Saturday, 14 October 2017

SHOW ME THE MONEY! - Louise Boland

Last week I heard a shocking story from a writer friend.  It probably isn’t shocking to those writers of the Authors Electric crew who’ve been in the game a while, but I guess I’m still a newbie to this world of publishing, so it was shocking to me.  I’m going to call the story, The Sure Thing, and it goes like this….

An unpublished writer sends his first novel to a high-profile London agent who takes an interest in it.  The agent requests some significant re-writes and asks him to be sure to send it back.  It takes the writer a year to make the changes, after which he excitedly returns it.  The days tick by.  We all know how it goes.  Jumping whenever the phone rings, the heart stopping with every message ping.  Two months tick by.  He tentatively rings the agent.  Whoops! The agent forgot to put it on their ‘To read’ list.  Apologies given and accepted.

The days tick by.  We all know how it goes.  Jumping whenever the phone rings, the heart stopping with every message ping.  A further two months tick by. He tentatively rings the agent (with a slightly heavier heart this time). Whoops! says the agent, I forgot to put it on my ‘To read’ list.  No! No! cries the writer. That’s what you said to me two months’ ago.  Did I? replies the agent, nervously. Yes… stammers the writer, his head in his hands.  Oh, well, says the agent, I guess that means I just wasn't that into it.  Thanks, but I won’t take it any further.

What to do about it?

Well I’m guessing quite a few people are shouting SELF PUBLISH! at the screen. And I agree that’s a great way to cut out all the nonsense above. Self publishing has been a revolution for writers – but as we all know, it’s not without its own difficulties.  

For those trying to squeeze their writing in between a job… running a family… friends… hobbies, a social life… figuring out how to create an e-book, understand Print On Demand or set up and run a marketing campaign can seem like one or three mountains too many.  Sending an unpublished manuscript into a submissions process, for many new writers, is still a necessary evil.

Respect for Writers?

So, I have a question for those ‘old hands’ out there.  Has the publishing industry’s submissions process always been so disrespectful to aspiring writers or is this a recent phenomenon? 

As a newbie publisher (, we really want to try to get this right.  We can’t publish everything that we get sent, that would be impossible, but there’s no reason why we can’t run a submissions program which shows some respect to those writers who have been kind enough to send us their work.

We’re thinking maybe we should try and raise the bar on this and have some sort of code of practice for submissions.  Perhaps the following:

Fairlight Books

We agree to endeavour to:

-          Acknowledge every submission we receive
-          Reply to every submitter with a response within three (or two?) months
-       Read everything that we get sent and banish the word 'SLUSH PILE' from our company ethos.

We know we won’t always get it right.  That mistakes will get made and the odd submission accidentally overlooked.  We know that already we often um and err too long about something great we’ve been sent but aren’t sure what to do with, and that currently the process of responding once we have a full manuscript is taking longer than we’d wish as we find our feet.

But we think if we try to stick to an ethos of remembering that there is a person at the other end of that submissions process, we’re starting off on the right track.

I’d love to know other writers’ thoughts on the matter.  What are your stories – good and bad? Should we have a Code of Practise for submissions?  If so, what should it be called? Respect for Writers? A Jerry Macquire-esque Submissions Manifesto? [Hence the eponymous title of this blog] And what should be in it?

You can comment or tweet us on @Fairlightbooks

All thoughts welcome!


Sandra Horn said...

Fantastic idea! If only....

Bill Kirton said...

That extended process you describe so accurately, Louise, is one of the reasons I decided to self-publish. Waiting 18 months or more between submission and the book's eventual appearance was so frustrating. As for that 'forgetful' agent, I think s/he should revise her/his job description.

Lydia Bennet said...

This is a very ethical and pleasing approach, (and yes btw writers have always been treated the way you outline in your blog post!). in fact you may be aiming at too conscientious an approach, you will be inundated with typescripts as it is. You need not promise to 'read' them all, which implies read all of each one, as many will be clearly no-hopers from page one or at least chapter one. Better you commit to acknowledging receipt by email, and replying within a given time frame (maybe 3 months? you can always be earlier if possible). Just my take on this. Good luck with your new imprint! And best ask for 3 chapters and synopsis as most agents prefer. if people ignore your clear submission guidelines, they have only themselves to blame for rejection.

