Monthly Archives: February 2011

Simultaneous Submissions…

Last week I wrote a blog explaining our policies regarding submissions. I didn’t cover our policies regarding simultaneous submission and previously published manuscripts. A submission we received this week suggested I should have…

The submission contained a brief query letter and a synopsis. Upon reading the synopsis we liked the overall story and requested the full manuscript. The response we received back from the author read something like:

I must admit that I’ve only just read your submission guidelines. I have already submitted this manuscript to other publishers and have heard back from several editors. If this is a problem I will wait to send the manuscript to you until I have decisions from the other editors.

I must admit what really floored me wasn’t that the author had failed to follow our guidelines regarding simultaneous submissions, but rather that the author had not bothered to read the submission guidelines before sending her query. I then did a search on the author and found that the manuscript she had submitted had already recently been published by another small press, which most likely meant the author does not own the rights. We sent an email back to the author thanking her for her submission but stating that we did not accept simultaneous submissions and that we were no longer interested in her manuscript. We even took the time to explain why. The response we got back was:

I know it takes “a good deal of time to review a manuscript properly”. But it would take an eternity to find a publisher unless the author submits to various publishing houses and agencies. Most publishers understand that. But I respect your decision.

“Most publishers understand that.” If the author’s admission that she hadn’t read our submissions guidelines didn’t make me pause, that statement did. I guess I could comment that in fact most publishers won’t accept submissions directly from authors. Instead I want to explain our policy. The reason for the policy is quite simple:

We’re a small company.

The staff at Divertir Publishing currently consists of myself (as Publisher), Elizabeth Harvey (my business partner and our Acquisitions Editor), and two editors that work for us part time. As you could probably guess, because we are open to author submissions we get quite a few queries each day. This is why we require an initial query and synopsis – so we can review work from authors as quickly as possible. We can read several synopses in the same time it takes to read the first three chapters of a manuscript. If we do request a manuscript, it takes up to two weeks to thoroughly review the manuscript and to make useful comments for an author – unlike most publishers, if we don’t move forward with a manuscript after requesting it we like to tell an author why.

The amount of time we spend reviewing manuscripts means that, when we decide to review one author’s manuscript, we have in effect decided not to review another author’s manuscript. Reviewing manuscripts which we are not likely to publish, either because the author is already working with another publisher or because the work has already been published and the author does not own the rights, means that other authors won’t have the opportunity to have their work reviewed and possibly published. This is not fair to those other authors, especially if they have taken the time to read and follow our submissions guidelines.

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The Why of Submissions Guidelines…

Originally I was going to blog this week on our decision to publish short story collections. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the post office (ok, it happened at the post office). Amongst all the mail we receive there was a package containing a full length manuscript. When I got home I immediately checked our website, and sure enough my memory was not failing me. The website clearly states:

We only accept electronic submissions and queries.

I guess the fact that our Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Harvey also blogged about our submission guidelines this week suggests that this has become a bit of an issue for us. So I would like to discuss some of the reasons for our policies in the hope of clarifying the process. I would like to do this by responding to some questions and comments we’ve received over the past month.

Why do you require queries first? Why can’t I just send you my manuscript? As I discuss in my blog here, there are some things we will not publish. An initial query allows us to determine if we would be interested in your work and to respond back to you as quickly as possible.

How do you process queries? The first step in the process is that Elizabeth reads the query letter to determine how to handle the query. Queries for our short story and poetry collections are forwarded directly to the editor in charge of the collection, while Elizabeth does the initial review of all queries for full length manuscripts.

Is this why you require a query letter even for short stories and poems? Yes. If the query fails to mention which collection it is for, or worse fails to even mention whether it is for a short story or full length manuscript, we have no way of knowing what to do with the query without a lot of extra work on our part. Given the number of queries we received each day, we unfortunately have no choice but to reject the queries which do not include a query letter.

Why do you only accept electronic submissions? First, we keep a copy of every query and submission which is sent to us. It is easier for us to archive submissions which are sent electronically. Second, Elizabeth and I will often read your submissions on our electronic book readers (I have a Kindle and Elizabeth has a Nook), so it is easier for us to review your book if it is sent electronically.

Why must submissions be in Rich Text (rtf) Format? This is done to make review of your work easier for our editors. Requiring one format allows us to review your work without having to use multiple software packages. RTF can be saved and read by most word processing programs, so this should not be an issue.

Why do you require a synopsis? Why can’t I just send you the first three chapters? First, given the number of queries we receive each day, reading the first three chapters of every submission would just be too time consuming and would result in us taking a long time to respond to your query. Second, while the first three chapters will tell us whether you can write using correct grammar and spelling, truth be told it usually will not tell us much else. Most likely we will not be able to determine the full flavor of your plot, including any interesting plots twists that might really make your manuscript stand out, from the first three chapters. Most agents require a synopsis, so if you are serious about submitting your work for publication you should write one.

