I’m developing a new line for writers which should open the door to many more getting a significant boost in acceptances.
It’s a streamlined way of gaining my attention as a publisher, and should mean that I will soon be able to throw open the doors of Clarendon House Publications to any work - not just short stories for anthologies, or items for the magazine, but any work that you might have completed or indeed still be working on, with a view to having it assessed and possibly accepted for publication.
I’m basing this on over a year of experience now as an independent publisher. Over the last year, I’ve received probably over a thousand submissions of one kind or another, and I’ve been able to make observations about them ranging from their format to their subject matter to their overall shape. All of those observations add up to being able to make certain judgements about whether or not individual pieces of work are viable as publications. Viability is based on questions like ‘Does this work have an audience?’ ‘What is the likely commercial size of that audience?’ and ‘Is there enough potential here to warrant the time and effort involved in publishing it?’
When you submit a work to a publisher in the ordinary fashion, those are the kinds of question which are being asked. Yes, of course, the technical accuracy of the writing and whether or not it’s a carefully crafted piece, whether or not it has some kind of ‘soul’, these all matter - but from a publisher’s perspective, they often lead to more practical questions: is this going to be worthwhile commercially?
The problem is that all of this takes time. A publisher’s desk quickly becomes loaded with unread submissions, and reading is one of the few things in the world which can’t be sped up to any great degree: pages take a certain amount of time to read properly. Most publishers therefore try to reduce this factor by asking for the first couple of chapters of a longer work, hoping to be able to make a judgement based on those as to whether or not to proceed further.
But it might just be possible to circumvent a little bit of this, while also improving the chance of gaining acceptance by answering some of the later questions sooner.
It would mean a certain amount of homework being done by the writer before submitting the work. But that preliminary work would be valuable in its own right, whether it produced an acceptance or not.
The writer would be expected to fill in a standard form which would look something like this:
Name of Manuscript:
Writer’s 50 word blurb about manuscript:
Writer’s assessment of target audience and marketing:
That assessment would need to be a researched one. The writer would need to know who his or her target public were, what their other interests might be, and make an estimation of the size of that audience worldwide. The writer would also need to have a basic grasp of how the work would be marketed so that it reached its particular target group.
This is not to say that the writer would be solely responsible for actually doing the marketing, but this information upfront would enable a publisher to make a rough assessment about the book’s viability prior to even reading a word of it.
This would then be followed by a 1,000 word story synopsis, which would go into detail about the characters and plot. If I were the publisher in question, these are the points I would be looking for in reading over such a synopsis:
Is the author making use of the character archetypes used in all fiction? (This might be, and indeed should be, an inventive and original use of such things, obviously.)
Is the plot constructed in such a way that the reader is pulled along, glued to the page and engaged in the action, using Momentum, Mystery and Morality?
Does the closing of the story match the tone and genre patterns which the rest of the tale would appear to suggest?
Now, you might well think ‘Surely such questions are best left until the actual manuscript is read?’ And you would have a point. But an experienced publisher, especially one who knows how stories really work, would be able to make an initial judgement about the work based on a well-written synopsis which covered the above points.
Having reached the end of this synopsis, the publisher would have probably spent no more than 30 minutes with the submission. He (or she) would have been able to come to some interim conclusions: Does this tale ‘pack a punch’ as relayed by its blurb? Is there a realistic-looking market of some kind for it? Is its target public contactable? And finally, does the skeleton of the story itself look worthwhile?
The answers would not necessarily be final ones at this stage, as the publisher would have yet to read even a word of the manuscript. In a few cases, these early steps would show that the story has no future because the writer has failed to present a convincing case; in a majority of cases, the publisher would perhaps be curious enough to open the story itself. Even when it looked as though the case was not good for a particular tale, a publisher might want to look and see for himself or herself - perhaps the writer has missed something?
But in any event, if this first stage is not powerful enough, the publisher can return the submission and move in without having wasted more than 30 minutes of his or her life on it.
Clarendon House - i.e., me - would not just return the submission at this point. I would try to give specific pointers as to how the submission could be improved, what particular marketing points might be needed, how to improve the blurb and story synopsis and so forth. That would give the writer the option of reworking the thing and re-submitting it.
If however the first part has been convincing, the next part of the submission process would be reading the first chapter of the work itself.
If it were me, I would ask for the second chapter too - AND the final chapter, if available, or, if the work was as yet incomplete, any other chapter. This is for various reasons.
1. The opening chapter obviously gives a flavour of the writer’s style, competence with language and ability to intrigue the reader from the very beginning.
2. The second chapter shows whether or not the writer can get over the ‘hook’ at the beginning and develop the thing along lines that retain reader interest.
3. The end chapter, even though read with the middle of the thing missing, gives the publisher some idea of the competence of the writer in managing the all important end-point of the tale.
The other chapter, presented in the case of the ending not being available, similarly would tell the publisher much about the writer’s consistency, ability to retain attention, and perhaps any foibles of style.
Reading three chapters helps the publisher to see if the manuscript is matching up to the promise offered by the blurb and the outline given in the synopsis.
Having read through these three chapters - which may have taken the publisher a couple of hours, depending on the length of the piece - the publisher would then be in a position to decide whether or not to ask for the whole manuscript.
The way that this new line would run in my office would be
A) spend the first part of any allotted time reading through the first section of submissions presented as above (i.e., blurbs, marketing outlines, story synopses).
B) those of interest, file accordingly; those who didn’t make it, put in a separate file.
C) spend the second part of any allotted time reading through the second section of each of the accepted submissions (i.e., three chapters of each manuscript), making notes.
D) spend the third part of any allotted time writing back to those accepted, asking for the complete manuscript, and to those not accepted, with pointers.
With this system in place, a vastly increased number of submissions could be viewed in any given period. Writers would get feedback swifter, and even negative feedback would contain seeds of guidance and hope.
This new line needs a few details worked out, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of it so that you could see some hope of perhaps finally getting your cherished work into print in some kind of realistic way.
Stay tuned for more about this soon.