Another question from a pre-published writer:
How do you know if you have a story worthy of bringing to a publisher? What steps should be taken prior to contacting publishers?
The first is a question rarely asked by writers. I mean, isn't everything we write brilliant? Why bother going to the trouble of writing it down if it's unworthy? And hey, in our own minds, at least, it's better than half of what's on the market, right?
Any story that really is a story--that has a beginning, middle, and end, where the characters are changed and developed by what happens--any story is worthy of being shared with others, regardless of whether you bring it to a publisher or spam your friends' email with it. What makes it unworthy isn't the story itself, but the way it's presented.
1. BORING IS BAD - I've said before, good storytelling is vital. Create a great narrative voice, don't be trite, don't be lackluster, don't use drab words.
2. SLOPPY IS BAD - Check your spelling and grammar and punctuation. Format your manuscript so that it follows industry standards and is easy to read (see my June 8, 2010 blog on formatting). If you have to hand in a printed manuscript, make sure it's CLEAN--no printer splotches, no coffee stains, no crinkled pages.
And, under the last heading, let's also consider research. With the Internet and a little common sense (like not believing everything you read on Wikipedia), there's no reason anymore for sloppy research. The last thing you want your readers or a potential agent or editor to realize is that you don't know what you're talking about.
3. INCONSISTENCY IS BAD - This goes with sloppiness, but covers everything else. Spell your character and place names the same on every page. Don't put three steps up onto the porch in one scene and four in another. Don't start your narrator with a Southern accent only to have it morph into a British accent. Make sure the headings of each chapter look the same--that is, don't capitalize some and not others, and make them the same number of blank spaces from where the text begins each time.
What steps should you take prior to querying a publisher? Proofread your manuscript for all of the above over and over again. Have at least two other proofreaders do the same, people who'll be 100% honest with you--not just love ones who don't want to hurt your feelings. If anyone comes back with the comment, "Your story was...um...interesting," recognize that this is NOT a
Only when your story is spotless and tight and engaging should you even think about a publisher. Then you need to research which publishers are right for your work, and which editors at each publisher handle your genre. Find out if they only look at agented manuscripts. If so, you have to research which agents represent your type of work. Fortunately, you can find directories of publishers and agents at almost any local library and on the Internet.
Next you need to write a query letter to the agent or editor to pitch your story and tell who you are and what experience you have. The query letter also can't be boring or sloppy or inconsistent. In fact, the query needs to be even more exciting than your story. Your letter is often one out of maybe hundreds that an editor will read in a week. You have to stand out.
This sounds like too muck work. Why do we writers keep torturing ourselves this way?
Peace (and good luck),