By: Grace Pelley
I have recently started my third publishing internship where I review manuscripts for publishing potential. Some of them have been vetted; others have not. The following is a list of what authors should know before they submit work:
- Finish the book.This should be self-evident, but not every publisher wants the whole manuscript. So, some authors begin to query before they finish writing the book. Every author in the query stage wants an agent or editor to request the entire book to read. If the answer to the request is “I’ll have it done soon,” I can pretty much guarantee the editor will move on.
- Proofread.Again, not rocket science, but it needs to be said. Publishers care about grammar. A few misplaced commas will not lose you a book deal, but consistently making mistakes says that you do not know the craft.
- Assume that publishers read only the first 50-80 pages before deciding whether to pursue the manuscript.You need to hook the editor by page 50. Now, I know that there are exceptions, but trying to be one is not a safe bet. Publishers are too busy to find that phenomenal hook on page 200.
- Understand first-person narrators.I love a good first-person narrator. Some of my favorite pieces of writing, across several genres, would fall apart in the third-person. But, a first-person narrator is more than calling a character “I.” It is finding a unique voice, which is one of the hardest things in writing. If you can pull of a good first-person narrator, that might sell the book. But, using it not to its fullest potential, is often a telltale sign of an amateur.
- Integrate the background details and character introductions.Whenever a story starts, a reader has to figure out the setting. Authors have an urge to share a lot of details, but that slows down the pace when editors are reading. Good writers only share important details. The old saying “show, don’t tell” describes expert character development. Naturally explaining the background without taking readers out of the present sets great authors apart.
- Limit prologues.This is probably my most subjective advice. Editors want to get into the meat of the story quickly, and prologues slow them down. Now, if you are writing historical fiction, fantasy or science fiction, then having a brief prologue to orient the reader might be helpful. But, having one for its own sake is not as classy as you think.
Some of the items on this list are more subjective than others. None of them will guarantee you a book deal, but they may keep an agent or editor from saying “no” on page 3.