Beyond the Manuscript: What ELSE an Editor Looks for in a Submission

Let’s pretend (only for one horrifying second) that the content of your manuscript didn’t matter.

Yes, I know. It’s awful. But bear with me.

Let’s pretend that it didn’t matter how good or bad your actual writing was, and that an editor only focused on the other pieces of your submission—your platform, your hook, etc.

Okay, now you can stop pretending. That was pretty scary, right? Don’t worry—content is always going to be the #1 concern for an editor. However, it isn’t the only concern. So let’s dive into the other elements of a submission an editor considers when thinking about acquiring a book.

Author. Okay, this one seems pretty obvious. Of course the editor wants to know more about you. (Who wouldn’t!?) We all do some casual internet stalking when we get a new submission to see if the author seems like the kind of person we want to work with. (We usually want to work with people who like books and animals and tea or coffee. We’re easy to please.)

Agent. Having an agent is great. Having a great agent is even better! This may not be a huge factor in deciding whether or not to pursue a manuscript, but editors will definitely think about the editor/agent relationship as a piece of the puzzle. Is the agent or agency reputable? Do they have strong ties with other authors? Will the agent support the author throughout the publishing cycle? You see where I’m going.

Publishing History. Is this your first book or your tenth book? Have you sold five hundred copies or five hundred thousand? Editors will look at previous publishing history for authors, not only to see if there have been successes, but also to see if there have been failures. This is important for when we pitch a book to our sales accounts—booksellers and librarians love authors with a strong publishing histories and they will be open to debut authors, but they will be wary of someone who has crashed and burned for them in the past. An unsuccessful book isn’t a make-or-break issue, but it is worth taking into consideration, especially if there is a pattern across multiple books.

Platform. It’s the worst. I mean the best. I mean…it’s necessary. Having an online presence is important, and editors expect to type your name into a search bar and find relevant results. Make sure you have a professional web presence (website or blog) and a professional social media presence up and running when you submit. You’ll have to make one eventually! Also, if your platform extends from the virtual world to the real world (think: speaking engagements, performances, and the like), let us know!

Connections. I love knowing that an author has book friends. Book friends are the best! Not everyone must list their potential endorsers or influencers in a submission, but it can be helpful to include for an editor if you have some notable connections (and it saves me time on the aforementioned internet stalking). When editors are thinking about an author’s reach, we often take into account the authors, bloggers, reviews, etc. that are connected to that person.

Hook. A hook is a great marketing tool. (Learn more about creating your hook here!) Having a hook for your project will go a long way with your editor… and your marketer… and your PR rep… and your sales rep… and the person in the bookstore who is recommending your book. Moral of the story: have a strong hook.

Trends. Trends are good. They’ve brought us a lot of unique, wonderful novels. Trends are also bad. They’ve brought us a lot of derivative, boring novels. My advice? Don’t write in a genre or on a topic because it’s popular. Odds are, things will have changed by the time your book gets published. For example, 2008 was a great time to be publishing vampire YA. But 2017? Not so much. If editors feel something is too trendy—as in it will have become dated or overpublished when the book releases—we may not move forward.

Timing. Editors always have to consider the potential timing for the release of a book. A Christmas title should come out before Christmas. A summer beach read probably shouldn’t publish in January (unless you’re in Australia). We consult our publishing schedule to see when a book will fit and what the competition from other publishers might look like.

Audience. And finally, we are always responding to what readers want. That’s the whole point of publishing! Editors must be thoughtful about whether there is a market for a book and who that audience will be. Without readers, we are nothing. Nothing! (Thanks, readers!)

And finally, to reiterate, your manuscript still matters most. So make sure your writing is polished, your story is strong, and you’re putting your best foot forward with your query!

3 thoughts on “Beyond the Manuscript: What ELSE an Editor Looks for in a Submission

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