Friday, September 5, 2008

A triumph of hope over logistics

Anyone who's ever seriously wanted to make a living - any kind of living - as a writer will have heard of the slush pile. It's that collection of unsolicited manuscripts either sent directly to the publisher by authors, or sent through an agent not known to the publisher. It collects dusk at the corner of an office until, teetering under its own weight, some poor unpaid assistant or junior editor is given the task of trawling through it, trying to separate the wheat from the chaff - and there's a lot of chaff.

Many publishers publicise on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, there is always the secret hope that a trawl through the slush pile will result in the discovery of the Next Big Thing. (A case in point would be J K Rowling at the first Harry Potter book.)

There’s an interesting article on the Guardian website about publishers’ slush piles. My experience of the slush pile is this: the only time I think I probably came close to it was when I sent my initial proposal for a Fighting Fantasy gamebook to Marc Gascoigne, the FF consultant editor at the time. The difference with this arrangement was that Marc's job was to go through every unsolicited submission and give feedback as appropriate. Thanks to his nurturing efforts, eventually my second proposal - Spellbreaker - made it all the way through to publication. Since then, everything else I have written has come off the back of that first book, either directly through contacts I had made or as a result of being able to say to other publishers, 'Look, I've already been published' which has been enough to at least get them to look at anything I've sent them.

Of course many people try to get an agent before trying to submit anything to a publisher. I don't have an agent yet (but any agent reading this should feel free to get in touch) but I have plenty of writer friends who do.

My suggestion to anyone wanting to become published is to know the market you're writing for and, if you are going to pitch to an agent or publisher, follow their guidelines for doing just that to the letter. With them receiving so many manuscripts week in week out, you don't want to give them any excuse to throw yours out before they've even read it. And, of course, you want to appear professional. Writing for a living is a profession after all.

I have never submitted a complete manuscript without it having been commissioned first, which has inevitably save a lot of heartache, not to mention time, along the way.

(Thanks to Alex Milway over at The Mousehunter Blog for alerting me to the piece from The Guardian.)

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Blogger Adrian said...

What was your first proposal, if Spellbreaker was the second?

September 5, 2008 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Green said...

It was called 'Outlaws of Kaan' and was set in northern Allansia. Elements of this proposal ended up in 'Spellbreaker', and one even made it into 'Howl of the Werewolf' in the end.

Kaan (now called Kaad) eventually made it into print in the third book in the AFF series 'Allansia'. I had misread Dave Andrews lettering on the map in the original 'Out of the Pit' but what's interesting is, at the time when I was pitching 'Outlaws' no-one corrected me as to the town's name.

Make of that what you will.

September 5, 2008 at 2:58 PM  

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