Monthly Archives: July 2011

Acceptance Criteria…

Two weeks ago I promised I would talk about what our criteria is for accepting manuscripts. So without further ado, here are the three things we consider when reviewing a manuscript:

  1. Is it a well written and interesting manuscript? I received a fortune cookie recently that said “Quality isn’t expensive. It’s priceless.” I have to admit I couldn’t have said this better if I tried. The first time you put out anything other than a quality product people will remember. We receive plenty of queries where the plot is interesting but the writing needs a lot of works. Likewise, we receive submissions where the writing is exceptional but the book doesn’t grab our interest. In both cases we reject the manuscript and send the author a nice note explaining why.
    There is one important thing worth mentioning at this point. If a book doesn’t grab our interest, does this mean the book would not be of interest to others? No, but if a publisher isn’t truly excited by your book then you are better off finding another publisher, because that lack of excitement will show in everything a publisher does.
  2. Can I sell the book at a profit? Publishing is a business, and businesses that don’t worry about being profitable will soon be out of business. This is why most publishers will pass on a 250,000 word manuscript in a genre where the average retail price is under $15; it’s because they most likely can’t print the book at a profit. This is also why a publisher probably won’t publish your novel written entirely in Haiku – a manuscript which is not commercially viable (meaning it will sell enough copies to make a profit) is not a good investment of time or resources for any publisher. Does this mean you shouldn’t write your short story collection, your book of poetry, or that novel in Haiku? No, but it does mean you should be prepared to be as creative when trying to publish your book as you were when you wrote it. You should also try to find a publisher that specialized in these types of book to give your manuscript the greatest chance for success.
  3. Is the author someone I want to work with for the next 4-7 years? I know you are probably all shocked that I put this on the list, but I feel it’s just as important as the first two criteria. The reason can best be demonstrated by an example. Last week we received two queries where in both cases the synopsis and sample chapters were missing. Because we understand that some authors do not get our submissions information from our website, we sent a nice email saying that we would start reviewing the manuscripts as soon as we had received these items. Both authors replied that they in fact had seen our submissions guidelines but insisted we review nothing less than the full manuscript – in fact, they both implied that anything less would be a waste of time. This tells me two things. First, that both authors believed their time was more important than mine, and second that the authors will be difficult to work with. Both authors were sent rejections with no further review of their work.

Signing a publishing agreement with an author means that a publisher is making a long term commitment to that author’s work. A publisher isn’t going to do that unless the work is a quality manuscript which can be sold at a profit written by an author who will not be difficult to work with.

One final thought. As an author, you should have the same criteria for selecting a publisher. You should always look for a publisher who produces quality work and gets excited about the books they are publishing. You should not be shy about asking what the publisher’s plans are for distributing your manuscript, and you should make sure that the publisher is in fact someone you wish to spend the next 4-7 years working with. Anything less will make publishing your book a less than enjoyable experience.

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Yes, I’m a prude…

Last week I commented on a submission we received where, upon rejection, the author sent a few nasty emails; in one he referred to me as a “tool of the publishing elite”. This type of thing would actually be pretty funny if it didn’t happen as often as it does. The sad truth is we get emails all the time from authors asking what’s wrong with us and why we have failed to see the genius of their writing. So this week I want to talk about what happens when we receive your query. Next week I will discuss our criteria for accepting manuscripts.

When a query arrives at Divertir Publishing, our Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Harvey reads the query letter to determine if the manuscript would be of interest to us. As I’ve stated elsewhere, there are some things we are just not interested in publishing. This is not a commentary on an author’s writing, but rather on my tastes. Yes, I’m a prude, which is why we won’t publish erotica.

The important point here is that if the query letter does not pique our interest the query is rejected. I estimate about 60% of the queries we’ve received so far this year were rejected after reading the query letter. Now I know some of you are thinking, “Wow, you didn’t even read my sample chapters. How could you possibly know if my writing is any good?” The answer is that your query letter is supposed to convey that. This is why countless advice columns and books on writing say that the query letter is so important – a publisher just isn’t going to invest the time required to review a complete query that doesn’t make them curious from the very start.

