Controversy Corner: Am I Wrong About The Gatekeepers?

16 May

Yes, I have used the dreaded g-word here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Do not adjust your screens. (And prepare yourself for what is quite possibly the longest post in the history of this blog. I do apologize.)

Now before we go any further, I demand you hop over to JA Konrath’s fantastic blog and read this guest post by UK author Stephen Leather immediately. Go on. I’ll wait.

[Waits]

Two things stopped me in my tracks in this post. The first was Leather’s observation that all self-publishers seem to talk about – or want to talk about – is how to sell more books, and not how to write those books better.

I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.”

The second was this line about UK (and, let’s say for sake of this argument, Irish) agents versus US agents:

Literary agents in the UK are actually quite nice people, but they are a totally different animal in the US … I’ve only met one decent human being working as a literary agent in the States – the rest have been horrible, self-centered, arrogant s—s … They seem to take pleasure in denying writers access to publishers.”

Tip: literary agents do not look like this.

Let’s talk about the first one first: why is it that on all self-publishing blogs, generally-speaking – my own included – all the talk, discussion and advice is about selling books, and not about writing better books or even writing well in the first place?

I think I’m a good writer and people whose job it is to know have told me that I at least demonstrate some talent in this regard. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that there may have been chocolate-based bribes involved.) But I believe that my ability to write came from two things: (i) reading constantly since I learned how and (ii) something innate, a natural talent written in my DNA. I don’t believe you can be taught how to write. You can learn to write better, certainly, and practice and experience helps. But there needs to be something there to work with, and not everyone has it. You can’t go from being a terrible writer to a Booker Prize-winning one, in the same way that if you have a decent singing voice you can be trained to use it better, but you can’t take someone whose attempts at tune-carrying sounds like a bag of strangled cats on helium and turn them into Charlotte Church. So that’s Reason #1 why I don’t give writing advice: because I think if you have the ability to write well, chances are you’re already doing it.

And who am I to offer advice? I publish my own books. Other than sales (which, personally, I don’t see as a sufficient qualification – and in the world-wide scheme of things, mine aren’t anything amazing anyway), if I got up on a soapbox and started telling you how to write, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. You’d think, what does she know? Who is she to tell me how to do this? Who does she think she is? And if our roles were reversed, I’d be the first thinking that too. A published author can stand tall at writing workshops and confidently write articles about character and dialogue because someone we trust has said, This person writes well. They have said, This person is good enough. But as a self-published author, I have no such backing. And the only writing advice that is worthwhile is that which helps you channel your energies away from writing whatever might take your fancy (unless that’s all you want to do, of course) and into writing with an eye on getting published – like Nicola Morgan’s new book, Write to Be Published, for example. But I can’t tell you how to write to get published because I haven’t been. So that’s Reason #2 why I don’t give writing advice: because I don’t feel qualified to.

Why do I give advice on how to sell books? Is it because I’m obsessed with or only focused on selling them? No, although what good is a book if no one reads it and, as I’ve said before, I treat self-publishing like a business. I have to because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do it full-time. So unromantic as it may sound, I do need to make money. But that’s not why I blog about how to sell books. First of all, I enjoy sharing my trials and tribulations and I think you enjoy reading about them. It fascinates me; I find the whole subject endlessly interesting. Why does one book sell and another doesn’t? What did I do this month that made my sales dip? How did that guy manage to sell millions? How come this guy has an amazing book that isn’t selling at all? And because I only try to sell my books in ways that could apply to all books, both traditional and self-published (I don’t go on e-book forums or exchange tags with other e-book authors or any of that, for example) this information, theoretically, is useful to everyone, i.e. all writers. For me and my blog, that’s a win-win.

And so it’s not that I don’t value writing, or think that the only thing that matters is learning how to sell, sell, sell. I love books more than anything else in the world and I would rather suffer some horrible fate (a bad perm, for example) than put a book out into the world that adds to the ever-growing pile of stinky poo the vast majority of self-publishing authors are churning out every minute of every day. But I don’t think there’s any point in me talking about writing because I think you either know how to or you don’t, and because I don’t feel qualified to anyway.

Now onto the g-word. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my least favorite word in the publishing/books/writing sphere is – ugh – gatekeepers, because it makes agents and editors, human beings like you and me, sound like evil, horned demons, and that I think that the easiest way to make sure you are not self-publishing poo is to try and get traditionally published first, and then only self-publish if you are getting full manuscript requests, at least. (And if you’re not a regular reader, you know that now.) But do I think this because I live in Ireland and thus have only dealt with Irish and UK agents and publishers, who seem to be really nice people who love good books and always respond?

