It could be said that submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers, whether those books are collections of short bits or are full-length tales, is a lot like figuring out correct limits when sending kids out to play. It’s important to make sure that scions are appropriately supervised, namely, that they are in a protected environment, and that they are knowledgeable about personal safety. On balance, it’s simultaneously important to trust them to some extent; without responsibility, there is no growth.
When weighing the amount of liberty to assign to an offspring, it’s vital to be familiar with the kid. Some children need constant surveillance; when minding such little ones, it’s imprudent to take bathroom breaks or to answer the phone. For instance, decades ago, when Hubby and I were having a budget meeting, and our current crop of twenty somethings ranged in age from seven years to a few months, our three oldest kids, all of whom went unsupervised due to the intensity of our meeting, painted one of our bathroom’s grout purple.
Analogously, some presses are best dealt with via plenty of scrutiny. An ongoing lack of feedback from certain publishers is not automatically a gage that all is well in a book’s manufacture. Rather, quiet usually indicates some sort of mischief is being hatched, whether it is that large sections of an assemblage are being edited out, or that the order in which a manuscript’s ideas were presented by its composer is being changed by its issuer. Hence, it behooves writers to check on “silent” movers and shakers. The sooner that a glitch is detected by a writer the more easily it can be remedied.
Other kids can be left alone for a few minutes, but only if the yard, in which they’re left, is totally fenced-in or only if the home, to which they’re restricted, is totally childproofed. Consider that a few years after that grout incident, my family moved to a larger house, around whose perimeter we had a fence installed. Unfortunately, our expensive precaution did not prevent a neighbor’s son front playing football in our flower patch and thereby tripping on some of the cement curbing surrounding our posies. Mercifully, his mom did not hold us accountable for his broken teeth.
Comparably, although an author can take care to avoid vanity presses, he or she might yet get duped by publishers, who mention only in acceptance letters, that a “current lack of funds” is forcing them to solicit “copayments” from their authors. Writers ought not to be fooled by such “solutions.” Those “innocent” printers/distributors are as much subsidy publishers as are the ones who baldly state that identity. It’s not always sufficient to erect barriers between self and crooks. Creators are well-served to remember the mantra “authors should be paid for their publications, not pay to have their efforts published.”
Still other kids can be relied upon to play safe and sound in neighborhood parks and to return home before curfew. Most youth mature. Accountable kids need less curbing than their peers.
Videlicet, often, as an author’s relationship with a publisher grows, so, too, appropriately, does trust. Even so, after signing for a second or succeeding title with a single press, one ought not to unreservedly relax one’s watch. In the same way that care providers keep in mind that preteens and teens unavoidably revisit limit-testing behaviors, authors ought to keep in mind that familiar vendors, intentionally, or otherwise, unavoidably sidestep services during subsequent books’ go-rounds. Even after producing multiple titles with a single commissioner, wordies are well-advised to politely, but firmly, maintain boundaries.
Whereas I’ve been blessed, b’ayin hara, to produce multiple titles with several presses, in each case, I’ve had to carefully review contracts and to keep an eye out for slipshod editing. People, setting aside how well we know them, create imperfect goods.
Up to this point, it’s been established that the degree to which small children’s guardians should interfere with their goings-on ordinarily depends on the degree to which the small children are dependable. Nevertheless, while experience improves judgment, even decades of know-how doesn’t always keep parents, youth group leaders, or teachers from making incorrect assessments. Sometimes, despite watchmen’s good intentions and knowhow, bad things happen to their charges.
For example, I’ve had kids return home emotionally injured from playdates. In one circumstance, a mom hurt one of my sons when she demanded that he “color inside of the lines,” in general, and make his trees’ leafs green and their trunks brown, more specifically. The ways and means of a critically and creatively thinking child, like mine, was beyond her ken, so she humiliated him in a misguided attempt to stifle his applied curiosity. My loved one wasn’t muted, but he was hurt by what he understood as meanness in that steward.
In the same way, I had a publisher who printed a book of mine without inserting page numbers next to the selection headings of that book’s table of contents. Worse, when I pointed out that defect to him, he was unwilling to remedy it. Since the head of that publishing house had already announced to his authors that he would soon be declaring bankruptcy, I moreover couldn’t use litigation to address the problem. Basically, no matter how well we think we know the people who look after our most precious issue, whether those shoots are our sons and daughters, or our books, we can’t be certain that they have our best interests in mind.
On another occasion, when one of my daughters visited a friend, that friend stole my girl’s stuffed animal. I confronted the other girl’s mother, but that mother denied the entire event. I bought my child a replacement toy, but I was unable to restore her damaged belief in grownups’ universal goodness.
Comparatively, I once had a book published by a house that employed unskilled proofreaders. Not only did I have to go comma by comma, word by word, during the galley proofing stage, through all of the manuscript to: rectify those “professionals’” mistakes, catch errors they missed, and eliminate unwarranted, invalid “corrections,” but I had to behave obsequiously after the book went to market. The trouble was that not only had I had to donate hours to fix paid workers’ efforts, but also that I was (and remain) terrible at groveling. Be that as it may, since I have long appreciated the important elements of rhetorical situations and since that publisher was one of my initial houses, I had to refrain from bad mouthing it on writers’ listservs.
At times, playdates are neither dangerous nor destructive; they merely go unfulfilled. It’s awkward, in the least, for a protector to drop a reliable kid off at a pizza place, at a movie theatre, at a bowling alley, or at a playground only to be asked, fifteen minutes later, to return for pickup since the “friend,” who was alleged to be coming along to share the fun, never arrived.
In my experience with book publishers, I had one go belly up after my volume’s final layouts were finished. All that remained for that press to do was literally to print my book. There were no costly or time-consuming preproduction tasks left. All the same, the publisher was bust and I had to pitch my book to another outlet.
Accordingly, I tell my creative writing students that “nothing’s anything until it’s something.” That is to say, a book can go to contract, but not get published. Likewise, a book can be published, but die as yet one more midlist title. A book can enjoy initial publicity, but be abandoned by a publisher when a sexier model surfaces. A huge amount of slipups can happen between the time an agreement is reached between a writer and a purveyor and the time when sales roll in.
Just as kids’ custodians can’t make kids’ environments or experiences absolutely failsafe, authors can’t make their books’ publishing processes absolutely foolproof. At the end of the day, the only guarantee that exists is that there will be an end of the day. Writers, consider yourselves warned!