Category Archives: For Authors

#Pit2Pub…

People who know me well know not to try and contact me via social media for anything important. It’s not that I don’t have accounts on all the sites – it’s that I log into Facebook only when I receive an email reminding me I have an account, and before today I couldn’t tell you the last time I logged into Divertir Publishing’s Twitter account (@divertirpub).

All of that changed today when, for over thirteen hours, I sat at my computer monitoring the live feed for #Pit2Pub while doing other work. In this “pitch party,” organized by Kristin VanRisseghem (@KVanRisseghem) and Ann Noser (@AnnMNoser), authors had 140 characters to pitch their manuscripts to 43 publishers who agreed to monitor the twitter hash tag for the day. Publishers were asked to like a tweet if they were interested in receiving queries for the manuscripts pitched in the tweets.

According to www.hashtags.org, the number of tweets totaled almost 5,500 for the day. Because authors could repost tweets every two hours (and many did), I would estimate there were about 1,000 unique pitches posted during the event. Out of those, I liked 54 – or about 5%. So what made a tweet stand out for me enough to ask for the author to submit a query?

  • This is an example of a tweet I liked: “Rayne must stop the evil half of her family from exploiting her dark magic. If only she could figure out which half that is #Pit2Pub #A #F” (by Michele Keller, @ml_keller).
    This tweet told me everything I needed to know about the manuscript – the intended audience (adult), the genre (fantasy), and the plot (Rayne’s family wishes to exploit her dark magic). It even left me asking the question “What about the family made it hard to tell who was evil?”
  • I often tell authors not be be “too clever” with their queries (like writing a query letter as one of the characters from the book while not telling me about the manuscript), and this format is no exception. At the two-o’clock hour it was estimated that 570 tweet were sent to the hash tag #pit2pub. This means an author had less than a minute to get my attention. If I couldn’t immediately tell what a manuscript was about I passed.
  • Queries that referenced movies didn’t work for me, in part because I lacked the context to understand most of them. I don’t go to movies much (I prefer to read) and must admit I haven’t seen the latest Star Wars.

In short, assuming the tweet was for a genre we publish, tweets that told me what the manuscript was about, left me wanting to know more, and didn’t use references I might not understand were the most likely to get a “like” today – which is exactly the same criteria I use when I read queries.

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A Fond Farewell…

…to Jen Corkill as the Acquisitions Editor at Divertir Publishing. Jen will be moving to the other side of the publishing aisle as an agent for the Booker Albert Literary Agency.

Jen has a keen eye for talent which will serve her well in her new role as a literary agent. For the past year, she has done an incredible job wading through the tequila and Italian ices we call our “slush pile” to find some truly unique manuscripts that I am excited to be publishing in the coming year. In addition, she became one of our authors with the release of her debut novel “Season of Mists.” Finally, Jen has been a vital partner in this publishing adventure I call Divertir Publishing. Her insights into what makes a great book great will be missed, and I am fortunate to be able to call her my friend.

I’ve always considered small publishing companies to be the place where people make their starts. For authors, they are a place to publish your first works while you hone your craft and develop a following. For people more interested in the technical and business aspects of publishing, they are a place to learn the ropes and develop insights into the world of publishing. Several of our authors have gone on to publish with other presses, while some of our previous staff have gone on to other roles in the publishing community. One of our former editors is currently the owner of her own small press. Thus, while this is a sad time, it’s also a time of great excitement as Jen moves into her new role.

Jen will be finishing up the manuscripts she is currently working on, including the science fiction short story collection, so authors need not worry about any transition. Also, Jen will keep access to her Divertir Publishing email account. Feel free to shoot her a note to wish her well.

On behalf of Divertir Publishing, I would like to thank Jen for the time she has spent working with us and wish her the best on her next adventure.

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How Long Will it Take…

When we were designing our new website, I visited several publishers’ sites for ideas on what to include. One site stood out not because of the design but because of the number of books the company had published. In its first two years in business they had published fifty books – a book every two weeks.

