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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.