Thursday, September 13, 2018

Assessing opportunity cost of waiting for notes

One of my novels, upmarket commercial fiction, struck out in the query trenches, though it did get a dozen requests for fulls. The sparse feedback varied too much to give me a clear sense of what wasn't working, and in one case was simply “I can’t sell this novel."

At a sort-of-pitch-session event (more like "meet an agent and editor and chat about your WIP" organised by a local literary organization), an editor at a highly respected and local-to-me publishing house which takes unagented submissions expressed interest in seeing it when it was finished.

April 2016: Since I lived within walking distance of the publisher, I handed it in to save on the postage and spare myself the “maybe it got lost in the mail” agonies (they only take unagented submissions in hard copy and I had no email address for Editor). My cover letter clearly stated that Editor had requested the material. Heard nothing back, so I assumed she’d passed on it.

January 2017: Participated in a Twitter pitch day. Editor DMd me and said, is it still available, and if so, can I see it? Turns out that the editorial assistant who ended up with the manuscript never passed it on to Editor. I emailed Editor the full manuscript.

May 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

August 2017: Sent a polite follow-up, mentioning that I had revised the MS and cut 10,000 words (!) and would be happy to send the new version. No response.

December 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

February 2018: Withdrew the manuscript (being grateful for the opportunity, etc.) because it was clear she was never going to respond.

Fifteen minutes later: Editor apologised for not responding sooner. Her comments were “it has a brilliant pitch, great characters and your writing on the line is assured, but the narrative drive wasn’t strong enough and left me feeling that work needs to be done on the novels pacing.” (Ironically, I think I figured that out myself when I cut 10k without restructuring the plot at all.) She offered to give me some written editorial notes to “make up for [her] rudeness.” I said great, that would be wonderful.

April 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response. I'd also been doing a selective second query round with the revised manuscript - total stats: around 16 submissions, two full requests, no offers of representation.

July 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

August 2018: In order to prevent myself from sending weepy passive-aggressive emails, I fling myself on the mercy of La Reid for advice.

My ideal solution would be - well, it would be for her to accept the revised novel, but realistically, it would be to have the editorial notes. It’s clear that this novel has a lot going for it and it doesn’t sound as though the writing is the problem, so feedback from a respected editor about how to bring it up to ‘publishable’ would be invaluable. But should I just chalk this up to bitter experience and dream of how someday I will laugh while I am watching the sunset from my Caribbean island I bought with the royalties?

It just occurred to me that I have a good relationship with the local organization that set up that sort-of-pitch-session; would asking one of my contacts there for advice be a good idea, or obnoxious going-behind-Editor’s-back? There hasn't been a similar event recently, or I'd sign up for it.


You're not going behind anyone's back to ask for advice from someone you know. You're asking for advice, not trying to finagle anything.

Second, every editor and agent has good intentions about offering help to writers.  We say things like what you heard "I'll get you some notes" but because it's a favor to you, and not linked to a project, or deadline, or even any prospect of such, it starts as a low priority in the Overall Scheme of Things, and probably gets knocked off the To Do list pretty quickly.

It's not malice, it's just lack of time.

This kind of thing happens more than you'd think, and it's not personal at all. 

Chalk this one up to experience and move ahead. You know what needs work (pacing) and her notes may be of use, but waiting for them has an opportunity cost that's too high.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's just so damn difficult that the long road to our destination is sometimes so filled with off ramps, that circle back or are dead ends, that it's rest-stop time.
Keep driving OP. Peddle to the metal.

Kitty said...

OP, it sounds like your ms has great potential, so maybe you should consider a professional editor, like Ben Leroy. Good luck!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

2NNs pretty much parroted the comment I had. Boy, our road is a devilishly long one. It sounds like your practically there, OP. And when you reach your destination, what a story from the trenches you will have. Good luck.

Liz Penney said...

Move on, you've dodged a bullet. This editor didn't bother to reject, only replied after you withdrew. She/he is probably a wonderful person but they are reactive not proactive. Trust your instincts that your revisions worked, get other beta readers, or pay for a critique. Sally forth and keep querying.

Sherry Howard said...

