Is Your Baby Ugly?

Acquisitions editor, Katherine B. Hyde, had an excellent post on the Hartline Literary Agency’s blog site, and this section dealing with many of the manuscripts she receives is particularly worth noting:

“When I let them know, as gently and constructively as I can, that unfortunately their work is not of publishable quality, I sometimes get rather indignant replies. Don’t I realize what a dearth there is of spiritually profitable fiction for young people? Isn’t it my duty to publish anything that embodies the truth of Christianity in fiction…Writing fiction is an art. It is not something everyone can do. It is not something anyone can do without a great deal of study and practice.”

This is one of the hard truths of publishing. Sometimes the novel a writer thinks is ready to send off to the publisher is not ready at all. Sometimes it needs more work to make it publishable.

Sometimes it’s so bad it can’t be made publishable.

There. I said it. In the language of those who liken their manuscript to being their baby, sometimes the baby has a slight overbite which can be corrected.

Sometimes your baby is just plain ugly.

It will always be ugly. It will never go to the prom or hang out with the pretty manuscripts. Just because someone thinks they have a novel inside them doesn’t mean they can get the novel out. The same can even be said of many non-fiction books. Sometimes the writer has more passion than actual talent. Or sometimes the manuscript, while having real possibilities, was sent out prematurely. And it’s not the editor’s job to fix it.

I think Ms. Hyde has hit on one of the real reasons self-publishing is so popular, because that’s the only way many manuscripts will ever see the light of day as full-fledged books. And while that is not a negative reflection on the writer (they should be commended for getting the project on paper), it is no less true.

My first published novel is actually my sixth actual novel. Why six? Because the others were not publishable quality. One could be published after a major overhaul, but until it is overhauled, it’s not ready. Period.

The others are beyond help. They’re just plain bad. They are from early in my career (17 years ago) and they read like a first attempt.

A bad first attempt.

And while there are hundreds of writers out there who are willing to hear the news that their baby has buck teeth and big ears and consequently take the steps to correct the problems, thousands more become insulted, mutter unflattering things about the editors and the sorry state of an industry where it is so hard to get published, and parade the ugly little booger around the neighborhood anyway. Then they realize they have a basement full of books and few sales.

Publishers (religious or secular) don’t owe us anything other than honesty and a fair reading. Then, and only then, if they offer us a contract, they owe us whatever the contract spells out.

And we owe them top quality work.



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