Publishing Tips

M|W News: 5 common mistakes authors make…

If you’re looking to submit to a publisher, you’ll want to know the five most common mistakes authors make when submitting and our tips on how to avoid them. We’ve recently released an episode of Mirror World News on this very topic so I’ll just leave that at the bottom of this blog post for you!

The number 1 mistake authors make when submitting is…

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  1. Ignoring the submission guidelines

I can’t stress this enough: FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!

If the publisher has provided guidelines on their submissions page, those guidelines are there to help you! Often, the guidelines will tell you exactly what the publisher wants to see and how they would like it delivered to them. If the publisher asks for a query and a synopsis, send both! If they want three chapters of your manuscript, send three chapters. Don’t send the whole manuscript, or an arbitrary number of pages or words, just give them what they have asked to see. Following the submissions guidelines is an easy thing to get right and trust me, a publisher appreciates when the directions they’ve given are followed.

Typically the guidelines are found on the publisher’s website and are clearly labelled as ‘submissions guidelines’ or ‘how to submit’. Its definitely worth finding and following these instructions, as not following the guidelines can lead to any of the other common mistakes found below.

  1. Submitting the Wrong Genre

Typically publishing houses have one or more genres that they specialize in. Most often, the genres that the publisher specializes in or is looking to specialize in will be listed with their submissions guidelines. If not, this information can easily be found by doing a little research on the publisher or looking at what other types of books the publisher has already published. If your book doesn’t look like it fits with the other books the publisher has published, then it’s less likely the publisher will take an interest in your manuscript. If the publisher states they are looking for action-packed science fiction, for example, they definitely won’t want to see your sweet contemporary romance, or your story about vampires and werewolves.

The trick to avoiding this mistake is to research the publishing house before submitting, follow the guidelines provided, and find publishing houses that publish the genres that you write in.

 

  1. Omitting important detailsmistakes

The publisher needs to know certain facts about your manuscript to know if it is something they are interested in. Omitting important details like the genre of your manuscript, the word count, the target market, or even your background as an author, can hurt your chances because it creates a scenario where the publisher has to guess. The publisher could contact you to fill in the blanks for them, but more often than not they do not have the time to do this. Not knowing the word count, or not having the genre spelt out for them might not be a deal-breaker, but for every guess the publisher has to make, it becomes harder and harder for a decision to be made regarding your manuscript. This could result in delays, or for the publisher deciding to pass on your book simply because they can’t tell if it is worth the risk.

 

  1. Leaving out key plot points

We’ve talked about synopsis writing before, but another common mistake authors make when submitting is not including the entirety of their plot in their synopsis. The whole purpose behind requesting a synopsis is so that the publisher can see at a glance what the arc of your story is and this includes the ending! Make sure to include your major characters, setting, key plot points, climax and conclusion in your synopsis without simply listing them. If you need help doing this, please see this episode of Mirror World News.

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  1. Failing to ‘hook’ the reader

In your query letter, your synopsis and your sample chapters, it is crucial to ‘hook’ your reader. Your main goal when preparing your submission package should be to capture the publisher’s interest. You have three main chances to do this.

In your query: What is it about your manuscript that makes it interesting or different? What would make someone want to read it? Distill this down to a simple statement if you can and include it in your query letter.  If you’re having trouble with this, try pitching your manuscript to a friend or family member. What can you tell them about the story that would make them want to read it?

In your synopsis: A synopsis is a summary, but you’re still telling a story. Try to hit the highlights of your manuscript in an engaging way. If you’re finding this difficult, practice by writing the blurb that you would want to appear on the back of your book, then flesh it out by revealing all the plot points and most importantly, the ending.

In your sample chapters: I’ve written a whole blog post on this topic alone, but here are the highlights. Make your opening line count, start where the story picks up and gets interesting, avoid bogging the reader down with too much information all at once and make your writing as engaging and active as you can.

That’s it! And now, you can listen to Adam discuss this topic on Mirror World News! Be sure to like, subscribe and comment if there are any other topics you want us to cover on the blog or on Mirror World News! Thanks!

How to submit to a publisher

you-will-need-bangleTo submit to a publisher you will need:
A Query Letter
A Synopsis
The First Few Chapters of your COMPLETED manuscript

We’ve talked about Query Letters, but what about the ‘synopsis’ you’re asked to include with your submission package?

A synopsis is a succinct summary of your novel. It should include the setting, the main characters, the plot as well as the main subplots, and give an indication of genre and atmosphere. When writing a synopsis, focus on being brief while hitting the highlights without sounding like you’re just listing out plot points. Somewhat like a sports announcer gives a play-by-play to summarize what happens in a game, a synopsis should break down what happens in your novel in an engaging way.

