Is there anything that throws the balance of power between editor and writer out of whack more decisively than submitting a manuscript on an exclusive and open-ended basis?
No? So why do we do it? Why do so many of us let our manuscripts linger with individual editors for longer than the gestational periods of our larger mammals?
I think it’s because we buy into the notion that children’s publishing is always a buyer’s market. While that may be true in a general sense — the law of supply and demand ensures that publishers are never hurting for submissions — I think we’ve got it backwards when it comes to individual manuscripts. When you or I write something, it’s a unique organic compound of our own sweat and imagination. It also happens to be a product, and if it’s a good one, then the law of supply and demand swings in our favor — we control an extremely tight supply of something valuable.
But that advantage goes POOF! if we artificially limit the demand by letting an individual editor have that manuscript for as long as she pleases. I also know from personal experience and from e-mails from various friends that it also makes us cranky and frustrated and bitter. We shouldn’t do that to ourselves. It’s completely avoidable.
(If we’re actively working pre-contract with an editor on a manuscript they’ve got exclusively and have had for some time, that’s different. In those cases, we’re getting something useful that will be of benefit to us whether the manuscript eventually sells to that editor or not.)
At the annual SCBWI conference in L.A. a couple of years ago, Arthur Levine told a crowd of us something that really clicked for me. He said we each need to figure out for ourselves how long we’re comfortable with an editor having a manuscript exclusively. “If it’s six weeks, it’s six weeks,” he said. No need to be antagonistic or emotional about it — it’s purely professional. Made sense to me.
Not that I’ve stuck to that ever since. Not that I’m sticking to it at this very writing, even. But it’s what I shoot for.