The basic premise of your editorial in the December 2000 issue (“Publishers behaving badly”) was quite reasonable. Publishers should indeed accept or reject submissions, or discuss a continuation of consideration with authors within three months.
Unfortunately, the editorial tends to leave the impression that it is standard for publishers not to do so, and uses a few extreme examples in a way that would lead the reader to assume this was the case.
Despite the fact that some publishers receive 500-1000 unsolicited manuscripts in a year, most are immediately acknowledged and processed promptly. Consideration often does take time, and this is for two main reasons. One is that in many houses such decisions are taken after discussion amongst many staff; and it may be a month before the title even makes it to a publishing committee for serious discussion. The second is that the decision to publish is, in effect, a major investment for a publisher, and these decisions are not taken lightly.
Regarding your examples, I would just offer the following:
- There will always be some examples of slothful response, but they should be placed in context.
- For a publisher not to catalogue a title indicates an oversight of considerable proportion, but since it would be a very costly oversight, it isn’t likely to be done for reasons of “half-heartedness”.
- It is rare for publishers not to pay royalties due, so the example is mischievous rather than helpful.
Suggesting the adoption of a three-month rule is helpful, though many publishers would say that they operate within that already. It is a pity that such a positive suggestion was so negatively wrapped.
Book Publishers’ Association of New Zealand
[The editors welcome Mr Chapman’s positive response to our proposed “three-month rule”, but they would like to point out that the examples chosen are authentic and, with one exception, by no means isolated. They were not put forward in a spirit of mischief.]