For queries that pique our interest an editor is assigned to review the query. The editor will first read the synopsis (or chapter outline) to see if the plot is interesting (or for nonfiction if the book provides useful and interesting information). A synopsis should be brief and convey the important aspects of the manuscript. The goal is to keep us interested in the manuscript at this point and not to disclose every subplot in the story. Truth be told, we will often request a full manuscript based on an intriguing synopsis even if the sample chapters need work (for example, if the sample chapters contain too much backstory).

If we are still interested in the manuscript after reviewing the synopsis we read the sample chapters. What we are really looking for at this point is how well an author writes (remember, we have already been convinced the plot of the manuscript is interesting based on the synopsis). While we understand that mistakes happen, a manuscript with too many spelling and grammatical mistakes is, quite frankly, not enjoyable to read and will usually be rejected. The reason for this (at least for me) is that I find myself mentally editing the manuscripts while I’m reading them, which takes away from my ability to just sit back, relax, and enjoy reading the sample.

If, after reviewing your query, we are interested in further review we will request a complete manuscript. When reviewing the full manuscript we look for the same things we look for in the synopsis and sample chapters: Is the manuscript well written and interesting?

The reason for our submissions guidelines is that using this process allows us to process queries in the shortest amount of time possible. While I understand that just sending the full manuscript is easier for the author, this would require us to invest a large amount of time in reviewing each manuscript to determine if the topic is even of interest to us. This, in turn, would result is us reviewing far fewer manuscripts. I hope that explaining the process will give authors a better understanding as to why following the guidelines is important.

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Tools of the Publishing Elite…

Last summer I agreed to read a manuscript for a friend of a friend. The book told the story of a cross country road trip by four frat boys which goes horribly wrong. While I won’t disclose the plot, the manuscript included a 127 year old witch that sucked the life out of the frat boys to stay young (you’ll need to use your imagination here). Upon checking, I determined that the author had already published the manuscript with a vanity press and in fact didn’t own the rights. Trying to be helpful, I sent the author a very nice email explaining why I couldn’t publish the manuscript. Big mistake…

Within the next hour I had received four emails from the author, each one worse than the last. In one, the author said I had “limited vision for failing to see the genius of his writing” (seriously) and called me a “tool of the publishing elite”. It was at that moment that Divertir Publishing implemented the policy of blocking the email addresses of authors who send unprofessional communications to us. Life is just too short.

For the past three blogs I’ve been talking about a manuscript I really liked but that went way above our word count. It may surprise everyone that last night I sent a contract to the author of this manuscript. Assuming all goes well with the contract, we will be publishing Elizabeth Young’s second book “Fugo”. So what changed? Simple. I worked to come up with a typesetting format that would be easy to read while getting more words to a page, while Elizabeth agreed to try and get the word count down to what the new format would support.

You’re probably wondering why I bothered to do this extra work – we’ve had close to 200 queries since we started accepting submissions in January and have no shortage of manuscripts to choose from. Again, the answer is simple:

  • The manuscript was well written and told a great story.
  • When we originally rejected the story (and took the time to tell the author why), the author behaved in a professional manner and offered to work with us to address the issues and resubmit.

This is not the first time a rejection has become an acceptance when resubmitted. Recently one of our editors rejected a manuscript assigned to her for review. The author sent a very nice email asking for advice on how to improve the manuscript. Our Acquisitions Editor, Elizabeth Harvey, agreed to talk with the author after reviewing the manuscript and determining that, while it needed work, overall it was a good story. As a result of these conversations, the author reworked and resubmitted the manuscript. I sent out a contract to the author of this manuscript last night as well. I won’t spoil it for the author by mentioning his name here in case he has not read his email yet.

Not every rejection will be accepted on resubmission – there are just some stories that don’t catch our interest, and to be honest in that instance an author is better off if we’re not their publisher. But even if your query was rejected, a publisher will probably remember if you were professional when reviewing future manuscripts you submit. They will also remember if you were not. What authors need to remember is that when a publisher offers you a contract the publisher is agreeing to make a financial investment in your work. They are also agreeing to a long term relationship to work with you. A publisher is going to be less likely to do this if you call them a “tool of the publishing elite”.

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