Some of us frugal, economical, thrifty, careful and prudent types (ok – tight-a**es!) don’t like to part with our cash. It hurts- neurological studies have shown the pain-centres of the brain to rev-up (and maybe even start smokin’) when a stingy person is faced with the prospect of having to pay-up. Especially for something that was previously free.
I’m talking about paying a publisher to consider one’s submission.
Ok, I get that it was never actually “free” – in this case it was one of their expenses. It was some overworked editor’s job to wade through the slush. And for those who only accepted manuscripts via an agent, the expense was not negated – they would pay more for the rights if they got involved in a bidding war.
I want to state that it still seems to be against the code of conduct to charge to read through an author's manuscript. However, some companies have found a novel solution... they hold an unpublished manuscript competition. And charge a fat entry fee.
I truly believe that publishers are committed to the philosophy of developing emerging writers. This is a laudable motive. I get that the entry fee offsets the editors’ salaries. Hey, they’ve got families and mortgages too. And I’ve always thought that sending a manuscript or synopsis or whatever to a publishing house has always been like entering a comp.
So what’s my problem?
The publishers have tweaked things to their advantage. Fair enough, they’re not a charity. However, when they congratulate themselves for “developing emerging talent” and secure a government grant to do so, I feel uneasy.
Let’s consider the advantages to the publishing house. One: they are closed to unsolicited manuscripts and can cut some editorial staff. Two: the fee also means that people with unpolished manuscripts will hesitate to enter – one of nature’s great screening devices. Three: they are not committed to publish any gems they unearth during the process. The prize is not publication – the winners will be invited to attend a workshop to develop the manuscript with agents and publishers, with the company retaining the option to publish.
Having just sent off a manuscript, with a $50.00 entry fee, my feelings about this are mixed. I’d love to win the one of the places at the workshop, but my disappointment will be greater if rejected – not only would my MS be deemed not good enough, but my fee’s been wasted. In this particular comp they won’t even give unsuccessful applicants a line or two of feedback. Just like a regular publisher! I don’t expect feedback from a publisher, but if I’ve coughed-up my dough.... hmmm. Even a few lines would suffice (lousy concept/ poorly developed/ strains credibility etc).
My pain centres are pulsing. Wish me luck!