I saw this comment from Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent for Christian literature, on her blog today. I thought it was a pretty nifty analogy so I wanted to share.

First she said:

You realize, of course, that it’s not necessary for an editor or agent to read a whole manuscript to determine if it’s a “no.” Usually a few pages will do it. It usually does take a read of the entire thing to determine if it’s a “yes,” however.

So really the only two things we can say after a brief meeting and a quick read of a few pages is either “no” or “maybe.”

Which is so true. When I do a call for anthologies, and get all those submissions, I don’t read the entire manuscript of all of them. Only those I think I might like to publish, which, once narrowed down means I usually am only reading the full manuscript of probably 7 or 8. Of upwards to 60 submissions. The other 50? I read the first page, the first couple pages and very rarely the first chapter. I use the anthology as an example, but this is true for all submissions I read. Most often, I can tell in the first page if I’m interested in the book, the writing, the craft, and the voice.

I know this is often hard for authors to understand, but I love Rachel’s analogy in her next comment:

Okay, I’ve been thinking more about Inspire’s comment, and my response. I know it must be hard to understand or accept the truth of what I said, and certainly impossible to like it. But here’s an analogy I think will help.

I went shopping this week for some new clothes. I pored through racks fairly quickly. “No, no, no, no… ” Then I would stop at one thing. “Hmm. Maybe.” And I’d grab that item to take to the fitting room and try on.

I noticed how quickly my eyes and hands could take in a LOT of information about each item of clothing I was rejecting. Color, style, size, texture, pattern, fabric… so many things about each item of clothing registered in my brain in a millisecond. It was easy to instantly reject the ones that didn’t fit what I was looking for.

But the ones that looked, in a glance, to have something I WAS looking for, those I needed to spend some time with.

And here’s the kicker. I would not have been able to tell you “exactly” what I was looking for, except for some basics: business clothing, my size. Other than that, it was wide open. I couldn’t explain it, but I’d know it when I saw it. And I’d know when I wasn’t looking at it, too.

So that’s kind of how it is when we look at those proposals and one sheets and first pages, and listen to the verbal pitch. It sometimes feels harsh from the other side, but the thought process is something like, “no, no, no… hmmm, maybe.”

Yes. And again yes.

There are other intersting comments in that post, go check them out and add your own. I enjoy reading Rachelle’s blog because she’s got interesting insight into publishing that I so often agree with and find myself nodding vehemently. And I also enjoy it because she specializes in Christian literature which I’m less familiar with, and reading her blog has really helped me become better informed about that corner of publishing.

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