Dear Publisher

This post, from Dan Holloway, originally appeared on his The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes blog on 1/20/10 and is reprinted here in its entirety with his permission. In it, Dan pokes a little fun at boilerplate query responses while revealing some salient truths about authorship and today’s chilly trade publishing climate.

Thank you for sending me your contract for consideration. I am sure you will appreciate that talented authors receive many unsolicited contracts. Nonetheless, I am aware that a publisher like yourself relies upon discovering new talent in order to keep its lists fresh and win new readers, so I hope that you will not be too disappointed that in this case I am declining your kind offer. I wish you all the best in seeking exciting new talent elsewhere.

I understand that it is frustrating to receive a form rejection from an author, without any elaboration on specific areas to work on in your contract. I hope that the following general points may help you in your future submissions.

1. An author relies for their living upon a day job. They write, edit, and network in the evenings, at weekends, and in lunch hours and teabreaks. A publisher’s advance, the largest incentive for an author to sign a contract, is not sufficient for them to give up their day job with any security.

2. Many talented, exciting authors write work that will not appeal to large readerships. Publishers need to sell large amounts of books. The result of this tension is that many of these authors will fail to recoup publishers’ outlay within their first two books, and it will not be viable for publishers to keep them on board.

3. Without a publisher, a writer is under no such pressure, and will not be junked if their initial books "fail".

4. Should a writer achieve initial success wit ha publisher, they will be expected to produce similar works, and not explore or develop their talent.

5. Without a publisher there is no pressure to change, for a writer, the way they write in order to fit market needs.

6. Without a publisher there is the freedom to experiment, change genre at will, try, fail, try again, fail again, and devlop one’s talent, voice, and potential to the full.

7. With a publisher a writer must concede control over cover design, the way their work is presented to the world.

8. The long cycle of the publishing industry means that the time from pen to audience inevitably freezes some of the initial energy and excitement of the creative process, leading to a less real and invigorating feedback process between writer and audience, and a less meaningful feedback loop.

9. With a publisher, a new writer loses editorial control. Not just total control of final cut, but control of which editor to use in the first place. An editor must have two qualities – the ability to be utterly ruthless; and absolute sympathy with an author’s aims. An author needs to be free to select their own, trusted, editor.

10. Pricing – whilst unsigned, the author is free to set the price for all his books – and other merchandise. This includes setting the price at free should the author wish to do that with, for example, her ebooks. It also means the freedom to create and price special and limited editions of the work.

In conclusion, I am afraid that authors must consider not just their short-term but their long-term future. And whilst I am sure that your kind offer, were I to accept it, would put me in a financially more advantageous position one year from now, and possibly three years from now, compared to that if I reject it; I am afraid that the models I have run show that in five, ten, and twenty years – that is, over the course of my career – there is no financial advantage, and in many models financial disadvantage, in my accepting.

I wish you every success in your future publishing career.

Dan Holloway is an author and the founder of the
Year Zero Writer’s Collective. Learn more about the upcoming Year Zero live reading tour here.

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