Congratulations on getting this far, and keep going. Don’t stop and wait—inertia sets you up for failure as a writer. FYI, I’ve found the eyes of a published writer to be a valuable feedback tool at end stages with a manuscript. Whether you accomplish that through a paid situation or a friendly favor, I hope you’ve been able to do that. As JR said, this type of situation is so common. Writer’s Mantra: Just keep weaving, Charlotte!

Beth Carpenter said...

Sherry, I love that. "Just keep weaving, Charlotte." Let's just hope we get in more years of weaving than Charlotte did. OP, best of luck. I hope you do get notes, but even more I hope you fix the pacing and sell the story, whatever it takes to accomplish that.

Joseph Snoe said...

Colin, Donna, and others in the Carolinas,

You are on my mind and will be on my mind and in my prayers the next few days. I'm sure by now you have developed contingency plans in case of rising water or lost power. Please report in when the worst is over.

John Davis Frain said...

I'm reminded of the definition of insanity. (Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.)

This editor has proven how she responds. It was nice of her to suggest sending notes, and I truly believe she had good intentions, but it sounds like she is overwhelmed with her current state in life.

It's so hard to move on when someone has expressed such a keen interest in our work, but move on you must or you'll be stuck there forever. Janet is 100% right on that part: the opportunity cost is simply too high.

Keep writing. And keep editing. That 10K word elimination might mean there's a few more you can revise.

Joseph Snoe said...

I shudder when I think of all the great books that never get published because of the query process.

Panda in Chief said...

OP, I feel your pain.

I had a similar situation when I was querying for my first picture book. I had a critique with the art director of a major publisher, and he absolutely loved it. Knowing the protocol, at the end of our session, I asked if I could officially send it to him after the conference. He got a stricken look on his face, clutched my PB dummy to his chest, and asked if he could have it now. How could I say no?

But then I waited (and waited) and after 10 months finally politely nudged him. He responded that he had passed it on to an editor, but I never heard anything after that. Silly me, I was so star struck with this publisher that I QUIT QUERYING. Lesson learned. (It was before I found my way here, so that is my excuse for not continuing to query.)

KDJames said...

OP, I agree with those who said to move on. This has been going on since April 2016? Judge people by what they do, not what they say. Especially if they say it in person in a situation where they don't want to hurt your feelings. Best of luck with your upcoming queries!

Completely off topic, since some of you have expressed concern: My area (Raleigh) is now under a tropical storm warning (surprise!), but other than probable flooding from rainfall and the threat of a random tree falling on me, I'm out of the worst of it. Colin is close to the storm surge/flooding danger (unless he evacuated?), but Donna is much closer to the hurricane track (though not at the coast), in the high wind and 15-20 inch rainfall area. We've been messaging a bit over the past couple days and she says she'll check in here once the storm passes, as she's able to do so. Lack of power and internet will be an issue, probably for all of us.

BrendaLynn said...

I feel for you OP. It sounds like you are close. We’re rooting for you.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: the simplest thing to do would be to buy a crit from Writer's Digest. Check their web site. If you buy a crit, for sure go to someone who is reputable.

The cheapest thing to do would be to send it to me and I will tell you if I can spot anything for free. No, I won't pay for the privilege of looking at it. People who ask me to do that get NORMAN-ed.

Saying you have a pacing problem is a boilerplate response.

What I would be looking for is things that might get you shot down. If you spend the first four pages telling us it was raining last night or you have a first sentence a page and a half long or if it is set in a time of major social upheaval and the most exciting thing in the story is that someone is upside down on her mortgage I'd wager that is A Problem. Having seen a lot pf unpublished MSS I'd bet the farm there is something like that there. Except that I do not have a farm. But if I did I'd bet it. But I don't have one.

The writer can be completely naware of these issues, but cold readers spot them in an instant.

With what is going on I can't help thinking about the old expression "fart in a hurricane." I can't help wishing I could make it to the Carolinas with a can or two of beans and see what it is like. Just put away a can or two and let it rip. Don't know if it is safe, but it is on my bucket list.

AJ Blythe said...

Good luck to everyone in the Florence wind and wet, and to anyone in the towns affected by the gas explosions. I hope you are all safe.