As the submissions editor here at New World Library, I’ve reviewed thousands of query letters, proposals, and manuscripts and spoken with umpteen hopeful authors. Frequently, I wish I could, like our founder, Marc Allen, says, “give away the essence of what I know” to every author who approaches us. So when WritingRaw.com asked us to complete an interview about the submissions review process, I was happy to oblige. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look, with answers from me and from our editorial director, Georgia Hughes.
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When reviewing a submission, what do you look for?
The first thing I check is whether the topic is something we’d be interested in. Incredibly, we’ve received everything from primers on historical figures to advocacy for self-castration. But this question has subtler shades: for example, we have books in our backlist that were channeled by the authors’ spirit guides, but those books were acquired from another publisher, and our current editors are not interested in new channeled books. Or another example: even though we publish books with the goal of helping readers create a better world, we aren’t publishing new books that address large-scale social issues, like domestic violence or global warming.
Next, I look for whether the author has a platform. An author’s platform is their existing ability to sell books, whether through popular workshops, a long list of clients, or speeches at large venues. I’m not looking for whether an author could do these things but rather whether an author is already doing these things on a highly successful basis. This is an important part of publishing in our corner of the spirituality and personal growth market.
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The final thing I look for is the mysterious quality of “power” in the writing. This is a different thing than mastery of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. It’s a quality that’s almost impossible to explain but easy to recognize. When I read powerful writing, I have a sense that it comes from the deepest part of the author’s nature. It seems to flow naturally from purpose and heart. (That’s my personal take on it, at least.)
An editor’s decision not to acquire a book involves so many particulars, and I don’t know whether there’s a way to learn them beyond lots of experience in the industry. I hope you can take this fact as even more reason for you not to take a rejection personally. It’s also a compelling argument for getting a good agent: they have the industry experience and will know the specific interests of editors they work with.
Any suggestions or comments on how a writer can break into the publishing industry?
I can mainly speak to the field of personal growth and spirituality, and I’ll do it in terms of platform: get out there and offer your message to anyone who will listen. Explore how you can help individual people with what you know. At first it might be friends, friends of friends, and new people you meet; later it might be clients, workshop participants, and audiences. The more you speak and teach, the more interesting you are to a publisher. And beyond that, spreading your message in person will help you hone it. You’ll see what resonates with people and what confuses them, what’s new and interesting and what makes their eyes glaze over. And you’ll see what resonates most with you. That’s important, because if you’re like most people, it will take some exploration to find the core, essential, utterly unique ingredients of your message.
Aside from excellent writing skills, what are the literary factors that make an author successful?
It’s important to be focused on your readers when writing. How can you help them most? As a reader yourself, what do you look for in a book? What do you love most about your favorite books?
Another important element is to make sure that everything in the book truly addresses the topic of the book — don’t wander off into tangents or too many personal pieces that take the focus off the intention of each chapter, each paragraph, and each sentence. In other words, as you’re writing, make sure that you are constantly keeping in mind your “ideal reader” and specifically addressing that reader’s questions and needs.
Authors become successful through marketing, but the first step to marketing an idea or a book is to understand the “perceived need” of the person you’re marketing to. Never lose track of that reader, but be prepared to pitch and shape your book like the best advertising campaign, making it appealing and inviting.
We hope this has been helpful. May your experiences with writing and publishing be fulfilling and enlightening!
For information about submitting your work for our consideration, see our submissions guidelines.