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In Which I Muse Out Loud: Part 2

The submission criterion has changed in many ways since the time I submitted my first novel. I don't believe that Del Rey now accepts unsolicited submissions, for one. When I submitted my novel, length was an issue. In the intervening years, for a while, it was vastly less of an issue -- and now it's an issue again, with a vengeance.

Which is to say: There was a period in which publishers were actively looking for "Big" books from new authors. They're now actively looking for small books -- as in short -- from new authors. (Keeping in mind that my last book was over 400,000 words, short for me would be the 140K that is currently the high end of acceptable new-author word count for the largest of the SF/F publishing houses).

There are many reasons (given) for this change, one of the largest having to do with production costs, and the P&L statement. Profit and Loss statements are done for each book at each publisher; I would guess that some of the details differ from house to house, but regardless, there are some base expenses that will be added to the cost side of the ledger. Cover art. Type-setting. Copy-editing. Printing costs. House overhead (which would be the percentage of the book's sale price that goes towards things like paying the rent, the utilities, the salaries of the editors/reps/etc). In order to keep costs -down- (and cover prices), one of the things that has to go down is page count.

When an editor wants to buy your book, she frequently has to discuss this with other editors or her superior in order to get permission to do so. Many factors will go into the decision, among those the possible profit or loss that the book will represent. Let's assume that the book is going to be bought. The editor phones, an initial offer is made, some (minor) negotiating occurs, and the contracts (three months later) are signed. You're on your way to being published. I've heard of offers from a major publisher that are as low as 1500.00 US for a mass market original paperback (again, SF/F); as high as 10K in other cases. I've also heard of higher, but on average, expect about 5K for a first book and you won't be heartbroken.

Editing occurs after the book is acquired, and the editing is generally done in three stages. The first is structural and substantive; the editor tells you what does -- and doesn't -- work for her, and why, and asks that these difficulties be addressed. After this is done, line-editing occurs. This isn't structural; it's sort of cleaning up, picking off excess words, duplicate words, repetitious phrases. Some authors -hate- this, some don't. I don't -- but if something clunks for me, I fix it. The last step would then be copy-editing, in which grammar, punctuation, and inconsistencies in the text ("you say there was a full moon here, but a week later, you mention the full moon").

A bad copy-editor is hell on earth. A good copy-editor is worth their weight in gold. You will have no choice in which of the two you get <wry g>. You won't have much choice in the cover, either. Or the cover blurb. You'll be sent cover flats (as reps call them) or cover proofs (as editors call them), and there will sometimes be little infelicities (typos, etc.) on those that you'll want to fix.

From this point, your cover flats will be put into kits that will be distributed to the sales force. The sales force are the men and women who will load up their cars with covers, catalogues, and ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) and travel around the country, showing the list for the season (or the month, depending) to buyers from both chain and larger independent stores. They'll take orders from those buyers, and send them back to the publisher. No, before you ask, most of the reps won't have read your book. They couldn't possibly read everything they're selling. They rely on editorial presentations (which used to be done in person, but are now mostly taped and sent in) and previous numbers of similar books, etc., for information.

The numbers in total that the sales force gets for your book -defines- the number of copies printed. It's interesting. In catalogues, a number for a first printing will often be stated (110K!), but that's so very theoretical, the only thing you can take from it is the publisher's sense of how well the sales force will be able to sell the book. If the orders that come in are, however, only 30K, the print-run will be something along the lines of 30K +percentage, usually between 10-20% depending on a number of factors.

Funny rep story: One of my sales reps, when I was buying, offered me a book that was just a ... turkey. It was in every possible way unappealing. It was supposed to be humourous. It was deadly dull. I looked at the first printing number in the book's information, and said, "In whose dreams?" and the rep said, "I've been told that I'm going to sell 10K of these." "In CANADA??" "Pretty much. Would you like to help me out by taking a few?" "Did you tell them that this sucks rocks?" "Me and every other person on the force."

