I’d read 78 REASONS WHY YOUR BOOK MAY NEVER BE PUBLISHED & 14 REASONS WHY IT JUST MIGHT by Pat Walsh, a senior editor at MacAdam/Cage Publishing, back in February, and laughed my head off through the entire book. It’s an insiders view of the publishing world from the point of view of an editor. No hold’s barred, funny as hell, Walsh’s book is like eating potato chips….you know you should stop (some of his reasons are pretty grim for aspiring authors), but you can’t.
Walsh has recently returned to MacAdam/Cage after a hiatus. Now back digging through the slush pile, he has an invitation for WU readers—which I strategically placed at the end of the interview to get you to read the whole thing. Not to worry. Walsh is as funny here as he is in his books.
We’re pleased to present a WU interview with Pat Walsh.
Q: Why did you write this book – 78 REASONS WHY YOUR BOOK MAY NEVER BE PUBLISHED & 14 REASONS WHY IT JUST MIGHT?
PW: I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over in our submission pile. I knew the information was out there, but there was no one book that focused primarily on mistakes made by writers. Also, it was a healthy outlet for my whining.
Q: What are some of the myths in publishing that writers buy into?
PW: 1. That publishers are looking for copies of already successful books. Harry Potter knock offs are everywhere, and a few might get published out of many thousands.
2. That getting your book published will allow you to quit your day job and write full time. This happens rarely.
3. That editors, agents and publishers know what will sell and how much. We don’t. We are always surprised and/or disappointed. Most books lose money – we know that.
Q: You’re pretty brutal about the reality of what happens to a manuscript when it lands in the slushpile. Do you recommend writers find an agent, even a bad one–in the vain hope of keeping out of the slush? What can a writer do to avoid that fate?
PW: Agented submissions can land in the slush very easily. If we don’t know the agent or suspect they are a dilettante or a pay-to-play rep, they go in the slush. The slush gets read, eventually. Six of our top ten selling books at MacAdam/Cage came from the slush. Don’t ever get a bad agent for any reason. Or a bad doctor, or a bad lawyer.
Q: As an editor for MacAdam/Cage, you’ve read hundreds of submissions. What makes a particular effort stand out to you? What’s a surefire ticket to rejection?
PW:If there was one thing that makes a submission stand out, it is the writer’s stated reason for submitting to our house. If he read one or more of our books and thought that we were the right publisher for him, that really catches my eye. A sense of professionalism, which is a subjective term in this business, is important. Knowledge of the subject matter is always nice.
As for rejection, it’s just the opposite. “Dear Sir/Madam” letters turn me off. Gimmicky tricks to catch my attention make my eyes roll. Author photos are fine, as long as you are really attractive. If you’re average or below, we mock you.
Q: You have a very funny bit about rejection letters in your book. Can you crack the code and parse the careful language for us here?
PW: I stole that whole bit from Betsy Lerner’s book, The Forrest for the Trees, which is one of the best books on publishing ever written. Her translations are far superior to mine. The most common chestnut is “I didn’t fall in love with your book as much as I had hoped to,” which means I hated your book.
Q: Other than writing a great book, what’s the No. 1 thing writers should do to get their submissions read by editors and agents?
PW: If writing the great books is No. 1, then there are no numbers after that. Not having an agent, being in the slush, having no contacts or referrals are all problems that manifest themselves by eating up time. If you don’t have those things, it will take you longer to get published, but you will get published if your book is truly great. It is much more likely that your book is merely good or even very good, which is no guarantee of finding your way into print.
Q: You’re pretty skeptical about self-publishing, PODs, and other DIY publishing. Do you think writers should bother going the self-pub route? Are they doing damage to their careers if they do?
PW: I’m skeptical about all publishing; I’m cynical about self publishing. It’s the promise of a shortcut, and those are usually rip-offs. Why don’t people believe this by now? Let me be clear: Writers should cash checks, not write them.
I don’t know if they are doing damage to their careers, but they aren’t helping.
Q: Do you miss editing and dumpster-diving in the slush for the Next Big Literary Thing?
PW: I guess I did, as we announced last week that I am returning to MacAdam/Cage as editor-in-chief. Since then, I’ve been reading nothing but slush, where I am going to find some books if it kills me.
Q: One bit of advice you give (Reason No. 58) says to connect with a published author, ask them to read some of your work and see if they’d offer a referral to an editor or agent. I was really surprised by that advice it seems presumptuous on the part of unpublished writers. Could you explain why you think it’s worth a shot?
PW: Worth a shot is the perfect term. It was just one, in a list of little things, that may work. A lot of people, agents and editors mostly, were unhappy with that but I’ve seen it work in some situations so I stand behind it.
Q: You’ve written a second non-fiction title: HOW TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER (OR NOT). Tell us about the experience of writing a book when you’ve been on both sides of the desk. Easier or harder? Is gambling with poker chips and money the same as gambling on whether or not a new book will be successful in the marketplace?
PW: That book was borne of my love of poker and was really fun to write. As your readers know, nothing makes writing easier, even being an editor. I, like many writers, hate writing. I really love having written.
Q: What new projects do you have coming up?
PW: I just finished co-writing a business book called How to Castrate a Bull, which comes out in January 2009. Also, returning to MacAdam/Cage, which I do formally at the beginning of May. So I have to move back to San Francisco and find a house and all that good stuff.
Q: What are you reading now?
PW: 1. Slush, which is exactly as I remember it: 10 percent terrible books, 80 percent kind of good to pretty good, and ten percent pretty damn good.
Also, I’m re-reading Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, which is brilliant. Anyone interested in language and writing must own this.
Books on MacAdam/Cage’s upcoming list. Awesome, by Jack Pendarvis is the strangest, most original thing I think I have ever read. It is equally delightful and offensive and every reader will either love it or hate it.
As a side note, I’d like to add this: Writers who recognize the many, many flaws in our publishing industry can do something about it. Go to a bookstore and ask for a recommendation on a debut novel or a book that the bookseller loves. If everyone who wrote a novel bought a new one every month, the industry would sit up and notice and take more risk, giving everyone a better chance. Also, spread the word about new authors. It gets harder every year to launch debut authors and they need the help. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is just a few thousand or even hundreds of books sold.
Thanks so much and please let your readership know that MacAdam/Cage is once again accepting unsolicited manuscripts and we are actively seeking great books from the slush. We are also going to try and give as much feedback as we can.
So there. An invitation from an editor to you, dear WU readers, to submit to MacAdam/Cage. We’d be pleased as punch if one of you is snatched up by Pat. You’ll let us know, won’t you?