Reviews

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh

Thomas Scott McKenzie

Walsh's advice is not for the sensitive. He comes out swinging with the very first reason your book will not be published: you have not written it.


78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might

Publisher: Penguin
Length: 192
Price: $14.00
Author: Pat Walsh
US publication date: 2005-06
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Statistically speaking, the reality is that your novel, your collection of short stories, your memoir, your poetry chapbook, your thriller, your attempt to redefine noir, your self-help book, or your business management treatise will never be published. That's the truth. The thousands of how-to publishing books on the shelves don't want you to know that, they want you to be inspired, convinced even, that you are the exception, that you can beat the odds. But all they sell is snake oil and false hope and they're the reason vanity presses are doing a booming business in this country.

By contrast, 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh, pulls no punches. Walsh's no-holds barred approach is worth the whole publishing section at your local bookstore because he tells you what it's really like, no grandma-style empty praise, no "You can do it!" cheering.

Walsh is a former reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle and was, until a few weeks ago, senior editor at MacAdam/Cage. With this book out and another around the corner, he knows life on both sides of the typewriter. He's a writer, as well as an editor who's done time slogging through the stacks of general submissions sent in to publishers. His advice is not for the sensitive. He comes out swinging with the very first reason your book will not be published: you have not written it.

Walsh writes: "I cannot count the number of times I have expressed interest in a book pitched to me only to find out that it is not written yet, "but will be very soon." Send it to me when it is done, I will say, and they will promise me a manuscript in the not-too-far-off future and I will never hear from them again."

This seems self-evident, but it's amazing how many people claim to be writers, claim to have a book, claim to preparing to quit work and write the great American novel but the reality is that they have nothing but some half-formed ideas that they tell their friends.

The second reason your book won't be published directly relates to the first -- when wannabe writers finally do put pen to paper, what they come up with is far from brilliant. Walsh writes, "When I say your book probably stinks, I mean statistically, it probably stinks." He says that of the 4,000 unsolicited and unagented submissions his publishing house receives each year, "at least half reek of bad writing and sorry story lines. Another thousand significantly lack in one area or the other. The next hundred are not horrid, just not good enough -- mediocre efforts, rife with clichés and tired plots. Of the two hundred left, I would say a hundred and fifty have some real merit but are a good idea badly executed or a bad idea nicely realized. From the fifty remaining, forty are heartbreakers -- almost but not quite there." It's the final ten, he notes, that are very good, and some, exceptional.

If you think this is overly critical and overly judgmental, keep in mind that the numbers he describes are quite common throughout the industry. The editors of the prestigious journal, Glimmertrain, for instance, report that they receive about 40,000 submissions a year and publish approximately 40. That's 0.1 percent success rate. Most literary agents report they agree to represent between 1 and 5 percent of the submissions they receive. Contrast those success rates with the fact that about 11 percent of applicants are admitted to the business school at Harvard and you'll get an idea of just how rare it is to be a published author. In fact, Walsh points out that more people win million dollar lotteries each year than get their first novel published.

The redeeming factor is that after breaking the potential writer down, like a good drill sergeant, Walsh explains how you can try and beat the odds. Along with an eye-opening rundown of the complex publishing industry (pre-empts, payments, and marketing strategies are explained), he provides concrete, actionable intelligence that you can implement in your own writing career. One of the simplest suggestions Walsh makes is to take your time:

Many people who might otherwise be published aren't because they're in too much of a hurry. They submit too early because they just cannot stand to wait any longer. They give in to enthusiasm and angst at the expense of considerate care... No single thing gets me more excited about reading a manuscript than being told it took the writer ten years to finish the book. Great writing takes time.

Walsh isn't revealing the meaning of the universe with these suggestions. He's providing the simple, cannot-ignore basics, that building a writing career takes time, hard work, persistence, training, and more time.


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