Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Haunting of the Submission

I’d been lugging around this five pound manuscript for almost a week. It was a submission from a first-time author—an adventure and love story set in a far-off magical world. Not my usual cup of tea.

It came in last week. Once I was asked to read it, I dutifully printed it out and set it on my desk. And then I ignored it.

After a day or two, the manuscript began staring at me and appeared to grow in size. But I just couldn’t get to it.

I finally took a chunk of pages home with me, stuffing it in my bag. I pulled it out on the subway, like a rabbit out of a hat, in a row of tightly packed passengers.

I wanted the submission to be bad. Really bad. As in, I didn’t have to read more than ten pages to dismiss it and type up a report about how I wasn’t won over by the writing. (An editor here says he knows by page thirty whether he likes something or not—a good rule to follow.) But of course—cause lately nothing is simple—the novel was pretty good.

Crap. Now I had to read the whole thing, cause if you plan on writing a glowing report, well, you better know what happens in the end.

I figured I’d finish the manuscript at work. I didn’t want to bring it home again. I had other things I was reading and enjoying in a much more convenient size. But things got busy and reading the 400 page novel was not going to happen anytime soon at my desk. And I was running out of time.

When a submission comes in, and you are asked to read it, you have to read it fast. You want to avoid the agent following up on it, and the editor asking you about it and having to confess that you haven’t read it yet. It's a bad feeling.

Every time I looked, it was as if the manuscript had a time bomb strapped to it. Finish me. Finish me.

I started carrying the manuscript everywhere; anywhere I could get a few pages in. The novel’s protagonist became my little buddy. Always there, at Duane Reade, waiting for the light to change.

I thought, surely, in all my wandering around the city with the manuscript, the man who wrote it would recognize the words on the page and accost me. You are reading my manuscript? Did you finish it? Did you like it?

Well, brothers and sisters, I did finally finish it last night in the comfort of my bedroom. And I typed up a report before anyone asked about it. Phew, disaster avoided. The thing is, I doubt we will publish it. But maybe in a year or two, I’ll see a review of the novel in the pages of PW, maybe with a new title, but I’ll recognize the author’s name, and I’ll think, wow, you and me once had quite the week together.

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