Remember Star Trek-Next Generation? The Borg were an all powerful cybernetic race that consumed the “raw material” of planets. I just submitted two manuscripts recently. I couldn’t help but remember something a friend said to me a few years ago: “When I send off a manuscript,” she said, “it feels like I’m down on my knees begging for a sale.”
“We are publishers. You will submit.” Ah yes, the cruel world of publishing. It’s a business, now more than ever. I realized, while I was trying to write a synopsis of my 367 page YA fantasy novel, that I much prefer teaching. Teaching bestows immediate rewards. Now don’t get me wrong: I love to write. But most publishers don’t want to see a 300 plus page manuscript on their desk—or their email box. They want a synopsis. Ugh. I hate to write them. How do you condense a novel into one or two pages?
After working on this for a couple of hours I was so frustrated I had to watch my soap opera. (I would’ve watched Star Trek but it wasn’t on. I keep hinting that the DVD’s would be a perfect birthday gift.) Really, Stephanie, a soap opera? Pathetic. But I needed to escape that synopsis. The rest of the day, my husband tactfully noted, I was a bit crabby. Just a bit.
The publishing world has changed dramatically since Madeleine L’Engle wrote A Wrinkle in Time. In those days, an editor would take a chance on a new writer with an innovative idea: a new writer who might need nurturing. Now a writer is lucky to find an agent who’s willing to do that, much less an editor. Madeleine L’Engle’s manuscript was turned down at least 26 times by various publishing houses. Perhaps those editors read the first page which begins: “It was a dark and stormy night” and thought she was writing some kind of clichéd pot boiler. She was fortunate that a friend of hers knew John C. Farrar who subsequently read the manuscript and liked it. At that time, Farrar did not even publish children’s books, but clearly he saw something in her manuscript that captured his imagination. The book went on to win the Newbery Medal and has been in print ever since.
We all dream of that kind of success but few of us will win national recognition. If we write to win awards, or write what’s popular at the moment, we will not write high quality material. Only when we write the story our heart is bursting to tell will the writing get a review like the one Madeleine received: “Fascinating…It makes unusual demands on the imagination and consequently gives great rewards.” (The Horn Book.)
The down side to writing what’s in our heart, when we expose our inner most feelings on the page, is that it’s devastating to open that rejection letter from the editor that states: “Thank you for your submission, but it’s not right for our line.” Dear editor, you have just stomped on my heart.
I finished that synopsis for the 367 page YA novel. It ended up two pages. Not bad I guess. Now I will have it for every publisher that asks for such a beast. I’ve done it. It’s done. I have submitted to the publishing world. Will they break my heart yet again? Probably. But I will keep trying—and submitting. I will follow the publisher’s rules to a T: formatting just the way they like; sending it in whatever form (email? Snail mail?) Query letter? Sure thing. One page synopsis? Of course, no problem. (Never mind the manuscript is almost 400 pages) First three chapters? YES! This is my favorite request because you, dear editor, will actually get a chance to read the story.
I will obey your main rule (Do not call the editorial office.) I will even wait in vain for a reply I may never receive because you only respond if interested.
Yes, I will do it all, because that is the life of a writer. And that’s why the word “submission” is so appropriate.