Monday, August 24, 2009

Acquisition Editor for a Day

“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…” – Children’s Rhyme

About a week ago, I attended a workshop at the Gulf Coast Writer’s Association monthly meeting led by Robert Gelinas, the founder of ArcheBooks Publishing. The topic was “Better Submissions by Sitting In the Editor’s Chair.” I knew it would be a fun learning experience because I’ve attended some of his other workshops. I wasn’t disappointed.

The submission guidelines for ArcheBooks are quite easy to find on their website. Once you click on them, you see the following (it’s hard to miss the uppercase red letters): “NO PAPER/HARDCOPY QUERIES OR SUBMISSIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED. ALL SUBMISSIONS MUST BE ELECTRONIC VIA EMAIL PER THE INSTRUCTIONS BELOW.” Yet ArcheBooks receives piles of submissions daily in the mail.

Some of these submissions were used for the workshop. The idea was not to belittle these authors and agents who obviously cannot follow directions, but to do a little role playing instead. For a couple of hours, a group of authors became a group of acquisition editors. It was an eye-opening experience.

We divided into four groups of ten or so people. Each group had about twelve pieces of mail to open, read and evaluate. The goal was for each group to pick one project to support. We needed to be able to defend why the choice was the best option for the one publishing slot available. Eventually we would need to convince the other groups to support the selection.

It was, as you can imagine, easier said than done. Ten people have ten different ideas of what constitutes a good book. Also, publishers are in the business to make money, so we couldn’t simply pick the manuscript that looked like it had the best writing style or sounded the most interesting. We needed a sellable project. Therefore, the major consideration was finding the one submission with the most marketing appeal either due to subject matter or the author’s credentials.

Other than not following the guideline rules, we also ran across obvious misspellings, poor sentence structure, sloppy work, and missing information. Editors notice these things right off the bat. It’s their job. Regardless of how big or small the publishing house, they want to deal with writers who are professional and know how to write.

After spending a couple of hours as an acquisitions editor, I now feel qualified to offer the following suggestions to anyone going through the process of submitting manuscripts:

1) Take the time to check out the website of the publisher. If they don’t publish your genre, don’t send your manuscript hoping they’ll change their mind because of how well it’s written. They won’t.

2) Follow the guidelines carefully. Check and recheck that you are submitting exactly what they ask for and that it’s presented in the required format. If they ask for electronic submissions, by all means, submit electronically.

3) Proofread and edit every page of your submission. Then do it again, and again and…

4) Make sure the package looks professional. Don’t send in a wrinkled scrap of paper with a note scribbled on it and expect someone to take the time to read it.

5) If you are ever tempted to deviate, get creative, or ignore the guidelines, just visualize a huge dumpster where your labor of love ends up without being opened (unless it’s used as a teaching tool prior to that point).

Of course, there are always exceptions to the above list. For example, our table selected a project where the query letter was written in a cartoon format. (It’s a long story. I’ll save it for another day.)

I left the workshop with a better understanding of the “behind the scenes” at a publishing house and more empathy for overworked editors. I also walked away in amazement (for perhaps about the zillionth time) that I actually managed to get The Ride published in the first place.

I look forward to your comments about the world of publishing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Gulf Coast Writers Association, ArcheBooks, Robert Gelinas, The Ride, Acquisition editors, submission guidelines, query letter,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think that would be fascinating...being an acquisition editor for a day. As you mentioned, it would be hard to sift through all the rubble looking for a gem. And then you have a committee to convince! Great tips, Jane.

Mystery Writing is Murder

L. Diane Wolfe said...

EVERY writer should attend that seminar! Yes, I've heard editors and publishers tell many horror stories, but bottom line, most writers simply fail to follow the guidelines.

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

Karen Walker said...

Thanks, Jane. It's good for writers to hear about what happens from the other end of the spectrum--acquisition editor perspective.

The Old Silly said...

What a great excercise and experience to have! I also agree with all the items on your checklist. Author who don't their homeowrk before submitting are just shooting themselves in the foot.

Marvin D Wilson

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Where's the love for poor inept authors? Inept, after all implies some degree of helplessness and lovability. But, on the greedy side, the more authors shoot themselves in the foot, the easier it is for those who don’t. Darwinian, huh?

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elspeth Antonelli said...

It strikes me as only logical that if you've worked for who knows how long on your manuscript then you want to give it the best chance possible for success. Do your research. Narrow down the field and then do it again. Look at their submission guidelines and follow them as closely as possible. Sending a manuscript out willy-nilly is the same as shouting into the wind. You'll get hoarse.

Kennedy said...

You know, Ted Kennedy has died... just a sad day for America don't you think?

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world