Publishing Insider: The Art of Submitting (and Acquiring) - a guest post by Carrie White-Parrish

Recently, Glass House found itself once again involved in the hurricane-level excitement of not one, but two #pitmad events … even though we weren’t supposed to be taking submissions at all. And THEN we agreed—or maybe we agreed some time ago—to be part of a #pit2pub event in February. Again when we’re not supposed to be taking submissions.

Obviously I’m not very good at the whole ‘we’re not taking submissions’ boundary. But there’s a good reason for this. As a publisher, I love fresh meat. Wait, that came out wrong. As a publisher, I love NEW PROJECTS. I love hearing about new ideas, meeting new authors, brainstorming, getting into a new story, and talking to the author about what we might do with it. In short, I love the acquisitions process.

I just don’t get to do it very often. Because it can also be incredible exhausting. And depressing. Not only for the authors, but also for the editors. Because here’s what: The truth of the matter is, acquisitions can be just as hard on the editor/publisher as they are on the author. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. After all, I’m in the position of power, right? I get to laugh my wicked laugh (which sounds like MWA HA HA, btw), wave my magic wand, flitter my magic hands, and dictate the fates of the authors who are praying that I’ll like their manuscript. And I’m sure that the many form letters saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ add to the idea that the acquisitions editor is a faceless robot with no heart, and that we actually take joy in turning people down.

That’s far from the truth, so I’m here to not only dispel the myth, but give out some helpful tips as well. The Truth About Submissions, if you will.

Truth #1: I get too attached to manuscripts and authors when I’m in acquisitions. I get the grabby hands and the Gollum voice and start saying things like “I wants them alllllllll.” I exchange wonderful email chains with the authors, doing brainstorming and getting to know them, and I start thinking immediately about what we might be able to do with their books.

Truth #2: Negotiations are scary. Once we get to the point where we’re up against brass tacks, so to speak, I turn the conversation over to someone else. Because when it comes to negotiations, I CAN do them, but I haaaaaaates it.

Truth #3: Having a deal fall through makes me cry. That’s right, I admit it. If I’ve put time and effort into an author or manuscript, and have grown attached to them or their stories, it throws me into a deep depression when it doesn’t work out. So there you go—it’s not only heartbreak for the author!

So how do we all make the submissions process easier and better and more fun? Moving on to what authors can do to ease the road, so to speak.

Truth #4: Pitch only what you know the publisher likes. Honestly. We’ve had pitches for gay erotica, poetry, nonfiction, and the like … for a house that publishes MG, YA, and NA. And it’s going to be an automatic no if you don’t give us something we can work with. Which is just going to make everyone sad.

Truth #5: Arguing with us when we say thanks but no thanks isn’t going to change our minds. We’ve had authors do that too. And it just makes it all harder. If the answer is no, realize that we’ve considered it, and think that your manuscript would do better somewhere else. Telling us that we’re wrong isn’t going to change that.

Truth #6: Give us your best shot right off the bat. And this is where the advice truly TRULY comes into play. Because every time I open a sub, I’m looking for some specific things, and too many authors don’t realize this. I’m looking for the Catchiest First Line Ever. Think the first line of your book is the most important line in the whole thing? Well you’re right, but you’ve got to start with the first line of your pitch. Grab me right off the bat. Give me a complete synopsis—with the plot intact—so that I can see where your book goes, and why. Highlight your best, most awesome characters, and tell me why I’m not going to be able to live without them. Don’t hold back. This is your baby, so talk about it like it’s your baby! Because if you can’t sound excited about it in the pitch … why should I get excited about it as a publisher?

Truth #7: This is where too many authors fall short. Tell me how I’m going to be able to sell you as the author. The book is the first step, but as a publisher I’m selling you as well—we’re going to book appearances and blogs and radio shows and columns, and we need to know how we’re going to say that you’re more interesting than other authors. So give us the start of our marketing plan. Are you secretly related to George Clooney? (oh my God, can you introduce me???) Do you have contacts to the biggest Alumni Association in the nation? Are you going around the country next year, with the option to make stops at Every.Single.Bookstore? These are the things that catch a publisher’s eye, and you’d be surprised how many authors I’ve signed on marketing plan alone.

Truth #8: It might not work out, no matter how much we all want it to. And there’s almost always a good reason for that. The truth is, publishers are looking for something very specific—they’re expecting you to put your heart and soul into a story that you then put down on paper, and they’re expecting that story to fit their house, and be completely marketable within their realm of expertise. Those are a lot of pieces to come together, and sometimes they just don’t. Maybe the editor sees that there are going to be disagreements about plot, or that you’re saying you want to write YA but are actually writing adult romance. Maybe your concept is actually closer to something they already have in-house than they realized, and there would be too much overlap. Maybe there are differences in terms of expectations. And none of these things are anyone’s fault. They just are. No publisher wants to sign a project that doesn’t fit the house. It would be a disservice to both the author and the house itself. So if it ends up being a no, gather up your heart, go read some of the awful reviews people have left for Harry Potter on Goodreads, and carry on. Because there’s a 99.9% chance that it wasn’t about you, and that there IS a right home for your MS out there. You just have to find it.

Carrie White-Parrish is a dreamer, a rebel, and an admitted bibliophile. She started Glass House Press—her second company—when she ran across a manuscript that deserved to be published, and hasn’t looked back. Though her tastes run from MG to historical fiction to high fantasy and back, her heart truly belongs to YA. When she’s not editing or publishing, you can find her taking over the world, hanging out with her many spoiled pets, or traveling the world with her beloved husband.

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