Saturday 8 September 2012

One Publisher’s Selection Process

At the The Red Telephone we’re pretty conventional in what we ask for. We like three chapters, a synopsis, a bio and a blurb sent electronically. Electronic submission is becoming more and more common, so even that isn’t all that unusual.
Having said that, we do have a particular submission process. Please adhere to it. We’ll never reject an outstanding script because it was submitted wrongly but it if your script is border line and not submitted correctly and in the order we ask we’ll most likely reject.
If we tell you a little more about our selection process, you’ll perhaps understand. 
The blurb
We ask for this to be in the body of the email. This helps to determine whether we’re even going to look at the submission. If the blurb straight away warns us that this is a novel for nine-year-olds we won’t even bother opening the attachment. We publish novels for young adults.
We’re not too bothered at this stage about how good the blurb is as if we do accept your book we’ll probably supply this ourselves. However, if yours is exceptionally good we’ll use it and we’ll probably base ours on this one anyway.
First three chapters or 5,000 words
We like to see the first three chapters, as we want to know if the story engages. We  ask for three chapters or the first 5,000 words, whichever is the longest, as we want to see a substantial amount of writing. Can you write well and sustain the momentum? If we like what we see here, we’ll carry on and read the synopsis.
Two quite common problems stop us reading further.
·         The writing is poor and would take too many editor hours to put right. This usually comes from very new writers.  If we have time we’ll point out the biggest fault when we reject.
·         Often, even in chapters that are basically well written, the voice is wrong. When writing for young adults as opposed to about them, the narrative should be by a best mate, or just slightly older brother, cousin or aunt. First person works well here, though, so the text needs to sound like a friend who has had something amazing happen. Whether you love or hate Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, she does have this voice right. I’m convinced too, that Bella had the first adventure then told us about it before she had the second.
The synopsis
If all is well, we’ll go ahead and read the synopsis. We want to know whether you actually have a story and whether it is convincing. Even better if it is something unusual or is something that has not been done before.
The three most common failures in story-telling are having a deus-ex-machina resolution where the hero has had no control over the good outcome, having a damp squib where the reader says “Was that it?” or having something totally over the top and melodramatic. The resolution is hard to get right and if it isn’t right it’s doubtful that even our most experienced editor could help. It’s actually easier to correct a badly written text even though lack of man-hours may forbid this. A failed story is a failure of the imagination and of creativity. We don’t have a magic wand to set that right.  
The bio
Even if we’re going to reject and have read the synopsis, we may well read the bio. We’re curious after all. If your text is border-line or you are dealing with a slightly tired theme, there may be something in your bio that persuades us to take the risk.  So do mention:
·         Other publications. This shows that other people have appreciated your writing and that you are familiar with the editorial process.
·         Prizes and awards. This again shows that other people have found your writing pleasing.
·         Higher education courses. This shows you are used to and can respond to rigorous criticism and that you have some knowledge of craft and canon.    
·         Experience of working with schools, libraries and festivals. This will convince us that you will be able to help us market the book.
·         Connections you have with the media. Again, this will help to persuade us how much you can help with publicity.
·         Use of social media. Point us to your twitter handle, your Facebook pages and profile and your web site. We can find out even more then and see what sort of presence you have.     
We’re going to judge your proposed book on its own merits, not on you. But all other things being equal, you may be able to provide us with some valuable information that could persuade us to issue a contract.
The outcomes
We aim to let you know we have your script within 48 hours and let you know the outcome within two months of the close of the submission period. If you’ve not heard within these limits, please get back to us. Our decisions will be one of the following:
·         Outright rejection, usually by email. We feel you’re not currently for us. That doesn’t stop you submitting other material in the future. Don’t be too disheartened. Everybody gets rejections. One more rejection is one step closer to being accepted.
·         We like it but … not for us at the moment. It may be too similar to something we’ve just done, not our style or your writing is a bit too raw yet. For this type of rejection we will probably write a very short critique; we do want to see you again in the future.  
·         The story is great. You write well. You’re a cool dude.  But eh, the voice is wrong. At this point we’ll ask you to rewrite the whole novel in a different voice. Gulp. Sorry, afraid so. We can’t risk liking a few chapters and offering a contract then having to wait months for the finished script. At least if you get this sort of note, we shall be prepared to read the whole novel. Even if we ultimately reject it, your novel will have improved a lot and may be acceptable to another publisher.
·         Everything is great – we like this, we like you, please send us the rest. A word of caution here. About 70% of whole scripts are still rejected. Maybe you didn’t keep up the standard of the writing, maybe the plot was a little unbalanced or, as often is the case, the first few pages shine then it goes downhill; you have obviously sent your story out several times. So, a little advice here. If you revise between submissions, revise the whole novel. Maybe we just weren’t excited about it enough in the end and we have to be excited or we won’t edit well or be able to market it.
If all of this seems a little negative, it isn’t meant to be. It’s just an attempt to be completely honest about what is involved.
And don’t be too discouraged. If you really want to do this you can.  It is a big IF, yes, but obstinacy is a virtue here.
Still want a go? Check out our submission guidelines here.

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