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.