The important thing to understand is that publishers are people, and they’re driven by the same motives as anyone else. They want to publish successful books, be associated with successful authors—and nurture their own authors to success.
(Most publishers and editors for fiction are women, but the few male publishers and editors share equally in this particular nurturing instinct.)
The ultimate dream is to nurture to success an author you’ve discovered yourself. So why aren’t more new authors discovered? The simple answer is time, time, time.
Every publisher would love to give full attention to every MS. Unfortunately, this would require a thousandfold increase in the number of publishers, and there’s no money to pay them. In fact, there seems to be less and less money to maintain even the existing number; and in the meanwhile, publishers have more and more calls upon their time. Giving talks, appearing on panels, launching and promoting—such public profile activities are a large part of every publisher’s job description nowadays.
Okay, here’s my personal editing experience. Long ago, I helped out with the editing of New Poetry magazine, reading and evaluating piles upon piles of submitted poems and short prose pieces. Nowhere near as demanding as novels, yet my eyes and brain soon began to glaze over. It’s really difficult to bring full attention and receptivity to one MS after another after another.
What’s more, after a while you get used to the fact that most of the best stuff comes from name authors—or name poets, in my case. You still dream a making a new discovery, you still struggle to keep your mind open and ready for the unexpected. But it is a struggle, and I doubt anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine how hard it is.
Most of all, you can’t help getting used to the fact that you’re far more likely to reject than accept. When I did my bit of poetry magazine editing, the odds were something like one acceptance to 300 rejections. Take out the name poets, and it would have been one to a thousand. And when you’re expecting that you’ll have to reject a submission even before you’ve started reading … well, you get the picture.
The more I know about book publishers, the more I believe they’re far far better than anyone has a right to expect. In spite of the vast quantities of reading they do, in spite of the overwhelming probability of rejecting rather than accepting, they still manage to maintain an amazing degree of freshness and enthusiasm. Certainly far more than I could ever maintain. And I only did my bit of poetry magazine editing for three months!
In an ideal world, every MS would be read as an ordinary reader reads a book—with concentration, with enjoyment, with full engagement. But then an ordinary reader often has a whole week to spend on a single book! All publishers would love to have that luxury.
If you’re an undiscovered talent, please don’t turn against publishers who reject you. They do want to find you, they really do. But a barrage of factors outside of their control—outside of anyone’s control—stand in the way. Allow for the factors and hang on to the truth: deep down, you are their ultimate dream.