Sunday, October 19, 2014


Every publishing house has its own personality. With enough exposure to a publishing house's books a writer can get a feel for what type of writing will be accepted by them.

I've been asked how we select manuscripts. I think I've written about this before, but here we go!

First, follow the submission guidelines. I think that is a firm rule for just about any publisher. Why would I want to work with someone who is unable to follow rules, or worst yet, think the rules don't apply to them? There are only so many waking hours in a day, why in the world would anyone waste them on someone who's impossible when the next person in line is a gem?

Please don't query an unfinished work. This is fiction. A proposal is fine, in some cases, for non-fiction. We ONLY publish fiction. The manuscript must be complete. No one in their right mind is going to let a contract on an unfinished novel.

(Just to throw in a teaching moment here, novels are fiction. Please, don't refer to your ms as a "fiction novel." That is a huge red flag that you are clueless about writing.)

Of course, a proper query letter is required and it has to pique my curiosity to read the first three chapters. If it gets that far then Judith takes over and reads the full ms that has been requested.

If we both LOVE the manuscript, then it is a go and we contact the author about a publishing contract. If one of us loves it and the other is a bit "not-in-love" then we talk about its strengths and weaknesses. If the strengths are in important areas (basics of writing) and the weaknesses are in grammar, then it isn't too much of a worry.

Judith and I both do content editing, so we don't worry too much if there is fixing needed. The main thing is the author has to be open to content editing. Yes, that means that someone is messing with their work.

We can get geeky about the content editing. We look for things out of place: 1) people's names changing halfway through -- that one is just weird; 2) things happening out of sequence -- for example, someone discussing something as if it has happened, and it hasn't happened yet; 3) basic continuity issues...

Our secret silver bullet is Anita, a certified proofreader. She does the grammar fixes.

Maybe this post isn't turning out to be about what we look for in an ms, but I'll make a quick list and I know there are more specific posts about it somewhere on this blog.
  • Story -- does it matter? Does it entertain? (Am I willing to read it about 20 times to get this ms published?)
  • Character development -- believable, interesting, someone we can care about
  • Setting -- is setting part of the story? Is it believable?
  • Pacing -- look it up.
  • No shock features -- violence, sex, cuss words for the sake of shock that doesn't lend any value to the story. This is cheap writing and I'm not impressed. Also, you can count on the f-word being removed nearly 100% of the time. Yes, I know people say it. Yes, I know it really-truly fit when you were writing that scene. I do not care -- take it out. It limits your audience.
Here's something interesting about writing dialogue: