Discussion → Balancing flattery and ego

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    Brian Mihok
    May 18, 04:43pm

    As literary writers, we're already "going for it," but when should we use strategy in regards to publishing?

    For example, say you send a manuscript out to be published to some well known presses as well as some lesser known, and you hear back from a lesser known that wants to publish it?

    It's flattering and exciting and you're itching for it, but your ego says to hold out for one of the bigger fish which would potentially equal more readers or other perks.

    Has anyone been in this situation? Did at any point you try to step back and think of yourself as Scrooge McDuck swimming through his doubloons? Or is this valid strategy?

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    Ann Bogle
    May 18, 08:43pm

    It seems as valid to choose among offers of publication -- if more than one -- as it would be to choose among offers of jobs or graduate schools; to think otherwise seems a throwback to the days of single submissions. That said, I would not consider submitting a ms. to a publisher whose offer I would refuse. A friend of mine from early days -- who has published about ten books of poetry, fiction, and criticism in the length of time it has taken me to publish two chapbooks (I haven't tried to market a book ms. for ten years) had this to say: "If someone makes you an offer of publication, accept it."

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    Edward Mullany
    May 21, 09:39am

    I like Ann's advice - not to submit to a publisher whose offer you would refuse - though I can see the predicament a writer might get into.

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    Susan Gibb
    May 21, 09:51am

    I agree with Ann as well. There are obvious tiers of hierarchy in the literary journal world, whatever you base it on: longevity, quality, style, author list. I try to gear a story towards a particular style of magazine, whether it be print or online--that part doesn't seem to matter as much anymore. So whoever says yes, I accept happily and get a particular thrill out of emailing the others to withdraw and let them know it's been accepted elsewhere.

    That said, if the New Yorker came in with an offer after I received someone else's, well, that'd be a tough gut-wrenching thing to do, but yeah, I'd go with the first if I'd already acknowledged--and maybe even if I hadn't. After all, that'd be a kick, turning down the New Yorker!

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    Darryl Price
    May 30, 02:38pm

    Nice quandary. I hear what everyone is saying and every point is valid. This makes me think it's got to be a personal thing. You've got to believe in your work first of all. Secondly in yourself. I mean is this the last good thing you are ever going to write? Have you reached your peak already? Also to have a publisher believe in you-big or small-is a wonderful miracle. There's a billion writers out there-some worse than you and some better than you and more on the way. This is your chance. I say take it and don't look back. Be glad for the opportunity.

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    Stephen Stark
    Jun 25, 01:42pm

    These days, who knows?

    If I had two simultaneous offers from publishers, one large, one small, it might well be the smaller one I'd take. That would be based on a couple of things.

    1) Editorial. Which editor had a passion and a vision for the book that makes my head go up and down in agreement and excitement? A good editor who really edits--says, Hey, this part in the middle here is kind of flat, and maybe if you exploited this unexploited opportunity here...--can really make a book. And creative ideas for making a book successful in different ways are coming easily as often from small presses these days as large ones.

    2) Visibility. Yes, a press like Knopf is going to get more reviewer attention. Ditto others. But if Small Press publishes four or five books a year, or even twenty, then their investment in your work is going to represent a whole lot more of their bottom line and commitment than your book at the Large House. Assuming that they can efficiently distribute the book and meet demand, then it's entirely possible that for them, the 4000 books they sell might be a huge number, while 4000 books for Knopf would be a very low "midlist" failure.

    Which leads to a corollary--if your next book makes the rounds and Large House looks at those sales figures (if they're their own), they might decide to pass. If Large House looks at sales figures from Small Press, they might be identical, but they will be more impressive.

    But in the end, the "strategy" really has to be what is going to make it the best book it can be? The book that gets closest to hitting on all cylinders all of the time and leaves a reader going, Wow, what the fuck was that? and wanting more.

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