Recently author Tony Russo posted a blog about a manuscript he has submitted to Divertir Publishing for review. He had attended a “pitch workshop” for writers where he presented the pitch for his manuscript Vanquish to a panel of New York editors. The editors basically told him that a young adult alternate history novel about a young girl becoming a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain had no “shelf appeal” and that he should completely rewrite the book. The reason? None of the things in his book (like the fact it was set during World War II) would appeal to teen girls, who are the primary readers for this genre. To quote his blog:
So girls and vampires, yes; girl who shoots a bow and arrow in a dystopian future, yep; but a girl flying a Spitfire == no.
After working with the editors on what was “wrong” with his book, the pitch he finally presented was for a very different manuscript than Vanquish. I only have one issue with the advice from the editors who helped Tony rewrite his pitch:
I like the book the way it is.
The plot is very clever, and while I did not like one of the subplots and think the ending needs work, I think overall it’s a well-written manuscript. It could very well be that I’m nothing more than a “Tool of the Publishing Elite” who has no understanding of what gives a book “shelf appeal.” More likely, it’s a matter of taste. I’m not looking to publish the next Twilight – I’m looking for manuscripts that are different than what mainstream publishing has decided is the “format” that works for a particular genre. In short, I want to be the publisher who discovers the next format that has “shelf appeal” and not one who publishes books that stick to the current formats.
This is not to suggest that authors should not think about the “shelf appeal” of their manuscript – a 250 page novel written in Haiku is probably not going to be picked up by any publisher, no matter how clever an idea that might be. Readers of different genres expect certain things in the books they read, and to ignore this is to guarantee that your writing will never develop a readership. But the fact that your manuscript does not fit the “format” for a genre does not mean it’s not a good idea for a book. It just means you might need to work harder to show publishers why it is…