This is funny, yes -- but illustrative as well. I'd seen the rep for three years. Had he tried to push it down my throat, I would have been actively annoyed, and for two reasons. 1: it was a turkey. 2: I was arrogant enough to assume that I had some idea of what would sell in my store, and had he really pushed me, it would not be unreasonable for me to assume that he was questioning my competence. The relationship between a buyer and a rep is one that has to last. There is some give
and take, and without question in my mind, a rep will get more books out there than simply putting catalogues in the mail will -- but the rep can't force someone to take a book he or she doesn't want. And it's not helpful for the rep to try.

It is not unreasonable for an author to be annoyed at how few copies the sales force has managed to get into bookstores; it is not -entirely- reasonable, however, to expect that the sales force can, in fact, get that book out everywhere.
(next rock)


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 29th, 2004 11:28 pm (UTC)
Part 3 (and maybe 4) tomorrow, or someone will kill me for LJ flooding <wry g>.

A part-time job in a bookstore was a sanity saver for me in the early days of my first child, Yoon. It was the only way to get out of the house that didn't -cost- money, and it made me feel like I was an adult. And that I could, you know, go to the bathroom without leaving an infant screaming :/. Or eat. Or answer the phone <wry g>.

But I learned this from a freelance writer friend: He said that he was making enough to stay home -- but that going out to socialize in any way, which he needed to do for sanity and to refresh the writing well -- cost him scads of money. So he ended up finding a low-pay part-time job (didn't say what) because it was the only way to get out of the house without spending money.
Jul. 30th, 2004 04:56 am (UTC)
In considering my exit strategies from the day job and into full-time writing, part-time jobs figure highly for sanity. I notice I get a little strange if I never get out of the house... which I rarely do if I don't have a job outside the home to go to.

It is amazing how much story material you can generate just by spending a few hours outside the house. :)

These posts are very interesting as a summary of things I had to learn bit by bit from conventions, random mailing lists and other writers! Thanks so much for putting them down.
Jul. 30th, 2004 08:12 am (UTC)
janni uses her Girl Scout troop as part of her get out and socialized time.

Jul. 30th, 2004 08:24 am (UTC)
You know, that may be why I go more stir crazy in summer, for all that I really enjoy having my time freed up for more writing.
Jul. 30th, 2004 08:14 am (UTC)
There's a reason I so often find myself writing in coffee shops, in spite of being an introvert--I get weird if I never leave the house. (And suspect I would get doubly so if I had kids and never left the house.)

But it's true that even coffee shops involves some expense.
Jul. 30th, 2004 08:19 am (UTC)
Coffee shops are dangerous places. Fiscally and calorically!

When I was unemployed for a while my significant issue was lack of transport. I went stir-crazy, really.

I think part-time work will sound much more appealing if I've chosen to do it for fun, rather than been forced to do it to make money!
Jul. 30th, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
I'm currently ironing out an exit strategy from the day job (Four More Years! Four More Years!), and a part-time job will need to play a part given the lower payouts that come with early retirement. Sounds like that isn't such a bad thing.
Jul. 30th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
See the great thing about living in (or by) a small town is that every trip to the store is a chance to socialize because you'll be guarenteed to meet half a dozen people you know all of whom will ask about the beloved, the mother-in-law, the sister-in-law, the sister-in-law's new boyfriend, the sister-in-law's new boyfriend's exwife, the aged uncle, the fair, dead people, the garden, tourists, and/or whether I think it's going to rain before the weekend. Add that to the fair board and a few conventions a year and that's plenty of socialization for me.

My urge to strangle people has gone waaaaaaaaay down. *g*
Jul. 31st, 2004 10:41 pm (UTC)
I'm a newcomer to your journal. I have a part-time job working at a Waldenbooks, and I'm also active in the SF field as a writer, reviewer, and sort-of-editor, so it's fascinating to see where what you're saying dovetails with my experiences to date, both in this post and the even more recent ones. :>

Like your friend, the bookstore job brings in some nice extra money, and is a way to socialize and get out of the house and interact with people constantly. It's hard, tiring, frustrating, and occasionally aggravating, but also fun, rewarding, and educational. :> And where else can I be paid to discuss books with people?
Jul. 30th, 2004 06:30 am (UTC)
They're now actively looking for small books -- as in short -- from new authors.

Hooray! I write short.

Thanks for the summaries. Very interesting.
Jul. 30th, 2004 11:34 pm (UTC)
They're now actively looking for small books -- as in short -- from new authors.

