Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Unsolicited Recycling Bin

Are editors reading unsolicited picture books anymore? I used to get those rejected mss. back in my thoughtfully provided SASE. If I'd put a hair between pages 2 and 3, I at least knew (if the hair was missing) that someone had shuffled the paper. Now editors are responding "only if interested." My question is--are most editors simply unloading all these unsolicited mss. right into the circular file?
I realize you can only tell me for sure what's happening at your house. But you do communicate with other members of the editorial species. Have you heard anything? Say, for example, "Yahoo! I don't have to read manuscripts about Willimena the Wave anymore."
I'm a well-published pb author who doesn't want to give a piece of my paltry advance to an agent. But if my suspicion is true, I'm thinking I'm going to have to--just to get a pair of eyes to glance at the first paragraph or so of my mss.
Please tell me that this is just one of those paranoid thoughts that afflicts insomniac authors, and that someone (the janitor?) is reading those piles of unsolicted pbs.
The houses and editors who say they take unsolicited submissions are still reading them. There's really not a reason in the world for them to lie about that. There are fewer and fewer of them these days, so an agent really isn't a bad idea. But processing slush is a lot of work, and we aren't doing it just for the upper-body exercise.


Anonymous said...

There's actually one editor at one of the Big 6 who reads every PB manuscript sent to him - by email.

The trick is, you have to know who he is because he doesn't go around saying "send me your stuff!"

And, considering it's a Big 6, his turn around is lightning quick. I've gotten responses from him in under a month, with comments and suggestions included in the email.

After the original, he read the revise / resubit version, with comments and suggestions included in the email.

He's an anomaly, but of the opinion that if he at least scans everything, he might find something worthwhile.

It's been about a year since I sent something to him, but I doubt his policy's changed unless someone broke the "rule" and shared his email with a bunch of friends who buried him in unsolicited MS.

I hope not. He's exceptionally nice and helpful

Carin Siegfried said...

I worked for a publishing house 2000-2004 that said it took unsolicited mss. however, the best "look" that any of them got was the 5 seconds it took for us to glance at the cover letter while stuffing the ms and the photocopied rejection letter into the SASE. If even 5% of them got more than a 5 second look, I'd be surprised. The cover letters did all get a glance, but only a glance. Some publishers do in fact say they accept unsolicited when in practice, they don't do anything with them.

Anonymous said...

"I'm a well-published pb author who doesn't want to give a piece of my paltry advance to an agent."

I'm detecting reluctance to take on an agent. For the record, my agent routinely negotiates a higher fee/advance than I could manage on my own, not to mention a much better contract. She also gets my new stuff to the right desk.

Don't get an ulcer, get an agent.

Anonymous said...

If you think an agent is only a gate keeper to getting to the publishing house, you really ought to research what an agent does. Often times, they make up the difference in the 15% you pay them. If you didn't have an agent you more than likely would receive less money.

Plus having an agent means that I don't have to research which editors want what and who to send my manuscript to and how to send it. I don't have to negotiate my contracts (which are huge and hard to understand), I don't have to worry about the money--the agent takes care of all that, giving me more time to write, more time to produce more books, and more time to make more money.
Plus, if I don't understand something, I have someone I can go to to answer all my dumb author question.

jn said...

Like it or not, publishers have outsourced their slush pile reading to agents. There is simply no staff left at publishing houses to do the work.

If they ever figure out how to outsourced to Chinese literary agents, heaven help us.

Anonymous said...

Uh, I'm the author of the original question--and I've had agents--two of them. In neither case did the agents know anything more about editors' needs than I could find out on my own. (Yes, each was helpful at times.)

If I wrote novels, that would be a different story--but I don't. PB authors DO NOT need an agent in ordinary times, or so it's been. But I may need to change my tune.

Thanks for your comments. Each one was REALLY interesting.

Anonymous said...

For us newbies, can you name the "Big 6?"
Scholastic, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Little Brown, Random House, Penguin?

Anonymous said...

I think maybe Macmillan instead of Scholastic. (Macmillan includes Farrar, Holt, and Roaring Brook.)

Wendy said...

As an editor at one of the houses that's recently switched to a "respond only if interested" policy, I can tell you that our slush pile is alive and well and we still read it. Our staff is a little smaller and much busier than in past years, and doing away with the SASE process was the only way we could keep up with the deluge. I think we're better readers now that the response expectations are off our backs.

But I see the letter author's point, too, because I've noticed that not every agent knows how to submit picture books effectively. I guess it's possible for PB authors to stay unagented, but these days they may have to work the conferences more to make more direct contact with agents and find out who's buying what.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Big six=
hachette, harper, macmillan, penguin, random, simon.

Of course only a fool would think those are the only places to be published. Scholastic and Houghton are very large as well, and some smaller houses like Candlewick and Chronicle publish books very well, too.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Also, some of the niche publishers are very nice--- My kids have been very happy with Sylvan Dell's books-- a tight focus on nature and animals, but good at what they do.

This is where, for a newer writer, some quality time with a "writer's market", a bookstore, and a librarian can really pay off...

Christine Tripp said...

Things are changing with the publishers that most of us aspire to work with. Time was that while the larger houses were closed to unagented authors, Illustrators were still welcome to submit on their own. Now, following the "2010 Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Market", even the Illustrators must be agented.
There are not enough Illustrator Reps so where does that leave even the published Illustrators, especially those that have not found their inner Author?
What I have seen lately in the book stores are more and more PB's by Illustrator turned Authors. I don't know if this a result of what Publishers are looking for or if more Illustrators are realizing they must write in order to illustrate.
Certainly the profession is changing.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Does anyone need a right arm? I would give mine to know who the big 6 replying editor in the first comment is.

Annie said...

As a former editorial intern, one of my jobs was to return SASEs with a note saying "we don't accept unsolicited material." If something ridiculously stellar jumped out, I could pass it to the editors, but otherwise I was the only one who looked at slush. That's just one publishing house, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if interns were involved similarly elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

A good tool to have is a book that list all the Book/Magazine publishers. I have the Book Markets for Children's Writers 2010 (need to get the updated version). I also have the Magazine Markets for Children's Writers. It tells you what each publisher is looking for, also, some of their submission guidelines, if you need an agent, if they take unsolicited mss., along with a name of one of the editors. It is a good thing to narrow down the field, but be sure to checkout each publishers' web sites, because things do change.

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