The Reading of Manuscripts
We asked on Twitter whether you wanted to hear about how we go about reading manuscripts and what we’re looking for, and heard a hearty yay from at least five people, so we’re going to go ahead and write a few posts about it.
So, the manuscripts that come into Strange Chemistry for reading are of the agented variety (although do remember our Open Door period in April when unagented authors can submit their novels!) Our preferred method is that an agent will approach us and introduce the novel before sending it through. This way we gain an idea about what the novel is about and who the author is. Some editors like to see a full synopsis of the novel – we actually don’t like this much. We prefer a teaser blurb, and then to go into the novel fresh. The reason for this is that we then experience exactly what the future reader of this novel will when they pick the book off the shelf in a bookstore. That reader won’t be given a handy dandy two page synopsis of all major events in the book – they will have to rely on the blurb and possibly the first few pages.
We do turn down some novels sent through by agents. They might not fit the remit of the imprint; they might be a middle grade tale rather than YA; they might be too similar to something we’ve already taken on or are considering. We will probably be much more discerning once the Strange Chemistry list is fuller, but at the moment we take a look at a variety of genres, styles and titles.
When we ask to see something, we are never concerned about the current title of the novel. When something comes in called POLTERGEEKS we are obviously going to be massively intrigued, so a good title will help! However, we have changed titles already. Blackwood came to us as Strange Alchemy and Katya’s World was Blood and Water – these were both decent titles, but the former was too similar to the imprint name (unfortunately!) and the latter didn’t convey as much about the SF element as we would have liked. We suggest that an author thinks hard about the best title that suits their book, but also be prepared to accept ideas for changes if need be.
Now…timings. We know that, as the author of a novel that has been accepted by a publisher for reading, you will be actively waiting for a reply. We know that it can be a desperate time waiting for the decision to come through. However… to the publisher your manuscript will inevitably join a list of novels to be considered. At the moment Strange Chemistry has over fifty manuscripts in the inbox – these are manuscripts that have been submitted through agents and accepted for reading. We try so very hard to make a quick turnaround with these submissions, but our work also encompasses editing the novels that we’ve signed, preparing those same novels for publication (copy editing, proof reading, art briefs, typesetting and other funky things), marketing our authors and novels… And we haven’t even mentioned the hours per day spent looking round the Internet and talking on Twitter (which is actually a valid part of our jobs here!) So perhaps it becomes a little easier to understand that, while you as the author are having sleepless nights through the excitement of being read by a publisher, we’re getting stressed at the fact that we haven’t read the manuscript and it’s been sat there for over two months…
Now and then we will set aside a day for some reading. We’ll pick two or three manuscripts (and this is done on a date stamp basis) and settle down to make a decision one way or the other.
When you read a manuscript sometimes you know straight away that you want the book and will read on purely through interest to see what the author has done and how they have taken the rest of the story. This happened to us with SHIFT – the prologue and the first page was enough to make that decision. It’s hard to describe exactly how this feels – a sense of excitement, perhaps, or slight goosebumps; definitely a sense that you want to show this novel to other people. The principle part of picking a novel is knowing that you absolutely have to share a book.
Sometimes it will take a couple of pages, and then you find that you are gripped and cannot put the novel down – we had this with BLACKWOOD. We were intrigued by the premise and felt an immediate empathy with Miranda, the female protagonist, and couldn’t resist turning the pages to find out what would happen.
POLTERGEEKS was all about the voice. Julie, the sassy apprentice witch, was a person we absolutely had to spend more time with, while KATYA’S WORLD left us curious about the setting, so much so that we found ourselves swept into this tale about underwater danger and unseen evils.
In all four cases we knew that they were novels that had to be read by a wider audience. We loved them and we know that others will love them.
There are other types of submissions, though. The one that you read twice over because you’re just not sure how to take it – it will be a complete Marmite read, in most cases, that you know will be loved and hated in equal measure, and you just can’t gauge how much love there will be. The one that you read fifty pages of because you love the prose but don’t know where the plot is. The submission that has a premise to die for, but the writing doesn’t back it up. These have all been ultimately rejected by Strange Chemistry – but we are pretty sure another publisher will have enough faith in them to do them justice.
Because here’s the thing: we have to pick the novels that we are prepared to champion to the hilt. We can’t waver in our belief of them. These are novels that we will be closely working with for the foreseeable future – we will have to read them a number of times, to a great depth of detail, and we will have to shout about them to the whole world. We can’t take on a novel that we have any uncertainty about, because we can’t then do the best job for the author and their book. But another publisher might – what you’re uncertain about, another editor will have read and gone into raptures over. It’s all subjective.
What isn’t subjective is the fact that an editor will often know within the first few pages whether a novel is for them – so, above everything else, make those first pages sing. I mean, sure, the rest of the novel needs to be pretty damn special, but those first pages are going to be what grabs people into your story.
From the picking of the manuscript we then have to take the novel into acquisitions – which we will cover in our next article, since we’ve rambled on quite enough!
So, over to you – ask us your questions about the reading process; this is your chance to quiz us!