I have met some bitter bunnies in my time as a self-publisher, let me tell you. I’ve even written about some of them in Self-Printed (PLUG ALERT: out today!) and on this blog. These are the unpublished writers who are so angry about the treatment they perceive themselves to have received at the hands of agents, editors and other publishing professionals that they are gleefully sticking pins into voodoo dolls which look not entirely unlike them in the dead of night, constantly saying, “But they didn’t even give my novel a chance!” with a crazed look in their eyes and exclusively reading self-published e-books as a one-man stand against Big, Bad Publishing.

I never understood these people because I believed that if your book was good, it would get published eventually. And if it didn’t get published, was that really reason enough to feverishly hate someone whose job it was to weed out the great from the sucky? Hardly. But maybe I just thought this because on this side of pond, people are nicer.

Let’s take my novel for example, which has been around, completed, since February 2010. It’s been shopped to both UK/IRL editors and US agents.

Let’s compare the experience, shall we?

US Experience

I write a query letter for the novel following all the “rules.” The novel is set in the US so I figure I should test the waters of the wonderful United States first. I draw up an initial list of favored US agents: three who accept e-mail queries and two who require the synopsis and first 50 pages to be sent by mail. The responses:

  1. Agent #1 at New York office of major US-UK agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours, saying she appreciates my sense of humor and clever concept, but doesn’t think she’s the right fit for me or my work. (She’s absolutely lovely to me but her first name is Catherine so I wonder if that’s why!!!)
  2. Agent #2 at NY agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours saying thanks but no thanks.
  3. No response to e-mail sent to Agent #3.
  4. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #4.
  5. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #5.

UK/IRL Experience

Same novel gets sent to:

  1. Irish office of major publishing house. Editor #1 reads entire novel, gives extensive feedback by phone and e-mail. Response time: a fortnight. Says lots of lovely things about me as a writer, but feels book isn’t suitable for market here. Wants to see something else. Arranges meeting where she and I talk about what this something else might be. Says she’d like to see this something else when it’s done. We keep in touch.
  2. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #2 reads entire novel, gives feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than 3 weeks. Loves my writing, voice, etc. but doesn’t love the book “enough.” Unsure about its subject matter but says she’d be happy to see something else from me that isn’t about same thing as she feels that is the only real problem.
  3. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #3 reads entire novel, give feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than a month. Loves my voice and humor, unsure whether novel is suitable for Irish/UK market but would like to see something “more mainstream.”
  4. As above for major UK publishing house and editor #4.
  5. Same for medium-large UK publishing house and editor #5.

And then there was my experience with trying to get Mousetrapped traditionally published, a year before that again and before I decided to do it myself. I started this when I had just a proposal and 2/3 sample chapters, which would be the norm for a non-fiction book.

  1. Send out queries to 9 UK/Irish agents. About 4-5, if I remember correctly (this was 2007!), respond with a “thanks but no thanks.” One says, “This sounds interesting. Send me what you have.”
  2. So begins a year of back and forth with this agent, who works at a well-respected London literary agency. When she finally reads the finished book a year later, she has to say no, but she sends me a lovely e-mail saying how much she liked the book and my writing, and says she’d like to see something else in the future, especially fiction if I’d ever consider writing it. (I’m still in contact with this agent, as a friend, through e-mail and Twitter today.)
  3. I decide to try Irish publishing houses instead. Editor #1 requests the full manuscript after reading the proposal & sample chapters and then e-mails me to say he liked the book and my writing, but that there is no market for a book like it. So: no.
  4. Same happens with Editor #2.
  5. Same happens with Editor #3, except she calls me on the phone and offers some additional feedback on how I could improve the book (which I listened to before I self-published it).
  6. Editor #4 says “this isn’t for us” based on proposal and sample chapters.
  7. Same with Editor #5.

(And they were all right about Mousetrapped. It took self-publishing it – publishing it without any financial risk and selling it to a global readership as opposed to just Irish/UK readers – to sell copies. And the fact that I have a novel, polished and ready-to-go, sitting on my computer for over a year now should tell you how slow I am to self-publish work, how I don’t take the decision to release it lightly.)

