Submissions


Angie Fox and Erin Kellison collaborated for a fantastic post on paranormal romance over at Romance University today.  Find out what they think trends will be and what pitfalls to avoid on the road to publication.

I’ll also be taking questions in the comment section throughout the day, so please do stop by.

A few years back Jennifer Ashley and I did a workshop on Title & Premise and how writers could get the interest of editors, agents or readers before they even started the book.  Today, I want to concentrate on the title part. 

A lot of writers skip skip working on a title or figure that it’s not that important because it’s only likely to change anyway.  And while it’s true that the writing is what will sell your book, the title can lay a lot of groundwork for you. 

I’ll never forget the day colleague Chris Keeslar swung by my office all excited: “I just got this proposal called THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. I haven’t even started it yet, but don’t you just love that title?”  Fortunately, Leanna Renee Hieber‘s writing lived up to it. 

A good title will:

  • Indicate the genre
  • Give a sense of the tone
  • Provide continuity for similar/series titles
  • Intrigue the reader

Julie Kenner (The Givenchy Code, Carpe Demon) and Katie MacAlister (Love in the Time of Dragons; Sex, Lies and Vampires) are some of my ultimate heroes when it comes to clever titles.  But a title doesn’t have to be particularly clever or humorous.  Because, remember, it has to fit the tone of the book.

How to come up with a good title:

  • Figure out what best conveys your style. Is it sexy? Funny? Dark? (all three?) Are you trying to convey a certain time period? 

Let’s use Jennifer Ashley’s paranormal-historical Nvengarian series as an example.  Our theme: Fairy Tales

  • Brainstorm lists of words that convey the style you’ve chosen.

-         Prince Charming, Once Upon a Time, Happily Ever After

  • Start playing around with those words and combining them with other aspects that make your work unique. Look for rhymes, alliteration, wordplay. Keep in mind that it needs to be able to fit on a mass-market cover and still have room for the art.

-         Penelope & Prince Charming has great alliteration and works in the fairy-tale theme.

-         The second book in the series was tougher. Nothing in the list above sounded original enough.  So Jennifer concentrated on the time period with a rhyme and came up with The Mad, Bad Duke.  It’s clearly Regency set–a play on Lady Caro Lamb’s words about Byron “He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know”—which Regency readers recognize.  It also sounds playful and sexy.

-         With the third book featuring a fun-loving Scot, we came up with Highlander Ever After, again pulling in that fairy-tale theme.

     

Where to find inspiration for your titles:

  • imdb.com – The Internet Movie Database
  • your CD collection
  • rhyming dictionaries
  • regular dictionary
  • advertising slogans

Most of all, brainstorming should be a fun process, not a hair-pulling one–even if it feels like it sometimes.  Just stick with it,  don’t be afraid to ask everyone you know for suggestions, and go with what feels good.

And a totally shameless plug that has more to do with art than titles: Check out Jennifer’s PRIDE MATES on Clash of the Covers this week.

Last year, New York Times best-selling author Brenda Novak raised more than $280,000 in her online auction to benefit diabetes research.  And this year she’s set the bar even higher.  Because Brenda is the consummate achiever (seriously, there’s nothing this woman can’t do!) and she has loads of amazing offerings at this year’s auction, I have no doubt she’ll hit her goal. 

The 2010 auction is now live.  For writers, there are 60 agent evaluations up for grabs and nearly 50 editor evaluations.  

If you’re the winning bidder on mine, you’ll receive a line edit of your cover letter, first three chapers and synopsis; a written overall critique of strengths and weaknesses and suggestions for improvement; and a follow-up phone call, should you wish you ask further questions.  Bidding goes through May 31.

There are also loads of ARCs, signed books, handbags, jewelry, art, an iPad, a Nook, and a load of other amazing items, including special promo opportunities for published writers.

Executive Editor Don D’Auria acquires horror, thrillers and Westerns, but his take here on the rejection/acquisition process holds  true for many editors, no matter what the genre.   This column originally appeared in issue #61 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Welcome to the first installment in what I hope will be an interesting column for anyone who’s curious about publishing seen from an editor’s perspective.  I wouldn’t presume to say that I can speak for all editors.  I’ll write about things as I see them.  I edit a mass market paperback line of horror novels.  Magazine editors or editors who work in the small presses will possibly have very different opinions.  But I think we all see the same sorts of things.

