Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Book Report: When Is A Contest Not A Contest?

Mysterious Press is a long running publishing imprint which is part of the Grove Atlantic Group. It specializes, naturally, in mystery and crime fiction, and is very selective about who it even considers publishing. To be looked at your novel must be submitted by an accredited literary agent, and I'm pretty sure that agent being someone they know and do business with regularly, and author having a publishing track record, probably doesn't hurt either.

That's why it surprised me to see them announce that they were having a contest. Writers could submit their novels to them and the winner gets published and a cash prize of about $25,000.

Sounds like a great contest, doesn't it?

Maybe, but it doesn't look like much of a contest to me. I'll get to that in a second, but first I need to give a bit of an explanation:

You see, to get published a writer needs to win the lottery, multiple times.

First you have to get someone at an agency or a publisher to read your work and like it enough to pass it along up the industry's food chain.

Second, you have to have someone higher up the publishing food chain like it and give it the green-light to be published, and not get what happened to me.  One time a novel of mine went right up to the publisher's desk, but he died suddenly, the replacement management lost it for 2+ years. Then an assistant editor found it and asked me to give them a second chance, I agreed, and I didn't hear from them again until 6 years and 11 months after I had originally submitted my novel. Then a bottom rung volunteer slush pile reader sent me a terse rejection letter that pretty much said that all my previous dealings with the company meant nothing, and those that had been promised to look at it, had never looked at it during all those years. And this was by a company that bragged about how respectfully it treated writers in their allegedly open submission policy.

Then your book has to be deemed good enough for them to market aggressively in the hope that it will find an audience. And let's hope that management or ownership doesn't change during this period, because the new regime might just dump your book for reasons that have nothing to do with quality or sales potential.

Then the book has to find that audience and sell well enough to open the door wide enough for the author to get another book published.

At each step a writer is basically buying a lottery ticket with their blood, sweat, and tears, and each ticket has about 1,000,000 to 1 odds against it.

Which is why when a publisher announces a contest looking for new novels the hearts of writers who haven't won any of these lotteries brightens a little bit.

Then they looked at the rules and wondered why they were calling it a contest at all.

You see writers, both new or established, cannot enter their novels into Mysterious Press' contest. The novels must be entered, both electronically, and in print, by the writer's accredited literary agent.

Basically, the contest is them operating as usual, looking only at the people they would normally be looking at who already won at least one of publishing's lotteries, and would probably give more attention to someone who won two or more. And the prize, when you look at from that way, looks like a pretty standard publishing advance.

Why call it a contest if the company isn't changing any of its procedures and only pre-existing winners need apply?

Contests for writers are supposed to be about beating the odds, and selling the myth that quality is all a book needs to be discovered, not pre-existing connections to the publishing world. This "contest" totally flops in that respect.
It reminds me of an institution in Canada that was started in the late 1980s by some up and coming Canadian film and television companies. It's mission statement was to foster NEW Canadian writers to write NEW Canadian films.

I called them and asked them what it took to qualify for the programs. Their answer was that to qualify as a NEW Canadian writer you had to have had 2 feature films produced in Canada by a company they recognized, and at least on screenplay under option with a Canadian company they recognized.

At the time there were about 2 writers in Canada under forty who might have qualified as "NEW" but even that chance was slim.

I asked an employee what they expected to accomplish with these guidelines and they just shrugged and said they didn't know. It did make the companies sponsoring this foundation look like they were doing something about the image that Canada's film industry was a closed shop run by a bunch of middle aged bureaucrats and near-bureaucrats who didn't give a toss about new people or even audiences.

This looks like that mindset has spread to American publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Wow lol That is why I start blaster books lol which publisher house did that one happen at?