PSA from an Acquisitions Editor
As the acquisitions editor at Inklings Publishing, my job is to read the submissions box in search of the next book to publish. Yes, I suppose, you could call me a gatekeeper. But that’s not how I see myself. My ONE goal is to find a book, with engaging characters, that makes sense from beginning to end.
Sounds easy, right? Not so much.
To the Slush Pile
Typically, the first three chapters of a submission are brilliant. Entertaining characters. Vivid setting. Intriguing conflict. My pulse pounds as I realize this is it. Finally, the story I’ve been waiting for.
Then (play dramatic music) little things start to bother me. Inconsistency pops up in the characters’ actions or laws the writer set up for the world break. That’s okay. We can fix it. I’m still excited about the possibilities.
Until I hit the middle of the story. By now, I should be enthralled and deep into the adventure or the drama or the mystery. Yet, what invariably happens? The story falls apart. Little things that bothered me blossom into huge plot holes. Inconsistent characters morph into inscrutable personalities.
Not the reaction you were looking for
What just happened? My confusion turns to anger as I realize, yet again, I’ve been duped. This writer fooled me, cheated me. He put in so much effort writing and re-writing the beginning to peak my interest, but only a fraction of that time on the rest of the book.
And people wonder why agents and editors get so grumpy. Try spending hours and hours every week searching through a virtual pile of potential gold, just to end up with nothing but a headache and a pit of despair deep in your gut.
Please! I beg you. Don’t do this. It really doesn’t matter how good the beginning of your book is if it falls apart halfway through.
Avoid the Disappointment
How can you avoid disappointing agents and acquisition editors everywhere? Here’s a couple suggestions.
Critique Group Feedback
Find a local or virtual critique group. Don’t be afraid to vet a few until you join one that fits your style. Oh, and I feel this is important to emphasize, HEAR THEM. That doesn’t mean do everything your critique partners tell you to do. It means if more than one person has a problem with a part of your selection, then there IS something wrong with it. Fix it before you send it to a potential publishing partner (because that’s what I really am). And make sure you work the change into the rest of the novel. I know it’s a LOT of work, but if it were easy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Find some generous souls to read your entire manuscript and let you know what is working and what isn’t. Make sure you include people who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. Don’t just use your mom who loves everything you write or your English teacher who criticizes everything you write. Typically, you can find a group through writer conventions or on Facebook. This is a free service; so, don’t neglect to return the favor for other writers on the same path. And, again, HEAR THEM. (See above for further details.)
I actually don’t recommend this one if you’re looking to be published by the big five or a small press. (If you’re going indie, it’s an absolute requirement.) Professional editing is part of the deal when choosing traditional publishing. Why would you want to spend a couple thousand dollars now? However, you might want to consider it if you’re not getting anywhere in the querying process. After all, you’re paying the editor to point out issues with your manuscript as well as offer possible solutions. It could very well be the edge you’ve been searching for.
Not Looking for Perfection
Look, I’m not saying you need to send me a flawless novel, ready for print, with no issues. I’m not looking for perfection. Quite frankly, if you think it’s perfect, I, or any other agent or editor, will STILL want to make some changes. It’s inevitable.
All I expect is a complete, well thought out story that is consistently compelling and believable from the first word to the last. I need to see that you worked just as hard on the murky middle as you did on the shiny beginning.
Otherwise, how am I to expect you to work hard to polish any rough edges I might notice? I have no way to judge your work ethic or your grasp of the business beyond the few sentences in your query, the quick breakdown in your synopsis, and the manuscript pages you email me. Show me there what you’re made of.
Basically, I want to find my next favorite book and I want to put it into as many hands as possible. And I want to find an author I can work with to create great fiction for years to come. I have no other agenda. Please don’t be the only eyes who have read your manuscript before you send it to your potential partner in the publishing industry.
That’s all for my PSA. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.