One thing I hope to do in this column from time to time is answer questions that writers or readers have about the whole editorial process.  So often what editors do is unseen or misunderstood.  People tend to see the results of what editors do, but not the way it’s done or the reasoning involved.  So if I can, I’d like to open the door a little, to let folks see what’s going on inside the office, and also inside my head.

For a lot of people, an editor’s job consists mostly of deciding whether a book is bought or not, so I thought I’d start with that perennial question, “How does a good book not get chosen?”  Or to put it another way, as many writers no doubt ask when another book is bought instead of theirs, “What was the editor thinking?”

Is it just a question of whether a book is good?  If it’s good, I buy it; if it’s not, I don’t?  I wish.  That would make things so much easier for me and for the author.  No, there are a lot of other considerations that go into the decision.  When I reject a manuscript, I’ll sometimes say in my letter that the manuscript was well-written but I still couldn’t buy it.  And I wonder if the author believes me.  But it’s true.  I’ve had to pass on a lot of really well-written novels over the years.  I wish I could have bought them all, but I couldn’t, for a variety of painful reasons.

The simplest reason is often that, even if a particular manuscript is great, there might be another one that’s still better.  My job is to find not only good manuscripts, but the best ones.  Leisure Books publishes two horror titles every month.  Twenty-four per year.  That’s what I have to work with, no more and no less.  Every year I have to find what I consider to be the twenty-four best books to put into those slots.  The really tricky part is that I did publish twenty-four titles last year, and pretty much all of those authors have a new book now that they’d really like to see me publish this year.

Editing a line of books is kind of like being a manager of a baseball team, with the writers as the players.  The success of the line depends on the success of the individual writers, who are, after all, the ones who do the work that their fans pay to see.  But I have to choose the best players and make sure they play at their highest level and make for a well-rounded team.  No baseball team, even the Yankees, can afford to buy every great player out there.  And they can’t buy too many of the same kind of player.  Just like no team wants only good pitchers or good outfielders, I can’t buy only good ghost stories or good extreme horror or good…whatever.  I need a nice mix.  So if I find myself overstocked with, say, subtle psychological horror at some point, and a writer or agent sends me another one, unless it’s absolutely fantastic I’ll pass. 

Also, just like a manager in baseball doesn’t ideally want a player who’ll be with them for just one game (or one season), I prefer writers who will continue to write and whose career I can build over the course of many books.  This means that many of those twenty-four slots this year will be filled by authors who wrote books last year.  The downside of this is I won’t have many open slots for newcomers.  Given the hundreds of submissions I see every year, that’s a lot of competition for just a few positions on the team.  So a lot of great potential players are sent home to try out for another team.

When I explain that I can only publish so many books each year, I’ve had authors say, “That’s OK, buy my book now and I can wait as long as it takes for you to publish it.”  That would be nice, but from a business standpoint it simply won’t work.  When I buy a manuscript, Leisure pays an advance.  If we don’t publish the book for two or three years, we don’t see any sales from it, and thus no money coming in for years after we’ve laid out the advance.  Not a good move financially.  Plus, if I get too many books sitting in my inventory, waiting to be published down the road, it prevents me from buying anything I may see for a while until I can work off that inventory.  And no publisher likes to close themselves off to submissions.

So let’s say for argument’s sake that a manuscript is really, really good, better than most of the manuscripts I’ve seen.  In fact it’s one of the top contenders for the few available slots in my list.  And it isn’t in a subgenre that I’ve published a lot of recently.  Clear sailing, right?  Close but no cigar.  There are still some things that can trip up a manuscript just before the finish line.  One of the most painful for me is simply bad timing, where I really love a book but I just bought a book with a very similar plot.  It happens and it kills me.  And I know it isn’t easy for the author either, because it isn’t his or her fault.  If I had seen the same manuscript two months earlier, I would have bought it and the other guy’s manuscript would have been rejected instead.  But I can’t publish two books with very similar plots, so the second one has to go.

