One of the most difficult aspects of finding success in my writing career is that I have had to learn to say “no” when asked particular questions. As someone who tries to please other people (sometimes to my detriment), this is not always easy.
Let me explain what I’m talking about…
One of the major reasons I started this blog was so people could read about my journey and learn from my mistakes, failures, and hopefully, successes. I still believe by sharing my experiences with all of you, I may help you avoid making gaffs you will regret. The other reason for this blog was so my fans would be able to find out the latest news on my road to publication with the As The World Dies series.
I still get a lot of email from people asking me all sorts of questions. Sometimes they are easy to answer, sometimes they’re not. I have even referred people to the blog because I already addressed their question in a post.
But there is one question I will always answer “no” to and here it is.
When I researched paths to publication before I self-published, I read the FAQ’s on the websites of some of my favorite writers for advice and noticed many times they stated adamantly that they would not look at any manuscripts sent to them. I thought it was a little odd at the time until I began having my own success. In the first year, I was surprised at how often I was sent a manuscript from someone I didn’t know. It made me vastly uncomfortable.
I still have quite a few people sending me their work out of the blue. I’ll open up my email, have a nice message from an aspiring writer about how they like my work and then they’ll tell me they have attached their manuscript for me to read, send on to my agent, or to my publisher.
I dread these emails. The honest truth is I delete any unsolicited manuscripts from my inbox immediately after answering the author.
To some this may seem like an odd thing for a writer to do. Sending off the manuscript they toiled over to someone they didn’t know seems like a risky proposition. I suspect the practice was born out of some success stories that were touted in the media over the last few decades. The much-hyped stories were about people who landed huge publishing deals after being endorsed by a major author. Usually the story was that an unknown writer managed to get their manuscript into the hands of this major author, who was so blown away by what they read they immediately passed the manuscript on to their agent/editor and the newbie author got a deal. This probably only happened a handful of times, but we writers tend to be a desperate lot. A lot of writers seized onto this idea.
I once read an article about a well-known author and when asked to offer advice, she begged writers not to send their manuscripts to her. She had to trash them since most of the time there was no self-addressed stamped envelope. There were even stories of people trying to put their manuscripts on the front doorsteps of their favorite author’s homes.
To make matters worse, there is a lot of bad advice out there on the writing forums. One bit of advice was to get blurbs or endorsements from writers in your genre before you send you manuscript into an agent or editor. On one thread, a writer was desperately trying to gather author emails to send off her manuscript for them to read.
Established writers do help others get deals, but it is usually because they know them from writing circles and not because a random manuscript landed on their doorstep or in their inbox. I don’t know of any authors who actually read unsolicited manuscripts from unknown writers.
These are my own personal reasons:
1. Legal Issues - Writers need to protect themselves against being accused of plagiarizing another person’s writing and the best way to avoid this is to not read unsolicited manuscripts. Lawsuits are not fun, yet the publishing world is full of them. J.K. Rowling has been sued multiple times by writers convinced she pilfered from their work.
If I’m working on a book about witches and someone sends me an unsolicited manuscript about witches, they could later on believe that any coincidental similarities could be due to me reading their work and stealing from it. To avoid this scenario, I hit delete immediately.
2. Time - I have my own writing career to build and it takes a lot of my waking time. I have even turned down reading the manuscripts of author friends because I just don’t have the time to give them an honest critique while working on my own writing.
At this time I do three kinds of reading: 1) research for my novels 2) keeping up to date on the publishing world 3) entertainment. When I used to help other friends who were writers with their stories, it was a lot of time and energy. An honest critique is a lot more than just reading the story, it’s about digging into the meat and bones.
3. Respect for my Agent – I respect my agent and all the things she does for me and her other clients. I know she works very hard and has countless submissions every day pouring into her inbox. I have only referred three writers to my agent since I signed with her. The first writer I referred blindly, because they were a friend. I hadn’t read the manuscript because I was swamped with other things. I later regretted doing this because I realized I honestly didn’t know if that manuscript was any good or even something my agent would enjoy. I realized I could be wasting both the writer and my agent’s time with a bad fit. Nothing came of that scenario. Later, I referred two more friends, but after they received offers from other publishers (agents love it when there is a deal on the table). I had read both authors’ work and loved their writing styles. They also had a history of being published by small presses and growing fan bases. Referring them to my agent made sense and she thanked me for referring both of them. She now represents both authors. I respect my agent enough to realize her time is valuable.
4. Tor Will Look At Unsolicited Manuscripts – My editor at Tor explained to me once how the editors at Tor look at all the unsolicited manuscripts on a pretty regular basis. They grab all the manuscripts, stack them into piles, and everyone starts reading. If the first page doesn’t hook them, they move on to the next submission. At the end of the day, each editor ends up with a stack of manuscripts to look at more closely. She explained that a lot of the manuscripts are going to be rejected, but once and a while they find a real gem in those piles. She even told me to tell writers to go ahead and send in their manuscripts to Tor. Those submissions will be looked at. But you better have a polished manuscript with a killer opening. There is no point sending manuscripts to me or any other writer when there are still publishing houses that will look at unsolicited manuscripts.
5. Self-Publishing – You don’t need to have another author lift you up into the upper echelon of publishing when you can find your own success. As my agent and my editor have both said to me multiple times, sometimes good books don’t get published because they’re not going to sell big. Your manuscript may be awesome, but there is no assurance that will land you a publishing deal. In fact, several authors (JA Konrath comes to mind) have self-published rejected manuscripts and have made thousands of dollars off of them.
So if you’re an unknown writer and you want an honest assessment of your novel, what do you do? I strongly believe in joining a writers group online or in your local area. It really helps to have your peers look at your work. Sometimes established authors are part of these groups. That is where the rare endorsement sometimes comes into play.
My way of helping you (if you’re a fledgling writer) is by documenting my own journey on this blog and hopefully encouraging you along the way.
The reality is that every writers journey to success is going to be different. It’s about you making it happen.