Hi friends and stalkers!
Many years ago I was part of a collective of publishing professionals called Storytellers Unplugged. We posted stories and advice about writing and publishing for anyone who was interested in reading them. There were a lot of big names and blazing talents in SU, and I was lucky to be a part of it. I always felt like a bit of an imposter there, but I did my best. I think some of my posts hold up well enough to recycle here
Here is one from well over a decade ago, when the publishing landscape was far different than it is today, but I think the basic point still applies today.
The other day I listened to an interview with a man who many consider to be one of the saviors of the horror genre. I happen to agree, and I think most of you reading this who are familiar with the genre would also agree, if I told you his name. I won’t do that though. I have a point to make, but I don’t want to shame anyone in the process. From this point on, for the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to our savior of the genre as Mr. Editor.
I’ve chosen to omit his name from this essay for two reasons, because I’ve met the guy a few times and genuinely like him, and out of simple professional courtesy.
Professional courtesy is a vague concept, and I’m sure everyone has their own idea of what professional courtesy entails. I could spend the time making a list of things I think fall under the heading of professional courtesy, and I’m willing to bet that list would vary only slightly from your list. I’ll skip the list though. I have a feeling this rant will be long enough without it. Instead, I’ll give you my simple bare bones definition. Professional courtesy means not muddying the waters, not pissing in the well, not shitting where you sleep.
Throw in your own hacky metaphor. I’m sure you get my point.
I’ve been guilty of my own lapses into rudeness and stupidity over the years, but I think I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I try not to repeat them.
Back to the subject of the first paragraph, the hero of the horror genre, Mr. Editor.
I happen to agree that the man is one of the horror genre’s greatest treasures, but for me the mere mention of his name is enough to raise my heart rate and blood pressure, to make my face flush red and put me in a rotten mood that can take days to shake off. To me this man is the embodiment of frustration, anger, and the futility of trying to make a future in this business.
I am sure Mr. Editor would be shocked to hear this. I doubt like hell that this was his intention. I know he works hard, and I understand that I’m barely a blip on the periphery of his professional radar. However, I believe that he is guilty of a huge professional discourtesy, and I would bet my next advance that I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Here are the facts, as simply and innocuously as I can put them.
At World Horror Convention 2004 I was approached by a fairly big name writer (who shall also remain anonymous – he hates it when people drop his name) who told me that Mr. Editor was looking for me, that he wanted me to meet him at the party in room such-and-such, that he wanted to discuss my work. So I met with Mr. Editor, pitched him my book, and he invited me to send him the full manuscript.
I met Mr. Editor again a few years later at another pitch session, and again he invited me to send a manuscript. About halfway through the second meeting he made brief reference to the manuscript I’d sent two years previous, saying he thought he had something of mine on his desk already, but didn’t think he’d gotten around to looking at it. I confirmed that he did indeed have another book of mine under consideration, and left it at that. I didn’t want to irritate the man. I engaged in a bit of professional courtesy and kept my mouth shut.
It has now been over four years since the first manuscript crossed his desk, and not a word. Manuscript #1 was available as a trade hardcover when he requested it, and has since gone out of print. Manuscript #2 was about to become a limited edition hardcover when he requested it. It sold out by the publication date and remains out of print. Mr. Editor knew about the publication history of Manuscript #1, and was aware that Manuscript #2 was on the road to hardcover publication, and since he has reprinted novels originally released by both of my hardcover publishers, I don’t believe that was ever an issue.
In the four years since our frustrating professional interaction began, I have sent four or five follow-up emails, all spaced at least six months apart. Again, I didn’t want to irritate the guy, but I am assured by people much higher in the business than I am, that a short follow-up every six months or so shouldn’t be an irritation.
He has replied to none of my follow-up queries.
One of the first things a writer aspiring to publish his or her work has to learn is how to handle rejection, and while I will never embrace it, I have leaned to deal with it. Every writer who ever published has dealt with rejection.
But Mr. Editor hasn’t rejected these manuscripts either.
There is simply nothing. Not a word. Dead silence.
A yes or no would be nice, though I’ve never asked for either. All I’ve ever asked is to know if the manuscripts, after four years for one and two for the other, are still under consideration. Are we still playing the game, or should I pack up my toys and go home?
Others have given me advice over the years.
“Be active on the genre message boards. Mr. Editor is always reading them, and if he sees your name out there it’ll improve your chances.”
I have tried that with no obvious gain.
“Stay off the message boards. Too much casual interaction with fans makes you look unprofessional.”
I am doing that now, though for different reasons, but it hasn’t appeared to help.
“Keep sending him your stuff.”
I won’t send him unsolicited material. If he isn’t answering gentle queries about material he requested years ago, I have no reason to believe he would reply to a query for something new. More importantly, I just can’t bring myself to throw another manuscript down that black hole. I see no gain in that, only additional frustration.
To be fair, Mr. Editor isn’t the only publishing professional I’ve dealt with who is guilty of this particular professional discourtesy. There are other Mr. Editors, a few Mrs. Agents, and a Mr. Comic Editor (there has been some communication with Mr. Comic Editor, but I think the requested script has slipped his memory again).
Tell me, fellow writers, is this your experience? Is this to be expected? Is this standard operating procedure? If so, then writers are without a doubt the most masochistic people on the planet. We would have to be to keep soliciting this kind of treatment.
To Mr. Editor, if you are reading this. I sincerely hope this doesn’t cause you any grief. My apologies if it does. This has been very much been on my mind lately, and it seems like the kind of thing in which Storytellers Unplugged readers might be interested. I hope you find I’ve tried to practice professional courtesy, even in the midst of a rant about the business.
To editors and publishers in general, I’m not suggesting you should let a bunch of pain-in-the-ass writers run your business for you, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to treat your potential talent pool with a bit of respect. If you respect an author’s work enough to request a full manuscript, you might respect the author enough to keep him in that outermost loop of your business where his manuscript awaits that hoped for Yes, or the much more common Thanks but no thanks.
The golden Yes is the reason we keep casting our pebbles into your talent pool, and those of us who aren’t used to the Thanks but no thanks already had better get used to it.
Endless silence though, that’s just rude.