Last week I had to write two emails that were completely different responses to two different authors but that had something in common.
In the first instance, an author sent an email saying that she would not be submitting manuscripts to us because, in addition to a single error on our webpage, she had found two errors in an interview with one of our editors for a blog. What made responding difficult was not that the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style suggested that two of the three things she pointed out as “errors” were in fact correct, or that her email to me complaining about our lax editing standards contained a typo (which, in hindsight, was pretty ironic). Rather, it was that I believe business communications should always strive to be professional, and it took a huge amount of restraint not to start my reply with a less than charitable salutation.
In the second instance, an author had received a rejection letter from us which outlined some changes we thought would improve his manuscript and suggesting he was welcome to resubmit the manuscript for review if he chose to make the changes. Because of the wording, the author mistook the email to say that we would definitely publish the book upon receiving the revisions. Having seen the email that was sent to the author by one of our editors, I can understand how this conclusion was reached and I don’t fault the author for his assumption. Wanting to do the right thing, I took another look at the manuscript to see if there was something we could do. This is when I came to realize the common thread between these two emails:
I was not the right publisher for these two authors.
I understand that there are many reasons why an author might choose not to submit a manuscript to us. It might be because we make it clear on our website that we do not pay advances. It could be that they want their book in brick-and-mortar bookstores, and our reluctance to accept unlimited returns is a barrier to this (we also state this on our website so that authors know our philosophy before they submit to us). It could even be that they feel we don’t have sufficient experience to be successful with their manuscript. I respect any author who decides we are not right for them, in part because it demonstrates that they took the time to learn something about us. I understand that there are many reasons a publisher may not be the right fit for an author, just as an author might not be the right fit for a publisher. I’m ok with this. I’m also honest about it when I feel we’re not a good fit for an author, lest we become just another author mill.
In the case of the second author, I realized my problem was that I was not excited about his book. This is not to say it wasn’t a good book (it was), but rather that I just couldn’t get excited about the topic. In this case, the author would be better off finding a publisher who specializes in books of this genre. This is the best way to guarantee that the publisher will be excited about the work and will be able to develop a successful marketing plan. Wanting to do the right thing, I sent an email to the author explaining that I do not think we are the right publisher for his manuscript but letting the author know that we would make good on our error and offer him a contract should he not be able to find another publisher. This is because, at the end of the day, doing what’s right for an author is also what separates us from the author mills.
As for the first author, I must admit I find the fact she took the time to send an email stating why she would not publish with us to be the epitome of arrogance. Divertir Publishing was recently featured in the article “Keys to Cracking 10 Top Markets” written by Adria Haley for the September 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest (more on this in a future blog), and after two years in business I’m very proud of where we are as a company. People who have received emails or instant messages from me at 3 AM know that I work very hard to assure Divertir Publishing turns out a quality product. They also know I choose not to debate with authors whether or not they should publish with us and that I have very little patience for this type of self-important prattle. In my letter to this author I wished her the best in her writing career, because I am definitely not the right publisher for her…