Monday, February 23, 2009

A Question For You

I've been knocked down by this year's version of the winter plague. (Now with extra croup for your coughing pleasure! It's not just for kiddies any more!) Which means that my daily agenda consists of mindless paperwork, goofing off, and blowing my nose. In that order.

So today, as part of the goofing off portion of my agenda, I got to chatting with an editor friend of mine. We were talking a little about submissions pet peeves, and something came up which I'd like to run past all of you.

She mentioned that she's had a recent rash of people who never respond to her requests for manuscripts. This does happen from time to time, and I usually assume it's because the author died, developed amnesia (with a secret baby complication, of course), or has been taken hostage by an obsessed drug kingpin/jihadist/domestic terrorist and is awaiting rescue by the Navy SEAL of her heart's desire. (He will, naturally, carry her laptop through the jungle/desert/subway so that she can promptly submit her manuscript the instant he rescues her. That's part of the external motivation. ;)

Or maybe it's because she sold the manuscript elsewhere, in which case a polite response to the editor's request might be a good thing, depending on circumstances.

Or maybe it's because she has run into one of those life complications that can temporarily move writing onto the back burner. We all have those. We understand. People get sick and pregnant and have to move to entirely new continents. It happens. But in that case, too, a short notice to the editor might be a good idea.

But I don't know. You tell me. Why would an author, after working so hard on a manuscript, ignore a request from an editor they've chosen? When would you choose to notify the editor of delays, and when would you simply let it go?


ETA: Given the number of PMs I've gotten over this post, let me say -- and I cross-my-heart promise this is the truth -- I'm not talking about any of my authors. I'm not talking about something that was submitted to me. It was something that came up in conversation with another editor. That's all. /worry, k?


Laura K. Curtis said...

I cannot even imagine this. When I got the call from the agent I'd submitted my MS to, I was in the midst of an unbelievable health crisis. In fact, since she asked for me by my full name, my husband--who had answered the phone--said to me "it sounds like another doctor." So, needless to say, I wasn't feeling quite as enthusiastic about my writing as I could have been.

Never, never would I have let on about that, though. I had to look forward to SOMETHING, after all, and the phone call was the promise of something yet to come...just what I needed.

I guess, in fiction, it's different. After all, the MS is finished, so why wouldn't you send it in? If you're working in non-fiction, and someone wants your proposal, but now you're pregnant with complications, wouldn't you tell the editor that and hope they would still be willing to wait for the MS? I know a woman who did just that, and that story had happy endings all around--book, baby, all was well.

If I'd had another request, I'd definitely tell the editor. It just seems like common courtesy, even if it doesn't have repercussions for your career down the line, which it could!

Anonymous said...

I know this never happens, but maybe the author left out the part in the query about the manuscript not being finished? Or maybe even (gasp) fibbed about its being complete?

That's the only reason I can think of. :)


Edittorrent said...

Beth, that's what I thought-- it's not finished yet, and she doesn't want to admit it, thinks she'll have it done quickly.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

I think you should blow your nose BEFORE you do the paperwork. Although that's not the question you asked... :)

Edittorrent said...

LOL @ Jody! I think we'll have to settle for before, during, and after.

Laura, I hope your story has happy endings in every way.

Bethany, if it's not complete, do you think it makes sense for an author to let us know that? I mean, not in so many words, but a simple, "I'll get this to you by X date" might not hurt.

Jean Wogaman said...

Bethany's probably right. The writers queried without finishing the project and underestimated the amount of time and effort required to do so. When the request for the full comes, they're too embarrassed to admit they're not finished, or they're having second thoughts about continuing with a project that is turning out to be far more difficult than they imagined.

Jenny said...

Because you responded by email and the reply got eaten by an overzealous spam filter?

It happens to important emails enough that I always review my spam folder, but not everyone does.

Rhonda said...

