Submissions for N00bs
Now that I’ve been at Del Rey Spectra for (almost) two years, I’m beginning to dip my dainty little tootsies into the temperate pool of submissions. Well, sometimes it is a temperate pool, other times it is the soggiest, muckiest, grossest pile of whatsit you could ever imagine. As my associate, David Pomerico, mentioned in his CatEotU post a few weeks back, Del Rey only accepts manuscripts from agents (though, we do have a very exciting contest going on right now where you can submit your manuscript and win an edit by Del Rey Spectra Editor-in-Chief, Betsy Mitchell), of which I am getting a few. But in addition to those submissions, it is part of my job to go though the “slush pile” (unsolicited submissions) and respond to every submission with a pleasant thank-you-but-we-don’t-accept-submissions-this-way note. Between these two things, I estimate that I see about 50 submissions (in various degrees of professionalism) each month. That hardly makes me an expert, but it gives me a little insight that I’d like to share with all of the potential authors out there in the hopes that it will their next submission to stand above the rest.
So, without much ado, here a few things that might make–or break–your submission.
Five Tips for Submitting Your Work:
1. Avoid errors: I know this might sound basic, but everyone should have their submission checked by a third-party (including the introductory letter or email) before sending it out into the void. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve immediately noticed a spelling, grammar, or other kind of error in a submission and immediately put it in the “ugh” pile. While I’m not necessarily a grammar-Nazi, when it is clear that a writer has put the bare minimum into their work, then I am not inclined to give it my attention. I’d recommend having a friend (ideally someone with strong English skills) look it over once or twice just to be sure.
2. Spare the kitchen-sink: Writers are under immense pressure to try to appeal to both the commercial and avant-garde reader and so I think that many feel they must include at least one of everything that a potential reader would like. The overall effect is that it dilutes the story and makes the writer appear to have no original ideas of their own, since they are relying so heavily on genre tropes. I’m going to pass up a story about a magical fae-unicorn-elf-wizard who defeats an evil undead-sorcerer-vampire-knight by finding the lost-sacred-sword-of-truth every time. For me, it is better for a small number of passionate people to like your work a lot (and become nearly obsessed with it), than for a large number of people to like it a little bit (but not enough to buy it), especially when it comes to genre fiction.
3. Brevity is the soul of….oh, just hurry it up already!: This may be my most subjective note: hurry it up, buddy! If it takes a writer three pages to tell me why their idea is awesome, it’s awesomeness must not be that apparent! They should instead trim it down to a manageable size, just so I can get a taste and decide if I want to investigate further. This is what Hollywood-types mean when they talk about the “Elevator Pitch”: a short (usually three sentences, maximum) blurb that sums up an idea and leaves the interested party…well, interested. Sometimes (though not always) it is useful to rely on other properties to sell your idea. “It’s like Star Wars, but with unicorns” is infinitely better than three pages about the Unicorn Wars and the emergence of your protagonist, Uni the Unicorn, from Unicornia. Though I should caution potential authors to not fall into the trap of relying too heavily on comparisons, as they can hinder as much as help.
4. Be mindful of the overall package: Let’s say a writer has penned a 200,000-word epic fantasy series about a unicorn. This world is extremely well thought out, has an extensive geopolitical history, and an extraordinarily complex naming-system. The writer has spent an inordinate amount of time going through the genealogy of all 50 characters that appear in the novel and they could write a separate book on the culture of the unicorns. This is great! I love nothing better than a well thought out world that feels historic and genuinely real. But this writer shouldn’t send me any of this other stuff. None. Not even the sequel novel and list of unicorn holidays. As an editor, I have to know that a potential author knows what is and is not important about their story. I have to know that this author recognizes what their central themes, characters, narratives, etc. are and how to support those things with the rest of their writing. Instead of the whole kit-and-caboodle, the writer’s agent should send the story at hand, and some outlines of the rest of the material. While I do want to see that the potential for the idea is huge, I don’t necessarily want to be overwhelmed by the madness of it all straight off the bat. But rest assured, dear hypothetical writer, if your pitch and manuscript are great, I will gladly read all about the unicorn holidays like Unimas and Unikkah.
5. Research is your friend: This might be the most difficult and time-consuming suggestion that I have, but one should get to know one’s readership as much as possible before submitting. It is infinitely better to go into a situation knowing the likes and dislikes of a reader so that one can better appeal to their tastes. Sending our unicorn manuscript to an agent who represents only cook book writers is a waste of postage. Similarly, if an agent is submitting a space opera manuscript to a publishing house that deals exclusively in nonfiction, I sincerely doubt that it will meet with success. Some say that it is better to send out 100 submissions to everyone you can find, but if 95 of those people are just going to throw it out because it is categorically wrong for them, then I’d suggest it is better to send five well-researched, clean, and succinct submissions that have a much higher chance of landing favorably and catching a reader’s attention.
In any case, I hope these suggestions are helpful to you when you send off your next manuscript!
Do you have any other suggestions for submitting your work? Share with us in the comments field!
Like us on Facebook for information on giveaways and new titles, and all the Del Rey/Spectra news you can handle!