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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Novel Approach Might Work

The countdown starts. Another launch into cyberspace. Another spaceshuttle Endeavour rocketing off to the unknown world of Planet Publisher. At my console, in the control room, the mood is one of relief. Two years of intensive effort have gone into this particular launch. And it’s been fraught with set-backs: structural faults, scheduling problems, plotting issues, computer glitches, rigorous assessments, and the occasional burn-out. There were times when the project seemed unlikely to get off the ground. But now the manuscript is complete. It’s been read and reread. Checked and rechecked for syntax errors and typography. Now the work must stand on its own. I press SEND, and fire it away to a publisher’s in-tray.

At this point, the quantum mechanics of publishing comes into effect. My inbox has become a Schrödinger’s cat-box. It’s a well-known paradox. Postulated in 1935 by scientist Erwin Schrödinger, it’s the conundrum involving a cat, a radioactive source, a Geiger counter and a flask of poison, all enclosed in a sealed box. The theory says if the Geiger counter detects a random radioactive decay, it will cause the flask to be shattered, releasing the poison and killing the cat. While the box is unopened, the outcome is unknown. In fact, as long as the cat remains sealed in the box, it is both alive and dead. Schrödinger’s paradox is exactly the case when you send your work off for publication. What will be the outcome when you open your inbox? Will your story be accepted or rejected? Alive or Dead? [Note: Schrödinger’s was purely a thought experiment, which means no actual moggies were killed.]

Recently, I submitted a short story to an American magazine. While it was away, I pretended not to care about the outcome. With studied nonchalance, I got on with my life. Then, two weeks later, I received a reply. I was afraid to open it, to let the hypothetical cat out of the bag. Until I clicked, there was a chance my story might still be accepted. But nothing could be resolved until I looked. I hesitated, clicked. Another rejection. This time, I was soothed by the editor’s personal letter. No reflection on the story’s quality, she noted, but rather the 750 submissions received, with space for only seven.

So as Schrödinger contends, the outcome, be it positive or negative, is resolved only when one looks. Perhaps the trick is to resolve positively that the cat is still alive. Even better, I resolve to send my novel only to publishers known to love cats. That way, I know for sure I’ll be rocketing my way to the bestseller lists.


Published in B.O.P. Times, 15 May 2010


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