Raelene Gorlinsky--Publisher at Ellora's Cave (EC) and very user-friendly toward writers--does a presentation at seminars on what editors look for in submissions. She and Anne Sowards, a Berkley Editor, will be doing a joint workshop at the upcoming Heart of the West conference sponsored by the Utah RWA in Salt Lake City next month (February 3 and 4).
Since Raelene has given permission to share, I am only including her portion of the workshop material which she offered to the authors at EC and invited them to distribute. She also asked that anyone interested in this material consider submitting their best stories to Ellora's Cave.
There are ten items in Raelene's list. I'm going to cover them over a couple of days, adding my own thoughts along the way. Raelene's material will be bolded so that you can keep her suggestions forefront in your mind.
This presentation represents our personal experiences and opinions. But it also includes information from other editors, including those at other publishers. Editors DO talk to each other and share stories, we're in the same profession even if we work for competing companies. (Which is why you should not antagonize an editor at any publisher, even if you are not planning to submit to them.)
***Poll of Ellora's Cave Editors: Top 10 Things We Look for in Submissions***
1. Professional cover letter. "This is the first impression. If the cover letter is riddled with errors or sounds very immature, I assume the story is the same way."
This is a BUSINESS letter. It is not the time to be cute or show off. It is also not the time to compare your work to famous or best-selling authors. Your work will speak for itself.
There are numerous books available that describe a good query letter. My advice: Keep it to one-page. State your purpose, introduce your book, introduce yourself and get out of Dodge. I used the one-line pitch that I had developed to describe my novel to introduce the book.
The ONLY rule I broke in my query letter was that I always sent fifty pages and a synopsis with my queries. The whole--(1) mail a letter; (2) then mail chapters; (3) then mail a full--drove me crazy. I shortcut the process by combining steps #1 and #2. Obviously, this was a more expensive approach, but since I did not blanket agents with letters, it was cost-effective. I spent a fair amount of time building a list of agents that I thought would work for me and my manuscripts. So it was "targeted" querying, not blanket querying.
2. Clear synopsis. "I want to know before spending the time reading the submission whether the story meets our guidelines, is appropriate for our market."
Please note there are two parts to Raelene's advice. The first is to know your market. Before you submit to a publisher, take the time to read their books and guidelines. If the publisher releases spicy books, don't send an inspirational UNLESS it is a spicy inspirational (high concept idea).
The second part of Raelene's advice is to write a clear synopsis. I have to admit, I hate the synopsis. I would rather write fifty pages of manuscript than one four-page synopsis. However, I did get a good piece of advice from author Karen Whiddon. Focus on the story lines, not every detail. In my case, I need to focus on the romance first and then the suspense second, giving the story arc for both.
If you need help with your synopsis, go over to Miss Snark's blog. She reviewed one hundred synopses for people and gave really good feedback at the same time. Check the week of 12/25 to 12/31 (approximately). You'll learn a lot. I did.
3. Correct grammar and word usage, no typos.
Okay, this one is self-evident. No one should have to tell you this. If you don't have good grammar and good word usage, you shouldn't be trying to sell yourself as a writer. LEARN. Proof your letter and get someone you trust to proof it again. When I had my letter as tight as I thought it could be, I gave it to my critique partner and she sliced and diced some more. She was right.
More tomorrow . . .