(Originally posted at Roses of the Prose, May 12, 2012-revised slightly to share today :)
How do you get on a "sweet list", whether a series sweet list or an editor’s sweet list. Well, it’s easier than you think…if you are willing to put in the work. Simply put, do your homework.
Remember how your mother always asked, “Have you done your homework?”…and somehow she could tell from the look on your face if you had or not? An editor has that same ability, we can tell who’s done their homework and who hasn’t, and that goes a long way to your chance to make the sweet list.
Let’s start from the beginning: Homework…studying…study your craft.
Take the time to read books from the genre you want to write and to read various books on writing. I say various because not all writing books work for all writers. There are many good ones out there, but you need to find the ones that speak to you, that you can relate to and understand in a way that makes sense to you. For some, that means more technical books on grammar etc while for others, a more biographical outline from an author’s point of view works better. But the more you read, the more you pay attention and find what you like and don’t like, the more you end up finding your own voice.
The next step is to write, and just keep on writing. Every story, every project, every trial and error, every critique or rejection teaches you more and more. This includes finishing a story. Why I say this is that a lot of writers work so hard polishing and perfecting the first three chapters in overexcitement to submit something. The problem here is that stories have these funny ways of going off track, of changing, growing, dropping off here and overcompensating there as you get that first or even second draft worked out. It is so easy to work over and over on those first three chapters, figuring you’ll work on the rest while you are awaiting a response from the publishing house. But by doing this, you are cheating yourself, and you’re story. You see, you really never know if a story is going to work unless you write the whole thing, only then can you see the full scope and any holes that need filling. A story can take so many twists and turns along the way, how will you truly know all the story can be until you discover each thread, each path that takes you to the happy ever after? Not to mention all you learn about the craft and yourself along the way. Trust me, nothing worse for an editor than getting a great partial submitted and eagerly requesting the full manuscript only to have the rest of the story falls apart because it was rushed or not given as much attention as the first three chapters had been given.
Now, once you do get your story written, that is the time to start the next part of your homework….studying publishers. This is VERY important. Read ALL the submission guidelines to the various publishing houses you are interested in. It is hard to get on a romance editor’s sweet list when you submit a contemporary intrigue story that has lots of adventure, but no love story. Or a romance with the sweetest, chase kiss to an erotic publisher. Or you submit a story with no faith element to a Christian publishing house. Believe me, it happens, more often than you would think.
Along with this is studying their basic submission instructions, too. For instance, if the submission guidelines say a manuscript should be double spaced, Times New Roman 12 font with one inch margins then that is what you should send in. I really don’t like to use the term “test” but in effect, that is a bit of what you could consider submission guidelines. For the most part, they are there to keep all manuscript formats uniform, but at the same time, it is a small test to see if the author did their homework, the simplest of homework at that. *Raising my hand* I admit it, if I request a manuscript, I often give a general format I prefer as noted above right in my request email. And if I get a manuscript back in a weird font with two inch margins etc, well, it definitely gives me pause, concerned that if the author didn’t follow my basic instructions for formatting then how are they going to handle more in-depth edits?
Lastly, when you’ve done all your homework, the best way to get on my sweet list is to capture me, right from the 1st paragraph. Put me right in the action from the get-go and you’ll get my attention pretty quick.
Take the Honky Tonk Hearts series that we’ve launched at the Wild Rose Press. How did these authors stand out amongst so many submissions? How did they get on my sweet list? For exactly the reasons above….they did their homework, they studied their craft and proofed their work, they read the submission guidelines for both the publishing house and the specific series, they emailed and asked me questions to be sure of the HTH guidelines and they queried and submitted as requested….then they captured me, each and every one right from the get go. The series was fairly open for setting so long as one pivotal scene took place at the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk, so I was looking to see the various ways authors interpreted this. And no, not every submission contracted was perfect from the start and not all were from established authors. I asked for various revisions from a number of them before contracting, and each author did their homework yet again. I saw the effort from each one, that strive to be the best they could and create the best story they could. Each author was open and willing to work to bring out the most in their stories and the series, and that also reflected highly with me.
Most times I end my email notes to authors with “As always, any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know.” And I mean this, every time to every one. I’m here to help, to guide and to bring out all a story can be and all my author has for that story.
And the best way to help editors help you, is to do your homework, read, ask questions, and most of all, keep writing.