How can I make my query stand out? It seems we get a lot of queries where the author tries to do something in an attempt to stand out. One query was written like a business letter from the main character of the novel soliciting us to hire them to slay vampires. The problem is that I have no vampires that need slaying right now, and often these types of queries fail to include the information necessary for us to process the query. I sat down this morning to review our queries from the past month, and over 70% of the queries failed to follow the submission guidelines. So if you really want to stand out, in fact the best advice might be to include what we ask for in the query.

We receive 5-10 queries a day. Given the fact that we published our first short story collection less than six months ago, I expect this number to increase over time as we become better known. By adhering to the query guidelines you help us to process the queries we receive as quickly as possible, which leaves us more time for other things – like publishing books.

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The Company You Keep…

As an author, I don’t want any of my work to be professionally published unless I’ve had enough time to polish it and unless it – and the stories with which it keeps company – has been held to adequately high standards.

I should probably start by mentioning I’m sitting in a bar with a guy who normally sings “Friends in Low Places” at karaoke on Friday nights. Caveat Emptor…

I received the above quote as part of an email from an author who was wondering whether, as a small publisher, we ever need to compromise quality in order to obtain enough stories to publish some of our short story collections. This was a good question, and one that authors have a right to ask. In order to answer the question, I wanted to talk about how many submissions we receive and what happens to submissions when they arrive.

On an average day, we receive 5-10 queries. The first step in the process is that our acquisitions editor reads the query letters and decides if the query is worth forwarding to an editor for further review. Quite frankly, this is why your query letter is so important and why we require one. Next, an editor reviews the entire query. For novels (where we require a synopsis), the editor decides whether a complete manuscript should be requested. For short stories, a decision is made whether to recommend that a story be included in a collection. Once the final stories have been selected by the editor for a collection, they are sent to the publisher and acquisitions editor for review. At times these stories are sent out for additional peer review prior to acceptance to see how average readers respond to the stories. The publisher and acquisitions editor make the final selection of stories based on this review. Thus, even if a story is recommended by the editor, stories that do not pass the publisher and acquisition editor’s review are not accepted for publication.

As you can imagine, most of the stories we receive do not make it through this multi-person review process. So even with the number of queries we receive, the possibility exists that we will not have enough stories for a collection. While the simple solution would be to accept some stories that are “on the fence”, we choose instead to extend deadlines for submissions. In fact, recently the deadline for our Satire collection was extended because, although we had more than enough submissions to create the anthology, they were not of the quality we require. In this way we are always doing our best to assure that our readers are purchasing a book that will truly entertain.

The stories that are associated with an author’s story in an anthology – the “company they keep” – are important. This is why we work so hard to assure the books we publish are of the highest quality. Because, at the end of the day, we are also “keeping company” with the stories in that we are the ones who have selected them for publication. And the last thing we want is “Friends in Low Places” – unless we’re singing karaoke.

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What I like to read…

You’ve finished your award-winning manuscript. You’ve written a synopsis that leaves no doubt that you are a master of the written language and a query letter meant to elicit every emotion possible from the reader. You send these items off to a publisher you know is a perfect fit for your manuscript (assuming the publisher still accepts unsolicited submissions – let’s fantasize a little). Then, to your horror, the publisher passes on your manuscript.

It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

On the Divertir Publishing website we state that we are open to submissions in most genres except erotica. Yet every once in a while I still get approached by someone who wants to submit erotica. I’m told it’s the greatest thing I will ever read – a truly epic love story (just with a lot of sex). I always respond as politely as I can that I’m still not interested and refer people back to the website. What sometimes happens next is interesting to say the least. It’s pointed out to me some of the things I choose to publish (horror, short stories, and poetry) all have smaller markets than erotica. Clearly, I am told, I know little about the book business. Perhaps that’s true, but I do know one thing with certainty.

There are some things I just don’t like to read.

Most books on publishing give the same advice with regards to editorial policy: publish what you like to read. The reason for this is that you’re more likely to get exited about a book you enjoy. And this excitement will be seen by others in everything you do, from selecting the best cover to marketing the book. If, as a publisher, you lack excitement about a book it will be obvious to others. This will effect sales, whether you mean for it to or not.

As the publisher at Divertir, I personally read every manuscript, story and poem before it is accepted for publication. This is because, at the end of the day, I’m the one responsible for what we publish. When a manuscript is in a genre I don’t enjoy, it will be very hard for me to get exited about it. If I can’t get excited about your manuscript then, quite frankly, you don’t want me to be your publisher, because chances are good I’m not going to do everything I can to make it successful. This is one of the reasons we list the genres of particular interest on our website – these are the genres I like to read.

So the next time a publisher passes on your manuscript you should not let it discourage you. It may be something as simple as your manuscript not being their cup of tea. If that’s the case, they’re probably doing you a favor.

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