Someone on a writer board where I hang out recently heard back from the publisher he really wanted… after a year. And after that long wait, the answer was “revise and resubmit.”
Okay, R&R is a good thing, not a bad thing. But a year? I know publishing moves slowly. I know things take time. I know an editor’s focus must be on contracted books, not slush.
But a year?
That’s… disrespectful. If your own guidelines say four months (which is already completely insane), and you realize you’re going to miss that mark, maybe… close submissions? Hire interns? Do something that acknowledges the value of the writer’s time?
The usual choice is even more rude to the author in the long run, and that’s to not accept any but agented submissions. The writer must find someone who will take 15% (and I am old enough to remember when it was 10%) in return for… well, still waiting for months to hear if a book is going to be bought or not. 15% of potential future earnings in return for what amounts to a foot in the door. The talented will still get through, but circus poodles have to jump through fewer hoops.
And at the same time that I’m completely disgusted with the sheer rudeness of it all, I am reminded of a quote from Terry Pratchett. When I first read this, I was still working in theater, and I laughed out loud in recognition. I find I laugh even harder now, and it’s very difficult to be disgusted and laugh at the same time. I prefer laughing.
“The money in the chorus isn’t very good, is it?!” [Christine] said.
“No.” It was less than you’d get for scrubbing floors. The reason was that, when you advertised a dirty floor, hundreds of hopefuls didn’t turn up.
I have said in earlier posts that I ended up writing erotic fiction because that was what I could write from beginning to end. My other stories suffered from sagging middles, me writing myself into corners, and just plain boring me too much to bother finishing. The one exception is a science fiction tale that absorbs me, but it’s a complicated story that takes more straight hours to focus on than I have with multiple jobs and a toddler.
So erotic fiction it is.
I did a lot of market research when I realized this was where I was going. I read tons of guidelines and tons of samples to get a feel for the tone of each publisher. I read author websites, writer forums, and more. One thing I learned is that there are a lot of unspoken rules that as a reader I didn’t necessarily see. But if I wanted to sell my work, I needed to know where those invisible lines were drawn.
For example, I figured out pretty quickly that even in erotic romance the heroine does not have penetrative sex with anyone after she meets the hero. If the heroine is married, she does not have penetrative sex with anyone except her husband. Straight up erotica allows both scenarios, of course, and fantasy worlds have different rules, but if you’re writing erotic romance set in this world, you need to pay attention to those rules.
At least so that when you break them, you do it on purpose. The novella coming out in June came from me trying to figure out how I could justify a girl having sex with two men, and still call it erotic romance. Solution: Both men are her husbands, but one is from a parallel universe. What started as a purely a mental exercise turned into something original enough that the editor in chief of the press said she had never seen that particular plot before. So breaking rules has some big benefits, as long as you’re doing it consciously!
But to people who don’t write this stuff, the conventions are as exotic as the rule breaking. I was talking to a friend about some of the guidlelines for erotic publishing. Since he doesn’t read the genre, he was heartily amused to hear that “human stumbling into fairy ring orgy” was not only a common plot, but one that’s been done to death. I think the one that really broke him was the guideline on many sites that publish paranormal erotica:
* Absolutely no necrophilia. Undead doesn’t count.
My editor on Her Heart’s Divide, who is seriously the most fantastic editor I have worked with in ten years (go ahead, ask me about insightful criticism that turns a passage from acceptable to the high point of my writing day), is nearly as overscheduled as I am. Multitasking, fragmented scheduling, the whole caboodle.
She mentioned in the context of a promotional thing that she had some really specific things she loved about my book. Now, in an attempt to spare her my deep seated neurotic tendencies, I had never asked what she liked about the book. She’d given me plenty of positive feedback, but it was all about my writing, and not really the story.
I asked her if she’d mind sharing the specifics. At the exact moment I asked, she was on her way out the door, so she had to be pithy. She said she “loved how Lila was married but horny, and how Ryan had thick muscles, black hair, and he runs errands.”
Hey, who doesn’t love a dude who runs errands?
I’m not a very superstitious person. My mother used to absolutely freak out when I put a hat on the bed. This was before the internet, so I couldn’t just look it up. I spent my childhood and adolescence forgetting about that quirk (because, seriously, what the hell) and hearing horrified shrieks a few hours later.
I have since looked it up. Thank you, internet! There are a variety of myths from Italy and Portugal that say hats on the bed cause family arguments or family deaths. I have no idea where my Mexican/Scots/English mother got it.
The far more likely explanation for the hat thing is that back when head lice was common, you wouldn’t want some ooky and possibly lice-infested stranger getting his cooties on your bed. Getting cooties out of a mattress goes something like “First, burn the mattress to ashes.”
Anyway, when you grow up in a house where you cannot open an umbrella to dry inside, put hats on the bed, kill spiders even if they give you nightmares, and/or so much more, you either grow up as a total fruitcake, or you become almost aggressively rational.
If “aggressive” is an option, I’ll always take it.
But no matter how aggressively rational I am, I can’t quite shake my early inculcation. I’m afraid to post good news if the final decision hasn’t been made, lest angry and vengeful spirits decide I’m getting too big for my britches and cast evil eyes on me. But I’m feeling very encouraged this morning.
In case the brilliant Slushkiller post I linked to awhile back wasn’t specific enough, the editor at Carina posted actual excerpts from her editors’ “first feedback” notes. This is raw stuff, from the first impressions of the people who are deciding whether our work will be contracted, and therefore more valuable than gold.
Note: Do you see anything about formatting? The synopsis? A weak blurb? An awkward cover letter? No. It’s all about the story. We owe it to ourselves to make our submission packages as good as possible, of course. Never give ’em a reason to put our package down. But at the end of the day, it seems like all that stuff matters a lot less than we build it up to in our heads.
I have a few hilarious stories about screwups I have made in the submission package department, and by “hilarious” I mean “deeply humiliating.” I can see the humor in my errors. As soon as I can laugh about them, I’ll probably post them 🙂
I sent one of my children off to a publisher over the weekend. As usual, the thing that gave me the most trouble wasn’t the blurb (I used to do marketing brochures, blurbs are cake) or the synopsis. Formatting is a breeze.
No, what was killing me was deciding on the line where I perceived my story belonging. This particular publisher doesn’t have “erotic romance” as a category.
I posted my conundrum at Absolute Write, because right after I hit submit, I get wired up and second guess every word. Thank goodness for forums filled with people with more experience. The other writers talked me off the ledge, and put forth something I hadn’t considered: E-publishers of romance are almost by definition publishing erotic romance. Therefore, they don’t bother posting that as a category. It’s like the way there are no Italian restaurants in Italy. They’re just restaurants!
If that’s correct, well, I guessed right on the line for my submission. I know rationally that it doesn’t matter. If the story meets their editorial needs, they aren’t going to bounce it just because I labeled it wrong. Still, this is a numbers game, and I know it’s my job to not give them any excuses to put down my story. And after I hit submit, overthinking is my middle name. Gives me something to do during the endless wait.