I often get asked by authors how long it will take their books to come to market, and my answer is always the same; there is a reason it takes larger publishers as long as eighteen months to bring a book to market. The steps to turning out a quality product include:

Editing. This is probably the longest step in the publishing process. On average, one of our manuscripts goes through four rounds of edits before the author and editor agree on the final version used for interior design. We had one book go through ten rounds of edits. This process can take anywhere from six to nine months depending on how extensive the required edits are.

Interior design. I often refer to this as typesetting when talking with authors (showing my age). In reality this is done with a desktop publishing program. The process includes adjusting lines of text in the final manuscript to eliminate widows and orphans and to minimize the excessive whitespace in lines of text which can occur when text is justified. This means examining every line of text in the manuscript, and to do this correctly is very labor intensive.

Cover design. Author A.J. Capper wrote a blog discussing the process of designing the cover for A Bother of Bodies. It often takes several designs before finding a final cover that both we and the author agree on, and each design takes time to produce. I believe our record is that we designed nine covers for one book before we found one everyone agreed on.

To bring a quality book to market is a long process with many steps requiring feedback from authors. While it is certainly possible for a small press to produce fifty books in two years while also turning out a quality product, it would require a large number of books in the queue and working on several books at once. More likely, editing was minimal, desktop publishing was limited to converting a Word document to a PDF file, and cover design was finding a single image on a stock photo site with no additional design considerations. Authors should always ask publishers who turn out large numbers of books in a short time about their process, because the quality of your published book could depend on the answer.

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Do What’s Best…

It’s all right if you see other publishers. In fact, I encourage it.

That comment is in response to a question recently asked by an author we have under contract. The question was whether it was considered proper etiquette to submit his new book to us for consideration before submitting it to other publishers and agents. My advice is very simple:

Do what’s best for your book.

There are many reasons authors consider different publishers for their manuscripts. One common reason is that an author may publish with a small press, like Divertir Publishing, and then find an agent for a subsequent work. The agent will also want to do what’s best for the new book, which might be to shop it to larger publishers. Another reason is that the publisher for one of your books may not handle the genre for you new manuscript. We don’t publish erotica or books with what we consider to be excessive sex or violence, and we don’t publish memoirs unless they contain a social message. Does that mean books that contain sex and violence or memoirs without a social message won’t be fantastic books? Certainly not. What it does mean is we aren’t the right publisher for these works because of our tastes.

Many famous authors published with multiple publishers, including Dr. Seuss (his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published by Vanguard Press, while The Cat in the Hat was a joint venture between Houghton Mifflin and Random House). Suzanne Van Rooyen (whose first novel Divertir published) had her next two books published by two different publishers. To be honest this does not hurt us in any way and might help – the fact there are more publishers displaying her works makes it more likely that readers will discover her writing (which could only help sales of her first book). If Suzanne were to land a deal with Random House tomorrow I would be a very happy person, because we were the ones to discover her (we were looking for short stories for one of our collections and came across one of her stories, which it turns out she had turned into a novel). Call it bragging rights.

I would say there is one exception to the above. If you send a publisher or agent a manuscript, the agent or publisher may take the time to send a detailed critique with suggested improvements. If you use some of the suggested changes from the critique to revise your manuscript, then I do think as a courtesy you should send the revised manuscript to the agent or publisher again for review. After all, they have taken the time to provide feedback, which demonstrates a level of interest. Including in your query letter that you took their comments to heart in your revisions is probably the best way to get the book reviewed a second time. If the agent or publisher does not review the manuscript or offer a contract, then I would ask the person who provided the critique if you can use the ideas from the critique in your work as you query other agents and publishers (asking as part of your query letter is probably the simplest way and shows you are a professional who takes the intellectual property of others seriously).

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Young Love…

Maybe it’s just that I find things other people find normal to be funny for some reason (which might be a good trait for a publisher), but I found the following “cheat sheet” for writing young adult novels to be both amusing (mostly because it actually exists) and useful:

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/writing-young-adult-fiction-for-dummies-cheat-shee.html

That’s right – there is a “For Dummies” book on how to write young adult novels, and most of the information in the cheat sheet actually makes sense. So instead of talking about what makes a good young adult novels this week (the cheat sheet already does that), I want to focus on why certain young adult novels will get rejected by us.

