Submissions


I’m posting over at the Casablanca Authors blog today on this month’s theme of scary things.  Submission info, turnaround time, sex advice (for your writing, of course!), market trends and more.  Come visit!  I’ll hang around through the weekend to respond to comments posted there.

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With all the slew of terrific submissions I’ve been getting lately, I’ve been bringing quite a few projects into our weekly acquisitions meeting.  At that meeting, all the editors present the titles they want to make an offer for, weighing  pros and cons.  Most of the final decision rests with our publisher and editorial director, but everyone’s allowed to chime in with an opinion.  And it’s important to stress that the group is all editors–not sales or marketing, though we obviously have to keep marketing and sales points in mind whenever we acquire.

But before we even get to the meeting, there’s a whole process of filling out title information so everyone coming to the meeting get a sense of the project.  For each title brought to the meeting, we have to include:

  • A brief, engaging description (about 1o0-150 words)
  • A short author bio with hometown and any award wins/special recognitions
  • main selling points and marketing hooks
  • author sales history (if any)
  • comparison titles and sales figures

Some genius agents are used to dealing with the acquisitions board process and put all this info right in their cover letter.  God, I love them.  They make it so easy to cut and paste.

But we accept agented and unagented material, so now even if you’re submitting on your own, you know exactly how to present your project in a way to make the editor love you forever.

And if you’ve already submitted but haven’t included the above info, no worries, you’re grandfathered in–I’ve got you covered!

I am having such a blast working on a number of the young adult projects on our Spring 2011 list for the Sourcebooks Fire imprint.  But our list for Fall is looking mighty slim.  So I’m on the hunt-down–looking to acquire good stuff fairly quickly.

The YA market right now is incredibly competitive, so it’s imperative to have a hook to grab booksellers/media/readers in 2-3 sentences.  Having an author with a track record or built-in fan base is also immensely helpful.  The book needs a riveting plot with a fresh premise. I want to be completely absorbed in the world–whether it’s summer in the Hamptons, a dystopian future or 1880s London.

Right now only truly objective criterion is the word count: 60,000-90,000.  I’m open to just about any setting and genre.  The main protagonist should be older teens, and the book should have strong crossover potential to the adult market.

Submissions can be emailed to me at leah.hultenschmidt [at] sourcebooks.com.  Please attach the ms and synopsis as separate Word documents and note in the subject line: YA – [Title].

Angie Fox and Erin Kellison collaborated for a fantastic post on paranormal romance over at Romance University today.  Find out what they think trends will be and what pitfalls to avoid on the road to publication.

I’ll also be taking questions in the comment section throughout the day, so please do stop by.

A few years back Jennifer Ashley and I did a workshop on Title & Premise and how writers could get the interest of editors, agents or readers before they even started the book.  Today, I want to concentrate on the title part. 

A lot of writers skip skip working on a title or figure that it’s not that important because it’s only likely to change anyway.  And while it’s true that the writing is what will sell your book, the title can lay a lot of groundwork for you. 

I’ll never forget the day colleague Chris Keeslar swung by my office all excited: “I just got this proposal called THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I haven’t even started it yet, but don’t you just love that title?”  Fortunately, Leanna Renee Hieber‘s writing lived up to it. 

A good title will:

  • Indicate the genre
  • Give a sense of the tone
  • Provide continuity for similar/series titles
  • Intrigue the reader

Julie Kenner (The Givenchy Code, Carpe Demon) and Katie MacAlister (Love in the Time of Dragons; Sex, Lies and Vampires) are some of my ultimate heroes when it comes to clever titles.  But a title doesn’t have to be particularly clever or humorous.  Because, remember, it has to fit the tone of the book.

How to come up with a good title:

  • Figure out what best conveys your style. Is it sexy? Funny? Dark? (all three?) Are you trying to convey a certain time period? 

Let’s use Jennifer Ashley’s paranormal-historical Nvengarian series as an example.  Our theme: Fairy Tales

  • Brainstorm lists of words that convey the style you’ve chosen.

