Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eight Things A Publisher Looks At When You Submit

Time for some dirty truth and evil revelation: most publishers are not necessarily on the lookout for novels with tremendous literary depth! Sure, it's great if the novel has that in addition to being a hot property, but it's business, folks! Publishers are in it to make money, and if they can publish great literature as a side-effect, so much the better.

Now, in what I'm saying down below here, I'm not talking about the quality of your manuscript. We'll assume for the moment that your manuscript is golden, the kind that makes bored first readers let their coffee grow cold and allow their cigarettes to burn down to the filters, unattended, while devouring your prose.

However, publishers also look at many other things when you submit your manuscript, and here are eight of those areas. Don't despair if you can't nail down all eight—it's the rare author who can! But the more you can get, the better your chances of getting your first novel published.

1. Length. Does the length of the work match well with the typical length of a book of the same genre selling currently? When comparing the cost of printing to the possible financial rewards realized by selling the books, will things come out in the black or in the red? (We're assuming print publication, not ebook.)

2. Writing credits. Has the writer published in the genre before? Has the writer published stories in magazines and ezines to establish a track record? Or, is the writer a total novice and the submitted manuscript the only writing effort the writer can show?

3. Platform. Has the writer established name recognition in the genre in any way at all? Is he/she active in online discussion groups? Does he/she have a web page?

4. Genre knowledge. Does the writer keep abreast of market news and the writing community of the selected genre? Does the writer know the authors who lead the genre, the ones who are beginning their careers? In short, does the writer understand the competition?

5. Marketing. How will the writer draw buyers to the publishing house? Does the writer have a marketing outline to present to the publisher? Does the writer have a unique angle for marketing? Is the writer creative and able to think outside the box in regard to marketing schemes?

6. Writer's well-defined audience. Can the writer describe in detail who they think will be willing to spend money to have the author's Book in their hands? Has the writer made contacts within the genre community? Is the he/she a member of any professional writers' groups that might help with networking?

7. Practical logistics. Does the writer have the physical ability and transportation to do book signings, readings, or other engagements? Does the writer have front-of-room presence? Is the writer willing to take his or her own time to market and promote the book?

8. Business acumen. Does the writer understand (at least somewhat) the business end of publishing? Does the writer understand their responsibility and the need to produce revenue for the publishing house as well as for their own pocket? Does the writer have a realistic grasp of what can be accomplished?

I know, these sound terrible and discouraging. But it's a very competitive environment out there, and the more you can do to make yourself stand out from the crowd, make yourself look like less of a risk and more of an asset, the better off you will be and the better your chance will be to get that publishing contract in your hands!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I just posted part two of my query series today - think I'll just skip part three and send them here!

jenny milchman said...

Great post, Tony, and especially relevant for a writer with a suspense novel currently on submission! I wonder if independent presses tend to place more emphasis on these things than the majors? I agree with you that they are probably at least as essential as having that "cigarette-wasting, coffee-chilling" ms...

carl brookins said...

None of this reads as terrible or discouraging, just accurate and practical. What more could an author seeking ms. submission guidance ask for?

Sun Singer said...

Great advice! Very realistic.


Tony Burton said...

I'm glad folks understand that I'm trying to be a realist, and not simply trying to rain on their parade. Generally when I am blunt and realistic about things like this around a group of writers, I get told off by a few of them for having a negative attitude. I certainly am not trying to do that, but in my mind it's better to have a realistic view of the industry, rather than to walk into it with eyes shut so you don't see the potholes.

@Jenny, I don't think these things are any more important for small presses than for large ones, at least in the present economy. In fact, the opposite may be true. An editor at a small press usually doesn't have to justify his or her "hunch" about a property to a committee. But even with that, any publisher has to look at the bottom line and see if they think the book will turn enough of a profit to make it worth the time and effort.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Excellent "wake up and smell the coffee" post. A dose of reality can be painful, but it can also inoculate you against a lot more pain in the future.

Holli said...

I learned this the hard way, by submitting to agents and publishers with little success, and then taking an online course to figure out what was wrong with my novel. Turned out the problem wasn't with my novel so much as the length of my novel, and the fact that I was completely ignorant of the business and marketing end of getting a novel published.

When I revamped my novel and learned the business end, I found an indie publisher.

Your advice is exactly what someone who wants to be published should learn ahead of time, and advice I wish I had been given years ago.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Yes and wahoo! None of this is surprising or discouraging. Writing is not only an art. It is a business! And, I suspect that, over the years, the balance between the two has shifted more and more to the business side.

Larry W. Chavis said...

I don't see it as negative, either, Tony. It's good to have solid information; keeps down disappointment (well, it helps, anyhow).

Tony Burton said...

Thanks for leaving comments, and I'm glad it's taken the way it's intended: as helpful advice. It would be great if we could simply write a wonderful story the best we can, and submit it to a set of evaluators and editors who would blindly judge it on merit alone... but that's not the way it goes.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

thanks for sharing on DL, Tony. yes, isn't it discouraging that #10 on your list can be almost as important as the quality of your manuscript! But you might as well tell it like it is.