Thursday, March 29, 2012

Secrets of the Acquisitions Editor: 5 Steps to Getting Your Novel Published

As my guest poster today I'm thoroughly impressed. When asked to describer herself Erin Lale wasn't pulling any punches "Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books and Editor and Publisher of Time Yarns and an author published both self and traditionally." See what I mean.

Secrets of the Acquisitions Editor: 5 Steps to Getting Your Novel Published

By Erin Lale, Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books, and Editor and Publisher of Time Yarns

If you want your novel published by a publishing company, there are five important steps to ensure success. These steps are based on the five most common reasons why I reject a manuscript submission from Eternal Press or Damnation Books.

1.   Follow instructions. Read the submissions guidelines and follow every requirement. If the guidelines say to submit your manuscript in doc or rtf format, don’t submit it in a different format. If the guidelines say to include a marketing plan, then do so. “Market plan: whatever will sell millions of copies J” (yes, that is a quote from a real cover letter) is not a marketing plan. If you don’t know how to write a marketing plan, it’s OK to ask for help. An author’s marketing plan is just a list of all the types of publicity and marketing in which the author is willing and able to participate. An example would be doing a guest blog post via email, like this one except about your book. Not following instructions is the most common reason why I reject a manuscript submission.

2.   Write a strong opening scene. The second most common reason why I reject a manuscript submission is a weak beginning. Often, I receive manuscripts in my slush pile which are weakest at the beginning and get better as they go along and have terrific endings. To me, that is evidence that the manuscript is a first draft, and the writer learned to write better as he or she went along. Of course there is nothing wrong with improving as one learns by doing, but the beginning is the most important part of a book for grabbing the reader’s interest, so many books would be much better if the writer rewrote or completely eliminated the first chapter. Often, the viewpoint character, the person (first, second, or third), or another important element of the book changes after the first few pages, leaving the book with an opening that does not reflect the quality or tone of the rest of the book. Of course there are examples of classic books that have beginnings that are dissimilar from the body of the book, but an author hoping to be published by an modern genre press should keep in mind that readers want to know with whom they are supposed to identify and what their problem is on page one, and may choose to stop reading if that information is not provided in the first chapter.
3.   Impress me with your marketing plan or list of published works and the size of your fan base. If I’ve put your book in my “maybe pile” and am trying to decide between two books I’m not sure about, the cover letter that states “I’m a 21 year old college student and I worked really hard on this book” (yes, that is a quote from a real cover letter) is going to come in second place to the one that states “I’m the editor of (name of magazine) and I can promote my book to my (number of) subscribers” (and that is also a quote from a real cover letter, and yes, I offered her a book contract.) Like any other business, a publishing company wants to sell units. Unlike some of the larger publishing houses, some small presses are actually more likely to want your book if you previously self-published it as an ebook, if you have a good sales record, some good reviews, and some publicity already in place, such as a book trailer, really cool author website, or speaking engagements and convention panel participation already booked for the coming year.
4.   Choose which publishing company to which to submit your book carefully. If I get the same book in my inbox at both Eternal Press and Damnation Books, which have very different lines, it seems to me that the author is just shotgunning their book and does not really know where it fits. Also, if you are sending out simultaneous submissions, it is considered good form to say so in the cover letter. Also, keep in mind that if you are submitting to a genre publisher, the editor will be assessing whether a book fits the genre the author has assigned it in the author’s cover letter. I have rejected a book that was supposed to be in the Young Adult category for having one completely inappropriate scene near the end of the book, because I would be embarrassed to give that book to a friend’s child. I have rejected a collection of short stories because the submission guidelines say we are closed to short stories, and I have rejected a Western submitted to Damnation Books because there was nothing dark about it; it could have played on family viewing time TV as an episode of Walker Texas Ranger, and Damnation Books only publishes dark fiction.
5.   Be original. I’m more likely to like a book that has original ideas, although in category genre publishing it is acceptable to follow the crowd. I will undoubtedly buy more vampire romances this year, but just once I’d like to read about a skinwalker. More important than originality of ideas, though, is simply submitting your own writing. One of the less common, but more egregious, failings of manuscripts I’ve found in my slush pile is plagiarism. Copying and pasting from websites is really obvious when the document file contains live links back to the website from which it was stolen, and yes, that was a real book in my slush pile too.


My career in the writing and publishing field began in 1985, when my poem was published in an anthology. I wrote for the Sonoma Index-Tribune, was editor and publisher of the quarterly magazine Berserkrgangr, and owner of The Science Fiction Store in Las Vegas, all before the era of internet publishing. I published 15 of my own books and founded Time Yarns, and came out with 2 anthologies of other authors’ works under that label before becoming Acquisitions Editor of Eternal Press and Damnation Books.

Eternal Press site:

Damnation Books site:

Time Yarns site:

Youtube link to watch the Time Yarns trailer:


non HD

Link to buy my short story collection Universal Genius:

Universal Genius is a collection of my science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism short stories, mostly reprints from magazines which are out of print. The Timelessness Machine is a classic from the first issue of Sterling Web and is also the story which originated the Time Yarns universe, spelling out the way the physics of attempting and failing to time travel works in the Time Yarns stories. The recent Time Yarns anthologies each contain a story in which attempted time travel results in similar kinds of spectacular failure,  Testing Time by Tony Thorne MBE in Cassandra’s Time Yarns and 1400 Hours by Ian Miller in Anarchy Zone Time Yarns.

link to buy:

link to buy:

1 comment:

  1. ::shakes head:: Thank you for giving specific examples, rather than speaking in just generalities...and now I feel like sending flowers or chocolates to the acquisitions editor of every publisher out there! Holy moly!