  • Doing the math. Generally we price our young adult novels lower than our general fiction in other genres. For a publisher, this means getting the page count lower, which requires a lower total word counts. A book sent to us with 100,000 words that is pitched as young adult is probably not going to make it past the query letter. In my opinion, the optimal word count for young adult novels is 50,000-60,000 words.
    The other thing I always do is compute the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level. Most teens reading books not assigned as required reading in school are reading for pleasure, and that reading time is competing with all of the other forms of entertainment out there (including texting their friends). Making a book too complex a read for the average teen, while it may challenge readers, is more likely to make them never finish it.
  • Is it a “Twi-book”? I’ve stated this previously, but I’m not looking to publish books using what the large publishers consider to be the correct “format” for a genre – I want to be the one to discover the next “correct” format. So if I’ve read something similar to your story before, especially if it was by a well-known author, I will probably pass on the manuscript.
  • Sarah’s elephant. I want to start with an admission – I’m a prude. Yes, I put that in bold so it will stand out. In our last blog, guest editor Sarah Welsh asked a question about the “elephant in the room” – how much sex is too much for a romance novel. For young adult novels, my answer is simple: in my opinion, any sex in a young adult novel is too much. This is not to say there can’t be romance. In Tony Russo’s upcoming book Darkest Hour, there is a love triangle between Briley, the girl fighter pilot, the pirate she captures who later flies as her wingman, and the son of an aristocrat who initially makes fun of Briley’s poor upbringing but later comes to respect her when she helps her training class graduate flight school. In Jenna-Lynn Duncan’s Hurricane, there is a love triangle between the heroine and the two brothers who kidnap her in an attempt to save her from killers. In Hope Gillette’s Journey Through Travelers’ Tower, while there is no overt romance between any of the characters, there is enough tension to wind a spring. Finally, in Darren Simon’s Guardian’s Nightmare, the two main teen characters are both females, and there are no romantic themes at all. It’s simply a book about a girl whose destiny is to save her world and ours. All of these books have one thing in common – they are great books that didn’t need to use sex as a prop. In short, a young adult novel with a clever and unique plot does not need to rely on sex to create an interesting story.

For young adult authors, I sometimes suggest looking at what we’ve published and currently have under contract to get an idea of what we will publish. I’m even willing to send a sample copy (the first 20%) for free to authors who are wondering if they should query us (alternatively you can use “Look Inside” on Amazon to see the eBook interiors). But authors who don’t keep the above items in mind often find they receive a rejection letter fairly quickly.

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A Little Romance…

The story you are about to read is true. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I do the final review for every manuscript being considered by Divertir Publishing. Two years ago I had a business trip to a casino. Because I don’t gamble, I brought a copy of Sarah Welsh’s A Chosen Village with me on my Kindle to review. I spent my evenings sitting in the lounge reading her manuscript.

Several patrons asked what I was reading, and when I told them it was a book we were considering for publication most asked to read a few pages. The reactions were amusing in their consistency. From reading only a few pages, all of the women thought it was one of the greatest books they had ever read, while none of the men understood a single word – it might as well have been written in Latin.

I will be the first person to admit I understand more about cold fusion that I do about woman and relationships. Add the fact that I’m a prude who blushes at the contents of most modern romance novels, and it’s clear I am the last person who should be giving advice on what to write for this genre. Luckily, our own Sarah Welsh has agreed to share her opinions on what makes a good romance novel.

* * *

The Art of Romance

By Sarah Welsh

We all like a good love story. Whatever your reason for reading it, be it to fill a void in your own life, or to learn what you do and don’t want from a partner, as in all things with love – it’s complicated. When it comes to the romance genre there are a few key points you need to keep in mind when writing or submitting a manuscript to an editor or publisher that will determine its success or failure. Listed below are some of those points that I feel compelled to address.

