Avoiding the Publisher's Shredder
So, you’ve found a great idea for your next story. Your MC is a high-school student who is being bullied by her peers. You sit down at your keyboard and hammer it out. You send it to a couple of friends who just love it. So, you think you’re ready to submit to a publisher. You get on The Grinder and find the perfect YA market. You whip off a short cover letter extolling the virtues of your story, and send it off.
Here’s what happens next. A secretary at the Publisher, glances at your cover letter and begins shaking their head. Feeling generous, they take a look at your manuscript. The first thing they notice is that it’s not in proper Shunn format for submissions. Most of the time, this is where your story will hit the shredder, but as I said, this secretary is in a particularly good mood, so they forward it to a reader or junior editor for a look. Let’s assume that it is an editor.
The editor glances at it and, also notes that you have both an improper cover letter and your submission is not in the proper format. Almost certainly he/she will shred it and remind the secretary that she is the first line of defense against worthless submissions. But, let’s assume it is the day of the annual Christmas party and everyone is in a great mood.
He/she skims through your first paragraph looking for the hook. Hook? Yeah, you know, the part where you set the scene, introduce one or more characters, and an element of tension to get the reader to read the rest of page one. Nothing. Shredder. But wait! It is Christmas, so he/she plods on figuring that if the story is good enough, the hook can be fixed.
They read through a couple pages of so-so narrative about the miseries of being a high school student. There are a couple of interactions that are semi-interesting, but nothing jumps out at them and says, “Keep reading this manuscript”. Shredder. But wait. The item before your manuscript in his/her inbox was a Christmas bonus check. You’re in luck. He/she skips to the last page of your manuscript and begins looking for the denouement. That’s the part of the story where you tie up all the loose ends and show how your MC has evolved through the story. Instead they find a conversation between your protagonist and another character that goes like this:
MC: “What are you doing after school?”
Character: “I’ve got no plans.”
MC: “You want to go to Mickey D’s and grab a burger?”
The point of this post is that there are certain standards and procedures which must be followed if you are to have any hope of ever being published.
Your first draft of the story should never be shown to anyone. Write it. Let it sit in a quiet corner of your computer memory for a couple weeks until you are not so attached to it. When the proper time has passed, pull it out. Run through it with a single thought in mind. Emotion. Where does this story evoke emotions in you as a reader? Where can you add, or cut, to increase the emotional impact? Make those changes and read through again. Does it make you laugh, snort coffee through your nose or cry in your coffee cup? If not, run through it again and punch up the emotion. It may take one, three or ten read-throughs to polish this piece with emotional impact.
Now, run through it to be sure that it all makes sense and flows well. Do actions happen in a logical sequence? Are there any plot holes? Plot holes? Yeah, those sequences where she puts her books in her locker then picks them up off her desk, or refers to a character she hasn’t met yet. Plot holes. Pesky inconsistencies which make the reader stop and ask, “What?”
I mentioned flow. Do you vary your sentence lengths and structures? Or do you write in consistently short choppy sentences which sound vaguely like “Fun With Dick and Jane”? Short choppy sentences are great for conveying rapid action such as a fight scene, but not for the body of your work. The opposite end of the spectrum are long run-on sentences, especially those full of unnecessary details or backstory.
When you have finished filling the plot holes and checked the flow, read through it again with the idea of imagery. As you read, do you get a clear image in your mind of the settings and character. Is that image clearly conveyed in the writing? Here’s where it takes a deft touch. I really don’t want to read about her red Aeropostale jeans with the cut-outs on both legs, the “I Love Maroon 5” tee-shirt or her funky lime green sneakers. I want you to show me her character. Who is she as a person? How does she feel? How does she interact with others? If it doesn’t move the story forward or give the reader an insight into the character, CUT IT. Be ruthless.
Okay. You’ve taken the time and done the hard parts. Now it’s ready to submit, right? No. Now you run it through your Word spelling and grammar check and fix everything with red or blue lines below it. Maybe your run it through Grammarly. Now, it’s ready for a couple of beta readers. Not friends or family, but real beta readers. You might want to get opinions from one or two teens because they are your target market, but you also want hard, critical opinions by other writers who understand story structure. Writers who will tell you if your hook works, if your writing is strong or weak, if it needs more emotion, if you tense hopped or fell into passive voice. You take all this feedback and incorporate the parts that you can agree with and ignore the parts that you feel will harm the story you want to tell or honestly feel are not helpful.
When this part is done, you are ready for a professional edit. Here you might have to make a choice. If your story is 3,000 words or less and is not intended for a prestigious contest, then it is unlikely to generate more that $30-40 for first rights. You may have to rely on good betas here. You could try to find an editor you can trade services with or take a chance on a new editor trying to build a clientele. If the story is longer or especially for novel length works, you need to invest in an editor. Your betas should have indicated, even if only between the lines, if you need developmental editing or if you can get by with a good line edit. You will need the line edit even if you use a developmental editor. They do two completely different jobs.
Finally, you get your story back. You apply the editor’s changes making note especially of repeated corrections which indicate bad habits you need to work on. Now it’s ready to submit. You go to your chosen market listing and carefully read all the instructions including format and what to include in a cover letter. Following these instructions exactly, you prepare a cover letter that puts your best foot forward while not seeming pushy or egocentric. You thank them in advance for reading your submission and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them. You put your manuscript in the indicated format. If no format is indicated, then standard Shunn format is expected. Take the time to do it, then take more time to look it over and be sure that it is correct.
Now, you’re ready to submit. You do a little research and find the name and job title of the editor who handles your genre or is supervising this particular contest or submission period. You write a short email and attach both your cover letter and manuscript. If the publisher requests an author bio, attach that, too. You check over everything again making sure that you have followed the publisher’s guidelines, that you have attached the most recent version of your work and any other attachments required. NOW you hit send.
Congratulations. You have done everything in your power to insure your story is read and, hopefully, accepted. Now, it’s up to the strength of your writing.
That’s it for this blog post. Until next time, Happy Writing.
#writing #fiction #editing #submissions #publishing
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