by Meredith Maslich
The process of getting published though? Not so much. That part is scary and frustrating and makes us feel bad and doubt our path.
Trying to get published sucks. (To be honest, for most writers a lot of the stuff that comes after being published — like marketing and self-promotion — sucks, too. But that’s a topic for another time.)
Be prepared for a lot of rejection. We’ve all heard the stories about how many times JK Rowling or successful author so-and-so got rejected, but that knowledge is small comfort when those rejections are rolling in.
Here at PPCo, we unfortunately reject many more manuscripts than we accept. And we’d MUCH rather say YES than NO. Sometimes the no is just a matter of not being a good fit for any number of reasons, and it is not a reflection on the quality of the manuscript. But most of the time, rejections are based on author mistakes or manuscripts that aren’t really ready for submission. And we’re sure we’re not the only publishers having this experience.
So we’ve put together a few tips to help you improve your submissions and hopefully cut down on rejections.
1. Carefully read, AND FOLLOW all submission instructions. We created them for a reason — not to make you jump through a lot of hoops for the fun of it, but because each question and request tell us something we need to know. Not least of which is whether you can follow directions. That might seem elementary school-ish of us, but our partnership publishing model depends on knowing that we can trust and work well with our authors. Following directions, showing you take the process seriously, and demonstrating that you are at least somewhat detail-oriented are critical for us.
2. Write a good synopsis. This is your first chance to introduce the publisher to your writing style and get us interested enough in the book to want to read more. That means the writing and the story have to be compelling enough to take priority over all the other work we could be doing, which is no small task. Don’t short-change the synopsis. For more information on writing a strong synopsis, click here.
3. Work with a professional editor. You’ve written a kick-ass synopsis, and now we’re ready to read a sample of the actual manuscript. But you’d better hook us within the first few pages. We’re going to know almost immediately if the book has had the objective, professional input of an editor. EVERY writer benefits from professional, critical feedback, and those who haven’t generally submit structurally weak manuscripts with muddled character motivations and confusing plot lines, at best. The writing itself can be beautiful, but if the story isn’t there, it gets a hard pass from us.
4. Never forget about structure, especially in fiction. Even the best writing and story idea must be supported by solid structural elements. We’re looking for stories that build in tension and lead to an exciting climax and a change in the main character. Is the set-up tight, and does the ending feel resolved? Are the characters’ motivations and needs clear and compelling? It’s very easy to lose the forest for the trees — or the structure for the words and images. If the core of the story is structurally sound and compelling, we can always tweak dialogue and sharpen imagery and polish the story later. But even if we love the writing style or the book’s concept, if it doesn’t have good structure, it’s a pass for us.
5. Make sure you are submitting the very best version of your work. You’ve gotten feedback, you’ve edited, you’ve looked at it with a critical eye, and you’ve revised and revised and polished and revised again and have done everything you can to make sure it’s the very best example of your creativity and hard work. Then if you get rejected, you can take comfort in knowing you’ve done all you can and that now it’s simply a matter of finding the right publisher or agent to connect with your manuscript.
Meredith Maslich is president and CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company. She is also on the faculty at SpeakeasyDC, where she has been teaching the art of storytelling for more than six years.