Awareness of A Fine Line
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
Within publishing as you approach or pitch editors and agents, there is a fine line between being creative and interesting in your pitch—and being strange (asking for rejection). Editors and literary agents are actively looking for creative and interesting submissions. Even if you are getting rejected with your pitches, I know they are actively reading their emails and looking at their mail submissions for excellent submissions.
Recently a novelist approached me to possibly edit their book. As I reviewed the book, it was a clean, well-written novel but had several issues. First, it was substantially longer than a novel I could publish at Morgan James Publishing. We have a limit of 100,0o00 words which is typical for many publishers and based on our experience (sales) and the price point for the novel and other elements. This particular novelist had written a 145,000 word novel (way over our limitation). I pointed out this challenge to the novelist but I also told him about another “different” feature in his novel. Throughout the book for emphasis, he created words from his characters with extra letters. For example, he took the word “buzz” and would add letters so it became “buzzzzzz.” While such action was creative, it also bordered on strange and gave the gatekeeper (agent or editor) a reason to reject the novel. In the rejection process, we don't give such reasons to the author (not our role or responsibility). The author will likely never learn the reason for the rejection. This author was asking me for a critique or edit. As I examined the work, I didn't find anything worthy charging or critiquing so instead I sent a brief email with a few observations and suggestions.
The experience reminded me of several important principles that as writers we need to be aware:
1. We need to pour creativity into our submission but not cross into strange. Don't give that editor or agent a reason (even if unspoken) to reject your work. Instead give them reason to keep turning the pages and reading. This process is a careful balancing act.
2. Follow the guidelines from the agent or editor and even take a few minutes to review them before sending off your submission. Does your submission fit what they are looking for? If not, don't send it and find another place.
3. Your pitch or proposal is important and needs to be complete and excellent. Every publisher is looking for authors who are connected to their readers or what some people call their “tribe.” If you are beginning or don't have this group of readers, then start immediately to gather it. As I've written in the past, every author should have their own email list. You also need to have a social media presence (not every social media place but select a couple where you will work at building your presence). For example, I have invested a great deal of energy into Twitter and LinkedIn. Admittedly these sites are “rented” and not anything that I control or own. Any editor or agent with a few key strokes can check out your presence or lack of it on these places. The look and numbers are important to these editors and agents as they make their decision about working with you (or not).
Publishing is a complex business that looks easy and simple on the surface but isn't. As a writer, you are lookng for the right connection. Finding this connection will take effort, education and insight but can pay off to advance your publishing career and also garner sales of your book. From my decades in publishing, it much better to work with others and produce excellence, than to do it on your own (self-publish). This simple principle explains why there are so many strange self-published book. There are plenty of companies that will take your money, publish your book and not give you honest help in the process. My advice is to choose carefully, ask many questions and avoid the missteps.
Are you aware of the fine line between creative and strange? What steps are you taking to get help from an editor or agent? Let me know in the comments below.