RARA-AVIS: Unpublished and better left that way...

From: Racerick75@aol.com
Date: 18 May 2007

I'm coming in a little late on the conversation regarding unpublished novels and their relative merits, but I have a bit of a different perspective.
  Kevin is correct when he states that it's the PUBLISHER'S money that is at risk when they put a story into print. Whether you are publishing mass-market paperbacks using web-fed presses or trade paper through a POD press, the cost is not inconsiderable. At Back Alley Books, the average cost to put a book into print is about $1000, including having the cover designed, the time to set the book up, assigning an ISBN number, and the fees to have it placed in Lightning Source's data system, along with a yearly maintenance fee to keep it there. That cost is chickenfeed compared to the average cost of putting out a novel in mass market paperback format - the average there would be between $5000 and $10,000.
  Because of that, the average publisher has to be very careful what he or she publishes. For micropresses, the risks are even higher.
  When I started Back Alley Books in 2001, I was much less focused on marketability than I was on the quality of the work. I owned and drove racing cars for 28 years, so I know a thing or two about throwing money down a hole. Publishing is cheap by comparison. My goal at Back Alley, among other things, was to preserve and nurture the hardboiled genre, find new voices, and give them a chance. The intent was to find the right books, and nudge their authors into the limelight a little, see if they could stand on their own.
  I won't go into the financial problems we encountered almost immediately, and which kept us from doing books by outside authors, because my theme in this post is the quality of the work that started streaming in over the transom - or, more precisely, into my email in-box. In order to help authors determine whether their work met my needs, I published and distributed a fairly lengthy set of guidelines. Some people actually used them. Most didn't. I received cozies, traditional mysteries, thrillers, and one piece that I can only describe as a kung-fu movie in novel form. None of them met the requirements I had set out. They were all politely rejected after I read ten pages. Some only took five.
  In addition, even for those novels which did fit the guidelines, the writing in many cases was atrocious. People sent in first drafts, replete with misspellings and grammatic errors, long paragraphs which should have been multiple short paragraphs, uninspired dialogue, and improper formatting. (By the way, to the two Jacks and to Richard P., I am NOT talking about your books.) I finally got a taste of what the major publishers experience day in and day out. Lemme tell ya, campers, the vast majority of submitted manuscripts ARE crap.
  About thirty years ago, I had the very great pleasure of having dinner with Theodore Sturgeon. I had admired his writing for years, and was admittedly agog at breaking bread with him. I brought up his statement that "ninety percent of everything is crap".
  He chuckled, and said, "When I said that, I must have been drunk."
  He waited for a beat, and then added, "And charitable."
  Here's the deal, guys, from the publisher's side of the aisle. Sometimes books get rejected for reasons other than quality. Not everything that gets rejected is crap. Most of what is rejected IS crap. Just because it is published later by someone else doesn't mean it ISN'T crap.
  Getting published is the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do - at the highest levels - is convince one agent and one editor and one small group of marketing drones that what you have written will sell. In theory, nothing could be simpler. The real problem is finding that one agent, and that one editor in the morass of agents and editors in the business, and in catching the marketing department on a good day. And, finally, sometimes there is just no accounting for taste.
  The trick is to keep writing, keep improving, find your voice, and don't give up. If you stick with it, you will find that agent and that editor, and you will eventually convince that marketing department to take a chance on you. For most of those who have - up to that point - labored in the self-publishing world or with small presses, they are likely to discover that this stroke of luck mostly means continuing to starve under a larger roof.
  It isn't intended to be easy. If it were, everyone would do it. R
  Richard Helms Three-Time Shamus Award Nominee http://richardhelms.net
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