Q. What advice would you give someone before they submit their manuscript?
Take care not to send your manuscript too soon. When you think it is ready to send, don’t send it. (This is really hard and requires just about as much willpower as losing twenty kilos or quitting smoking, but try to be strong!) Put the manuscript away for a few weeks, months even if you can manage it, then when you get it out again reread as objectively as you can. Hopefully with fresh eyes, and time to reflect on possible issues, you will be able to polish your manuscript further and fix all the problems that were sneakily hiding away when you were working closely on it. You usually only get one shot for each manuscript with a publisher, so don’t waste that chance by sending material that isn’t as good as it can be. Also, try to play matchmaker; do some research and send your manuscript to the publishers that are the best fit for your style and content of work.
Q. Does having an agent push you to the top of the slush pile?
Generally speaking, if you have an agent, you don’t go on the slush pile. The slush pile is usually filled with unsolicited manuscripts by unpublished authors. Leonie Tyle calls the slush pile her “treasure trove”. So while it may take longer for your manuscript to get looked at, if it is good enough, it will shine brightly and have exactly the same chance at being picked up as those with an agent. After all, it is all about the story and writing.
Q. We’ve all experienced the rejection letter. Should a potential author let it discourage them?
Rejection is difficult, but it is also part of the business of being a published author. It simply comes with the territory. So, no you can’t let rejection discourage you. It is disappointing, but you have to look at it objectively, dust yourself off, and then get back to writing. Writing is a craft, and those who continue to write and hone their skills, will (usually) get published eventually. But it does take a lot of practice, perseverance and persistence. What I like to think of as the Three Ps of Publishing.
Q. How important is it to follow publisher submission guidelines?
Very! Publishers are very busy, and if they go to the trouble of creating guidelines, it is for a reason. Ignoring guidelines makes an author appear unprofessional. This doesn’t give the publisher a lot of confidence that the author would be a person who would work well as part of a creative team to develop their work for publication. So please take guidelines seriously.
Q. Tell us something that has caught your eye, in a good way, in a cover letter?
I only skim cover letters. For me it is all in the story. If I am engaged with the story, however, I might then go back to the letter to see who the author is. Having said this, a cover letter that is short and witty often brings a smile; one that is long and dull can put a sour taste in one’s mouth.
Q. And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?
A great story, well told. A story that engages from the start and makes you want to tuck your feet up under your backside, snuggle into the corner of the sofa and get whisked away. Publishers are looking for strong original voices, stunning writing and storytelling, authentic engaging characters and dialogue, writing that hits the mark for the intended readership. It can be commercial or literary or somewhere in between; complex or simple – it doesn’t matter – because if it tells a great story in an engaging way, publishers will take notice. It is all in the telling!