I keep thinking about some stuff that Todd said, in response to some stuff I said (along with some other people). He said that he doesn't like the idea of an editor reading a partial book and then deciding it's not worth seeing the rest of the book before making his decision that he's not interested in buying said book. And Todd says this is because he generally gives books at least 50 pages before he decides they're not interesting enough to keep reading, 'cause he knows that some very good books are slow starters. All well and good, but I think he's missing two things:
- Todd's reading already-published books -- while most of these are mediocre at best, they are far far better on average than what an editor sees, which is often frankly unreadable. With that three-chapters-and-an-outline (honestly, usually with just the first few pages), an editor can winnow out of that vast mass of manuscripts the ones that are not just slow to start, but which are truly terrible -- badly-written, badly-conceived, sheer misery for anyone who loves the English language to be forced to wade through. An editor doesn't need to read the whole book in those cases -- it's clear much more quickly that the book is unpublishable.
- Sometimes books are unpublishable by a particular editor not because they're slow or badly-written, but because they're not market-appropriate. And this is something else that an editor can tell from three-chapters-and-an-outline. It could be completely the wrong genre -- a gory real-world horror piece sent to an editor who handles hard sf. Such a manuscript might be redirected in-house, sent to the appropriate editor who handles the gory horror stuff. Or it could be that the press doesn't do horror at all, or that they're overstocked on horror for the next year or two to come, and they know that they either a) won't be allowed to buy such a book (by the higher-ups in the company) or b) won't have the marketing resources to sell it properly if they do buy it. In the latter case, it's actually doing a disservice to the author to buy and publish the book -- better that it try its luck at another press that isn't overstocked. And the rejection isn't as much of a tragedy as it seems, even for this press -- because if they liked the writing in those three chapters and an outline, they'll tell you that, and indicate that they're interested in seeing other work from you in an area where they *can* use it.
But the main point I was making here is that three-chapters-and-an-outline can be sufficient for editor to know that this isn't the time, or the place, for them to publish your book, for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with whether it's a good book or not. (Sort of like meeting an attractive, interesting, funny, sweet man, but finding out in the first hour of conversation that he's a devout orthodox Jew, that he wants twelve children, and that he plans to live in rural Iowa, on a farm, with a wife who'll get up at five to milk the cows. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but he's clearly not the man for me. :-)