So for reasons that should now be clear, I have nothing but a case of the warm and fuzzies for every publishing professional I’ve encountered in my part of the world. Excluding the initial queries I sent to agents about Mousetrapped, every single agent or editor I’ve sent material to has responded to me. Every single Ireland or UK-based editor who has received a sample of my novel has taken the time to read the entire thing, and then more time to give me feedback about it. But the same can’t be said for my (very limited, admittedly) adventures in querying US agents, who I don’t think I’ll be sending Christmas cards to this year.

But in defense of US agents, can you imagine how many queries, manuscripts, etc. they get? A few months back I got a sneak peek inside the offices of an Irish publishing house, and it seemed to me that the piles of manuscripts were taking up more space than the furniture. The population of Irish is 4.5 million. The population of the United States is 309 million. No wonder they use the query system (as in, sending just a brief letter about your book instead of our standard practice of synopsis plus three chapters) – if they didn’t, they might be buried under there. So I can totally understand why they don’t have the time for the personalized rejections or even encouraging feedback we might get from our agents and editors over here. (But that still isn’t a good enough reason for voodoo dolls, people.)

And there are some wonderful US agents. One of them has written my favorite book on being a writer ever in the history of the world, Betsy Lerner (the book is The Forest for the Trees) and one of them writes one of my favorite writing blogs, Nathan Bransford. (Although in recent months he left the agenting world.) There’s the likes of US Agent No.1 above. And then there’s the US agent a writer friend of mine has, who would go to the ends of the earth for her, and has. So it’s not these individuals who are the problem – they are just operating within a system which seems to be the only feasible way to deal with the never-ending influx of unsolicited work. Aren’t they?

Konrath says that nowadays, readers are the gatekeepers. They vote for the good stuff by spending their dollars on it and weed out the bad by not. But while this is fine for Konrath – who writes great books – I don’t think it’s a creed all self-publishers should live by. When you put a book out there with a price-tag on it, you are selling a product, and that product has to deliver on its promise (i.e. be good) in exchange for the money customers hand over for it. Even if it’s just 99c, that’s still money. You can’t use readers as a test audience unless you are giving your book away for free, and you explain to them that that’s what you’re doing.

Anyways this blog post has gone on for way way WAY too long – I really should’ve broken it down in two parts but I’m off on holidays at the end of this week and so don’t have the time – so let me stop myself here and ask you what you think.

How would you feel about a self-published author telling you how to write? Do Irish and UK authors have an easier time with agents and editors? If so, what alternate method can US-based self-publishers use to gauge whether or not their book is good other than putting it out there and seeing if it sells? And where are people getting these voodoo dolls? Are they making them themselves, do you think? Feel free to weigh in below.

(And apologies again for the length of this post!)

My whopper of a book that was originally supposed to be a little pamphlet, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, is out today. (Fancy that!) Its e-book costs about the same as a tall latte at Starbucks (i.e. it costs $2.99) and by buying a copy you help keep me in coffee which, trust me, is a selfless and necessary act indeed.

Find out more about it and where you can buy it from here.

Find out more about Mousetrapped here.

24 Responses to “Controversy Corner: Am I Wrong About The Gatekeepers?”

  1. Elisa Michelle May 16, 2011 at 12:17 #

    I think you have plenty of qualification. It also sounds like many editors have been interested in your work but it wasn’t quite what was selling. That means you’re a good enough writer to attract their attention, and that’s good enough for me to hear writing advice from you. But I’m easy to please, haha.

    I’ve only met three agents, and it was at a small writers conference. They seemed like great people who were really passionate about books. They were these devils with creepy horns that hissed at me saying, “you shall not pass”. Wasn’t a thing like that. So I don’t know, I think some forget self-publishing, like traditional publishing, is an option and a form of control over what route your story will take. It is not the end-all path. Not only that, but not all agents are vile creatures ready to swindle you out of all your loose change and life savings down to that last little penny. But that’s just me, I’ve never had to really deal with agents (yet), so I could just be showing off my ignorance.

    And this comment was longer than I expected it to be, haha.

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 13:23 #

      Well your comment being longer than you thought it was going to be is fitting for this crazily long post! :-)

      I agree – I just don’t see where this agents as evil demons thing comes from. Yes, they might be harder to deal with in the States than in the UK (in the sense that you might not get a personalize response, it takes longer, etc.) but that’s surely down to the sheer number of queries, etc. they get (which must be terrifying).

      I just don’t think it’s either or. You can be a fan of BOTH trad and self-publishing. This isn’t a war or even a competition and you don’t have to pick sides, or stick to one of them.

