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Advice from the Acquisitions Editor

Arguably the most stressful part of an author’s professional career is submitting their work to a publisher, be it a short story for a journal or a manuscript for a novel that took years to craft. Putting your writing out there to be judged by others is said to be like laying one’s soul bare to be picked apart. This metaphor is entirely accurate, as authors pour their heart and soul into their work. As an author and an acquisitions editor, I have perspective from both sides of the desk. I hope that these five pieces of advice will help you on your journey as an author, whether you are submitting to Kyanite or other publishers.

Be Patient

You might have a short story that can be read in half an hour, or a short novella that would take up an afternoon. The editor should be able to give you an answer the same day, right?

Why is it taking so long to read a 2,000 word short story?

While the days of stacks of paper manuscripts might be over for most of us (see our Environmental Commitment for more on this), most publishers still have a virtual pile of electronic documents to read and consider, especially if they accept open submissions. 

Your manuscript won’t take three to six months to read, but when you consider there might be two hundred such manuscripts in the to-be-read pile – or more – there is a lot of time being invested in reading through submissions. I encourage anybody who has submitted to follow-up with the publisher, but keep in mind that the industry generally is a slow-moving beast and that waiting to hear back is a normal part of the submissions process.

Don't Get Discouraged

You got a rejection letter from a publisher, so what do you do now? Scream in anguish at the heavens for cursing you? Give up on writing? Binge on a gallon of ice cream and watch a Gilmore Girls marathon? While the last item on that list might be good therapy, the other two are not healthy for yourself or your career.

First of all: Keep in mind that publishing is a business. While printing and selling books is a lot more fun than running a retail chain, there are still business considerations that must be made. It’s not always a question of whether or not a book is ‘good.’

In fact, at many of the larger publishing companies, the decisions are not made by editors alone. Acquisitions meetings are generally quite large affairs with representatives from several departments, including the dreaded sales and marketing professionals. While these are the people who may one day be selling your book, they’re also the ones to tell the editors they don’t think they can sell your book.

Next time you get a rejection letter that has a very bland ‘not a good fit for us’ message – something that might even come from me – don’t interpret it as being swept aside or ‘let down easy.’ Sometimes, it’s just the fact of the matter that not every book is a good fit for every publisher. Keep submitting and eventually somebody is going to think it is a good fit for them.

Seek Feedback

There is a reason rejection letters from publishers are often a generalized form letter, and this ties back to both of the above topics I discussed. When an editor has fifty rejection letters to send out after an acquisitions cycle, and is still staring at a stack of hundreds of manuscripts yet to be reviewed, it isn’t practical to send a personal message to every author. 

When I set out on this journey, I swore that I would be different. I would send a detailed critique to every single author who’s work came across my desk. The reality is: there isn’t enough time. And then there are the works that ‘just don’t fit.’ There isn’t much to say in some cases beyond that.

Still, if you get one of these letters it does not hurt to ask for more information. I’ve actually built relationships with authors who have done as much in the process of giving feedback and answering questions for them. Some publishers might not be responsive to this, but I feel that asking for feedback on your work shows an interest in your own growth as an author; and I dare any editor to have negative words in response to that!

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite

Now that you’ve gotten feedback, what are you going to do about it? Will you send another copy of the exact same manuscript to another publisher? That depends on the feedback. If you get some advice for improving upon the work, you should take advantage of the opportunity to polish it up before sending it to the next publisher.

They say that writing is rewriting, and this doesn’t end with your first submission. With luck, you’ve gotten some technical advice from the editor who reviewed your manuscript. It could be as general as “I didn’t fall in love with the characters” or as specific as “Don’t use so many adverbs.”

No, really…don’t use so many adverbs.

Now, rather than being offended that the editor picked apart your writing (see also: ‘Don’t Get Discouraged‘); realize that we are all human and that we are constantly learning and developing. This is a great opportunity for you to grow as an author and for you to improve upon your work before sending it to the next publisher. Sometimes, you may even be invited to re-submit the same piece to the same publisher after a revision.. Take advantage of the opportunity!

Keep Writing

What does one do after they have submitted a manuscript?

“That’s a silly question,” you say. “You are supposed to sit in front of your email client eight hours a day hitting the refresh button.”

See also: ‘Be Patient

No! Keep writing! Did you just submit book one of a trilogy? Start writing book two! Have you blogged on your author website lately (you do have an author website with an active blog, right?) Are you like me and have a hundred ideas for stories rattling around in your skull? Pick one and write it!

Writing is a continual process of growth and discovery. When you finish a project and send it off to a publisher, take a day to celebrate. Crack open that special bottle of wine you’ve been saving or take that trip to the park you’ve been putting off, but then get back to work! Use your time to get the next project off the ground, work on your blog, or edit that dusty manuscript that’s been sitting on the shelf for two years. Whatever you do, make sure you keep writing.

I hope that these little nuggets of wisdom help you through the process of submitting your work to a publisher, be it Kyanite Publishing or another company. The big things to remember are that the process takes time, it’s a business so don’t take it personal, ask for feedback and try to improve your work, and never stop writing. Even if you face the day where the cold, hard truth hits you that a piece you wrote just isn’t good (I’ve written a lot of these myself), don’t give up. If it needs work, work on it. If it’s beyond fixing, chalk it up to ‘practice’ and move on to the next project. We are all constantly learning and working to be better, and the only way to do that is to keep working. Never, ever give up. 

B.K. Bass is the Production Director and Editorial Manager for Kyanite Publishing. In addition, he is also the Managing Editor of Kyanite Crypt and the Editor-in-Chief of the Kyanite Press journal of speculative fiction. 

B.K. is also an author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror inspired by the pulp fiction magazines of the early 20th century and classic speculative fiction. He is a student of history with a particular focus on the ancient, classical, and medieval eras. He has a lifetime of experience with a specialization in business management and human relations and also served in the U.S. Army. When not writing or helping authors with their work, he is an avid table-top gaming geek. B.K. is owned by three cats and a Paperanian named Sassy.

Learn more about B.K. at bkbass.com

All images (other than B.K. Bass’s photo) courtesy of pxhere.com, used under Creative Commons license.

3 Comments

  • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

    Sound advice for the novice, B.K. Folks new to the process may not understand some of these realities. I’ve also had publishers tell me that they have a similar project already in-house and they don’t want to be put in a position of competing with themselves, which sounds reasonable to me if a bit frustrating. Writers must realize, too, that publishers are reluctant to offer any really harsh criticism, even if they feel it’s deserved, because they know the next time they see you, you might be on Oprah’s couch making mock of the idiot publisher who said you couldn’t write! There are other, better sources for critiques.

    On a more personal note, I have spent my self-imposed vacation studying the Craft of Horror. There are stories in me, and I have every hope of getting them out! I’ll let you know if it goes well, and will also be discussing it on my blog as it seems appropriate. Fingers remain crossed…

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