Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Get Your Fantasy Story Published: Insider Manuscript Submission Tips From an Editor


Writer's Digest Books & Magazine recently contacted me about guest posting and I said absolutely! They also provided a new page for my personal website. Check it out! It's about Writing YA Fantasy. But first, read this guest post by a Content Editor of Writer's Digest. And if you don't know about Writer's Digest, check it out, too. It's an awesome writer's resource.

Ask anyone. The biggest question when you're a writer is likely "how do you get published?" Some writers start thinking about it way before they should—before they've focused their attention on improving their craft and writing a good story. In my opinion that should always come first and if you're serious about getting published, well, then that's your first step, isn't it? Make sure your writing is good and write something worth reading. 

That said, when you are ready to get published, what do you do? There's plenty of advice on how to get published out there—volumes and volumes written on the subject. But within all that wealth of information that's available, how do you know which advice is right for you, especially if you write within a specific genre like fantasy (or an even more specialized niche like fantasy YA or say paranormal YA romance)? The key (aside from having a really great manuscript) is in being detail oriented and communicating well. Sounds easy enough, but if you've been writing for any length of time at all, then you know it can be tricky. Here are a few tips that I hope will help you in your search for publication.

Do Your Research

Before you approach a book publisher with your novel submission make sure you research the kinds of books they publish—you don’t want to send your futuristic cyberpunk novel to publisher looking for dragons and swordplay.

Obviously you should know the subject matter they deal with (and you can often find this out easily enough from their website or a market listing). But beyond that, I recommend dipping into a few of their books. See what the voice of the writers they tend to publish is like. What tone do their books have? It may sound obvious, but if you like what you are reading, then it's more likely that your book will be a good fit. If something about the books turn you off then maybe your writing isn't a good match for what the publisher is looking for. It doesn't mean your writing is bad—only that you're not compatible. As with dating, maybe it's best to just be friends.

This applies to short fiction as well. Before shopping your short story around make sure to read the publications you intend to submit to. Reading other stuff out there will help you zero in on the right publications to target your stuff to, and chances are it will also help your writing. After all, to write well you should read a lot.

Read the Fine Print

I can't stress enough the importance of carefully reading the submission guidelines. Everything you need to know about the way a publisher (or publication) wants to see material submitted will be outlined there. If you don't read them, you're setting yourself up for failure. It's like showing up for a test in school without having studied. Sure, you might skate through somehow, but the odds are definitely not in your favor. Guidelines exist for a reason. Read them. Follow them.

Query Letters

The query letter is your admission ticket. This gets you through the gate, so it's important to do it right. The best way to do that is to keep it short and to the point. The agent or editor who reads your letter wants to know in the fewest words possible what your book is about. Period. My advice is this:

  • address the agent or editor by name
  • deliver a short sentence or two that tells them who the main character is and explains the crux of the plot
  • offer any relevant details about yourself (this should be short and only be included if it seems like something that might be helpful in selling the book)
  • and finally ask them to contact you if they are interested in seeing a submission package

For short fiction you can ignore this last point since for most short stories you'll be submitting the piece itself along with a cover letter. (All of the above info works just as well for a cover letter as it does a query.)

Submission Package

Your submission package is what you send when you get a positive response from your query, asking to see more material. This may vary from publisher to publisher (which is why it's important to read the submission guidelines). Some publishers may want to see a synopsis (a short summary of the entire book's plot), some may want sample chapters, some may want the first 50 pages or so, and some may want the entire manuscript. Their response (or their submission guidelines!) should outline what they'd like to see. Follow those directions as closely as possible.

Submitting Fantasy Stories

So, what is different about submitting a fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal story?

The real answer is “not much.” The process is the same. The kinds of materials, the types of correspondence, the attention to detail—all of these things are pretty much the same no matter what genre you write in.

However, one important thing about fantasy stories is that there is often a great deal of information that needs to be conveyed in order for the story to make sense. After all, in many instances you've built an entire world that is different from our own, or you've invented a system of magic that has an intricate set of rules, or maybe you've created an entire culture or belief system. Such large concepts can be difficult to convey concisely, but that's exactly what you have to do. You need to boil down your fantasy world's setting or the natural rules that govern your characters' supernatural powers to a simple description.

Agents and editors have short attention spans (they have to do a ton of reading). Your fantastic planet filled with seven different warring races that are unlike anything known to mankind may sound amazing to you, but to an agent or editor it can sound like the other 10 projects that crossed their desk just this morning. What makes yours special? What the essential thing about your story that makes you want to tell it? If you can answer that question, then you have what you need to put in your query letter (hint: it usually comes down to your main character and his or her internal or external conflict). The other details are secondary and you should explain them in a way that is short and to the point, leaving out anything that might confuse matters or bog down your pitch.

………………….

Scott Francis is the editor of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, the premiere resource dedicated to helping writers get published and find a literary agent. He is an editor for Writers Digest's writing books where he works to develop resources to help writers advance their writing careers in numerous ways including: improving writing skills and writing techniques, getting published, building an author platform, and learning to be a better writer. He is also the author of Monster Spotter's Guide to North America and co-author of The Writer's Book of Matches.

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