      And as I’ve said before: writers have never had it so good. I could sell a few thousand copies of my book without leaving my desk. When in the past could that be said to be true? Never before. So I think authors should stop bashing everyone and anyone and be grateful for what they have: opportunities.

  2. Lissa May 16, 2011 at 13:15 #

    Do you think it is better if self-publishers at least try to get traditionally published first?

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 13:25 #

      I think something HAS to happen between writing and self-publishing, be that trying to get it traditionally published or using a manuscript assessment service that isn’t also your mum. If you’ve already self-published something similar and it’s sold well, then fine. Just write, edit and release. But if you’ve never put anything out there, I would strongly advise that you have someone else – someone professional – give you an honest opinion on it first.

      There’s one thing self-publishers don’t think about: the pain of bad reviews. Trust me, it’s AWFUL. And if someone who publishes for a living, be they an editor or an agent, has said your work is good, that’s a comfort. If no one ever saw it before you stuck it out there, you don’t have that to fall back on and so you ask yourself, “Is that reviewer right?”

  3. Graham Strong May 16, 2011 at 13:25 #

    The thing what strikes me is that lately the “gatekeeper” bashing has subsided — now it’s trendy to talk about the good things that publishers and agents do. This can only be a good thing.

    It really should go without saying that (most) publishers *aren’t* evil. Yet that is certainly the tune being played for the last year or so. I think this is, as you infer, more about the writers’ frustrations with the system than the system itself. Most publishers love books as much as writers and readers. They want to find the next bestseller not because it will make more money (though there is that) but because they, in shades of Stephen Leather’s comments, want to put a great book out there.

    I love your anecdote too, about the publishers reading and then rejecting it because it doesn’t “fit”. As frustrating as that must be, it’s got to be worlds better than silence.

    ~Graham

  4. David Rory O'Neill May 16, 2011 at 13:31 #

    Hi Catherine, no need to apologise for the length of the blog. It was good cogent stuff and you and made good points that had me saying: ‘yes, yes, right on.’
    I too have been through the same mill and can see clearly what you are saying.
    My last agent response from a UK source said: The Prairie Companions is a great story, well crafted and hugely involving but it is too non-mainstream for me. I would have trouble selling it to a very conservative and careful market. I got nothing but form rejections from the US and Canada. One agent did offer the idea that non-US settings and characters are a tough sell there. (The story is set in England and Canada)
    I’ve completed ten novels in the past four years and have released one as a paperback and three as eBooks, with one a month due every month.
    I see no reason to abuse agents who are first and fore most business people. I decided to just get on and sidestep that mountain. I made mistakes at first but am learning and improving all the time.
    Tribes and their unhappy influences are a subtext of most of my novels. The writing and publishing community have tribes too. The self published, the indies, the published by big time houses, the self-published who use so called vanity or subsidy publishers.
    I’ve seen much tribal abuse thrown about between these tribes and many refuse to acknowledge members of other tribes. On one writing group run by the Dublin based subsidy publisher, Original Writing: I had a contributor, non-published but filled with youthful certainties say: ‘Your opinions must be disregarded because you paid to get published.’
    That is a distressingly common idea and the media establishment and reviewers are almost as dismissive. Yes there is dross out there both self published and conventional but we are all writers and that should be the only thing that counts, not what tribe we are assigned.
    Regards, David.

  5. Catana May 16, 2011 at 13:54 #

    Impressive, really. Too much advice comes from people with little experience. I consider myself a beginning writer, and the only legitimate thing I can write about is the learning process. There’s plenty of how to write, what to write, how to get published, etc. You’re writing from your expertise, thank goodness.

    And I appreciate your stand on the difference between people who can be taught to write adequately and those who have that “something” that can take them beyond adequate. It isn’t a popular stand because the “anybody can write” drums are beating so loudly.

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 14:22 #

      Thank you!

