Thursday, December 2, 2010

Maybe I'm Just in a Bad Mood


OK, here I go. I'm gonna do the one thing a writer is really really really not supposed to do on her blog: I'm gonna bitch about publishers for a second.

Let me be clear up front about what I'm not doing: I'm not whining about mistreatment. I've never submitted anything to a book publisher, nor do I even have any off-line friends who have had bad experiences with publishers, and I'm not here to bitch about editors' taste or how they wreck dreams or whatever.

My problem with publishers, based on information from agents' blogs, is this: they are so very precious that they can't be bothered to run their businesses like professionals. Ubiquitous errors on royalty statements, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, inability and/or unwillingness to communicate any status to authors who have provided work at their request. These represent the kinds of basic organizational skills that companies of every size in every other industry have to keep current just to remain solvent. Why do we continue to excuse publishers for sloppiness we wouldn't tolerate in any other business partnership? They are like the Hollywood starlet who shows up five hours late for a photo shoot and then lets her dog pee on the $8000 designer gown, and everyone whose day she's ruined THANKS HER PROFUSELY FOR THE HONOR. Rather, they thank her people, because she can't be bothered to speak to anyone outside her circle.

OK, it's true that I'm bitching about something I've no firsthand knowledge of. But all these anecdotes I hear bug me because I care - I want this industry to survive. But just like a bunch of alcoholic starlets, this brave new world will eat them unless they get their shit together and take some responsibility for themselves.


  1. I'm reading these posts backwards after having just read your "on the other hand" post. But I do agree with pretty much everything you say in both. My experience of contact with the publishing industry is that, by and large, they just ignore you. Surely basic politeness should apply here?

  2. I've heard the argument that politeness takes too much time, that you can't be polite to 10,000 authors a year or you'd never get any work done. I would agree with that, in the sense that I don't expect agents and editors to write hand-written notes to every person who contacts them.

    However, setting up an automated system that allows authors (and agents and editors themselves for that matter) to know the general status of submissions wouldn't be a huge investment but would go lightyears in terms of both goodwill and efficiency. There are such systems out there, both commercial and informal, but they appear to mostly be used by tech-savvy agents, only for queries, and even then are not the norm. If someone can tell me otherwise, I'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT!

    I also want to say that I don't feel agents or editors should feel any more obligation to unsolicited submissions that I do to my junk mail. But if they ask for it, then they are responsible for it. What I am most concerned about is when they request full manuscripts, and then sit on them for months or years, all the while the author is getting a ulcer, unable to concentrate on other writing, and asking himself hourly should I ask for an update today or should I wait another week? THIS is flat-out unprofessional, rude, and - intentionally or not - mean.

    I'm sure these people want to be jerks. I think they are just underpaid, overworked people doing what they can, and that a little efficiency borrowed from the 21st century would make EVERYONE happier.

  3. CORRECTION: I'm sure these people DO NOT want to be jerks!