March 1, 2013

From the Editor - What We Look For

It's a new year and our thoughts naturally turn to new submissions. Each Friday, we'll post a blog entry on what our submission editors would like to see in our inboxes.

What We Look For

After we read the query letter and synopsis (and a chapter by chapter outline for longer stories, please!), we open the excerpt with great anticipation.

It may come as a shock, but we can usually tell within a few paragraphs if we have a winner or a loser. This is where language comes in. Spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and bad dialogue attribution within the first few paragraphs raise red flags galore.

We look at all the usual suspects:

  • A big information dump right at the beginning? Boring!
  • The main character should be named as soon as possible.
  • Don’t overload the reader with minute description, or over-choreograph the action. Readers have good imaginations; let them use it.
  • Show, don’t tell. This means show in dialogue, don't tell in prose.
  • Pace. Keep the story moving forward briskly.
These are things we expect the author to have mastered already. You shouldn’t submit a manuscript that hasn’t been edited and edited again by yourself, you beta readers, or your critique group.

Even if the story itself is good and within the range of genres we know will sell, a poorly-written manuscript is a risk. Why? Very simple: if J.M. has to pay an editor to fix mistakes the author should do, or acquire beta-readers to do, the book costs her more to produce than it may earn.

Also, many authors don't want to make heavy edits after a story has been accepted. That's understandable, so we try to tell an author upfront what issues we see in a story before we extend the offer of a contract. Self-editing not only limits the amount of changes required prior to publication but will also present your best possible story and increase your chance of getting published.

Most of all it boils down to this: can the author tell a story successfully? Hopefully the answer is YES!

Submit a story to us today!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. Very good advice. The more work an author puts into the book before it is sent off, the less work there will be later. I find it helpful to edit as I go and then give it a brutal edit before sending it off. I actually hate editing and so doing all the hard work at the beginning lessens the amount you have to do after.