Sunday 9 August 2020

Putting you head above the parapet


Submitting work

Yes, if course, if you submit work you are putting your head above the parapet. You may have a rejection hurled at you. It’s a risk you take. But canny writers just get back up there and wait for the next shot. Eventually they get an acceptance. I can quote a story of mine that was accepted after it had been sent elsewhere four times. And that publisher went on to accept several more. A writer we’ve published tells of one story that was entered for several competitions, not even making the long-list, but then went on to win the Costa short story award.

Publication isn’t the end of it

Once your book is out there, it’s open to reviews. It’s odd, isn’t it, that we agonise over that single one star review and forget to enjoy the numerous four and five star ones? We rage if the reviewer complains that the pages were falling out of the book or the cover was torn. “What has that got to do with me?” we cry. I’d say that rather than ranting at the reviewer you should join in at ranting at book seller or publisher. The buyer has lost more; you’ll still get the royalty but they’ve paid good money for shoddy goods.

And sometimes one star reviews are stupid. I saw one about a book I’d enjoyed where the reader complained they hadn’t been told it would be in French. I think she had.  actually.

Common sense will help you deal with these. Perhaps harder are the three and four star reviews that are mainly positive but involve some criticisms. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we can’t please everyone and that we might learn form these, they still nag at us. However, we must get over this. It goes with the territory of being published.

Publishers, too, put their heads above the parapet

And get spat at.

I read an interesting post on Facebook form a writing friend who had been made even more miserable by a rejection because the publisher had explained what was wrong with the text. “Why couldn’t they just reject it and be done?” I know that we publishers give that extra bit of feedback when we have faith in the writer but that what they’ve sent doesn’t quite fit the present list.

It’s rare for us to reject outright anything for CaféLit. However, we only publish about 10% of what is sent to us and we keep all other publishable material in an archive, just asking writers to let us know if they have luck elsewhere.

I rejected one piece because it was too similar to what happened at the Manchester Arena 22 May 2017. That author was perfectly understanding. 

But not so the one whose work was beautifully written but may have been a little offensive to our female readers. I gently pointed this out. And got spat at. Why wouldn’t I let my readers be the censor? Hang on a minute. Isn’t a commissioning editor a censor in a way. Or do we prefer the word gatekeeper? Either way we have to think of our readers.

Then there was the writer who kept sending us exquisite poetry. We only publish a little poetry and I would always favour a short story over a poem. But I wanted this guy to have a chance. I know quite a few poets and I also know that they make most of their money from gigs, selling books at those gigs and by teaching others. I made this point to him. Should he send some of his best work to me? Yes, he should always make sure that any work he sent to a publisher was right at the top of his game. The response? Angry emails. Please remove all of his work from our files. He would never submit to us again. Ouch! And ouch every time I come across this person in a Facebook group to which we both belong.

But don’t sit there like a target

And sometimes you deserve to be shot at. I fired a shot myself at somebody yesterday who tried to give me unsolicited advice about something. In fact he told me to do the very thing that I do, in another context. He’d not done his homework.

You will get mud in your eye and you’ll deserve it if you haven’t read the rules or studied the publisher properly. You should never send a bit of quirky comedy writing to a high-brow literary magazine.       

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