Give the editor what they want.
If you want to get your material published, your challenge is to get an editor excited about your work. Not just mildly curious, or vaguely interested, but really, properly, excited!
To help you do that, here are ten questions that an editor will be asking themselves as they look at your work; make sure you know the answers to these questions for your manuscript before you send it off!
1. Does it fit with the list?
You need to research. What genre is your work? What publishers work in this area? Look in the library; look in the bookshop, and online; who is publishing the kind of thing you’ve written? Don’t send a SF work to a Romance publisher; and don’t send a historical fiction novel to a publisher who works on big photo based picture books. Find a publisher whose list fits your material.
2. Is there a market for the book?
Unfortunately it doesn’t matter how good your book is, they won’t publish it if there isn’t a market, if it won’t sell. Don’t go to the publishers with something like “Taxidermy amongst the Inuit tribes” if you think the publisher is looking for 50k print run minimum. Find out what’s selling – not because you are going to imitate these books but because you need to see what the current trends are.
3. What is the hook, what is the elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch is the outline of the story you could tell to intrigue someone in about 30-50 seconds (the time you might spend in an elevator with someone).
The hook must be:
- Feel compelling and intriguing
- Right for the genre – no elvish weapons in your period drama!
- Contain the potential to drive the narrative
For example, think about what the elevator pitch might have been for The Hunger Games; how was that presented?
4. Does the manuscript comply with the submission guidelines?
This one is in your control so you should really get it right! Don’t send them manuscripts in handwritten green biro! If they want a 300 word synopsis give them a 300 word synopsis. If they want two chapters give them two chapters. This is one of those occasions where you don’t want to make it easy for the editor to reject your work simply because you didn’t present it properly.
5. Is the basic writing sound?
This is mostly in your control as well. Is the grammar correct, what about the spelling? Are the sentences balanced and concise? Get these basics right, read and re-read your submission, it’s hard work but you need to do it. Get someone to help you by looking through your material before you submit it, a second pair of eyes can often spot something that you just can’t see yourself.
6. Is it clear and concise?
Don’t be pretentious! Kill off those redundant adverbs and adjectives. Look at the example of George Orwell, especially his essay or writing. Keep your narrative style clear and concise.
7. Is there a strong narrative drive and structure?
Does the story keep moving? Is there a pace and momentum to the thing or does it all grind to a halt half way through? Plotting and planning can help here. Ensure you do your planning for the story; know where you are going and what the waypoints are. Keep the whole thing tight.
8. Do you care about your characters
If you don’t care enough about your characters, especially your principle protagonist(s) then the story will not engage the editor. You need to believe in your characters, and present them as consistent, whole, people.
9. Have you got the voice and Point of View (PoV) and tenses right?
Keep the PoV consistent. Don’t start in with “I did this” and suddenly change to “he or she did that”. Similarly, keep the tense consistent. If you start in the present tense don’t change to the past, or future, unless there’s a very clear reason and indication for it.
10. Is the voice consistent?
The voice doesn’t have to be original but it needs to be consistent, don’t start with Dickens, continue with Joyce, and finish with Hemmingway. Find the voice for the book and stick to it, think about the suitability of the voice for the genre of your work.