (i.e., is it a thriller, a recognizable type of mystery, a romance, chick-lit, SF, fantasy, etc).

But it's a question I've been asking myself as I edit this client's manuscript. He hasn't decided whether to try the traditional route or do it himself.

My gut would suggest he do it himself, but frankly, it's so hard to say how editors will respond to manuscripts. I recommended a writer's manuscript to Oceanview (Simon's) and they turned it down and he turned it around and sold it to someone else fairly quickly. Go figure.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

But it's a question I've been asking myself as I edit this client's manuscript.

Personally, I wouldn't edit a manuscript unless I thought it was going to be good enough to submit to a publisher.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Long ago I had a misconception, which I think is shared by many would-be authors, that becoming a published author requires only the attainment of a certain level of skill and that a "publishable" book is one that displays a certain level of competence. The idea is that once you and your books reach this level then you/they will get published.

If only it were that simple. The truth is that countless aspiring authors have reached a perfectly acceptible skill level. (A second misconception is that practically everything editors see is laughable dreck to be instantly dismissed.) The difficult part isn't gaining the skill but using it to create a book that a publishing house will buy.

I'm having a real problem with my writing at the moment because I realize how eccentric my tastes are and when I am pondering what I would like to write I do ask myself whether a publisher would buy such and such a book and the answer is invariably -- no. Not because my proposed book would not incompetently written, or that it would not be of any interest to anyone, but that it would not interest enough readers to suit a publisher.

Of course coming up with ideas, plots, characters etc etc which will appeal to a publisher/audience is a more important skill than technical writing skills and probably harder to learn.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

What's "good enough"?

9:13 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I had that misconception. When I started out I thought pretty much all you had to do was finish a manuscript and someone would want to publish it.

I've seen plenty of clean manuscripts that I doubt would get published by the big 6 (or 5 or whatever they're going to be after mergers), or even by smaller houses. There's something wrong with the structure, or the story is relatively generic, or "it lacks tension," which can often be nailed down to word choice and structure.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they couldn't build up a readership, given the chance.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

It's good enough to appeal to readers. I'm not sure it's good enough to appeal to publishing house editors.

To me, there aren't multiple levels of "good enough." A book is either good enough to be published, or it's not. An author might choose to self-publish for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons shouldn't be a sub-par manuscript.

12:17 PM  

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