–         Prince Charming, Once Upon a Time, Happily Ever After

  • Start playing around with those words and combining them with other aspects that make your work unique. Look for rhymes, alliteration, wordplay. Keep in mind that it needs to be able to fit on a mass-market cover and still have room for the art.

–         Penelope & Prince Charming has great alliteration and works in the fairy-tale theme.

–         The second book in the series was tougher. Nothing in the list above sounded original enough.  So Jennifer concentrated on the time period with a rhyme and came up with The Mad, Bad Duke.  It’s clearly Regency set–a play on Lady Caro Lamb’s words about Byron “He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know”—which Regency readers recognize.  It also sounds playful and sexy.

–         With the third book featuring a fun-loving Scot, we came up with Highlander Ever After, again pulling in that fairy-tale theme.

     

Where to find inspiration for your titles:

  • imdb.com – The Internet Movie Database
  • your CD collection
  • rhyming dictionaries
  • regular dictionary
  • advertising slogans

Most of all, brainstorming should be a fun process, not a hair-pulling one–even if it feels like it sometimes.  Just stick with it,  don’t be afraid to ask everyone you know for suggestions, and go with what feels good.

And a totally shameless plug that has more to do with art than titles: Check out Jennifer’s PRIDE MATES on Clash of the Covers this week.

Last year, New York Times best-selling author Brenda Novak raised more than $280,000 in her online auction to benefit diabetes research.  And this year she’s set the bar even higher.  Because Brenda is the consummate achiever (seriously, there’s nothing this woman can’t do!) and she has loads of amazing offerings at this year’s auction, I have no doubt she’ll hit her goal. 

The 2010 auction is now live.  For writers, there are 60 agent evaluations up for grabs and nearly 50 editor evaluations.  

If you’re the winning bidder on mine, you’ll receive a line edit of your cover letter, first three chapers and synopsis; a written overall critique of strengths and weaknesses and suggestions for improvement; and a follow-up phone call, should you wish you ask further questions.  Bidding goes through May 31.

There are also loads of ARCs, signed books, handbags, jewelry, art, an iPad, a Nook, and a load of other amazing items, including special promo opportunities for published writers.

Executive Editor Don D’Auria acquires horror, thrillers and Westerns, but his take here on the rejection/acquisition process holds  true for many editors, no matter what the genre.   This column originally appeared in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope will be an interesting column for anyone who’s curious about publishing seen from an editor’s perspective.  I wouldn’t presume to say that I can speak for all editors.  I’ll write about things as I see them.  I edit a mass market paperback line of horror novels.  Magazine editors or editors who work in the small presses will possibly have very different opinions.  But I think we all see the same sorts of things.

One thing I hope to do in this column from time to time is answer questions that writers or readers have about the whole editorial process.  So often what editors do is unseen or misunderstood.  People tend to see the results of what editors do, but not the way it’s done or the reasoning involved.  So if I can, I’d like to open the door a little, to let folks see what’s going on inside the office, and also inside my head.

For a lot of people, an editor’s job consists mostly of deciding whether a book is bought or not, so I thought I’d start with that perennial question, “How does a good book not get chosen?”  Or to put it another way, as many writers no doubt ask when another book is bought instead of theirs, “What was the editor thinking?”

Is it just a question of whether a book is good?  If it’s good, I buy it; if it’s not, I don’t?  I wish.  That would make things so much easier for me and for the author.  No, there are a lot of other considerations that go into the decision.  When I reject a manuscript, I’ll sometimes say in my letter that the manuscript was well-written but I still couldn’t buy it.  And I wonder if the author believes me.  But it’s true.  I’ve had to pass on a lot of really well-written novels over the years.  I wish I could have bought them all, but I couldn’t, for a variety of painful reasons.

