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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Finding Authors, Developing Projects

"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, we conversed a bit longer, and I 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 follow 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 snail 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 3 or Number 4. The former is the four-lane freeway to publication with 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 fishes.

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.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Manuscript Process (Part 3)

A small detour in our ongoing discussion. . . As the managing director and acquisitions editor for Savas Beatie, I do my best to evaluate both content and author. Both are important. Sometimes an evaluation tool I use is how authors respond to my suggestions via a rejection letter.

For example, occasionally we get manuscripts we can't use, but I know agents or other editors/houses who might want to see them. So when I reject the query/manuscript, I pass along a suggestion to the author to consider posting comments on our blogs (and others) pertinent to the post topic of the day, and discuss their own situation and manuscript. I also always offer a tip or suggestion that might help them.

Why do I do this? Because you never know who is watching. And as I tell them, agents, other bloggers, other publishers, other editors, et. al., track my blog.

I like to see which authors even take the time to say " thank you" or acknowledge this with a reply (about one-third do, which means the other two-thirds are essentially brain dead when it comes to manners and seeing past square one), and which authors take the time to post a pertinent comment that might help them.

Question: What does this tell me?

Answer: That I likely made the right decision to turn down their manuscript and reject them as authors.

If an author can't follow simply suggestions that will help him or her potentially get published, why would I want them as a Savas Beatie author? There is a reason for everything we do here--even in rejection-suggestions.

Another quick example: We had a full length manuscript biography of a Civil War general cross our desk (I requested to see it). I sent it out to a reader, paid a few bucks to have it read, and he evaluated it pretty carefully. Generally he liked it as a first cut, but had some very straight-up criticism for the author on how it had to be improved before we should accept it (more tactical battle detail, more analysis, and so forth). Tough, fair, and honest. No BS. And we know the market.

I took the time to put all this into an email and send it to the author. It was a long, careful, email.

Guess what? The author did not take the time to even reply. Obviously it was not what he wanted to hear, so he handled it by  . . . not handling it. And by doing so, he told me much about what it would be like to deal with him after the contract is signed.I saw the book a few months later being announced by another publisher who takes almost everything, edits almost nothing, prices their books sky high, and markets into a very narrow niche. What a mistake.

Authors take heed: There is a reason for everything we do here (and this is true in most credible publishing houses). How you handle your end may determine whether you get your work published. Publishing is a very, very small world.

Word travels fast.