Isn’t a synopsis the same as a blurb that you might find on the back of a book?
No, actually. If you’re good at writing engaging blurbs, that’s a good place to start, but blurbs contain questions meant to hook the reader into wanting to know more. A synopsis shouldn’t leave too much to the imagination, it should answer the question ‘what happens in this book’ and it should tell the person reading it how the novel ends and the plot is resolved.

How long should a synopsis be?
However long the submission guidelines are asking for. No longer, but shorter is okay as long as all the information is covered.

Typically submissions guidelines ask for a query letter, a synopsis, and the first 1 to 3 chapters  of a manuscript. Why only the first few chapters? Can I send any three chapters I want? Or just send the whole manuscript instead?

It’s best to send what the publisher or agent is looking to see and generally they will always want to see the beginning. The reason for this is to see if the story and the writing grabs them. Typically, an editor or agent can tell within minutes of reading the first few pages if the book is what they are looking for and if the writing has the strength needed to ‘hook’ them. Also, if they start at the beginning of your book and can’t follow along, they know that there’s a problem. The opening to your story should be strong, engaging, clear, and hook your reader as soon as possible, preferably with the first line or first paragraph.

If an editor or agent likes what they’ve read, they will request the remainder of the manuscript, which is why it is crucial to have the book finished and as polished as you can make it before submitting. You don’t want to miss that window of opportunity when it comes.

For a more in depth discussion on this topic, check out the latest episode of Mirror World News:

While you’re there, check out this interview Murandy Damodred and I did with Adam last week:

 

 

Mirror World News: The Importance of Beta Readers!

I first came across the term ‘Beta’ in reference to video games. When I worked at First Age Studios, we made use of teams of Beta Testers to try out games and applications that were still in development to get an idea of whether the game was ready to go to market, or if it still needed a little tweaking. And guess what? It pretty much ALWAYS needed some improvements.

Books are the same.

imagesWhen it comes to manuscripts, these test readers are called Beta readers. They’re the people you get to read your manuscript before it’s ready to be submitted to an agent or editor and again before it is ready to go to print.

Beta readers can help catch things that the people who are working closely on the manuscript, namely the writer, the editor, and the publisher, might miss. They can also serve as a test audience to see how the book will be received in general by the people who read it.

For this reason, it’s important to have a variety of Beta readers read through the manuscript and give feedback. No two readers are alike and more people test reading means a larger pool of opinions to draw from. Too many beta readers though could pose a logistical problem, so I recommend sticking to three to five if possible. This leaves room in the unfortunate case that one of your readers isn’t as reliable or helpful as the others, and doesn’t overwhelm you with notes afterwards in case everyone is really thorough.

So who makes a good Beta reader? Well, technically anyone who reads your work in this pre-published stage and gives you feedback is a Beta reader, but the more feedback they give, the better. The Beta readers to avoid are the ones that give one word answers or who just tell you ‘I liked it,” or “I didn’t like it.” The point of having your manuscript read at this stage is to get feedback, positive, negative, or otherwise.

This feedback can give you an idea of whether your book might be engimagesdaging to your audience, whether it fits the genre you are writing in, or whether you missed or overlooked something in the plot, characters, or setting. It can also help you predict and be prepared for the kinds of things people might mention when reviewing your book later when it is available for sale.

Now typically, Beta readers are not professional readers. They are simply people whom you have approached or who have maybe offered to read your manuscript. You’re going to need to tell them what to look for. I suggest sending them a quick and broad questionnaire along with your manuscript so they know what kinds of things you want them to look for while reading. I would recommend including some general questions like, ‘What did you like?’ ‘What didn’t you like?’ ‘What do you think could be improved upon?’ as well as some more specific questions that highlight the things that you maybe know you want to work on, like ‘How do you feel about the prison break scene in chapter 5?’

As a publishing house, when we employ Beta readers we’re looking for a variety of things,, namely, how engaging a story is, what works and what doesn’t, if the author’s intentions come across clearly, and if there are any plot holes or things that the readers don’t like or don’t understand.

Ultimately the goal of having a manuscript BETA read is to help look for weaknesses in the story that can be fixed or strengthened and to test the manuscript with readers to see how they respond to it.

So you may be asking yourself, ‘What do I do with the feedback once I get it?’

Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you read over the opinions and the suggestions that you get back from Beta Readers.

  1. Take all criticism with a grain of salt
  2. Only use the suggestions you agree with
  3. Compare all the feedback and pay closer attention to the points where the opinions align
  4. Only make those changes you feel can reasonably make without changing your vision or compromising your story
  5. DO NOT rewrite your book to suit the opinions of others; instead use the opinions to make improvements as you feel necessary
  6. Remember that it’s your book and you have the final say in how the story is told.

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For an in-depth discussion on Beta readers and their usefulness, check out the latest episode of Mirror World News here: https://youtu.be/7y6z-vWIF_k