In the course of my tenure as Publisher for the erotic romance imprint of a small press, I have received a great number of submissions, from shorts for our themed “quickie" lines to full-length novels. While our current catalog is rather impressive, you can be certain the number of books that did not make the cut is much, much higher. Like our parent company, our imprint maintains a rather low acceptance rate.
Please know that when I pass on a manuscript, the decision is not borne of a desire to be sadistic or hurtful to authors. You won't find me in a dungeon lit by a single bulb, cackling with glee as manuscript after manuscript is stabbed repeatedly with a rubber stamped marked PASS. Our staff is comprised of authors, and we know the hard work, the dedication, and the emotion involved when writing a story. In our collective histories, we too have received rejection notices, and we know how disappointing it is. We wanted to scream, cuss, and eat everything in sight to dull the pain.
Truth be told, I would like very much not to have to reject any books that come our way. I am a publisher, and I am in the business of publishing books. I WANT to publish books. I want to give romance readers the hottest romance and the most memorable stories I can find.
However, I want to publish the right books, the best books. Though I don't expect every manuscript that comes my way to be the next, erotic Gone With the Wind, I like to think I have a good eye for manuscripts that fit the mold of my house, and have the potential to be big sellers. Now that some of our books are showing up at physical bookstores, I want my brand to be synonymous with quality as our books are shelved alongside other great romance authors. I want readers to browse the shelves, see the imprint, and immediately reach for the book.
Once in a while, it happens, and I offer a contract. Yet, more often than not, I am forced to deliver disappointing news to hopeful authors. When speaking before the Chesapeake, VA chapter of the RWA, I ducked behind the podium after announcing my task as the “hatchet woman. " The gesture brought laughs, but we all know rejection can hurt.
At times, I am asked why I pass on books. Though my publishing house reserves the right not to comment on rejected submissions, occasionally I will offer constructive criticism, particularly to works that nearly missed our criteria for an acceptance. At times, too, I do get a few head-scratchers in the reading queue.
In the spirit of better defining literary turn-offs, and in hopes of bringing some light-heartedness to the journey toward publication (as a writer with a file cabinet full of rejections from every major house, I know I could have used a laugh back then), I submit to you a list of steps to take to not receive a contract with a publisher. Do the exact opposite of everything listed here, and I can assure you that your chances of having a publisher's logo on the spine of your next book will greatly increase.
1) Say hello to the next Jan Karon (or Stephen King, or Anne Rice, etc. )
I'll preface this item by saying that I love Jan Karon's Mitford books. I read the first six in a week, and cried through Father's Tim's heartaches and joys. The characters are endearing, the stories delightful, and the romances sweet.
Sweet, this is the operative word. It doesn't surprise me that authors want to emulate Karon's style, but unfortunately an erotic romance house is not the publisher for presenting it. Consequently, any author who would submit a work of a genre not considered by a particular house is going to receive a rejection slip, regardless of how good the book is. So let this known as Rule Number One: KNOW THE MARKET.
You can visit the Internet for publisher directory websites, or browse the reference section of the local library for a marketplace tome, and there you will find a wealth of information on publishers and where to query your manuscripts. You want to be sure, though, that you study each market before you consider sending anything.
Sending manuscripts will-nilly may result in more misses than hits, thereby increasing your discouragement. If you are a horror author, you wouldn't consider sending your book to Harlequin Romance, would you? On the same note, the author of a Regency romance would not query Tor Science Fiction. Know the market, read titles they have published, before you determine whether or not they would consider you.
Future posts will cover over aspects of manuscript submission and relations with publishers and editors.
Kathryn Lively is the publisher of Phaze, erotic romance in eBook and paperback. She offers free SEO advice to aspiring authors who promote books online.