Andrew Crofts said...

Yes, Louise, it has always been thus. To make a career and a full-time living from writing you have to work at it just as long and hard as you would if you were building any other kind of business. I would guess that it took me ten long, dispiriting years before I was making a full-time living from writing, but I had started at 17 so I had time on my side. Since then I have published around a hundred books, some with big name publishers, some with indies and some self-published. I have a couple of dozen publishers I can approach with synopses and about a dozen agents, (never put all your eggs in one basket). I have now been earning my living from freelance writing for forty years and it has been a fantastic career, worth all the early, painful setbacks. Never give up!

Umberto Tosi said...

Yes, it's always gone at a snail's pace, except now the snail's been run over by a truck along with professional courtesy in too many publishing and wannabe circles. There are noble exceptions, of course. Fortunately, technology has leveled the playing field for authors. Authors were having to do most promotion on their own anyway, even before the internet. Now we have better tools and greater access, and better compensation opportunities. I've been on both sides of this desk. I worked as an editor making acquisitions for regional publishers for many years. We were always careful to keep writers abreast of the status of their submissions and pay attention to process, not taking cover in the anonymity of software.

Fran B said...

I didn't start my writing life until I retired from full-time work at the age of 62. Initially I tried getting a publisher or agent (and went through all that your blog outlines and worse) but then decided that I would risk running out of time and being dead before getting published. But you're right, self-publishing is fine but you start the marketing/promo process from first base and it is horribly time-consuming. Catch 22!

Louise Boland said...

Thanks all for your words of wisdom. Some great tips in there. So a commitment to 'take a look' at every submission is probably better than 'to read', and essential to build into our processes a way of keeping writers abreast of the status of their submissions. Thank you!

And good luck Fran with the promo campaign!

misha said...

To be honest, "taking a look" is often all it needs to show whether a submission is for you, or not. What I value is a publisher/agent who has the courtesy to tell me that my ms is not for them.

Dennis Hamley said...

Late again (see Griselda's thread on AE Private!) I started publishing in 1962, God help me, but only began to establish myself in 1973. And for thirty-five years I encountered only speed and professionalism from agents and publishers alike. I think the rot set in after about 2007 - not for me so much because I was now living off occasional commissions and a start to indie publishing. But I was also mentoring new writers and shared with at least two of them the pain and shock of what I can only call massively discourteous, often misleading and once at least, actually dishonest conduct. One agent especially, undoubtedly prestigious but with whom I never had, thank God, direct dealings, shocked me with their appalling conduct. Louise, I know, because you've been through it yourself, that Fairlight will never behave like that.

AliB said...

Hi Louise
I think to set out some kind of submissions policy - or rather response policy - would make writers very happy.
I think there has been an illogical decrease in respect to authors since email submissions came along. one of my paper submissions got a rejection 18 months after I sent it which may be a record - but at least I got an answer. I have observed many agents/publishers NOT ANSWERING AT ALL. How long does it take to send an auto response of a) we'll take a look and b) not for us, if that's the case.
I can only assume the email thing has made it too easy to submit and publishers really are inundated - or just quite rude!

Louise Boland said...

Thanks for the new comments all.
Misha - I think you're right.
We're developing our submissions response(!) policy right now and I think we'll go with the commitment to 'take a look' at all submissions as one of the key tenets, as that seems to be the consensus as being to the most honest promise.

Dennis, Ali - more shocking stories. Sounds like the use of email is making people less courteous rather than helping speed up the response time as it should.

Our plan is to launch our code on Tuesday next week - we'll tweet it and put it on our website as soon as it is ready, so please feel free to spread the word that we want to raise the bar in the way writers are treated by those asking for submissions!

Katherine Roberts said...

I agree. From an author's point of view, "yes" is brilliant, "no" is good (because you can cross that publisher/agent off your list and move on), but silence is torture.

"Maybe if you totally rewrite it, halve the length and change the ending" also drives me slightly crazy... these days I usually take that as "no" and move on.