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An “Imperfectionist” Inspired Rant on Paper Manuscript Submissions in the Electronic World

November 1, 2013
bradspurgeon

Paper vs. Electronic Submissions

Paper vs. Electronic Submissions

ABU DHABI – A change in subject away from music for the moment: I’ve been reading the novel “The Imperfectionists” over the last few days, my first eBook on my first iPad (mini). I’m behind the times on both the iPad and the eBook. I’ll admit it. I’m not behind the times on computers in general, since my first computer was an Osborne portable, bought in 1982, and everything I have written, thought or imagined since 1982 is contained on a hard disk or two – in addition to the original floppies, other disks, CDs, DVDs and memory sticks since then invented.

But as I read this electronic book by a former colleague of mine at the former International Herald Tribune, I began thinking of discussions he and I had before he sold his book about seeking literary agents, and that led me to thinking again about my task this winter, where I’ll be sending out two of my manuscripts, for consideration by agents and publishers (or three manuscripts if you count the French translation of the novel I’ll be sending – (the other book is my open mic memoir)).

I’ve already started doing some research on agents and publishers, and as I read – joyously – this delightful fiction by Tom Rachman, and thought about how it mattered not one iota whether I read it in an electronic book format or in a hardback or paperback, I began thinking all the various thoughts of paper vs. electronic media. And then I settled on this particular aspect of the “debate”:

How is it, that “traditional” book publishers can charge us 8.99 euros or more for an electronic book that costs them absolutely nothing to produce and distribute in billions of copies, when they charge the same amount – in some instances – for the same book in its paper version, which costs them something in paper, printing and distribution, and yet – here’s the real bit that I’m aiming at – a majority of the best publishers and many of the best literary agents STILL require that authors send their manuscripts to them by snail mail post in printed format?!?! (If they accept submissions at all.)

How Can Publishers and Literary Agents Still Ask for Paper “Manuscript” Submissions?

In other words, while they charge 8.99 euros for an electronic copy that costs them nothing to produce (and I don’t want to hear about the editing staff, etc.), and they expect a reader to be just as happy with reading it in electronic format or printed format, they themselves insist that a poor author pay for printer ink – a fortune – paper to print the manuscript – not a fortune, but it still costs something – and then postage – a fortune?!?

my first computer: 1982

my first computer: 1982


All of which means, the author is probably spending as much or more than 8.99 each time he or she sends out his or her manuscript to a publisher or agent, who will not look at it otherwise, but who, if they like it, will then charge readers the same amount to read it, and take the lion’s share of the profits. I don’t get it. The newspaper industry long, long ago modernized to the point where an electronic story submission is the only kind they really want. (There is a passage in “The Imperfectionists” about an old freelance journalist who is stuck in his ways, and poor, (because he gets no more work) who still faxes his stories to the newspaper, causing a huge headache to the staff each time they have to re-type it into the system.) And yet so much of the publishing industry, that battles to keep its corner of the electronic market and rights, still refuses the electronic submission of what will eventually come out as an electronic product.

The Wonderful, Deceptive Simplicity of ‘The Imperfectionists’ by Tom Rachman

I really would like to have an explanation on this strange, dinosaur leftover from another era. Part of me thinks that because the industry is more bombarded than ever before with manuscripts from potential authors, and because it is easier than ever for authors to make submissions of unpolished or hair-brained books, the editors and agents seek a kind of natural selection process on the basis that the more serious writers will take the time to print out and mail a manuscript, rather than shoot one off on a whim via email.

If that is the case, I don't buy it. A great manuscript will rise to the surface of the slush pile eventually, whether it be electronic or printed out, and the crappy electronic submission is a lot easier and less time consuming and polluting to deal with than the crappy printed manuscript. And the excuse that an editor or agent would really like to sit down in a chair and read a paper version of the novel rather than read an electronic version is really no longer valid, is it? When they are selling us "air" for 8.99 euros or much more….

By the way, it was taking me forever to get around to going to a bookstore to buy a paper copy of Rachman’s novel (or any other English book in Paris), which I had been hearing about for so long from friends and strangers. And I had no real excuse (except Paris), especially since I felt it practically an obligation for me to read a former colleague’s novel, especially one all about the newspaper world, the expat newspaper world that we both worked in. So it was with my new iPad mini in hand that I decided to rectify that situation, and I’m just loving the book!

The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists

Rachman has a real way with language, and the characters and situations are extremely memorable. The stories really flow. It is written with a simplicity that is hard to achieve. (As I think Pete Seeger once said, perhaps comparing Dylan and Hank Williams: “Anyone can be complicated, it takes a genius to be simple.” (Although Dylan is a complicated genius in my opinion, and in the opinion of most.)) Of course, I’m not finished the book yet, so perhaps I’ll lose interest…but I doubt it. And if I do, well, it only cost 8.99 after all, and I won’t have to put it on my shelf to collect dust. Of course, I might have to eliminate it from many more places, as it has been migrating from my iPad to my iPhone and maybe soon to my MacBook Pro, if they let me….

Enough rambling rant! If anyone has an answer to my question about how publishers and agents can be committed to electronic books but not electronic submissions, please let me know!

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