It may or may not be common knowledge that I work with books in a sort of publishing fashion. (No, I do not personally take submissions. No, I cannot refer you to an agent.) While I talk about books on this blog a lot, I don't generally say much about my work. That's mainly because this is a personal blog written mainly for people I personally know, and because of this I have felt free to express potentially alienating opinions (in the past, not so much recently) as well as observations and reflections on the life of faith or the current state of the Church (always and forever, no public eye shall silence me). When you do that sort of thing, it can be inappropriate to mix in your professional business.

But there are some things I do think ought to be said aloud somewhere.

As an amateur writer, I sat in creative writing courses for several years being told - as all writing students are told - that you have to receive a lot of rejection letters before you get accepted by a publisher. They don't really tell you what to do if you don't get accepted at all. They kind of pretend that otherwise inevitable future doesn't apply for this particular graduating class.

But it is quite probable that your manuscript will not be accepted, and when it isn't, you have to take a look around you at your other options. What surprises me is how rarely those options are either: a) radically revise the manuscript so that it is a viable work of fiction for the publishing houses you're aiming at, or b) find another hobby. The options frequently involve finding a publisher small enough to take your work regardless of its content. Now, I work for a small publishing firm. But our print runs are big enough that we care about the content. We care about it very much.

Frequent readers of this blog may recall that I am something of an academic snob (possibly read: elitist?), and this means I take canon very seriously. The amateur writer generally considers the purpose of a publishing house to be the printing and distribution of lots of books, especially their own. (Remember, when I refer to the amateur writer, I am also speaking of myself. There's an unfinished novel that's been sitting on my desktop for about five years now, and I am quite certain it is Penguin's purpose in business to publish it with one of their very beautiful covers.)

This is wrong. The purpose of a publishing house is actually much simpler: it is to tell the world that someone other than the author or the author's friends and family think this book is worth reading. That is, a publishing house is the first filter in the formation of the contemporary canon of public literature.

If you have received multiple rejections, you really must consider the fact that your manuscript either needs considerable revision, or it is just not what the public is looking for. The most likely reason for a rejection letter is that the editor who picked up your submission has already read multiple submissions that sounded almost exactly like yours. The second most likely reason is that your writing isn't very good.

Those of you who have read the last two sentences and objected, saying "My story is wholly unique! My writing is above the fold!" well, then you can be one of the members of the third reason: your writing, although unique and well-formed, unfortunately does not fit into a strong enough market for that particular publisher at that particular time. Perhaps you have written a brand new take on the vampire phenomenon; but new as your take may be, the vampire market is too saturated to bear an addition, however revolutionary. Perhaps your book introduces cyborgs to the zombie crowd, but the zombie craze has yet to descend from its peak; it is too early to convert zombie fiction readers into cyborg fiction readers. There are any number of reasons.

I have a weird sort of faith that if your book is very good then a good publisher will pick it up.

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