Writer questions how to handle presses who don't always treat writers well
Withdraw your manuscript. This press clearly doesn’t intend to publish it. Don’t make a big deal of it. Just politely take it back and call it a day.
I hope this isn't the only place you've submitted your manuscript. If it is, submit elsewhere now! And write off the submission fee. Move on.
I would withdraw the manuscript and post on Writers Beware.
Dear P, this is awful. I am sorry you've had such a terrible experience with this publisher. Only you know what is right for you, but it sounds like you are waiting to start... a bad relationship with them. They've already shown what they're made of.
Also, if I understand correctly, you mentioned your writer friends as a major reason why you have not taken firmer action so far. You have not, however, mentioned your friends' reactions to the situation. Have you discussed it with them? Not that they need to give their approval, but I wonder if they might feel differently than what you imagine.
In any case, there are lots of publishers out there that do good work. You don't need to settle for subpar business practices. And while you are stuck in this no-go situation, you are not free for better opportunities. I truly wish you luck!
I think there are two issues here. The first is, what should you in particular do? The Editor gave you a sense of hope that s/he might be interested and you clearly wanted to publish the work with that Press, for whatever reason. It doesn't matter if you paid a submission fee: If you're a writer, such fees are tax write-offs, so fuggedaboutit. The second is, should you reveal to the world that The Editor and his/her press are abusive to help other writers avoid what you are going through? This has its risks because the world of publishing is hideously cliquey and small and it never pays to badmouth folks — even when they deserve it. I'd take your book elsewhere. My thinking is as follows: When a submissions process is abusive, *every part of your process with this publisher will be abusive*. The contract will be shit. The design will be shit. The marketing will be shit. The sales statements will be shit. Because this publisher, while s/he may not be a bad person per se, does not have his/her act together. I do think, however, that writers and translators need a way to anonymously report lousy treatment by magazines and book publishers. How would this work? I don't know. But I have gotten involved in book deals that ate a lot of my life and talent and treated me as if writing and translating were some kind of hobby I'd picked up along the way rather than my profession, and I wish I had known about their unprofessionalism before getting involved.
If presses have required and accepted a submission fee from authors, I believe that they have an obligation to send those authors a decision, however brief. Silence is an abdication of moral responsibility—as well as being simply rude. You have waited a more-than-reasonable amount of time for a decision from this publisher. I echo the advice from others here to withdraw your submission and send your work elsewhere. I hope that you will see an acceptance for it soon!
X.P. Callahan's response is the bottom line, I think. But it also depends on your temperament and perspective about a larger issue: what do we do with anger and hurt, the kind that is righteous and unfair and has implications for other people too? This problem is in that category for me. I don't have an answer either, but X.P.'s may work better for some than others. Going public and more full-bore in your criticism entails the collateral damage that P outlined and that I would want to avoid. Yeah, take the manuscript back and move on, (making sure to tell publisher x why in clear, respectful terms), but never underestimate their (negative) karma, and your power with quiet word-of-mouth warnings about publisher x to your peers. Word gets around. Same, I believe, goes with praise and appreciation for the good guys.
I feel for you. I have also been a victim of those presses. And there are a couple of other ones that are the same. You pay the fee, three years later, they have not announce the winner of that contest. Rather than name names, which I should, I am going to mention someone who simply washes their hands as all this happens and does not seem to do anything about it. Submittable. They make money as well. And in several occasions, I contacted them and explained that I have three submissions to yearly contest. They danced around. They did not see anything wrong with those practices. So those publications are still making money, alive and well with access to hundreds of naively hopeful writers.
P, this is a horrible situation to be stranded in. But I see another course of action. You're not in a scarcity economy concerning options of where to send manuscripts. You sound like you have wide enough literary circles to identify other suitable presses. Perhaps you should question why you're acting like you have no other options.
You've been generous with how much response time you've given this editor. May I say, probably too generous? I don't think I'd wait half that time. And I'd certainly have it out on simultaneous submission if that's an option. At this point, I'd do one of two things:
a) Send the editor a to-the-point email, giving them a short deadline (say, one month) to read & respond, otherwise you will withdraw your manuscript. Also state you've had interest from other editors / presses (whether true or not, this person needs reminding they're not the only small press on the planet). If you don't get ACTION, start looking for better homes.
b) Don't give this editor any more opportunites & withdraw immediately. They may have done good things for writers you know , but they're clearly not doing right by you.
