One Size Fits All

Okay, I’m peeved. The indie publisher to whom I submitted my novel took only two days to reject it — and the reason they gave is that my word count is 110,000, and they have a 100,000-word maximum.

This absurd. It’s also insulting. What they’re saying, in essence, is that they don’t care how good a book is. If it doesn’t fit within their rigid parameter, they’re not interested. I’m glad I found out how dumb they are before I got involved with them; when I get over being peeved, I’ll be grateful.

We can interpret their objection to the extra length in various ways. (Interpreting form-letter rejections is a lovely pastime.) Possibly they’re just so swamped with queries that they will seize on any reason to toss a manuscript aside rather than consider it. I have some sympathy for this difficulty, because I know it’s all too real. The implication, however, is not pretty. The implication is that all publishable novels are interchangeable — that the quality of a particular story is irrelevant.

Possibly their editorial team is so inept that they wouldn’t know how to suggest to an author that an otherwise publishable novel be slimmed down to the desired word count. The hard work would be on the author’s end; all the publisher would have to do is say, “Gee, we like this. Can you trim it?” The fact that they didn’t say that can be interpreted to mean (a) they don’t know how to work with authors, (b) their adherence to their criteria is so rigid that they didn’t even read the synopsis or the opening chapters, or (c) they did read the synopsis and the opening chapters and are now lying about their reasons for rejecting the book. None of these is a good look for a publisher.

Another possible interpretation is that their business is operating on a shoestring and they’re terrified that adding an extra 40 pages to a 400-page book will turn a profitable release into a loss. The implication, here again, is not pretty. The implication is that their marketing and promotion is not muscular enough to make up the deficit, no matter how good the book is.

See, if they had said, “Your opening chapter is too intense for YA, and also it’s confusing,” that would have been a valid reason for rejection. I would have said, “You’re probably right about the intensity, but there’s a vital in-story reason for the apparent confusion.” And then we could have a meaningful discussion about ways to revise the story, and they could end by saying, “No, that’s not going to work for us.” That would be entirely reasonable. It would also be courteous and respectful.

But of course such a thing never happens. To the publisher, novels are a commodity. They could be buying and selling bananas. An agent will cheerfully tell you, “I fell in love with this book!” (Or, more likely, “I want to find a book I fall in love with.”) But for an agent, the words “in love with” mean exactly the same thing as, “can be sold to a publisher.” It’s all bananas.

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