My main purpose as an editor is to look for books that are well-written. Finding talent. Much like I found the talent of one of my now associate editors who now has a job with Amazon. Yes, my talent moves up in the world fast.
In fact, I am always on the look out for new editorials assistants, interns, or readers who know how to give me a summary on the books one my reading schedule. I know writers and editors when I see them or read their work.
Reading hundreds of manuscripts during the week isn't easy. It is really hard. I created a list of 10 items that every manuscript must meet. I bet you want to know what that is, don't you. That is the ticket to publication in my book. Rarely, do manuscripts meet those 10 must-haves. That list is the difference between publication and receiving my recommendation to find an editor before submission.
While I won't give you my list, I will give you 10 tips that will help you get an acquisitions editor's attention (and some things to avoid too).
Do not send me a completed manuscript with cover art and everything. This tells me and every other editor in the country that have, a) self-published this book ; b)think that our artists cannot draw pictures. It tells me that you took too much time thinking about production and less time editing. The first thing that I do when this happens, is research your title, author name and anything else that I can find. I Google image the cover. If I find that it has been self-published or previously published by another publisher, I head for the hills (or I call your other publisher to confirm and then, if you have breached contract...trouble will be coming your way). Acquisition editors do not want their names on sloppy seconds.
2. Punctuate Punctuate Punctuate
Please use punctuation in your query letter and sample chapters. As writers we can take certain freedoms, but editors know the difference between an unintentional and intentional punctuation choice. And if we are unsure, we will presume that it is an error. Please, always recheck your punctuation. Understand the purpose of a comma, a period, a colon, a semi-colon, and a dash (and the difference between dashes).
3. Poems Are Not to Be Written in Curly Fonts
Poetry doesn't need to be in some curly font. I get at least two of these weekly. Yes, I am serious. Poems put into some ridiculous script...and then enlarged to size 32 in order for one of the editors to read it...guess what? Doing that gets you an instant rejection letter with a suggestion to resubmit.
4. Writers Must Have Manners
Editors read your work. And we read it thoroughly. Yes, I have an editorial assistant, associate editor, and an intern under my guns, and yes, they read your work for me sometimes. Please be courteous. We take time out of our day to run this press. Be nice.
A few months ago, I had a writer tell me that how we used "Writer's Guidelines" on our website was incorrect. He attached his fiction manuscript to that query email. I kindly responded with 50 links to other presses and magazines to demonstrate the correctness of our usage.
He emailed back saying, "Whatever you say," followed by, "When will I hear back from you on my piece?" I nearly died. I told him that if he is arguing about our decisions on web content, I'm sure we'd never make it through the editorial process. Does that mean a writer shouldn't point out an error on the site? No, please do, but don't climb onto a throne first.
5. Research the Publishing Press and then Query
Know the press and/or the editor that you are submitting to. Research will get you a long way. I had a writer send me a can of Diet Coke and Milkduds once. His work wasn't accepted, but he really tried. He researched who I am. Of course I don't expect you to send me Milk Duds, but I do expect you to know my name. And remember how to spell it.
6. Yes, The First Sentence is Everything
That first sentence of your manuscript better be a good one, but that doesn't mean it has to be elaborate. Saying, "The door opened," is a good sentence. Saying, "Marge opened the red door to walk in, grabbing her keys with a clenched fist, only to realize that he was already gone," is a bad bad opening sentence.
These are just examples, but it is important to know your subject-verb agreements. When evaluating if a writer can succeed in turning the current manuscript into something people will read, I look at the first page....if that first writerly impression strikes me wrong and I feel that the writer cannot get beyond the story, I put a rejection notice tag next to the piece.
7. Query One Manuscript at a Time
If you send me more than two queries (I only make this exception when the genres are separate) in less than a few weeks, I will never work with you. I don't care if you are Brad Pitt.
This demonstrates several characteristics about you: desperate, unprofessional, and it gives me a glimmer into your inability to wait. Writing is a process that requires waiting. Once, I had a writer send me SEVEN novels on the same day...he was just saving them up, ready to explode my inbox into bits.
8. Format Your Manuscript as though You Were Submitting it for a Grade
Formatting. Oh my god. Formatting. As a scholar and avid lover of formatting, if I see a manuscript that has failed formatting, I just want to die. I ask myself, "How are there this many people who do not know how to format a manuscript.
I expect writers to send their manuscripts in .doc or .pdf with 1" margins and in a font that I can read at 10-12 point. Nothing more and most definitely, nothing less. Could you imagine receiving a 150 page novel copy+pasted into the body? Or having no spaces between scenes/paragraphs/chapters?
9. Put Your Name and Contact Information in the Header
All manuscripts should have the first/last name on the manuscript with a contact email/phone number. Why? Here is what happens. Every single manuscript gets uploaded onto our main server. We do not save all of the initial contact emails. Nor should we. Writers need to claim their shit. If a writer does not put a name/contact info on the document and we want to accept your manuscript only to find that you haven't put your name on your paper (hello! this is not sixth grade), then you have a 75% chance of losing that acceptance letter.
We do not save your email address. We do not save your initial email. Could you imagine having to sift through emails to find you. Sorry. Especially if you use a pseudonym. I receive 50 emails per day on average. I don't like clutter.
10. Poor Writing
If the sentences look like you just started writing, I will not proceed further. I am sorry. I love simple sentences, but I don't like;:
My brother liked to go to the bars.
After the bars, he bring girls home. And then later, he'd screw them.
This goes on sometimes for twenty pages before I open the third bottle of wine and call it a day.
These are just a few tips and tricks that I have to offer. I am a writer, too. I make mistakes, but as an editor, I am gruesome and will tear down the best of writing. What are you biggest writing mistakes? What are your editing pet peeves?