From the Desk of: The Managing Editor
Five Characteristics We Consider When Choosing a Manuscript to Publish
What types of things do you look for when you’re deciding whether or not to publish a book? I get asked this question a lot, both in and out of the office. And while every publisher is different, at Amberjack Publishing we look for some very specific attributes when we review a manuscript to decide whether or not it is a good fit for us. These five things apply to all the types of books that we publish, including illustrated children’s, early reader and middle grade, young adult, creative nonfiction, new adult and adult fiction, and literary fiction.
Here are the top five characteristics that we consider when deciding if we are interests in publishing a manuscript.
We look for diversity in several different aspects of each book. Not only do we want diverse characters (i.e. people of varying races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds), but we also want to be diverse in our choice of books and genres. We do not want to limit our company by focusing on only one genre.
Just as most people’s interests are diverse, we want our books to reflect that diversity as well. If we continued to tell the same story with the same characters in all of our published works, people would lose interest very quickly.
Additionally, we also want the subjects, settings, and themes in our books to be diverse. We are particularly interested in finding books that tell the stories that have not already been told. By sharing a wide range of stories, characters, and experiences in our books, we hope to reflect our diverse planet and all of us who share it.
This characteristic is especially important because we want as many people to read and enjoy our books as possible. What good will it do to spend as much time and energy on a manuscript as we do, only to have no one know about it, and therefore, no one read it? Not only does that not reflect good business practices, but it doesn’t benefit anyone involved, including, most importantly, our authors.
At Amberjack, we like to stay up to date with the changing trends in the book publishing industry, and that means making sure the genres that we publish are the ones that people want to read. We also make sure that we aren’t currently publishing books whose genres/stories are no longer popular. I think we can all agree that vampire novels, and the like, enjoyed a long moment in the spotlight, but most of us (myself included) are very much done reading them.
In short, authors should pay attention to what’s popular right now, but not regurgitate another book’s characteristics simply because that’s what’s selling right now. Tell your story, it will be much more compelling.
3. Author’s background
As I mentioned above, we like to publish authors from diverse backgrounds, but we also want to make sure that an author is willing to help promote their own book! There is only so much that we, as a big “P” publishing company can do to build your readership. That’s why, when an author has been previously published, has their own blog, website, or Twitter following, or has built a community within a writing circle, we are much more inclined to publish their work. We won’t be starting from scratch when we promote the book.
That doesn’t mean that if a first time author has no community or reader following that we won’t publish them, but we’ll be much more likely to move forward with a manuscript if the author has already taken the time to starting building their author profile.
4. Writing style
I think we’re all familiar with a certain colorfully titled bestselling series that is also one of the most poorly written works I’ve ever skimmed. That is to say, writing style is not what sells books. However, we pay attention to writing style at Amberjack. And while we have a team of editors here who clean up manuscripts and correct grammar, etc. prior to publication, preserving the author’s voice is something that is very important to us.
An author’s voice comes through in their writing, and that voice is likely the most compelling for that story. One of our upcoming summer novels, Fever Tree, is written in a style that even some of our editors were not comfortable with—the author did not use punctuation around his dialogue—but it really works for the story. It fits the tone of the book, and if we had followed the Chicago Manual of Style and inserted quotation marks around the dialogue, I believe we would have lost a piece of the story.
That is not to say that all authors should disregard punctuation in their manuscripts with the hope of being published by us, but authors should do what fits their story. What feels right for their characters, setting, and plot. If an author likes short, to-the-point sentences à la Hemingway, she should write that way. If longer sentences with several commas feel more true to the story, she should write that way.
5. Story and genre
This is likely the most important characteristic for every book or manuscript. The story, as I like to say, has to be there. A lot of things can be changed in a manuscript, but if the story is not there, if the story is not compelling or interesting or different, then there is not a reader out there who will want to read the book. At Amberjack, we want to tell stories. And we pay attention to what has already been written. We pay attention to genres—what’s popular and what’s emerging—but if the story is lacking, we simply cannot move forward with a manuscript. An author must pay attention to their theme, and how the setting, characters, and plot support that theme.
Genre is also important, and directly relates to the story itself. There are some genres that we simply don’t publish at Amberjack, but we try to be inclusive to most. And we are actively looking for genres that may not be the most popular at the moment, but appear to be emerging or re-emerging, for example, epic fantasy, western, and romance are currently on our “actively searching” list. However, children’s illustrated, literary fiction, and historical fiction are always popular and sell well.
These characteristics aren’t all encompassing, and we do not review each manuscript with a checklist in hand, but these five are the attributes that we come back to again and again when trying to decide if we’ll publish a manuscript. Just as each author and story are different, the circumstances around whether or not we’ll publish a manuscript are different, but I hope this list is helpful to authors who are currently revising and pitching their manuscripts.