Lies, damn lies, and publishing • 5 March 2007 • The SnowBlog

Lies, damn lies, and publishing


Here's a phenomenon I've been meaning to share with you. We run an open submissions policy, right, whereby anyone can submit their manuscript to us. We have a few rules to make it more manageable for us: email submissions only, first three chapters in the first instance, that manner of thing. We read through the pages, and if we like what we see we ask for the rest. Simple, huh? 

Simple, yes. Fraught with pitfalls, also. When I read something I like, I email the author and say so, and ask for more. I've said that I really enjoyed their writing, and could I see some more. I've said that their writing is compelling and of an excellent quality, and could I see some more. I've said I've been captivated, and could I see some more. The thing is, I'm not sure that I should have said these things. 

Problem is, the nature of writing is that you're baring your soul. Comments don't get taken at face value; they have to be analysed, dissected, put under the microscope. In some cases what has happened is we read the full ms, and have decided against making an offer for it, for all manner of reasons - sometimes because it doesn't fit with our direction, sometimes because although we can see its merit, we just don't quite love it enough to take it on. It's a very subjective thing. Then when we reject their manuscript, some authors have been upset: the initial positive comments have been taken as more than just that and authors have a perception that there has been an about-face.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: I have raised your expectations. If I'd received an email saying 'I like your stuff' I would be disappointed if then it came to nothing. But it is geuninely difficult. The thing is, should I lie? I don't like having to lie. I don't like having to 'manage' people - I just want to be open and honest. I guess what I have to do is remain as neutral as I can - ask for the rest of the script but avoid mentioning why, or to what degree I liked it. 

I really feel bad for raising author's expectations only to decide against publishing it once we've read the whole book. But I also feel sad that I can't express joy about reading a manuscript. Any suggestions?  


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