Category Archives: For Authors

Why We Require Queries…

This weekend was spent getting caught up on queries, going back and reading the ones I had placed on my review list. For those who are curious, that means I reviewed close to 150 manuscripts. The reply I received from one author about his rejection letter was interesting. His comments were that 1) queries, in general, lack merit, 2) a better method would be for authors to discuss their platform rather than discuss their book because that would identify serious authors up front and reduce the number of queries a publisher needs to read, and 3) publishers and agents are wrong for not sending critiques with rejections.

Why we require queries

I feel the author was not correct that queries lack merit for two reasons:

  • A query letter tell me if you can express an idea in a way that will make me interested. An uninteresting query letter usually means an uninteresting manuscript. It also tells me if you can write – a query letter with a lot of grammatical errors will usually mean a manuscript with the same lack of attention to detail. As a small press with limited resources, I will pass on a manuscript that need a lot of work even if it is a great idea for a book.
  • A query tells me what you will be like to work with. Authors often send full manuscripts with no other information, saying the manuscript will “speak for itself” if I just read it . What they fail to understand is the book won’t speak for itself because I will never start reading. Asking me to read a full manuscript only to find out it’s in a subject area I don’t publish is showing no respect for my time, and a person with this attitude is showing me they will be difficult to work with.

Each element of a query has a purpose. The query letter introduces me to both the author and their manuscript. I can tell from a query letter if a manuscript is something I would consider publishing. I can also tell something about the author’s professionalism and attention to detail. The synopsis tells me about the book in more detail. No one will buy a book if they don’t know what it’s about, unless they are family or friends, which is why all published books have a blurb on the back cover. Your synopsis is your blurb, showing me why I should be interested in your manuscript. Finally, the sample chapters give me a first look at the manuscript itself and an author’s writing style. Here I’m a bit more flexible; I do not automatically reject a query if it includes the full manuscript.

Platforms do not matter

The author has made two incorrect assumptions regarding why sending an author’s platform in lieu of a query letter would be more useful:

  • An author’s platform does not matter if their manuscript is something I would not publish because of the subject. I’ve received memoirs from former stars, and I’ve rejected them even though the person has a built-in platform because we do not publish memoirs. I would much rather read a manuscript, decide if I like it enough to publish it, and then help an author create a platform. In fact, I never discuss an author’s platform with them until after they are under contract.
  • Having authors send their platform first would not reduce the number of queries I need to read. Authors would just create “platforms” before they query me, which still tells me nothing about the book. This means I would need to request the same material I’m requesting now to see if the book is something of interest, so I’ve just added a step to the query process. In short, I’ve just created more work for myself.
Sending critiques

When I started Divertir Publishing, I would reply to every query with a critique of the manuscript, feeling this would help authors. These good intentions were rewarded by authors sending me emails telling me how I “lack the vision to realize their genius” and calling me a “tool of the publishing elite”. For those who would argue I let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, I assure you it was not a few emails – at the end of the day people don’t want to hear that their children, or their books, are not perfect. Given the large number of less-than-charitable emails we received in reply to these good intentions, we no longer give critiques.

In short, the query system does work. It gives authors a means to tell me about their books while allowing me to quickly evaluate the large number of queries I receive every year and quickly find the ones I’m interested in. Having to read the full manuscript for every query I receive would guarantee one thing – I would never have time to actually publish a book…

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#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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