Some years ago I attended the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. I was doing a reading and other things, but there were intervals to peruse the used book tables and what we may term the dealers’ room. This latter space was mainly manned by local arts organizations, but there was one woman sitting with stacks and stacks of one book — her own. I have done some work with Ann Crispin and SFWA‘s Writer Beware effort, so naturally I investigated. It was a fat fantasy novel with the Publish America imprint, but in spite of this it looked quite tolerable. I asked her, “How did you come to select PA?” She said that she had submitted it to a major New York City house, but it had languished for a long time, so she had given up and taken it to PA. I said, “Which New York publisher was that?” Oh, she said, it was Tor.
Now, dear reader, Tor was at that time my publisher, because How Like A God and Doors of Death and Life were recently out. I know how Tor’s process works. With a thrill of horror I asked, “And how long had it been in submission at Tor?”
A couple months, she said. Aaaa! Like an idiot I blurted, “My god, you were on your way! If they were going to reject it, they would have bounced it back to you in a week, a month tops! I have friends who were rejected by return mail! If it was there for months, it was working its way up the decision chain, sitting in in boxes, getting considered!”
Everybody knows that the traditional publication process is beyond glacial. But if this is your goal you have no choice but to stick with it. You cannot give up! My first novel spent one solid year in the slush pile at DAW Books before being bought, and that was by no means unusual.
Robert Heinlein’s rules for new writers are known by all, right?
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Do you see what this unlucky PA author did? She violated rule 5. Through ignorance of the industry, she gave up too soon. I can only hope that she dismissed my Monday morning quarterbacking as random nuttery, otherwise what a bummer it would be! And the lesson for us all is to give a work its full chance. If traditional publishers are seized with an impulse to shower you with hundred-dollar bills, be generous! Allow them that opportunity!