The publishing industry in the 21st century is remarkably different than it was 20 years ago. Many things have changed, with online retail (and its undercutting traditional business models), digital publishing, new ways consumers are engaging content, and self-publishing platforms being the large factors.
Unfortunately, these changes have only accentuated the difficulty editors have in faithfully producing excellent work while simultaneously managing the expectations of authors. While these may seem harsh, they aren’t meant to deter you from writing. Rather, they should be taken as pieces of advice that can help you understand how to move forward in your desire to write (more on that to come). Some will encourage you to “never give up,” however, these factors should be weighed against what your hopes for writing actually are.
Without further delays, are four points that editors wish authors knew.
Unsolicited manuscripts/articles are countless.
Mind the hyperbole. Nonetheless, here’s an unfortunate but sobering reality: many publishers have large rooms where they simply dump unsolicited manuscripts. They are likely waiting to be thrown into a scheduled recycling program or by some very small chance happen to have the cover letter skimmed by an acquisitions editor. But most publishers have a policy listed somewhere on their website stating that they do not receive unsolicited manuscripts. This means that even manuscripts that a smaller publisher would be favorable to will likely take months to be handled by a decision-making editor. Then it will require more time, likely somewhere between 3-6 months to undergo a review process.
A good book is not good enough to publish.
The publishing/book market is incredibly oversaturated, and this means that even good to great books likely won’t be published by an reputable publishing house. It is estimated that somewhere between 500,000-1,000,000 books are published every year in the US alone. Most publishers these days offer little to no marketing support for projects they actually pursue, and this means they are looking for writers with established platforms. If you hope to self-publish, which is an option, you should come to terms with the fact that, statistically, it will sell less than 250 copies. Some have cautioned that self-publishing is “an exercise in obscurity,” but depending on the nature of the project, it may not be futile, if your hope is simply to be able to hand people something that is meaningful to you (and written by you!).
An editor is not under any obligation to offer feedback.
As an author, you have put countless hours into your work. It is a labor of love and usually deeply personal. However, it is simply unrealistic to expect an editor to actually read your unsolicited work thoroughly, not to mention offer any kind of feedback. An editor’s primary role is to identify works that will suit their publishing purpose, and give further shape to those works. Sometimes persistence is welcome and may result in actual feedback. However, you shouldn’t take offense when an editor prioritizes their immediate work. You are likely not to receive any response, and if you do, if will likely be a generic response offered to many—don’t let this surprise you.
Detailed feedback is a good sign.
Here’s a bit of ironic if not good news. Although it’s easy to take offense at detailed feedback, when an editor spends that much time with your work, it should be taken as flattery. Most of the time, an editor will look for excuses to quickly pass over a submission because of the high volume of unsolicited works. So when she actually reads your work and takes the time to critique it, it means there’s something there that has caught her eye. While this doesn’t mean she wants to pursue your project, you should welcome the comments and use it to hone your writing craft.
With these seemingly severe points, let me offer 4 points of advice that can help your chances of getting published: 1) Hone your craft by writing every day. 2) Consider working with a literary agent. 3) Invest some time in building your platform. 4) Network and try to build relationships in the publishing industry. More on these later.