In the past few months as an editorial intern at Henery Press, I’ve reviewed more than forty manuscripts submitted for publication. This is particularly educational because it coincides with my own efforts to become published.
Here’s what the writer in me has learned about submitting for publication:
1. Edit the first pages RUTHLESSLY. Your first three to five pages are like a first date. Appearance counts. Chemistry matters. Your plot might be brilliant, the characters witty, and the dialogue sharp. But allowing careless mistakes (typos, misspellings, grammar issues) in your opening pages is like going on a first date with broccoli in your teeth. Editors are slightly OCD by nature, and we have trouble getting past the broccoli.
2. Make the FIRST LINE clear and simple. Your first line should not be complex. Please don’t try to blow readers away with your best descriptive writing, or the most eloquent, or the most anything. The first line is there for one purpose – to make us read the second line.
3. Establish a CLEAR HOOK w/ character and plot. I don’t know how it works at other publishers, but at Henery we have weekly submission deadlines on Fridays. By Thursday when I open up those files, I’ve already accomplished a variety of editorial tasks. Perhaps I’ve written a blog post or two. At home my kids need help with homework, the puppy tore up something again, and we’ve stacked laundry so high we could vault off the piles to the nearest piece of furniture.
My point? By Friday, I’m tired. And I’m probably not the only one in publishing who feels this way. So when I sit down with a batch of manuscripts, like most readers I want to escape into a fictional world that holds my attention. Without a clear hook, my mind will wander right on to the next manuscript. Unanswered questions and tight writing, along with an emotional connection to the main character will keep us reading.
4. And for the love of all things literary, check the SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Publishers have vastly different requirements for editorial submissions. Even editors at the same publishing house may differ in what they want. Take time to research submission guidelines, often found on the publisher’s website. Pay close attention to genre and subgenre. Study the types of books the publisher represents, and target your submissions to publishers that most closely match your writing style. Go the extra mile and follow the publisher (and even the editor) on Twitter and Facebook. You’ll get a good idea of what they want in a book submission, and you’ll be that much closer to publication.
It’s not brain surgery, but you would be surprised how often writers ignore a publisher’s preferences.
(This is part three of a six-part series. Stay tuned…)