  • A good plot goes a long way. The primary focus of romance is typically on the “relationship”. This we all know, but there is something equally as important that sometimes gets not as much attention, pushed to the side, or simply forgotten about, and that is a good, solid, and interesting plot that could stand alone if need be. You never want to be too heavy in either character or plot; that’s a guaranteed recipe for a dull read. A balanced manuscript will catch and hold anyone’s attention.
  • Side characters are your friend. Good side characters are an invaluable resource to writers. Take advantage of them. Give them defining characteristics and relationships of their own and tie them into the main character(s). If the story circles around just the main character you’ll most likely run out of things to say. Look at it like a bowl of gumbo, the side characters being the roux – you can make a decent pot of soup without the roux, but it won’t be as thick or as creamy without it.
  • Get Real. Keep the relationships and the conversation realistic. Not every relationship ends well or the way we intended it to. Nor should they all end with a wedding, pregnancy, or a happy ending. Not to say that I don’t like happy endings – I do very much – but surprise me, keep it exciting and not predictable. Also no one is perfect, therefore your protagonist shouldn’t be either. They should have some sort of character flaw or internal conflict to overcome, something we as imperfect humans can relate to. If I can’t relate to the main character, I’m not going to enjoy the story.
  • The elephant in the room. There’s no ignoring it. It’s in our biology. In fact the survival of our species depends on it. No discussion about the romance genre would be complete without talking about sex. How much is too much? In my opinion it’s always best to keep it tasteful. You can go into detail, but steer clear of grotesque, unnecessary descriptions, incest, and rape if possible. Sometimes in writing the buildup can be better than the act itself, so make sure you’ve built up the story enough and the relationship between the characters to warrant the sex.

I hope you found this information to be informative and insightful. Whether you’re thinking about starting to write a romance novel or have already finished one, check to see if your manuscript is in line with most or all of these points and your chances of snagging that contract will be significantly greater.

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A Good Mystery…

The final step of our review process is that I read every manuscript under consideration. The reason is simple – as the publisher, I am responsible for the quality of the books we bring to market. Because I make the final decisions on what we publish, I wanted to spend a few blogs talking about what I look for in submissions for various genres. This week we’ll discuss mysteries. Here are a few of the things I look for:

  • Start with the mystery. This advice actually brings two TV shows to mind: Columbo and Murder She Wrote. In the first, viewers are introduced to both the criminal and the crime in the beginning of the episode and watch the detective solve a crime where viewers already know “who-done-it.” In the second, the crime but not the identity of the criminal are revealed at the beginning, and viewers try to solve the crime along with the sleuth. The important point is that, in both cases, the story starts with the mystery. In my opinion, manuscripts that start with a large amount of back story and don’t introduce the mystery early will not get readers involved in trying to solve the mystery (or watching the sleuth as they solve the mystery) and draw readers in – which is essential for a mystery.
  • This one’s just right. You don’t want your plot to be too complex – readers who can’t solve the mystery along with your sleuth will not enjoy the manuscript. Similarly, if the book does not start by disclosing the identity of the bad guy and it’s too easy to figure out who the bad guy is, your readers will be wondering why your sleuth is so inept and why it’s taking them so long to solve a mystery that is so obvious. In my opinion what you want to strive for is your sleuth solving the crime right after your readers have been given enough information to solve the crime themselves, assuming the book does not start by disclosing the guilty party. If you start by disclosing the guilty party, you want your readers to be able to follow your sleuth without getting lost.
  • Make your sleuth interesting. In Don Westlake’s The Mercenaries, the sleuth is a gangster forced to solve the murder of a prostitute, who also happened to be the mistress of the police commissioner, in order to take the focus of the entire police force off the crime family. In Chris Rakunas’ The 8th Doll, Alex Guidry is a college professor brought in by a friend to help solve a crime. In our upcoming A Bother of Bodies, Amanda Capper makes the sleuth a former criminal whose past comes back to haunt her. Keeping your characters interesting will keep your readers interested.
  • Don’t kill the main character. This is not to say a book where the main character dies (such as our upcoming Dime Detective by Hal Schick, which has the detective “solving” his own murder, or Dragon’s Teeth by Suzanne Van Rooyen) will not be an entertaining read. Keep in mind, however, that once people find a character they like they are much more likely to continue to follow the exploits of that character. Featuring the same character in a number of books is the best way to build both your brand and your following.

This is not to say that a manuscript that does not fit this format will be rejected automatically. However, because I like mysteries that start with the crime, books that start differently will need to catch my attention in a different way.

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