This week I invited three editors to speak to my writing class at the Irish Writers’ Centre: Helen Carr from the O’Brien Press, Grainne Clear from Little Island and David Maybury from Penguin and Brown Bag Films. All wonderfully honest and entertaining speakers.
Here are some notes from their talk – I hope you find them useful. All three editors take (and actively encourage) unsolicited manuscripts – check their various publishers’ websites for submission details.
How They Decide What to Publish
Helen Carr explained that she’s looking for ‘the new Derek Landy’ – great fantasy/action adventure for age 9+, books for girls a la Judi Curtin and Anna Carey, YA books like John Green’s. No pressure then! She keeps a close eye on the newspapers, trade press and social media – to see what’s topical and what people are talking about.
Writers and Social Media
All editors agreed that having a social media presence is vital for emerging and established writers alike. The first thing they all do when they read a manuscript they are considering is to google the author. A well written blog or website is a bonus; odd things on their Facebook/Twitter feeds is a no no. So keep it relevant and PG, folks if you want to write for children.
The Cover Letter
They all emphasised the importance of a good cover letter – clear, short and well thought out. Find out the editor’s name and address your submission to them directly. Always type your cover letter. Do no open the letter with ‘Hi! I’m Molly McGolly and I LOVE children.’ Grainne Clear says that she ‘judges people on their cover letter’. David Maybury says to avoid the ‘my mum/class/sister loves this book!’ Don’t put in anything too personal and only include relevant information. The fact that you are a teacher/librarian/bookseller is relevant; the fact that you studied science/accounting/languages at college is not (unless your book is related to this).
The Importance of a Strong Opening
If the editors like the covering letter, they will read the first 50 or so pages of the book. But no more. If they like your book after reading 50 pages, they will read on, if they don't they will put it aside and move on to the next manuscript. So make your opening as strong as you can, grip the reader in the opening sentences and don’t let them go.
The Importance of Dialogue
Helen Carr says good dialogue is timeless. All the editors look for strong, sharply written dialogue. All dislike adverbs (he said longingly, she shouted loudly) and Grainne Clear mentioned the fact that you can’t laugh out a sentence. Avoid ‘It’s a fine mess,’ she laughed. When in doubt, she/he said is the default.
Digital Road Testing
David Maybury is happy for writers to test out their writing on sites like Wattpad. He says this works especially well for YA novels and for younger writers. He mentioned the success of Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, which started life on www.fictionpress.com.
All three editors accept and encourage (good, well written) unsolicited manuscripts. David Maybury from Penguin is sent over 30 Irish manuscripts a week. It takes the editors several months to read manuscripts – so be patient. And be professional at all times. An email or phone call to see where your manuscript is in the process is fine, hassling or stalking is certainly not. You want to come across as a person who is good to work with.
The good news is that all three are actively looking for new voices. Maybe 2014 will be your year. Good luck!
Yours in writing,