What do you look for in a cover letter that pushes you to read the manuscript attached?
I like a cover letter that is well-written and professional. The best cover letters have a solid hook for the manuscript that is specific and engaging and that touches on the four main elements of the story: the protagonist, the main goal, the main obstacle, and the consequence of failure. (For example: Frodo must journey to Mount Doom, battling an army of evil creatures, in order to destroy the Ring of Power, or else all of Middle Earth will fall into shadow.)
What kind of information do you like to see in the short author bio?
When it comes to author bios, tell me the important details about yourself that relate to writing. I’m interested in if you’ve been published before, if you belong to any writer’s groups or attend any writer’s conferences, or if you have won any awards or honors for your work. For first-time writers, that can be tricky since you may not have a long writing resume to share. In that case, less is more; use the space you would have used on your bio to tell me more about your book.
In the first page or so, what are the first clues or triggers in a manuscript that make you know you won’t read more? And which elements do you recognize that make you want to read more?
The first page is so important when it comes to reviewing a manuscript, and yet the main job of the first page is to make me want to read page two. I think it’s important to present a problem on that very first page—it doesn’t have to be a big problem, but if there is something amiss right out of the gate, I’m more likely to continue reading. It’s also great if you can show your hero doing something heroic in the first couple of pages. Again, it doesn’t have to be him saving the world, but a small act of kindness, or a clever quip to showcase his sense of humor, or a moment of bravery can go a long way in establishing a character and making me want to read more about him. I’ll often stop reading early in a manuscript if there are too many grammatical or spelling errors, if the writing voice is flat, if the characters are two-dimensional, if there is too much info-dumping or unnecessary description.
How can authors get their manuscript to the top of the slush pile? How can they set their book apart from other submissions?
Easy—write the best book ever written. :) Seriously, though, often I’ll pay special attention to manuscripts that come in from authors who are active in the writing community, who have attended writer’s conferences, or who have clearly paid attention to the submission guidelines and who have done their homework. Your submission is essentially your job application. You want a publisher to hire you to write stories, and your submission is proof that you would be a good investment. You wouldn’t apply for a job with a company that you didn’t know anything about, so don’t submit your manuscript without doing some homework about the company beforehand.
What are some vital things you feel a manuscript needs before you’ll consider publishing it?
I love to find a great story told with a fresh voice and built on a solid foundation of excellent writing.
What advice would you give NaNoWriMo writers who want to submit their work for publication?
Wait! NaNo is a wonderful way to get words down on paper, but any time you write that many words that quickly, you’ll want to make sure you go back through it and revise it and polish it before you submit it. So enjoy NaNo. Write all the words you have. And then wait a few months to let it settle, then spend a few more months editing and revising. Wait another month just to be sure. Then submit it. It’ll be a better book when you do.
What's the most important thing a writer can do with their manuscript before submitting it?
I don’t know if this is the most important thing, but one thing I like to do is read the manuscript out loud. That will help slow you down and see what is actually on the page and not what you think is on the page. It will help you catch typos, missing words, and spots where the writing is awkward or uneven. And if you are brave enough to read it out loud to someone else, you’ll be able to gauge if you’ve hit the emotional notes you were aiming for. Did they laugh in the right places? Cry? Beg you to read just one more chapter? If not, then you know where to go back for another look at revisions.
Do you like it when authors attach photos of themselves?
Author photos are unnecessary at the submission stage. I’m sure you look very nice, but I’m way more interested in what you’ve written and the kind of story you can tell than in how you look.
Can you tell us a bit about the manuscript acceptance and rejection processes and about how long it usually takes to hear back?
At Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain, the process is essentially the same. An author may submit his or her work online at submissions.deseretbook.com or submissions.shadowmountain.com. Then it undergoes our review process, in which we look at every single submission that comes in and evaluate the overall idea and the strength of the writing. We look at our current publishing plans and see what kinds of manuscripts we need (or which genres are oversaturated). Manuscripts that show promise are passed around the review committee for additional feedback. When we find one we would like to publish, we contact the author and begin the next phase of the process: contracts and scheduling. If, unfortunately, we decide to pass on a manuscript, we email the author with that decision as well. Our review process takes anywhere between eight to twelve weeks.
What steps should authors take upon receiving a rejection, if any?
Rejection hurts, no doubt about it, so I think it’s okay to feel sad when you receive a rejection letter from a publisher—but only for a short time. After that, you need to move forward and submit your work elsewhere. There are a lot of publishers out there, and a lot of options for authors, and the best way to turn a rejection letter into an acceptance letter is to continue to practice your craft, improve your skills, submit your work, and never let a rejection be the end of your career.
The editors at Castle Editorial know how much you want your manuscript to shine before you submit it to publishers. We want to help you get your submission noticed by any acquisitions editor as well as help free your manuscript from those tangles that prevent a publisher from picking your book. Those subtle issues, as Lisa mentioned, include "too many grammatical or spelling errors, if the writing voice is flat, if the characters are two-dimensional, if there is too much info-dumping or unnecessary description." When we get a chance to point those elements out to you with our guaranteed two sets of experienced eyes, we help your polished manuscript rise to the top! If you have any questions, leave a comment below. We can't wait to read your work!
Many thanks to Lisa for all of her great tips and information! Her wisdom and experience never cease to amaze.
Lisa Mangum has worked in the publishing department of Deseret Book since 1997 and is currently the Acquisitions Editor and Product Development Assistant. She specializes in editing fiction for the Shadow Mountain imprint and has worked with several New York Times best-selling authors, including Ally Condie, James Dashner, and Jason F. Wright. While fiction is her first love, she also has experience working with nonfiction projects (memoir, educational, cookbooks, etc.) and some children’s picture books.
She loves finding that “diamond in the rough” in the slush pile, and she is particularly skilled in the developmental editing part of the process. Lisa is also the author of four national best-selling YA novels (The Hourglass Door trilogy and After Hello). She graduated with honors from the University of Utah and currently lives in Taylorsville, Utah, with her husband, Tracy.