Over the last few months, I have been dealing with a fair amount of "attitude" on the part of writers - mostly, but not exclusively, of the unpublished variety.
First, I expressed interest in a manuscript and emailed the writer with some questions. He answered snippily, telling me that I was to take his manuscript as is, as he wasn't willing to make any changes. Because the manuscript had potential but was average at best, I simply deleted his response. Then, while attending a conference, I encouraged a writer who had a terrific idea and asked her to send me the manuscript. (Note: This was a writer who does not have an agent, or who did not have one at the time we spoke.) Her response: "If I'm going to give it to a small publisher, I might as well publish it myself." Finally, I spoke with an author whose first book was a moderate success but whose work in progress is far below the standard set by the first book. Author's response to me: "Well, this is what I want to do."
Listen, I feel your pain. I understand your frustration. This is an unpredictable - and often downright flaky industry. There are plenty of frauds out there who don't know what they're doing and who sell you a bundle of dreams while taking your money. But, to take the above experiences in order:
#1 - If you queried me about publishing your book, doesn't that mean you want to work with a professional editor and publisher?
#2 - If you don't have an agent, and a convention has paid for a reputable small press editor (i.e., me) to attend, don't you think you might want to at least explore the possibilities, in the EXTREMELY LIKELY case that you can't find an agent to take you on and you DON'T get signed by Knopf?
# 3 - If the advice I've offered has helped make your first book a success, why would my advice suddenly become useless as you're writing your next book?
What it all comes down to, I'm sorry to say, is the idea that vanity publishing/self-publishing is the path to all writer's goals. I've ridden this hobby horse before, and I know it's controversial, so I won't get into that - as I'm not going to change anybody's mind about it, and nobody is going to change mine.
But I'm trying to make a specific point here: EVERY WRITER NEEDS AN EDITOR. I know these blog posts at Mysterious Matters would be better if I had someone read and comment on them before I hit the "publish" key. And sometimes when I read earlier posts, I fixate on all the ways they could have been better, if I'd asked for some feedback from someone I respect.
All of the above scenarios have one truism at their core: "I, the writer, know best. I don't need professional guidance in terms of my career or manuscript. If nobody out there wants my piece of perfection, then I'll publish it myself and make all the money."
My friends, that is the approach of a narcissistic amateur. Your book isn't about YOU. It's about whether READERS want to buy it or not.
Every professional - including every professional writer - knows that he or she cannot do it alone. If your manuscript keeps getting rejected, it's for a reason that almost any of us who work in this industry could summarize in one sentence. Are you really going to grow in your craft by thinking that there's nothing anyone can teach you?
It's true, when I get query letters in which the writer tells me about his or her membership in a writer's group, I sometimes roll my eyes - because who's to say whether the people in the group have good taste or not? BUT: this signals to me that the writer wants to be commercially successful. S/he wants to understand how readers perceive the work and whether s/he is accomplishing her goals. In essence, the writer is saying: I want this to be the best it can be, and I can't do that alone.
And to those people I say: You are the successful novelists of tomorrow.
(Enraged readers may now commence to send me nasty emails about painting all vanity published authors with one brush; regale me with tales of 50 Shades of Gray and professional publishers not knowing their asses from a hole in the ground; etc.)