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Friday, February 16, 2007


A Dose of Reality

Writers are creative people who are dreamers. Now there is nothing wrong with dreams and I've got them as well as the next person--and I'm working toward achieving these dreams every day.

In the midst of your dreaming, every now and then it's good to get a dose of reality to spur you in the right direction.

I actively participate in a large online group of writers. This morning one of the writers in Florida put out some figures of a presentation from a small publisher (who was not identified and that's OK because the information is widely applicable). Here's a bit of what was written:

"They get an average of 35 book submissions every week. Agented and otherwise. That's at least 1500 per year and they publish only 5-7 every year. That's about 99.5% rejection rate. We asked about criteria for rejection. They take first 30 pages of your manuscript and give it to at least 5 independent "readers" who then suggest to the publishers which manuscripts to read in full. They also give advances, which means you sell them your book. When they decide to publish they go with traditional printers and print 5000 copies or so to have a very low cost and leave as much margin as possible for promotion and marketing costs. They announce a new title at least 6 months before it is scheduled and then send up to 100 copies of book to reviewers."

In today's post, I'm going to include most of what I responded to this post and maybe it will give you a healthy dose of reality and encouragement toward excellence:

As someone who has read these over the transom, unsolicited submissions sent to a publisher, I can agree with these percentages. It can be pretty discouraging--yet you need to understand that most of these proposals are untargeted, unfocused and incomplete. As an acquisitions editor, I can only help you if your proposal is about 70 to 80% perfect. Most of them are about 20% and a few are in the 50% category. They are missing some critical element like the word count or the vision for the book or the competition or the author's marketing plan (yes every proposal whether fiction or nonfiction needs a marketing plan from the author--and don't tell me you will appear on Oprah and are willing to do interviews--people actually write that into their proposals and it's their marketing plan). As a result, these proposals are sent back with a form rejection letter. It is not the editor's responsibility to fix your incomplete proposal--that' s your responsibility as the author. Book proposals are hard work--plain and simple--and most people aren't willing to do that hard work. They'd rather dream about their fiction getting published yet they've not done the hard work of learning their craft and practicing their craft in the PRINT magazine world (and building publishing credits). Why print? It's a much more demanding form than online--anyone can put stuff online.

I guess the question is whether you will be one of those people who write a riveting proposal that gets publishers climbing over each other to get your project. Yes, it's possible. I've had those proposals in my hand--and I've even written a couple of them. I'm eager for writers to be successful and that's why I put the energy into Book Proposals That Sell. Now if only more people applied the information to their own work... And if you need any more reality about this business, then check out this publishing quiz from a great book called Putting Your Passion Into Print--and in particular notice the answer to question #9--which is another truth you should recognize. Sorry to be a bit cynical, folks. Maybe it's the material that has crossed my desk recently. It IS possible--if you put it together in the right way and pitch it in the right manner at the right time. As I've said before--and it's worth repeating here--every agent and every editor is actively looking for these top proposals.

Here's a little challenge which was not included in my post to the other writers. It's terrific to read these how-to-write books or attend a writer's conference yet will you be in the small percentage of people who will actually take the information and apply it to their own project. Many people at the conference will be inspired and encouraged. Yet this encouragement is temporary until they receive the next rejection or get home to face their own challenges. The key is to practice the craft and do the hard work of writing with such excellence that your work is irresistible.

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2 Comment:

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Mike Dellosso Left a note...

Terry,

Thanks for the "dose of reality." I know what you mean about the high after a writer's conference but sooner or later having to return to the real world where a keyboard and proposal await like an angry parent when you've broken curfew . . . again. That's where reality lingers. Are we willing to grit our teeth, soil our hands, and chew our fingernails to nubs for that great proposal? I hate writing the synopsis, but I'm in the middle of one now, forcing myself to write it and write it well. I agree, the proposal is where the proverbial buck stops, it's what separates good from "sold."

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger Serenity Now! Left a note...

Excellent dose of reality. Your advice and your book is the reason I got an agent on my second try! And a publisher just two months after that.

 

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