I recently attended a writers’ conference in sunny Brisbane. First up was a panel of editors explaining what they like – and what they don’t like – to see when authors submit stories. Their tips were fantastic, so I scribbled them down as fast as I could.
Down-to-earth and approachable, they discussed what they want to see in a story. They also explained the dos and don’ts of submitting work to publishers and agents.
Here are some of the tips – straight from the source!
1. Don’t chase trends
Many writers try to hurl themselves onto the latest bandwagon. Sure enough, we’ve seen waves of wizard books and swarms of vampire novels. But is searching for the latest greatest thing a good strategy? Although it sometimes works, it is risky. Fashions change, and the market might be saturated by the time you get there.
2. Write what you love
This ties in with the first tip. Rather than trying to follow the latest trend, write what matters to you. The subject matter should interest and excite you. If you don’t love your own story, you can’t expect anyone else to!
3. Jump straight into the story
Don’t fill your first few pages with setting up the backstory. Leap into the fray, then filter in any necessary backstory later on. All three panellists said they only need to read a few pages to know if they like a story – gulp! There’s certainly no room to waffle.
4. Don’t obsess over word counts
‘The story will be as long as it needs to be.’ At least when you first write it. If a publisher likes your story and thinks the length needs adjusting, they will let you know.
5. Don’t do illustrations
This advice was for writers of picture books. Unless you are a professional-level illustrator, don’t submit pictures. Publishers prefer to team you up with an illustrator they’ve selected. Some publishers want suggestions for illustrations; some don’t even want you to do this. If in doubt, check their submission guidelines.
6. Polish it until it shines
Learn how to edit your own writing, and do the best job you can. Don’t submit something that you know needs work. Even though a publisher is going to ask for changes, give them the best you’ve got.
7. Check their guidelines
Look at the publisher’s website for submission guidelines. For example, they might specify a particular font style and size, and they might ask for the manuscript to be double-spaced. They might want electronic submissions or hard copy. They might only take submissions at a certain time of year, or on a certain day of the week. Whatever they say, be sure to take notice!
8. Send a proposal, not the whole story
Most publishers don’t want to see the whole novel. They might ask for a synopsis and some sample chapters. If they like what they see, they’ll ask for more. Check their guidelines and give them what they ask for.
9. Compare your work to other titles
This helps publishers get an idea of where your work fits in the market. If they have already published books similar to yours, let them know. This shows you’ve done your research and are familiar with their list.
10. Regarding multiple submissions
As a general rule, publishers don’t like writers sending their manuscripts off to several places at once. Many writers do this, however. Publishers prefer us to be upfront about it. If someone then takes you on, you should immediately notify the others and withdraw. Hmm, what a lovely thought!