We reject a lot of manuscripts. We’re bound to: we’re a small publisher with an open submissions policy, and we publish far fewer books each year than are submitted. I want to share with you why we make offers on the ones we do, why we reject the others, and why you should be glad to be rejected, some of the time.
First up: even if your book is brilliant, it may not fit with a publisher’s objectives. If you have written a novel which is destined in the future to win the Booker, chances are that we at Snowbooks will reject you. We have an editorial policy driven primarily by our own entirely subjective tastes, combined with a forecast of what we think we can sell. Since we have collectively loathed most winners of the Booker for the last decade it’s unlikely that an excellent example of modern fiction will find a home on our list – regardless of whether other people would appreciate it or how many prizes it has a chance of winning. And if you’ve written something which is breathtaking in its mould-breaking originality, we’re unlikely to go for it, despite its genius. We are interested in books which we can sell – and, without huge budgets to break a new genre into the market, this often means books which are easily defined.
As an author of fiction, you're presenting something which is very much part of your soul to corporations who are, by definition, soulless. That's not to say that people in publishing aren't nice. I'm nice. But I'm running a business whose first priority is to keep trading: we owe it to our present and future authors and to ourselves. We're no use to anyone if we go bust. The need for commerciality, which all publishers share to one degree or another, doesn't often sit happily with an author's need for artistic expression.
The books that we do make offers on tend to be brilliantly written, but they also have to tick boxes. Genre, for instance: the areas where we've historically had success are natural areas of focus for us, but our focus does evolve and authors aren't necessarily to know this. Length: we're not likely to publish anything under 70,000 words or over 180,000. Attitude of the author is also a consideration: we've turned down books in the past which fit our editorial plans perfectly but the author seemed to be the sort of person we'd rather not work with.
If we were to sign up a book which we knew to be outstanding, but it was outside of our sphere of ability or interest, we wouldn’t be doing you a favour. If we don’t have the right contacts at retailers, publications, websites and distributors, or the right touch for cover design, or editorial competence, we’re not going to be able to do your book justice. If your book is within our sphere but we don’t fall in love with it – a state which is highly subjective, impossible to explain and difficult to predict – we’re not going to have the passion to evangelise about it to the degree necessary in an industry where over 100,000 books are created every year.
Many authors think of getting a publishing contract as being the end goal, but soon discover that publishing is just a business. Not all is rosy the other side of the publishing deal and though those rejection slips may sting, sometimes they avoid a lot more disappointment.
In 2003 Emma Barnes, along with Rob Jones, founded Snowbooks. Since then they’ve won the Small Publisher of the Year Nibbie, the Innovation Nibbie and the Trade Publisher of the Year IPA award. They’ve sold nearly a million pounds worth of books, and at a party to celebrate successful business women, Emma met the Queen, at which point all her principles went out the window and she curtseyed.