In my last blog I mentioned a book by Tony Russo that, although several editors the author had pitched the manuscript to did not consider the manuscript to have “shelf appeal,” I really liked. You’ll be happy to know we have gone to contract on “Call of the Kestrel” and are looking at Tony’s other works.
This does raise an interesting question. If we’re not necessarily looking for books that editors from the major publishers would consider to have “shelf appeal” or books that fit a predefined format for a genre, what are we looking for? To answer this question, I want to give you a glimpse into the journey your manuscript takes after you submit it to Divertir Publishing. This week I will talk about our review process in general. In the upcoming weeks I will talk about specific things we look for. I hope that, by understanding the decisions we make at each point in the process, author will have a better feel for what we will publish and how to navigate the process successfully.
Initial queries are reviewed by our Acquisitions Editor Jen Corkill. Jen usually makes the decision whether a query will be forwarded to one of our reviewers or rejected based solely on the query letter (she will almost never read the sample chapters), so a strong query letter that clearly describes the manuscript is essential. It is also important that an author clearly identify the genre of the work in the query letter – telling us your young adult romance novel is a mystery could result in it being sent to a reviewer that does not like young adult romance, and your work may get a bad review for all the wrong reasons.
Who are our reviewers? They are people we’ve identified who are not only avid readers but who can articulate the strengths and weaknesses of a manuscript. In short they are your target audience, and we take their opinions very seriously. The reviewer will make the decision whether we request a full manuscript or reject a query based on the synopsis and sample chapters. While I will talk about this more in my next blog, the best way to ensure that your full manuscript is requested is a strong opening without a lot of back story. Interestingly, I can usually tell the manuscripts that will make it to the final review stage at this point; if the reviewer behaves like a child in the back seat on a long road trip when asking about your full manuscript (“Is it here yet, is it here yet?”), then I can usually predict how the review of the full manuscript will turn out.
When we request the full manuscript it will always go back to the person who did the initial review if they are available. The reason is we want to see if the same excitement about your work exists the second time the reviewer reads it. For full manuscripts we ask our reviewers to write a brief critique (which we are happy to send to authors if requested), which is then discussed during a weekly meeting where we decide as a group which manuscripts will move forward.
The final step of our review process is that I read every manuscript under consideration. The reason for this is simple – as the publisher, I am responsible for the quality of the books we bring to market. If I disagree with a reviewer on a manuscript it will also be read by Jen. I admit there are some books that don’t grab me (I wanted everyone to die by book eight of the Wheel of Time series), and in those instances it’s best to get another opinion. If we decide a book should go to contract, I will always set up a time to talk with an author before sending the contract. Being published by a small press is not the same as being published by Random House, and I think it’s important I personally explain what an author should expect before I send a contract.
Because I make the final decisions on what we publish, I want to spend my next few blogs talking about what I look for in submissions. The next blog will focus on what I look for in general, while several blogs after that will focus on specific genres. But the short answer to this question is simple and something I stated last week – I want to be the publisher who discovers the next format that has “shelf appeal” and not one who only publishes books that stick to the current formats. A well-written manuscript that is unique will almost always end it’s journey with me setting up a time to talk with the author.