The simplest reason is often that, even if a particular manuscript is great, there might be another one that’s still better.  My job is to find not only good manuscripts, but the best ones.  Leisure Books publishes two horror titles every month.  Twenty-four per year.  That’s what I have to work with, no more and no less.  Every year I have to find what I consider to be the twenty-four best books to put into those slots.  The really tricky part is that I did publish twenty-four titles last year, and pretty much all of those authors have a new book now that they’d really like to see me publish this year.

Editing a line of books is kind of like being a manager of a baseball team, with the writers as the players.  The success of the line depends on the success of the individual writers, who are, after all, the ones who do the work that their fans pay to see.  But I have to choose the best players and make sure they play at their highest level and make for a well-rounded team.  No baseball team, even the Yankees, can afford to buy every great player out there.  And they can’t buy too many of the same kind of player.  Just like no team wants only good pitchers or good outfielders, I can’t buy only good ghost stories or good extreme horror or good…whatever.  I need a nice mix.  So if I find myself overstocked with, say, subtle psychological horror at some point, and a writer or agent sends me another one, unless it’s absolutely fantastic I’ll pass. 

Also, just like a manager in baseball doesn’t ideally want a player who’ll be with them for just one game (or one season), I prefer writers who will continue to write and whose career I can build over the course of many books.  This means that many of those twenty-four slots this year will be filled by authors who wrote books last year.  The downside of this is I won’t have many open slots for newcomers.  Given the hundreds of submissions I see every year, that’s a lot of competition for just a few positions on the team.  So a lot of great potential players are sent home to try out for another team.

When I explain that I can only publish so many books each year, I’ve had authors say, “That’s OK, buy my book now and I can wait as long as it takes for you to publish it.”  That would be nice, but from a business standpoint it simply won’t work.  When I buy a manuscript, Leisure pays an advance.  If we don’t publish the book for two or three years, we don’t see any sales from it, and thus no money coming in for years after we’ve laid out the advance.  Not a good move financially.  Plus, if I get too many books sitting in my inventory, waiting to be published down the road, it prevents me from buying anything I may see for a while until I can work off that inventory.  And no publisher likes to close themselves off to submissions.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that a manuscript is really, really good, better than most of the manuscripts I’ve seen.  In fact it’s one of the top contenders for the few available slots in my list.  And it isn’t in a subgenre that I’ve published a lot of recently.  Clear sailing, right?  Close but no cigar.  There are still some things that can trip up a manuscript just before the finish line.  One of the most painful for me is simply bad timing, where I really love a book but I just bought a book with a very similar plot.  It happens and it kills me.  And I know it isn’t easy for the author either, because it isn’t his or her fault.  If I had seen the same manuscript two months earlier, I would have bought it and the other guy’s manuscript would have been rejected instead.  But I can’t publish two books with very similar plots, so the second one has to go.

I know.  Ouch.  It wasn’t the author’s fault, right?  But none of these things is the author’s fault.  (Assuming the manuscript is good.)  Is it the author’s fault that I have too many books in my inventory or that I simply don’t have an open slot in the immediate future?  Or that she’s written a vampire novel and I already published four vampire novels this year?  Or that his timing is just off?  No, the author did what he or she was supposed to do; write a really good manuscript.  I wish I could publish them all.  But I can’t.  I can only look through them all and pick what I think are not only the best ones but also the right ones.  Am I always right?  Not a chance.  And I know I’ve turned down a lot of great manuscripts that another house might snap up in a second, and it’s not because of anything the author did wrong.  That’s why it’s so painful to write those rejection letters.  (OK, maybe not as painful as it is to get them.)  And that’s why it’s so important for an author not to get discouraged, to keep trying, and keep submitting their work.  All of these factors outside of the author’s control can change.  If your timing was bad this time, maybe it’ll be better next time.  If my inventory is high today, maybe it’ll be lower in six months.  If your manuscript isn’t right for one house, it can easily be perfect for another.  But if you believe your work is good and you stop submitting it after a few rejections, you’ll never know how some of those factors might have changed.  And if you don’t give your work the best shot you can, that’s really painful.

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