I know.  Ouch.  It wasn’t the author’s fault, right?  But none of these things is the author’s fault.  (Assuming the manuscript is good.)  Is it the author’s fault that I have too many books in my inventory or that I simply don’t have an open slot in the immediate future?  Or that she’s written a vampire novel and I already published four vampire novels this year?  Or that his timing is just off?  No, the author did what he or she was supposed to do; write a really good manuscript.  I wish I could publish them all.  But I can’t.  I can only look through them all and pick what I think are not only the best ones but also the right ones.  Am I always right?  Not a chance.  And I know I’ve turned down a lot of great manuscripts that another house might snap up in a second, and it’s not because of anything the author did wrong.  That’s why it’s so painful to write those rejection letters.  (OK, maybe not as painful as it is to get them.)  And that’s why it’s so important for an author not to get discouraged, to keep trying, and keep submitting their work.  All of these factors outside of the author’s control can change.  If your timing was bad this time, maybe it’ll be better next time.  If my inventory is high today, maybe it’ll be lower in six months.  If your manuscript isn’t right for one house, it can easily be perfect for another.  But if you believe your work is good and you stop submitting it after a few rejections, you’ll never know how some of those factors might have changed.  And if you don’t give your work the best shot you can, that’s really painful.

Because of ongoing issues with the Dorchester message boards, we have postponed the query critique.  We’re going to relaunch it when we have brand new forums set up, so stay tuned.  And thanks for all your patience.

The amazingly energetic and talented Chuck Sambuchino posted an interview with me over on his blog at Writers Digest today.  Chuck is a guy who obviously does his homework and goes way beyond ”What do you do?” and ”What is Dorchester looking for?”  Today is part one of two.

If you want to know the scoop about agents and what publishers are acquiring, The Guide to Literary Agents is a must-bookmark blog.

New agents and editors are always hungry to build their list.  They likely read faster, have more openings to take on clients and are eager to prove themselves.

Today PW announced that Stephanie Maclean has been promoted to Literary Agent at Trident.  She is actively seeking romance, women’s fiction and young adult.  But as with any agent, check the submission guidelines before sending.

So once you get all the information presented in an offer, what do you do with it?

If you’ve already done a lot of research, the editor is someone you’ve always wanted to work with, the house was specifically targeted and you like everything you’re hearing and you’re comfortable with understanding the terms, you can certainly accept then and there.  It’s rare, but it happens.  And it underscores the importance of really doing your research.

More likely, you’ll want a little time to process and think it over and as much as we’d like you to jump up and down shouting “Yes! Yes!”, we completely understand.  The editor will probably want an answer within a day or two or at most a week.  It’s not good form to leave an offer hanging for any extended period of time.

So the first thing you’ll want to do is contact every agent and publishing house that’s also currently considering the work and let them know you have an offer on the table.  Once folks hear that, you should get a response pretty quickly.  You don’t have to give any specifics on where the offer is from or how much it’s for.  You want them to fall in love with your work, not the dollar signs. 

If you and an agent agree on representation, any negotiation henceforth is handled by that agent.  Contact the editor and let her know who will be representing you, and they’ll take care of it from there. 

If it’s been about a week (or whatever the agreed on time frame is) and you’re still not hearing back, it’s time to make a decision.  And here’s where I don’t have any bullet points to help you out. 

But I can emphasize that you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the editor.  Ask as many questions as you can think of.  We’re all straight, honest, up-front kind of people–and very used to dealing with new authors; there probably aren’t too many questions we haven’t heard before, no matter how “newbie” you think they might be.   We want to build a lasting relationship and obviously trust is a big part of that. So we’re definitely going to do what we can to help you along the way.

Because we often work with writers who don’t yet have agents, on some occasions we get to call the author directly to make an offer.  One of my absolute favorite parts of the job is telling brand new authors  I want to buy their book.  It’s really heady to feel like you’re helping someone make her dream come true. 

And it’s especially fun because there’s very rarely any kind of warning for the soon-to-be-published author.  Nothing beats being part of that initial excitement. 