      Yes, I once read a self-publishing book that said, “If you can say it, you can write it.” He must have left “down” out as in if you can say it you can write it down, but write as in create fiction? I don’t think so…! :-)

  6. Tahir May 16, 2011 at 13:56 #

    Catherine, I don’t quite agree with the notion that either you can write or you can’t. If you can, it takes years to become good at it, but I think you agree with that, but what I don’t agree with is that if you can write, you just “fall into it” with your first book being a good example of writing. I have edited other people’s work for over 20 years – I have over 120 publications in refereed journals and mentored numerous students on their theses and papers. The process in training somebody involves a lot of back and forth iteration, with both people editing the works, over an extended period of years. But yes, you have isolated an important problem self-publishers have. The only real judgement they have on their writing is sales, but a reader doesn’t know the quality of the writing before buying the book usually, and even if he/she does, this generation that has grown up with texting and lowered academic standards is less discerning. I also fail to see how paying a few hundred bucks to an editor buys some real editing. For a 400 page book, I spent more than half the time on the editing, over a period of 3 months approximately. I estimate that’s over 500 hours. If you paid somebody $10-20/hour that’s between $5000-10,000. Hearing the stories about edited work still lacking (self-published or otherwise), tends to confirm this. I especially question the competence of a young editor just starting, who has gone through the school system in the last 10-15 years.
    I think what self-publishing needs is a mentoring system. This is basically how it works in academic publishing. A senior person works closely with the junior person, a bit like an apprenticeship. Except there is no exchange of money of course. However, the model could be adopted for self-publishing. The junior person seeks a “senior” person as a mentor. The mentor works with the junior person from start to finish of a book and gets a predetermined cut of the sales, say 10%. It’s a win-win for both because the senior person gets the satisfaction of knowing that he/she is helping to maintain high standards and the junior person gets training in writing.

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 14:20 #

      Editing is entirely separate to what I mean when I say you can either write or you can’t. EVERYONE needs to be edited and how much of it needs to be done I don’t think is a reflection of how good of a writer there are. But when it comes to fiction, you can certainly be good and get better, but you can’t go from crap to Costa. And so all these books, workshops, groups, etc. cannot teach you how to write, they can only teach how to write better if you’re already doing it reasonably well.

      • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 14:23 #

        *They* are. HAD to make a typo on a comment about editing, didn’t I? :-)

        • Tahir May 16, 2011 at 15:20 #

          OK, I agree, if you’re talking about putting together a work of fiction, it is more difficult to teach someone how to do it, as opposed to the mechanics of the work. But in answer to the question in your post “How can self-publishers get independent vetting of their work aside from sales?” self-publishers do have to stop regarding editing as an add-on at the end, because it’s an integral part of the process, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction (I’m talking in general here, not referring to you necessarily). But, looking at it from the perspective of a work as a whole, including everything that makes a work high quality, yes, the point you and Konrath raise is an important one. There needs to be some mechanism for self-publishers, aside from sales and amazon reviews, that is a barometer of the quality of the work. But then I don’t imply that traditional publishers have such a system either – everyone knows that they have often been proved wrong in their decision to take on a work, and in their judgement of whether a work will be successful, and they are entirely sales-driven (except for some academic publishers which are subsidized). In the end, as many have pointed out, it’s all about perceptions. But that can change too, at this stage it’s impossible to predict how this leveling of the playing field is going to play out. At the moment the “survival of the fittest” in self-publishing is not correlated with the quality of the work or writing. I don’t have any problem with the g-word because I think whenever you have too much power in the hands of a few it is harmful to democratic creativity. The traditional publishers have a disproportionate amount of clout in driving sales and in actually creating sales, and so it becomes a question of whether they can or are willing to put their machinery to work to make a medicore (or even rubbish) work sell well. I don’t buy the argument that traditional publishers would not survive if they didn’t consistently put out high quality work. It’s based on the false premise that people don’t buy rubbish in masses. From the point of view making creativity and potentially high quality work available which would not get a chance otherwise, the leveling of the playing field is a good thing and the internet has done that in many other areas of life. (I also don’t buy the “you will get published eventually if your work is good” line). In fact we can see a little of how things will go -the quality of a huge amount of the information and writing on the web is now so bad that people have become more discerning and go back to traditional methods of getting information. Articles are being written purely for the sake of writing content. For example, there is so much wrong information on wikipedia, it is usually a waste of time even trying to figure what’s right or wrong and go straight to trusted and authoritative sources. So it’s not just self-publishing that is having this problem. I even saw some software the other day that takes your article and regurgitates it to make many articles that you can submit to different websites. That really does make your stomach turn.

          • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 15:28 #

            Tahir, I really appreciate you commenting on my blog, but please can we try to keep comments shorter than this! :-)

            If someone wants to read this post and all the comments, this is just way too long for the average blog reader.

            • Tahir May 16, 2011 at 17:16 #

              Whoops, sorry, didn’t realize how long it got-please feel free to cut it short (or out).

