Quite simply, publishing is so daunting to many because most of us have no idea what that truly entails—what’s the best way to go about it? How long does it take? Is it worth it? What do I have to do to actually get published in the first place? You won’t feel so daunted about the process once you know how it functions.
I want to share some pointers that I learned as an intern for an acquisitions editor. If you understand what the editors are looking for in a book and an author, you can play this complicated game more easily and see more success from your work.
What Do Editors Consider Good or Bad Manuscripts?
Basically the manuscripts are evaluated based on how marketable the idea is (is it trending well right now? Is it fresh and interesting?) and how well the manuscript is written. If these two things are going for you, chances are someone will pick up your idea and contact you.
If your idea is considered too boring, already over-done (and failed), or not marketable, generally it’s a no. Don’t think that grammar is an immediate turn-off; if it’s that’s bad, they might suggest that you resubmit after some careful editing and reworking. It’s usually the content that tips the scales.
So how does this information actually help you get published? Once you know a bit about what editors do, you can start to discover what it is they look for in a manuscript and you’ll know how to deliver your manuscript in the most positive light.
Know the Expectations
If you’re worried about writing a whole book and no one will like it, chances are you’re fine. Go to publishing company websites and they will list they are looking for or what they aren’t looking for. You don’t want to be surprised when they say, “There isn’t a place in the market for your manuscript at this time.”
Look at what’s popular in your genre, what seems to sell, and then when you pitch it in your cover letter, show how your book will fit into this popular vein of writing—but also how yours is still unique from the other top sellers.
Showing at least a hint of understanding about the market and your genre will help you project your ideas better, and prove to the publisher that your manuscript deserves a place on the shelf.
Submit Your Manuscript Correctly
You want to make a quality first impression, and you want your manuscript to look its best. For a first-time author, you will have a greater chance of success if the manuscript is as complete as possible. So this means: when you submit a manuscript, submit as much as you can, or the whole thing so the editor can have a better sense of your book and who you are as an author.
You do have to give a brief synopsis of your book in a cover letter, but let your manuscript do the talking, not solely the cover letter. I got some pretty snotty cover letters where the authors often sounded like they just mailed in God’s gift to editors. Arrogance won’t earn points with editors. Do show confidence, though.
Sometimes people only send in the cover letter and a table of contents. They do this so they don’t have to send in hundreds of pages for someone to read and reject. In the digital age, this isn’t a problem anymore because you can email the whole manuscript. But when you send in only a cover letter, it puts the editor in a tough situation, because they don’t have a clear idea of how the writing is. A lot of submissions that are just letters like this run a higher risk of getting rejected. With a full manuscript, editors can still get a feel for your writing style, while skimming the content to see if it’s also what they’re looking for.
If you choose to submit what you have while you are still working on the last few chapters, at least give a definitive plan on how many pages your manuscript will be and when you plan to be finished.
Use Social Media
New authors often don’t realize that they have to play a pivotal part in marketing no matter if they publish with a publishing house or self-publish. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have to use social media to get your manuscript out there.
Start putting yourself out there on the internet now, even if you only have sparks of ideas for a book. You need all the time you can get to build up your online presence. On your submissions form, you can list all your social media platforms, and they will seriously look you up to see just how many people already care about you and your writing.
If you can show a publishing company that you have a substantial number of followers, to them, that translates to a large group of people who might buy your book right out the gate. They can see that you are serious enough about your work that you’re already trying to do your own marketing. So use a blog, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, or Instagram and update these platforms regularly.
Enlist a Literary Agent or Freelance Editor
Until editors see your work, you might want to enlist some help to prepare your manuscript. One option is to hire a literary agent. This is a great idea if you want a very wide audience, because they will not only edit your work, but they will help you with the marketing/promoting process. This is also helpful if you’ve already been rejected or fear rejection.
They are licensed advocates for your work. If they send in your manuscript to a company, the editors will definitely put your work further ahead in the slush pile, because someone else is putting their reputation on the line for your manuscript. That speaks volumes.
Help could also come in the form of freelance editors. This could range from professionals to college students that are working towards an editing minor. They are trained to be like the editors you are trying to impress. And generally, if you enlist a college student or graduates, they will either help without pay (to build up clientele or their portfolio), or negotiate a very modest rate.
Submit Your Work—Do It
This is the most important rule I want you to follow. Don’t be too scared of the system that you never reach your goal and actually try to publish! Take this information to heart and get that manuscript ready and talk to people about it.
These are some basic things that I wish every writer knew about editors and how they evaluate your manuscripts. Do you have any questions? What do you wish you understood more about publishing? Leave comments below!