You've already wiled away 3 years. Your book could be published by now & garnering you further opportunities. If your book contains journal-published material, know the worth of your work & that it will find a better home. I wouldn't waste time or energy bad-mouthing them - certainly not online - that can backfire. Good luck to you!
Orgs like CLMP or Duotrope or Submittable etc need to use their presence to call them out for their “bad habits”... writers deserve to know what to expect and whether to take the risk.
I don't think we should ever pay a submission fee to a book publisher no matter how good their list is.
Just a reminder: Steel Toe Books is now under the auspices of C&R Press. This fact re-intruded into my awareness this week when I received an email urging me to submit a manuscript to Steel Toe's latest contest scam. Poets, don't submit there!
This past year I finally "called it a day" with a publisher who accepted a manuscript of essays back in 2019, one I even signed a publishing contract with. Since Covid occurred in the midst of our "negotiations" I gave some slack for minimum communication on their part . (It was always polite but lacking in any concrete detailed substance about what was really happening with the manuscript. Then there would be months of silence unless I initiated contact again.) At the tale end of 2022 I saw they put out a specific call for poetry manuscripts and feeling as if dialing a nightmare I went ahead and sent in a manuscript. That one too was accepted, the publisher reiterating how they wanted to do the essays book still too, and asking which manuscript I wanted them to go with first. I let them know to go with the essays one though I also shared how I felt they would know better than me what market trends were like for their titles/genres regarding which one they should indeed decide upon. Again I did not hear back for quite some time and wound up withdrawing both manuscripts stating: "Ghosting and gaslighting from publisher with silences which last for months and really, now into a couple of years. Not only is this unprofessional but on a basic human level - it is hugely a disrespectful (even emotionally cruel) way to have treated a writer's bone-marrow derived work. Do not say you will publish and then dodge behind a smoke screen and not hold up your end of responsibility regarding the collaboration process." It was really depressing and somewhat frightening to have this be the denouement, wondering if any retaliation might also follow. The two books were of LGBTQI themes the publisher has a reputation for publishing -but the gist of this experience was that this publisher ruined any initial joy I felt at finally getting my book of essays published and it has certainly made me leery about trying to publish it (or anything) at all.
By all means, withdraw the submission. One year is plenty of time.
Years ago, before email was common, my first literary agent never answered phone calls. I stuck with her for at least a year because she represented Saul Bellow, took me to lunch, was high on my novel. But not knowing who was reading my book beyond a brief note that "Scribner thinks the book is too short" made me give up waiting. I sent a polite letter--by registered mail--ending the relationship.
If I read this correctly, you submitted your whole manuscript and a submission fee? I would be hesitant to send any submission fees. So many traditional presses will accept submissions without fees and never charge you a dollar to publish your books.
Regardless of any other hesitations, I assume the publisher has submission info on their website. So, I would check to make sure I followed all the directions explicitly. (Many publishers will toss your work if you did not follow their guidelines. They want someone who can follow directions.) If they ask for only the first three chapters, is that what I sent? Or did they ask for the full manuscript? If they have their style preferences on the website, or they use CMOS (which version?), did they post that on their website, and did I follow it? Do they say how long to wait before submitting to another publisher? If so, then if that period has expired, my work is free to be submitted elsewhere.
If they don't have a time limit listed on their site, and you want your work to be free of their consideration (so you can submit it elsewhere), you should be able to write them. Thank them for considering your work, but let them know it's been longer than you expected and you are withdrawing your submission. (No, you probably won't get your fee back.)
Many publishers post a max consideration time on their site. A lot of them won't write you back if your work has been rejected. I always did, but that was because it was important to me, so I found the time to jot that note as a courtesy to the authors who worked hard to get it right when they submitted, or to suggest that someone do that next time.
For me, I would steer clear of most publishers who charge for submissions or don't have a time period listed regarding when my work is free from their consideration. And always remember that the words you share with other writers can come back to bite you as you float through the industry. We all say stuff without thinking about the consequences, but it's best to hold back or share with someone like Writer Beware, who can share it anonymously with other writers, if necessary.
I hope this helps. Sorry you've experienced this.