Friday, June 15, 2007

Learn to Speak Editor (part 3)

further twists on the magic decoder ring:

"Thank you for sending, not quite right for us." But a hand written note that said, "The energy in your writing is fantastic, please do send other manuscripts our way!"
Was somebody's name on that letter? If not, I'd worry that this is the work of an intern. I personalize my rejections in the actual typewritten part of letters.

The nonfiction manuscript referenced below provides an explanation and discussion of the (very well-known and well-supported) scientific conclusion that the elements in our body, carbon, iron, etc. originated in supernovae. (I've written several books about supernovae.)
Tell me the manuscript is too dry (it isn't). Tell me it might be difficult to illustrate (it might be). Tell me it's not a subject that interests you (that's fair). But don't
tell me it's "too controversial." Trust me. There's no controversy except among the scientific illiterate. Sheesh!

Oh, what bullshit. Shame on that editor.
It's true that certain states have enough hopelessly backwards people that the school bookclubs cannot offer books that talk about evolution, witchcraft, and other things that are no threat to thinking people. And if this editor has that in mind, and worries that your book will have very little audience outside of said bookclubs, that's reasonable. But saying the topic is too controversial implies that there's some legitimacy to the "controversy." Moreover, hasn't she seen Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust?

"As you know, we have a small nonfiction program and our nonfiction tends to be more straightforward than this disguised-as-a-picture-book

I like nonfiction picture books. But if she doesn't, well, ok.

"I was interested to see this.."
This means nothing. Nothing at all.

"Thank you for your query letter. Unfortunately, from your description, we do not think that your book would be a likely prospect for our list." But I didn't send a query letter. I sent a manuscript.
Ah, whoops. Shrug this off; it's the sort of mistake that does happen sometimes in the course of trying to get through as many manuscripts as we have to. I would assume that your manuscript was read, though--you just got the wrong rejection letter.

"I...was impressed with the creativity of your subject, as well as the caliber of your rhymes. The world's seas are fascinating and the lyrical flow of your poetry really helped them come to life." Well, that's nice. But this manuscript had nothing to do with the "world's seas" and "bringing them to life." You'll just have to trust me on that!
Oh dear. That's just mismanagement. Try submitting to other publishers for a couple months, and give this one a chance to "experience a change of staff."

"I don't think there is enough retail potential..."
You've narrowed your audience down to you and your friends.

"This would not translate well into other languages, which limits the markets to which we can sell a book. "
You're doing something too oblique for most of America. But the French aren't going to go for this.

"While I found some humorous moments, I don't feel this manuscript could compete in a crowded market."
Funny only works as a sole hook if it's really funny, and all the way through.

"This manuscript raises ethical issues."
(Said about a humorous manuscript about hybrid animals.)
Aside from the ligers and mules, people are going to look at this book and think "ick!". Others will picket the bookstores that carry it.

"Could you rewrite and get rid of the metaphors?"
I went through the manuscript several times, but couldn't find any metaphors.
Hmm. This is an interesting one. It might be another screw-up, but in my experience there's another possibility: You don't realize that you've put metaphors in your manuscript. I remember talking to a woman at a conference who had a manuscript about a stray dog (which I read in its entirety). I mentioned that books about homelessness were challenging to sell. She was honestly surprised. She'd never considered that her manuscript was about homelessness.

Sometimes authors get so focused on telling their story that they don't realize that the story is developing subtexts--and sometimes those subtexts are ones the author never realized they had in them. When people talk about stories having a life of their own, they're not kidding.


Anonymous said...

Dear EA,

Yes there was a signature.


Editorial Anonymous said...

Well ok then. That was a nice comment.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was nice too! I framed and matted it, and hung it in the center of my living room wall, surrounded by spotlights!