Have you ever written a book review?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sorting Through Book Manuscripts. Part 1

"Can you tell me how you find manuscripts to publish?" That's a common question in this business.

Last week I had an interesting conversation with an non-fiction acquisitions editor who works for a sizable house on the East coast. She voiced concern about a lack of good material. "It's flooding in," she explained, "but by and large it is so poorly written I can't stand to read it, or it has been published a hundred times before." I acknowledged her pain (as my wife has taught me to do over the two-plus decades of our marriage--empathy is/was not my strong suit), conversed a bit longer, and hung up.

Where do we get our manuscripts? The material keeps coming in, but where does it come from? How does it end up on the accepted/contracted list?

In the vast majority of cases, manuscripts that make the accepted/contracted list do so along one of four avenues. Here is how I view this process from inside Savas Beatie:

1) UNSOLICITED: Complete manuscripts, partial manuscripts, or query letters arrive via email at editorial@savasbeatie.com, or reach us through the mail;

2) DEVELOPED: We see a need in a particular space, and seek out material through a variety of means.

3) FOLLOW-UP: We work with an author, enjoy the process, publish a book, and develop new material with him/her.

4) NETWORKED: One of our authors recommends a friend's / acquaintance's work, and either we follow up or we ask the author to follow up on our behalf.

If you are a writer and desire to publish a book, ideally you want to find yourself sitting at either number three or number four. The former is the four-lane freeway to publication in Savas Beatie, and it moves at 75 mph; the latter is a two-lane sidestreet that moves a bit faster than normal traffic patterns.

The first option is the congested on-ramp leading to the freeway. There are at least three accidents along that glide path, emergency vehicles blocking the way, a flooded water main, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Regardless of the difficulties facing you along that route, nearly everyone has to find a way to avoid and overcome those obstacles at some point in their writing career/avocation just to get a glimpse of the four-lane freeway ahead--which is moving fast with a lot of traffic.

Number two is a unique animal unto itself. (More on that later.)

As I have expressed before on this blog, authors who do not follow guidelines for submission or come across distastefully to the person most likely to accept their work will find it sleeping with the . . . (I know "Ants" will be able to look at this post and fill in the last word).

My next several posts will discuss each of these options, and how we work them. I think potential authors will find it interesting, and hopefully useful.



Larry Tagg said...

I followed the submission guidelines, and now I'm following avenue #3, which I'm extremely happy with. Ted and I have a sophisticated division of labor: he barks out directives and I do them.
I put everything I had into my book, _The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln_, and I'm looking forward to doing everything I can to publicize it, with the help of Ted and Sarah.

Larry Tagg

J. David Petruzzi said...

Hey Larry,

You and I have the same standing with Ted - neato! He snaps, I do.

Seriously, spending any time at Ted's #3 is a blast. You better hang onto your seat (and anything else within reach) and be prepared to work long and hard. Like anything else, writing worth doing is worth doing well (or at least trying to). And you'll sacrifice for it.

I'd chat more, but Ted said I need to get back to work.


Anonymous said...

This is the one publisher of more than a dozen who had the courtesy to reply to my manuscript submission query (and yes I followed all requirements exactly as I learned to do from a prior blog posting on this and other sites).

Mr. Savas exchanged six emails with me even though he did not accept my manuscript. His advice was sound and I am sure he had better ways to spend his time. I thought that was very courteous and above and beyond the call. Other editors won't even respond.

As a lurker here I have learned a lot about publishing from reading this blog, and am just tyring to get onto that onramp so I can see the freeway! (That seems an apt analogy.) How unusual is this publishing business compared to my real day career that pays the bills.

Irene Brazielle

Tina Cline said...

I had the same experience as Irene. It was invaluable to have Ted reply to my submission with his thoughts and advice! Ted truly is a gem and my first experience with book submission. I truly did not expect any response, let alone his thoughtful comments. Thank you Ted! To all others: IT PAYS TO READ DIRECTIONS! Do what the publishers ask, follow the guidelines - a skill you should have learned well in primary school - if not from your own parents.
I too am working through my first book, trying to find a fit. I am actually visualizing a book best suited for young civil war readers. Any easy escape into the Union winter headquarters of 1861-62. It is based from a telegram log I have of all incoming messages to Gen. Irvin McDowell. Keeping it as simple as the telegrams, highlighting specific people, places, and topics of the time in hopes to entertain and kindle new civil war buffs. Through my teens I was always extremely interested in the civil war, but never found a fitting book to quench my thirst for information. I needed something in-between highly-detailed military/political research and the 2 pages in my high school history books. I hope to fulfill that gap for others, kindle flames in a younger reader to explore further in a specific topic they found intriguing in my writing.

Thank you so much Ted for your time with me. You are definitely a diamond in the rough!

Tina Cline