Oh well, that's going to be uphill for me then.
Jul. 30th, 2004 11:37 pm (UTC)
They're now actively looking for small books -- as in short -- from new authors.

Hm, and here I was worrying that my first might look a little underweight at 100k -- but you're saying that that might be just about right for this sort of market? I'll fret a little less, then. ;)
Jul. 31st, 2004 08:23 am (UTC)
So true about the importance of getting out of the house! I'm in the process of transitioning to part time (as in, one day a week). I say, "process," because my first replacement quit without giving notice and I was loyal enough to go back full-time and train someone else. (This is scheduling and reception for a cardiologist -- incredibly detail oriented, requiring medical knowledge, organizational skills, constant prioritizing and knowing-what's-going-on-everywhere, not to mention tact and diplomacy.) #2 seems to be settling in well, which is good because I now have writing commitments. On my one day, I do back office work mostly (medical assisting), which gives me lots of people interaction and keeps my skills current. And I fill in for vacation and illness absences, which is fun because it's unpredictable and varied. If I didn't have this job, I'd probably do volunteer work -- driving seniors to medical appointments for the Red Cross or something like that.
Jul. 31st, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
Deborah! Hello!!!

We just got the new book in the shipment at the store yesterday, and your name made me wonder what you were up to -- synchronicity at work <g>.
Jul. 31st, 2004 01:35 pm (UTC)
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<waves [...] you!>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<Waves hi back at you!>

Oh, good. I haven't gotten my author's copies yet, so it's good to know it's out there. There's always this limbo when all you have in your hands is the cover flat, and it's not quite real. I was actually finishing that one while getting married, buying and selling houses, packing and moving! Fortunately, Betsy took a long time with the revisions, so I could come back to it with a fresh eye and say, "I wrote WHAT?" -- and then have time to fix it!

Just signed a contract for another Darkover book, and am working also on an original fantasy series, so this work replacement had better stick!

Will I see you at WorldCon in Boston? I've gotten myself elected SFWA Secretary, so I'll be there.
Aug. 1st, 2004 06:05 am (UTC)
Will I see you at WorldCon in Boston? I've gotten myself elected SFWA Secretary, so I'll be there.

Yes! I'll be there as well; arriving on Thursday and leaving on Monday -- do you know when the SFWA meeting is?
Aug. 1st, 2004 10:34 am (UTC)
That's pretty much my schedule, arrive late Thursday, leave dinnertime Monday. Normally, I'd never do anything so insane as to fly in at 10 pm, but it will only be 7 pm my time, so I'm hoping it won't be so bad. Also, that if I can stay on California time, I might actually be awake for a party or two! I normally turn into a pumpkin well before the magic hour of midnight, and it seems a shame to travel 3000 miles to spend time with people I rarely get to see, and then fall asleep just when things are getting interesting. Otoh, the alternative of not getting to sleep is pretty grim. I wake up without an alarm at 6 am, no matter what. sigh.

No word on when the SFWA meeting is scheduled. I think it's the con programming people that do it, not SFWA. I can snoop around and see if it's been set, and let you know.
Aug. 3rd, 2004 08:00 am (UTC)
I got here from Mely's pointing at you.

I did my own market research much the same way you did, but checking out what each house was publishing before I submitted my novel. It worked for getting them to notice, but, sadly...

I ran into the length issue. DAW read it twice unsolicited, unagented and out of the slush pile, but it was ultimately rejected as "too long for a first-time author". Basically, nobody else read it. But this was at the time there was the big long-overdue upswing in books by multicultural folks and I am not at all multicultural, so I think I probably submitted at the wrong time. I also wrote a tragedy, which is probably not a great first submission for anybody to try. The fact that it got read at all is the remarkable thing, I believe.

I haven't tried anything else because it was my big idea, I write long, and I haven't found anything that's going to be short and unique enough to sell yet. But it is a very REAL factor in the minds of the marketers and I have the rejection slips to prove it.

Just thought I'd share.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 4th, 2004 07:51 am (UTC)
It was read and then read again. Submitted once.

There'd be no reason for them to hedge on the reason for passing on it, though I do think the fact that it was long AND tragic had something to do with it. If the thing had had a happy ending, there'd probably have been less bother about the length.

