Friday, June 5, 2009

The hold-up

I completed my first novel (a 2-year journey) early this year. I sent in a query letter/submission to a few agents (not many were accepting unsolicited childrens' fantasy submissions) in February, and had no luck. Given the much-advertised 'economic crisis' I decided to hold off sending it directly to publishers, thinking they would be unlikely to take on new unknown writers this year with a presumably reduced childrens' list, and I shouldn't waste my one chance with them.

My intention was to send it to publishers early next year, but now, 4 months later and given I'm a new (impatient) writer, I am itching to try as soon as I can. I know you can't predict the future but nevertheless my question (or questions) involve it:

1.Would it be best to wait till next year, or until this 'economic crisis' blows over, before sending my manuscript to publishers?

2. Will I be blowing my 'only' chance if I send it around now or a little later this year?

3. If I do send it round now and have no luck due to reduced capacity for publishing books in this current economic downturn, would it be acceptable for me to resubmit later (in 1 or 2 years' time)?

I'll do the short answers first:


2. YES

3. NO

Now here are the long answers:

1. It's not just the economy that's making us all nervous - the Productivity Commission has put everyone distinctly on edge, as none of us knows if we'll have jobs next year. However, children's publishing is resilient in times of economic downturn. I think your problem is not so much the economy as it is the genre you've chosen. You wouldn't believe how many children's fantasy manuscripts are floating around out there ... It is, by far, the largest single genre (out of adults' and children's books) that I see. So you really need to have an outstanding manuscript that is not at all derivative of anything else out there - especially the boy wizard - in order to rise above the pack.

2. and 3. Yes, you're blowing your only chance because you do only get one shot at submitting to agents and publishers. We only ever look at something twice if we've asked to see it again after a rewrite. Most of us - probably all of us - keep records of submissions and will be able to tell if you've resubmitted after a rejection. People try it, but my answer to them is still 'no'.

I've written a few posts about patience and impatience - there's even a label for it at right. It's really worth being patient - not necessarily because of the economy, but for the sake of your own writing. Before you send it out again, make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be. That usually means being patient and not looking at it for a while.


Anonymous said...

It seems like there is a constant theme in regards to writing children's fantatsy, where it's expected to be original to get published. Or as you put it, not deriative.
I can't help wonder if this in an absolute rule though. I read plenty of children's fantasy which is not original and some times feels like old stories re-hashed.
The most obvious example would be the Twilight series (which for the record, I really enjoyed). Yet the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the human-girl in love with a vampire plot was Buffy and Angel. I don't think that story line is really original at all and vampires have been done to death.
I guess what you are saything that as a rule they have to be original but an exception can always be made for some publishing phenomenon?

Anonymous said...

Hello, Anonymous #1. Here are my two cents. (I hope Agent Sydney doesn't mind!)

I think this is a tricky question, because one person's 'derivative' is another's astonishing new development. (I was shocked to realise that today's Twilight-reading fourteen-year-old was two when Buffy debuted.)

Because younger readers won't have encountered familiar fantasy elements as often as adults have, children's fantasy (arguably) has scope for heavier use of these tropes. Also, there's a constant turnover, particularly with younger fantasy as kids become interested in more complex books -- the readership is renewing itself all the time. (We hope.)

When I'm reading fantasy manuscripts aimed at kids and young adults -- and yes, we see a HUGE number of them -- I'm always most drawn to truly original ideas (very rare), fascinating reworkings of existing elements (still rare), and extremely compelling characters in a fast-moving plot. The latter is the most common but still difficult to find! As far as I'm concerned, those are the manuscripts that stand out. Every kids'/YA fantasy manuscript I've seen my company acquire has combined at least two of those factors, and often all three.

And it's true that while there was a market for boy-wizard-at-school series for a couple of years on the back of Harry Potter, those are *extremely* difficult to publish now that the main wave of HP's success has passed. The same will eventually happen with teen vampire stories.

Finally: I do think exceptions have to be made for publishing phenomena. Usually their success is due to a fortuitous combination of factors including timing, packaging and social climate ... put it this way, if publishers knew why it happened, there would be a lot more 'publishing phenomena' out there!

Delurking again
Anonymous Editor