I was in this position once. I got the request for a full manuscript with one very specific revision request. The editor wanted me to change the re-location - location and I understood why and I eventually did it. The thing was I got this request on a Friday, I was out of town. Sunday, the man whose business I ran died of a massive heart attack, he was 52, and it was a shock. As office manager I basically had to shut the office down (and deal with 12 employees) over the next several months as it was in Real Estate and there are very specific procedures that must be followed to do this and his wife was not involved in the business and I had access to everything. I got very sick a month later and spent time in and out of the hospital. At that point I emailed the editor (about six to eight weeks after request) and explained the situation and said I would attempt to have the manuscript to her by X. She was fine with that. Things continued to go downward and within 6 months of the request I had emergency surgery, then I found out I was pregnant with very high risk pregnancy. I basically emailed the editor and told her I was sorry but I just could not get to the revisions at that time. She was gracious and told me I could submit to her again when I was ready. I actually quit writing for almost four years and by then she was in a management position.

I never re-submitted that manuscript to her but it has been somewhat of a lucky charm. So even though I never *thought* I would be the writer who didn’t turn something in that was requested - I was, however I did make a point to be professional and update the editor.

Xenith said...

Spam filters was my thought too. Even without them (I asked my web host company to turn them off for me), email goes missing.

Also if there is a delay in replying (e.g. I always have to do another read through and that always takes much longert than I expect) then it gets harder to reply and so you put it off and eventually you reach a point where you decided it would just be rude and they didn't really want it after all or something. (Not that I've done this, but I could easily see it happen). Brains are weird things.

Julie Harrington said...

I can totally see it happening with authors who query before the novel is finished. There's a lot of debate on this practice (even though publisher guidelines will say "finished manuscripts only) because they think Why waste the time on a project if nobody wants it? They figure that if they do get a request, they can whip that full off in no time and zip it on over to you. Some encourage that practice, some don't. I've seen it argued a couple ways across various boards.

I also think fear plays a role. A lot of people think they're ready and want to send their MS in and when they get a request they just freeze thinking they can't handle the rejection.

As for me... my first full manuscript got a request years ago and after going through THREE YEARS of waiting (and yes, I followed up with polite inquires every so many months) and being rejected in the end (nicely) I figure, pffft. If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything. ;)


Anonymous said...

I'll tell you why, and I'm doing this anonymously so I'm not ratting on anyone.

Writers are starting to query books before they're finished. They know it's a no-no...but they see no point in working their butt off to finish a book whose premise will never interest an agent. So they make sure they're at least far enough through the process that they know (in their own mind, at least) that they CAN finish it... and they start sending queries.

How do I know this? Because I read forum posts and e-group posts mentioning that they got a partial request, so they suppose they'd better hurry and finish the book.

Is it right? No. Will it make you angry that your time is being wasted? Yes. Are authors doing it because they feel their time will be wasted if they can't at least find out of their premise and pitch has any merit? I'm guessing that's why.

Now granted... that's not why ALL of them aren't following up. I've also seen posts from people who are begging for encouragement 'cause they can't find the guts to send the thing off. :-)

Spam filters are also a possibility. More authors should do what I do...set up one email address with NO spam filters that is only used for queries. :-)

Joanna Waugh said...

Hope you are feeling better, T! I have a touch of the nasty stuff as well.
As to why people don't follow through on a request from an editor:
Could be they haven't finished their ms yet, but I think it's just plain old fear. I personally know two authors who received such requests that they ignored. Whether it's fear of failure or fear of success, I don't know. Either condition is deadly for any serious writer. You can't have a career as an author if you don't make the leap.

Laura K. Curtis said...

My ending's better than average, thanks! The health stuff is mostly over and I got the agent I really, really wanted. The book she took me on with didn't sell--it was traditional mystery, and that's just a tough sell, I think. I am working in romantic suspense now and my agent is very supportive of the change.

I sort of think we tend to focus on one goal to the exclusion of the next--I was so focused on getting my agent, it didn't occur to me that she wouldn't be able to sell that book!

Lisette Kristensen said...

I have to agree with Joanna. I know two writers that were called for revision and full submission and never did.