But there’s also a lot of information to take down and questions authors know they should be asking, but they’re so caught up in the moment, they forget what they are.  If you’re not in a good spot to write down information or need a moment to catch your breath, it is absolutely ok to ask the editor if you can call back shortly.  In that time you’ll want to grab this quick primer on what every Call should include:

  1. how many books
  2. the advance: How much is the publisher paying up front and how will it be paid out?  Depending on how much the offer is for, if the manuscript is complete, sometimes the author can get the full payment “on signing” or “on execution,” which means once the contract is signed.  But usually publishers like to break up the payments into parts, especially since we often won’t be seeing any potential profit from the book for well over a year.  If the ms isn’t complete or needs revision, it’s quite common for half to be paid on signing of the contract and half on delivery and acceptance of the ms.  The more money that’s on the table, usually the more divisions of the payout there are.
  3. royalty rate: What is the author’s percentage?  Is there any kind of escalator for selling above a certain threshhold?  For example, you might get x% up to 100,000 copies sold and then x+2% thereafter.  The royalty rate is often determined by the format of the book.  Rates are generally higher for hardcovers and trade paperbacks (because of the higher cover prices) than they are for mass-markets.  At Dorchester, we only do mass-markets, but for another house, you’ll want to ask.
  4. sales territories: Where is the publisher allowed to sell the book?  Generally, this is either boils down to World rights or U.S./Canada.  And closely tied to:
  5. translation rights: Can the publisher sell the book to foreign publishers to do editions in their native language?  This and all the subsequent rights mentioned are divided into percentages, indicating which portion of the money received goes to the author and which goes to the publisher. They can generally be gone over pretty quickly.
  6. audio rights (to produce audio books)
  7. electronic rights (to produce ebooks)
  8. reprint rights: You tend to see this most when a book is done in hardcover by one company and paperback in another
  9. movie/TV/radio/merchandising: These are listed separately, but they tend to go together because they’re so interconnected
  10. 1st serial/2nd serial/digest:  Honestly, rarely do these rights come into play unless you’re some megastar whom magazines are willing to pay to excerpt from because they think it will help sell copies.  And that finishes up the rights.
  11. option/first refusal clause – You want to talk about this so you know what your publisher wants to see next from you.  Basically it’s giving your editor a certain time period to have the proposal for your next book exclusively, during which you can’t sell it to another house.  Often publishers want to keep the option as broad as possible (next romance novel), and agents try to make it as narrow as possible (next book of this series) so they have the ability to get deals at other houses for their client.  Usually, we end up somewhere in the middle (next romantic suspense). 
  12. due dates – when any necessary revisions are due or if the contract covers multiple titles, when those books would be due.

Ok, so that’s all stuff that’s going to be included in the contract.  Other questions you’ll want to ask to help you make your decision:

  • When will the book be scheduled?  Sometimes we might not know an exact month, but we can usually give you some indication.
  • Will there be revisions required, and if so, how extensive? It’s vital to know whether the editor has a whole different vision for the book (though if so, I’m not sure why she’d buy it in the first place).  This will also help you gauge the accuracy of the due dates mentioned above and also whether you want to put in the work required for the advance offered.  If you have multiple offers, it can also help you determine which to take.
  • Will the title change? Again, it may be a little early to know for sure yet, but if you’re especially married to your title, you’ll want to let the editor know.

I think those are the biggies.  A lot of authors ask about print runs.  But they vary so much, there’s not really a solid answer.  A lot of authors also then ask if I can recommend agents.  I can’t, out of fairness to all the agents I work with and because the author/agent relationship really has nothing to do with the editor, but that’s a whole post for another day.  In the meantime, this should give you plenty to chew on.

Do you have America’s Next Best Celler? 

Dorchester Publishing has teamed up with TextNovel.com, a company that specializes in delivering free serialized fiction to cell phone and email, in a new contest for unpublished romance writers.  The winner will receive a publishing contract with Dorchester.

We’re looking for any kind of romance subgenre: historical, paranormal, futuristic (or sci-fi romance or whatever you want to call it), urban fantasy, humorous contemporaries or time-travel.  Finished manuscripts should be roughly 50,000-75,000 words.  Please note, this is shorter than our regular submission guidelines, but we felt that the nature of the medium allowed for a more concise format.

Entrants will be asked to post short “chapters” from today until Nov. 1.  Posts can be made as often as you’d like, as long as there’s at least 6000 words posted by Nov. 1.  The top 20 finalists will be determined by number of subscriptions and reader feedback.  And then Dorchester editors will narrow the field to the top 10 to keep posting.

Further contest details can be found here.

And the official contest press release here.

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