“I love this but I can’t publish it.”

I think I might have to drop down to posting once every two weeks because I’ve been obscenely busy. Sorry to say that but life’s getting ahead of me, and I need to get a drop on it before it attacks!

That said, lately I’ve noticed I’m reading queries or manuscripts that are great for one reason or another but I couldn’t publish them if I wanted to. With some of them the plot is fantastic but the writing needs more work than we can offer, while with others it’s the reverse. And when I’m editing there’s also the unfortunate conflict between something I like and something I can publish.

The frustrating reality, for both me and writers that work with an editor, is that any work we receive is going to require some level of editing. It’s not a fun project, and it’s sometimes painful for both the writer and the editor. But the fact is that even Stephen King has needed editors – and he’s had disagreements with them (The Stand’s being cut down for brevity and later returned to its original form is an example).

Authors need to remember that publishing, in its bones, is a business. The beauty of the artwork is important, but a published work needs to reach the widest possible market so that it can make the most money and give everyone involved a paycheck. The sad reality is that if we publish something that doesn’t sell we don’t make a dime on it. In fact, we lose money. Publishing isn’t exactly a quick and easy process; it takes months of work on the behalf of everyone involved (including the author), and if we don’t sell enough copies that effort is, unfortunately, for nothing.

So what does this mean? It means that unless we, the company, the editors, are certain that what we have is the best possible manuscript it can be, how can we get behind it? Working at a small publishing company, I don’t get a paycheck. I don’t get paid hourly, by manuscript, or by month. I get paid royalties, just like the author (and the cover artist, actually). So the unfortunate reality is that unless something looks like it will sell I have to reject it.

The reason I’m mentioning this is that a lot of authors think that editors are heartless or ruthless when we’re editing, and that’s somewhat true. I can’t allow how much I like a manuscript to change the fact that sometimes I’m going to need to go in with forceps and a scalpel to do corrective surgery. And to be honest, the more I like a novel the harder I’m going to be on it. This is because I want the manuscripts potential to be realized as much as possible. In some ways, as backwards as it may seem, the harder an editor is on your manuscript the more work they’re putting into it and the more they believe in it. At least that’s true for me.


8 thoughts on ““I love this but I can’t publish it.”

  1. I think a lot of writers don’t quite grasp that concept. As sad as it is, many of them think, “OK, I just finished this novel. When will it be in print?” They don’t realize that writing the novel is only part of the battle.
    Getting it published is a whole other story and editing will inevitably pay a large part in that. It’s also why I like to distance myself from my writing. Once I finish my novel, I will take a step back for a few weeks, maybe a month. Then, when I return to it with fresh eyes, I plan to do extensive editing on it, before I even consider sending it off to publishers.
    This is a great post and many others need to realize that while things may seem simple, they aren’t always.

  2. This is the part I think a lot of us writers tend to forget (or block out)–that someone else is going to have something to say about our writing. We can forget that it is a business, because for many of us unpublished writers it’s not a business but a passion. It’s something I struggle with a lot, the desire to be successful and make money from my writing yet not give up my creative control or pander to a certain market. It’s a fine line to walk. Great post.

  3. The whole “forgetting it’s a business” thing is really an unfortunate part of our culture. Artistic work like writing is usually not considered “real work” by people who have never actually tried to write anything, or as some sort of get-rich-quick scheme out of a cheesy 50s movie for people who don’t want to work. Since it’s so ingrained in our culture, it’s not really that big a surprise that even writers can sometimes forget there has to be some manner of economic viability in their work.

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