That's actually the second time that had happened, a publisher sitting on one of my books for a while but ultimately passing, one with a romance novel many years previously, which was held for over a year and got shuffled out the door with the editor-in-chief when she got fired and the editorial direction of the imprint consequently changed. Ah well. It happens.
Aug. 3rd, 2004 10:24 pm (UTC)
While there has been an upswing in 'books by multicultural folks' (although I would suggest a different wording for that), I don't think you submitted at the wrong time; I think that the book was too long. (I'm not sure what length it was, so there's a chance I could be wrong about this). DAW has often been willing to publish books that are long by first book standards compared to other publishers.

Publishers have no reason to lie or hide their reason for rejecting a novel, and if, ultimately, it was read twice at DAW (if you sent it in twice, this is one thing; if it was read and then read again, this is a much different thing, the latter being better) and that was the reason given for passing on it, then that's the actual reason they passed on it.

If you mean that other publishers were looking for "multicultural" novels or writers, and that's the reason -they- didn't read it (context of that comment not quite clear, so I'm trying to parse it, sorry :/), I'm going to hazard a guess that if it was too long even for DAW, it was just too long. There are some overworked and underpaid editors who could look at the slush, see the length of the manuscript, realize there was no way they'd be able to make an offer on a book that long, and move on...
Aug. 4th, 2004 08:05 am (UTC)
I was saying that I think there was a combination of factors that didn't allow the book to get out of the slush anywhere but DAW. One was length, one was that it was something folks weren't looking for at the time, or possibly any time, and another is that it wasn't the hot thing that acquisitions editors were looking to acquire at that time, judging by what everyone seemed to be asking for and the new writers who were getting signed.

From a marketing standpoint (and I do that for my day job), it is easier for people to break through when they have the commodity that everyone is searching for at the time. (See the current upswing in "chick lit" right now. I know someone who easily sold a VERY BAD first novel because of the current craze, when in other years it would have been given a pass.) This is not to say everybody who sells during a trend's stuff isn't worthy or is in some way less worthy, despite my acquaintance's case. It's to say that it's more likely to get read in the first place by overworked folks digging through the slush. There has to be SOME sorting criteria after all. They couldn't possibly read everything. There wouldn't be time, money or resources.

Triage must have some criteria. I could easily have been eliminated everywhere automatically by length and no one read it if there was a hard and fast rule on that. But there HAS been a trend forever on looking for the next cash cow like Robert Jordan. So you'd think length wouldn't be the number one reason to eliminate anybody. But maybe it is. You undoubtedly know more about this than I do, and what I know is a number of years out of date, anyway.
Aug. 4th, 2004 08:43 am (UTC)
okay, this is not the place to do this -- but two questions.

(And of course the obligatory aside; if it was read twice, it passed Peter (usually the first reader, although I suppose it could have been one of two other people) the first time and went to either Betsy or Sheila, who read it. If they said it was too long, it was too long. The whole tragic element -- think of the very first C.S. Friedman novel -- isn't as much a problem (or it wouldn't have passed the first reader).

How long was the novel?

Is there any place where it could be broken in half, structurally? Or was that something that was tried, and did they express no interest in seeing the novel, in two volumes?

[Fwiw, I have no strong sense of "multicultural" explosion in our genre, and almost want to ask for very specific examples to see if I'm just failing to twig to the books, or if we're using the definition differently.]

The second question: How long ago was this?

Sorry to post twice quickly, though -- I wanted to edit and add to the first post, but forgot that if it's in a comment thread, you have to delete it to 'change' it :/.

If you'd rather, we can continue this by email.
Aug. 4th, 2004 03:49 pm (UTC)
E-mail would be dandy. I'm at se underscore parsons at yahoo dot com. I'm not sure if it's relevant to anybody else and it was quite a few years back now.

I got two letters from Peter, if that's helpful. He had one other comment about the book's "payoff", which lead me to believe it was the tragic ending that made it not worth the length in his opinion. The big revelation is actually something a lot like, "I fucked up bigtime by doing my big hero turn and made the world a much worse place."

And, no, there'd be no good way to break it in half. I think I just need to write something else entirely and save this for a rework later on or just write it off.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )