Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Treasure Chest

We're still struggling with the treasure chest aka the unsolicited manuscripts. The volume still exceeds our capacity to deal with it. And writers are still getting angry that we aren't doing what's wanted. Only maybe 2.5% of our list comes from the unsolicited. We're interested, but its not the core of our business at the moment. The expectations of writers far exceeds what we can reasonably deliver.

One of the people here at black dog was mentioned by name in an anonymous entry in Pass It On. There was a sense I felt of the writer wanting to out an individual within our organisation - yet it was done anonymously. That seems both cowardly and unprofessional to me. If that author is reading this, please call me. And I don't think Pass It On should permit anonymous entries.

That said, the standard of the way submissions are being presented has improved immensely and I thank those writers. It is making it much easier for us to respond more quickly. We also have for the moment somebody spending a half day a week on the treasure chest (as well as the more ad hoc efforts by individual editors including myself.)

One thing I dislike is to be told that it's been recommended by a manuscript assessment agency that the book be sent to us, or that the book has been favourably commented on by this or that manuscript assessment agency. We have no relationship with any agency of this sort and we prefer to form our own opinion. It rapidly cools my interest.

Another bug bear for me is when I respond by email with a "no thanks this is not for us" or a "this is why this isn't working for us" I get an immediate return email submitting another story or asking for some other advice or help.

We're not branch of the public service and we don't have obligations to writers that are yet to become our authors. Maybe writers should be talking to the Australia Council about grants to publishers to deal with their unsolicited piles.


Jackie said...

Hi Andrew - just a little correction - the comment in PIO wasn't anonymous, however I take your point about one person being named from bdb and will, in future, where persons are named, attempt to contact that person for an immediate response or alternatively remove their name from the submission. So I thank you for pointing that out. As I mentioned, in my email to you yesterday, I believe that PIO is a helpful tool that aims to voice the concerns of all involved with the Childrens' Writing Industry. Unfortunately, as with the industry itself, represenation in PASS IT ON is rather skewed favouring writers and authors.

PIO would love to hear more from publishers. We all want to know what publishers do and don't appreciate.

So once again I thank you for sharing your concerns.

Cheers Jackie Hosking (Editor/Compiler PASS IT ON)

Judith said...

Andrew, I'm not sure I understand your irrititation at being told that the author has been "recommended by a manuscript assessment agency that the book be sent to us, or that the book has been favourably commented on by this or that manuscript assessment agency. We have no relationship with any agency of this sort and we prefer to form our own opinion."

As someone who does a small amount of manuscript assessment, I see it as part of my job to recommend to the writer which publisher may be interested in their manuscript (if I think they ought to be sending it anywhere, that is). Most new authors aren't familiar enough with the industry to know who is publishing what, which publishers are interested in unsolicited mss, etc. I've certainly never claimed a relationship with a publisher, merely offered the benefits of my experience.

Anyway, it seems to me very common for cover letters to indicate that someone (possibly) known to the publisher has suggested the author send them their ms. Happens all the time where I work. I guess I just don't see why the irritation, and why it should colour your view (negaitvely) of the manuscript. At least the person is invested enough in their writing to seek professional advice!

Lee said...

Hm, Judith, an interesting pairing of words in your last sentence: invested, professional.

Sherryl said...

Two possible solutions for your growing slush pile: 1. have a really clear set of guidelines on the BDB website, saying what you want and don't want (many US publishers do this), and 2. close to unsolicited submissions for a while, like Penguin does. When they don't want Nibbles and Bites, they say so. Same as Allen & Unwin - they are quite clearly closed to picture books.

Lee said...

Regarding Sherryl's suggestion no. 1 about clear guidelines: useful but problematic, I imagine. Sometimes you don't know what you want till you find it!

Andrew's black dog blog said...

Thanks for the comments. It's nice to have a debate. I do like Lee Lowe's comment you don't know what you want till you find it. With regards to Judith's comment - yes, if somebody we know and have faith in gives a recommendation then we listen (and read). Helen Sykes recommended Cameron Nunn's magnificent Shadows in the Mirror which we just published in May (and it has had a fabulous critical reception and is shooting up the Nielsen charts). And yes it is becoming more common and authors tend to send it to us as if the assessment is enough but what we really want to know is why they are sending it to us.
With regards to Sherryl's comment. Interesting but does it work to shut the door for a time. Does it really stem the flow? Our website is pretty clear but we still get a very broad range of submission. And we're constantly refining what we say.

LyndaA said...

Hi Andrew, I am the one who made the comment in Pass It On and I am sorry if it offended or seemed that I was "outing" anyone. I can understand how it may have seemed but I did not intend to be nasty or atongonistic in any way. I apologise to you, bdb and the person named.

However, as you stated, the comment was not anonymous and I made very sure it wasn't.

It is a pity that there seems to be an atogonistic relationship between publishers and writers. The whole "them and us" thing does little to foster good relationships.

I fully appreciate the difficulties of a publisher, since I am aware you are snowed under with thousands of unsolicited manuscripts flying in the door. Hence my reluctance to burden bdb with yet another email or phone call and the reason my contact with bdb has been limited and with long periods in between.

Please, appreciate my frustration when these small attempts to find out what has happened to my MS have gone unnoticed.

Lynda A

Andrew's black dog blog said...

HI Lyndaa, Thanks for commenting. Now I'm not sure which comment - the original about Ali? And I appreciate the other points you're making.
cheers, Andrew