If not mistaken, I read somewhere that when a request for full submission is made, the response rate is about 30%.

Harlequin stated it is even lower for revision resubmit!!

Go figure, would pounce either of those two request in a heart beat.

Anonymous said...

We had a writer in our critique group who queried his novel to agents after he wrote only three chapters. His reason? To see if anyone would be interested so he wouldn't waste his time writing further. Guess he didn't think that he was wasting the agent's time ...

Julie Harrington said...

I was just catching up on the new comments and wow! so it does seem to be a lot of people sending in MSs that aren't completed yet.

I know published authors do this a lot once they have more of a track record (the whole proposal process)... but newbies? Eek! I don't think I could ever do that. I mean... how do you know you'll ever finish?

The pressure is high enough when you're unpublished and/or it's your first story let alone adding to it by having an editor or agent breathing down your neck for the complete MS. Talk about performance anxiety!


Anonymous said...

I once received a full request from an editor thanks to a writing competition, and I had every intention of sending it in. The manuscript wasn't finished at the time, and I let that editor know. She said that was okay, and I gave her a general timeline when it would be in.

I did finish the manuscript, but while researching that company's specific guidelines for sending it in, I realized they didn't take manuscripts with any kind of hand holding, kissing, no written PDAs. They want very sweet romances only.

I toned down my story a lot, and compared the heat level to being that of a Harlequin Presents. I even attempted to cut out any and all love scenes, but the relationship between the hero and heroine just wasn't believable without a physical relationship.

I'll admit I tossed in the towel on this one. Basically, I could submit this thing and wait for the rejection letter to roll in because there was no way it would be accepted by this publisher.

Of course, I could take my chances and hope they'd ask me for rewrites if I did, but having already reworked the story to try and make a square peg fit, I knew this wasn't somewhere I wanted to go. The request was simply out of my genre of romance.

I didn't contact the editor a second time because with the dilemma being what it was, I didn't feel comfortable doing so, or explaining why I was reluctant to submit there.

Genella deGrey said...

Don't authors usually give a few different ways to get in touch with them - Email, home phone, cell phone, etc.?

Did your editor friend try all avenues?

I'm skeptical when it comes to important email communiqué - Hotmail isn't so hot all the time. Sometimes messages get through and sometimes they don't. Your friend may very well be experiencing The Spam Factor.

I'm trying not to bother an editor who hinted at RT '08, that she was going to get to my manuscript. ;) However, she may have already emailed me with a rejection and I never got it. The Spam Factor is apparently indiscriminate. I'd be happy to wait longer for her decision, but I have no information about what's happening on her end.


Anonymous said...

I can understand the editor's frustration. A lot of writers are going through this, too, waiting for responses that sometimes never come.

I've noticed three submission calls since Dec. 2008 asking writers not to send an update query to find out the status of their work. And these aren't no name companies, either.

After several months have passed from an initial submission I sent in to an epublisher, the submission and the status query both have gone completely ignored.

It seems to me there is a lot of non-commication going on at both ends.

Wes said...

We miss you. Get well soon.


Anonymous said...

I received a partial ms request as the result of entering a contest. I was very flattered, but:

1. The ms isn't finished, and since entering the contest, I'm not sure I want to finish the novel.
2. The agent who requested it is someone I wouldn't want representing me. She's with a great agency and sells plenty of books, but I know several former clients of hers who all said she gave up on their manuscripts after only a handful of submissions. I went through that already with my former agent.

Anonymous said...

You know that's happened to me, but I never got the request. She didn't put that in her scenarios of what happened to these authors. It's not like we don't WANT to send the ms's. I mean, ???. One time, an agent who I queried requested my ms and it went to my spam. I didn't notice it and a month later, I status checked. He was so nice and told me he was going to check up on me to see what was wrong. That's what these editors should do if they really want to see the ms.

Another scenario could be that the novice writer only had a few wonderful chapters written and got a request (!) and freaked out and couldn't finish...