Personal Editor Tastes and Company Decisions

Someone recently asked me “if I’m supposed to target editors or agents because their personal tastes are so different, then what’s wrong with sending my manuscript to multiple people at the same publishing company or house? Why can’t I keep trying until I find someone who wants my book?” I didn’t have an answer, but I told my interrogator I would try and find an explanation for him.

The Quandary

First, a bit more set-up is needed to fully illustrate his query. Let’s say that I research Big Time Publishing Company. Big Time has a bunch of editors, but two of them, Bob Headbanger and Joe Cropman, handle memoirs. It’s often difficult to find out much more information beyond that simple genre designation. In this case, all I know is that these two gentlemen handle memoirs. Keep in mind that most editors build up a list of dozens of books, from many genres, so even a familiarity with the person’s body of work sometimes doesn’t yield specifics.

Now, the reality that is widely known inside the walls of Big Time is that these men actually like very specific types of memoirs. Bob Headbanger is only interested in memoirs by coked-up hair metal guitarists. And Joe Cropman really only wants to hear from corn farmers. But although that may be the reality, most aspiring authors looking through The Writers Market or at some of the online resources probably aren’t going to be able to learn those fine details. All they’re going to know is that these men like memoirs.

So I package up my manuscript and mail it off to Big Time. Since I couldn’t find any more info about these editors beyond just the fact they handle memoirs, I just pick Joe Cropman because I thought his name seemed more inviting. Bad choice for me. You see, for this example, I spent the mid to late eighties on the Sunset Strip, wailing on a Charvel superstrat at the Whisky and my memoir recounts the few moments of debauchery I can actually remember. I’m convinced the world is interested again in my band, Thunder Junkie, and my memoir will at least earn me a place on Behind the Music. Be sure to keep Nikki, Tracii Guns, Ricki Rachman on speed dial, they’ll want in on this!

However, Joe isn’t quite as thrilled because he only wanted to hear about crop rotation and discing fields. So he rejects my manuscript.

Here’s the crucial moment… anyone who has read Writers Digest or any of the How-To books available knows that you are supposed to target editors because their tastes vary widely. That’s how I narrowed down my search to Bob Headbanger and Joe Cropman at Big Time. But all those same articles and suggestions will also tell you that you should NOT submit your manuscript to multiple people. But why? I mean, Joe Cropman rejected my manuscript because it wasn’t about farming, but Bob Headbanger wants to hear from coked-up hair metal guitarists. So why can’t I resubmit my manuscript to Big Time, but this time, send it to Bob Headbanger? What’s the problem with that?

The Answer

I didn’t have an answer for the fellow that asked this question so I turned to the expert… editor extraordinaire Jason Wood at MacAdam/Cage. I’m going to shoehorn Wood’s information into the example from above.

In almost all publishing companies, including Big Time from our example, the editors are all part of the same house. “No one acquires books in a vacuum,” said Wood. There are generally weekly editorial meetings to discuss processing submissions and to trade-off manuscripts that would be better reviewed by another editor or reader. So when I sent my memoir about snorting lines off the frets of my Jackson Soloist to Joe Cropman, if he thought the manuscript had merit enough to warrant a good solid look, he would have handed it off to his colleague Bob Headbanger.

“Bob, this might be something you should look at,” Joe would say. “You know that spandex and hairspray aren’t my cup of tea, but you like it so why don’t you read this manuscript from a guy in Thunder Junkie? That’s the kind of thing you like.”

Joe isn’t reading submissions with an eye towards what HE wants to publish, but what he thinks would be good for Big Time. Of course, he has his personal tastes, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t keeping an eye out for books that will be good for the company.

“The majority of authors who resubmit are only doing so as a means of blanketing the office. They are not submitting because they’ve uncovered new information or have done a little research, they just want the manuscript in as many hands as possible. It seems logical and I certainly understand the desire to give yourself every opportunity as possible, but it’s grossly unprofessional and it instantly red flags the author as a nuisance,” said Wood. Almost all industry professional echo this sentiment. In an interview with MediaBistro, Elise Proulx, an agent with Lowenstein-Yost had but one warning: do not submit to multiple agents. This feeling is shared by almost every editor and agent in the literary business.

So, even though these folks do have their own personal tastes, you can’t treat Bob and Joe as though they are separate companies. If one rejects you, then the whole publishing company has rejected you. Don’t pester them again.

In a later post, I’ll explain the tiny, infinitesimal, less than 1% of the time that it’s okay for me to resubmit my hair metal memoir to Big Time publishing so keep an eye out for that.

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