Monday, March 29, 2010

are some publishers "easier" to sell manuscripts to than others?

Following INTERN's Awkward Goodbye Luncheon at Venny McPulitzer on Friday, the Stepford Interns (who really deserve a nicer name) decided to prolong the festivities by frog-marching INTERN to their favorite Happy Hour spot and plying her with a stream of technicolored elixirs. INTERN feels like she finally bonded with her now-former colleagues, although as the evening wore on their declarations of adoration for Executive Ed grew simultaneously more detailed and more carnal until INTERN figured out it was probably time to catch the train.

INTERN did not make it out of the bar, however, before her intern posse had attracted the attentions of a duo of slick young gentlemen who seemed to take an inordinate interest in the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry (that, and the Stepford Interns' level of desire for more beverages, to which the answer was, "high".) Right before INTERN left, Stepford Intern No. 1 had just finished regaling them with the facts of how Extremely Impossible it was to get published by Venerable McPulitzer. To which the young gentleman asked, "So, like, where's an easy place to get published?"

This question dogged INTERN throughout her whole journey home.

INTERN has, by now, interned at two publishing houses and one and a half literary journals. The first publisher was definitely an "easier" target for would-be authors, if only because Venerable McPulitzer's idea of "fresh new talent" was a thirty-something Stegner Fellow with "only" one or two successful books published from "lesser" publishers and a string of credits from the New York Times—making Big Fancy Publishing Office's roster of authors seem wildly inclusive in comparison.

Similarly, the first literary journal was much "easier" to get published in than the second—but then again, the prestige of the first literary journal was lower, and the publication credit therefore less valuable.

It goes without saying that the "easiest" places to get published are vanity presses and other dubious operations, followed by a micropress you found with your MFA program buddies pre-graduation (By lumping them in the same sentence, INTERN does not mean to imply that the two are in any way equivalent—INTERN has seen some pretty neat stuff coming out of writer-friends' commitment to publish each others' experimental work (and some pretty awful stuff slips through, of course)).

But apart from those obvious targets, are there any factors that make a given publisher "easier" or "harder" for an unpublished or scantily published writer to find a home with?

INTERN grappled with this question for the rest of the night. Are smaller publishers easier than big publishers? (but what about those small presses legendary for their exclusivity?) Are new publishers, imprints, and literary journals easier to break into than established ones? (but what about new imprints like twelvebooks and new lit mags like electric literature?) Is a large list easier to break into than a small one? Is the percentage of books published per year by other previously unpublished or scantily published writers a factor?

Of all the possible factors INTERN could think of, only the last one seems to be a reasonably reliable way of gauging how "easy" it would be for another unpublished writer to get a book deal. If, in the past year, a publisher published books by two or three unknown, unqualified, and quite possibly alcoholic writers Just Like You, your chances of having a book published there are higher than at a place like Venerable McPulitzer.

But at the end of the day, the ease or difficulty involved in getting published anywhere depends on the quality and/or marketability of the project (d'oh!). You can drive around the neighborhood for hours scoping out your dream home, but if all you have is the key to the gas station bathroom (and the germy wooden spoon that was supposed to prevent you from taking it) you can't use it to unlock the castle door.

(note: ease and difficulty also depends on other variables like timing, luck, and whether or not you have agent. but none of these means anything without a brilliant and/or commercially viable piece of work).

INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are working on a mad-scientist Calculator authors can use before they submit their work that will take *all* these factors into account. Estimated release date: 2014.


  1. Or, you can check out Duotrope's list of Most Approachable markets ("the markets with the highest acceptance percentages reported"). God, how I love that website.

  2. INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are working on a mad-scientist Calculator authors can use before they submit their work that will take *all* these factors into account. Estimated release date: 2014.

    Sounds good. I'll probably still be looking for an agent then.

  3. Ah, Duotrope. An e-zine I work on was on that "Approachable" list for awhile. Then we started getting more subs. ;)

    And damn if I'm not planning to submit to number 25 on The Challenging list. *runs away to polich submission with HCl*

  4. 2014 is pretty soon, yes? At feels like it.

    Except...I'll be THIRTY then. EEEK! Thank goodness I will have your guide.

  5. I don't know, INTERN - I've seen some pretty awful stuff out of several Venerable-type NY pubs - And I mean books that hit the wall within somewhere between the first five pages to mid-book!

    In a romance novel, for instance, horses (and other inanimate/non-speaking objects) *can not* have a point of view.

    Bam! Wall-banger out of NY!
    Boom! And another!
    Smack! And another!

    Seems awful stuff seeps from all cracks.

    BTW - Did you know the music industry has a program that supposedly tells them what song to remake and how big it will be? That's just sick, dude.


  6. You realize that, in four years, a number of people will be anonymously knocking down your anonymous door, looking for that Calculator.

    Or is that pseudonymous? Does it count as a pseudonym if it isn't a "real" name? Though I supposed INTERN is as real as Apple or Blanket.

  7. @ChristianH I still don't know how someone gets away with calling their kid Apple...

    Also, I love Electric Literature. It's my current goal to get published there. Ha! We'll see how that goes!

  8. Patiently awaiting Mad Scientist Calculator. :)

  9. As a note, the link to Electric Literature is broken.