  7. David Rory O'Neill May 16, 2011 at 14:52 #

    Tahir, I love your mentoring idea. Wonderful.
    David Rory O’Neill

  8. andy holgate May 16, 2011 at 15:49 #

    Never met any devil type gatekeepers in my foray into the book world. My publisher is very friendly, don’t have an agent so can’t really comment.

    HOWEVER

    On the point of why should anyone listen to a self-published author talking about how to get published, my take is : If I’ve read their work and enjoyed it, then they are qualified to tell me about the process and I’d listen. Hence why I read your blog :-)

    Good luck with the new book and the continued quest with the novel.

  9. N.M. Martinez May 16, 2011 at 17:37 #

    Personally, I don’t read writing advice blogs at all though I subscribe to them. I don’t like being told how to write, though I am interested enough to peek just to see if I can learn something.

    But I believe that I have that innate sense of knowing how to tell a story. *cringe* Ugh, I hate saying that out loud because if I heard someone like me say that I’d roll my eyes and take that as a sign that they don’t know how to tell a story– they only think they do and that’s where the problem lies.

    But I have tested out my story. I posted a rough draft version online. At the time, I wasn’t intending on ever self publishing or publishing at all. I just wanted to share this story. I also didn’t advertise. Surprisingly, the response from people who were strangers has been very positive. Some of them also don’t respond, they just lurk, and I take that as a good sign as well.

    So that was my test. It was also a good learning experience about consistency in writing (I updated online weekly for the past year and a half). And I’m intending to continue even as I move towards writing novels and self publishing. Because it is fun, and it’s a great way to get a beta read for some ideas and concepts that may make it into a novel version.

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 17:45 #

      I’m with you: I actually don’t *like* reading writing advice, and for this reason more than any other I wouldn’t do it. But I kind of wanted to explain why self-publishing “advice” blogs perhaps don’t advise on writing. Or why I think they don’t, anyway!

      I really like how to get published advice – I was obsessed with it, once upon a time! – but not people telling me how to create characters, etc. If you have to tell me how, I probably shouldn’t be doing it! :-)

      • eddie stack May 17, 2011 at 01:57 #

        I steer clear of anyone who tries to tell me how to write. I’m interested in writers blogs (like this one) and places where I can get advice on how to be a better indie writer/publisher…and produce better books.

        best of luck with the new book…and Up Cork! I’ll be there for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival in September.

  10. Talli Roland May 16, 2011 at 19:08 #

    First of all, congrats on your new book! Yay!

    Secondly, I heartily agree with everything you say. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with UK and US agents through the years — experiences that ultimately resulted in a rejection, but done in a professional, encouraging way. It’s given me no reason to be bitter, at all!

    I’m always cautious about offering writing advice on my blog because I’m not an expert, and there are others much more qualified to do so!

    • catherineryanhoward May 16, 2011 at 19:32 #

      Thanks Talli! Well, I love you blog so whatever you’re doing it right! :-)

      I think the crux of the problem may be that when an agent or editor rejects your book, it’s a business decision, but since it’s our creative work, we may take it personally. And that’s just not helpful for either party!

  11. Catherine McNamara May 17, 2011 at 08:51 #

    Hello Catherine,
    Useful post that strikes a lot of familiar notes. I am a published short story writer who was told at a writers’ conference in Matera last year(do investigate, perhaps you could speak about your experience with self-publishing) that not even a story in Granta would guarantee publication of my short story collection. Yes the English gatekeepers (agents and editors) were daunting and very market-honed (completely disinterested in short stories, honest and helpful really), and their U.S. counterparts were more bubbly and more open to other options. On sending out proposals I’ve have had rather the same response as you’ve found – a generally serious, if hurtful at times, consideration of work as a product.

    Yes I found Betsy Lerner’s book to be quite a bible and thank you for guiding me to her wonderful blog.

    I set out to say that, depressed by my first negative feedback by an agent-friend about massive Africa-based novel of mine, I sped into a commercial women’s book which was picked up by an indie U.K. publisher Indigo Dreams Publishers and is coming out this summer – The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy – so will be seeking your advice on selling. Great to hear another Catherine coffee-head. ciao-ciao

    http://thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.com
    http://peltandotherstories.blogspot.com

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  1. foxatil studio | constructing a creative "theory of everything" - May 22, 2011

    [...] daisy chaining on blog posts today. Over at Catherine, Caffeinated, Cathryn Ryan Howard put out a post about gatekeepers in traditional publishing in which she commented on Stephen Leather’s guest post on JA Konrath’s blog. And if you [...]

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