Please join me in a HUGE welcome to Lisa Mangum, editor at Deseret Book!
Q—Stephanie Nelson asked: What are the biggest faux pas you see from newbie authors?
I love new authors. I love their energy, their optimism, and their enthusiasm. But new authors can sometimes make the mistake of being too eager. Reviewing incoming manuscript submissions can be a slow and time-consuming process, and when an author calls two days after a manuscript has been submitted, asking if I’ve made a decision yet, it’s hard to break it to them that I might not be done with the review (let alone made a decision) for months yet. (Now, it’s okay to call and check on the status of a manuscript, just don’t call every day.)
Another faux pas I see from new authors is calling after receiving a rejection slip to find out specifically why the manuscript was turned down. Publishers simply have too many manuscripts to review and too many books to publish to provide detailed feedback to every single rejected manuscript. If a manuscript shows promise and the decision to accept or reject it was a close one, then often we will provide an invite to revise and resubmit—and often that comes with specific feedback.
I think what it comes down to is that the best thing a new author can do is be professional. Respect the time and judgment of the editor or publisher. Be polite. Be smart about when you contact an editor and what kinds of questions you ask. And most of all, the best thing a hopeful author can do is continue to write and continue to improve.
Q—Wendy Burr asked: What types of things might attract you to ask more from an author even if you don’t accept their current manuscript?
Rejecting an author’s first manuscript, only to accept their second (or third or fourth) submission happens more than you might think. It happened with Brandon Mull. He brought Shadow Mountain a manuscript, which we read, and there were some things we liked about it, but ultimately we said no and then asked “What else do you have?” That something else ended up being Fablehaven. If the writing is strong and shows promise, but the idea is not great, we’ll often ask “What else do you have?” or invite an author to submit their next project. And sometimes the writing and the idea are great, but the timing is bad. If we have just published something similar or have filled up our slots for a particular genre, then we might pass on a manuscript but ask for more from an author.
Q—Wendy Burr asked: What elements are most important in a query letter?
Your contact information is right up there. You’d be surprised how many people forget to put their e-mail address or their mailing address or their phone number on the query letter. (How can we let you know we love your book if you don’t give us any way to reach you?) For me, a good query letter has a strong hook that explains the heart of your book, a concise summary of the plot, and a short biographical paragraph letting me know your writing credentials. Query letters can strike fear into the heart of many a writer, but just remember, at the end of the day it’s a business letter. Be professional and you’ll be miles ahead of the pack.
Q—Kasey Tross asked: What has been the most memorable submission you’ve ever had and why did it stand out (good or bad)?
Oh, there are too many to mention! (Both good and bad.) It’s one of my favorite things about publishing—no two books are alike, so no two books have the same story of their journey to publication. I can tell you that some of my best slush-pile finds were Ally Condie’s Yearbook, Jason F. Wright’s Christmas Jars, and Kay Lynn Mangum’s The Secret Journal of Brett Colton.
Ally’s book stood out to me because the voices of her characters were strong and individual, and I immediately fell in love with her writing style. Jason’s book stood out because it so perfectly captured the spirit of Christmas in an original way; the fact that it had a built-in marketing hook (book + Christmas Jar=the perfect gift) was an added bonus. Kay Lynn’s book stood out because when she sent it in, the manuscript was 600 pages—and after I read all 600 pages I realized there was an amazing 300 page book inside it. She cut it in half, we said yes, and the book spent four months on the Deseret Book bestseller list.
Q—Marta Smith asked: When’s your next book coming out?
My next book is called After Hello and it will be available September 2012.
Q—What are the top five query mistakes people make?
Query letters are a hot topic among writers, and (I hope you don’t hate me for saying this) but I’m not sure there is one magical query letter that will grant you universal access to all publishers. You may need to tailor your letter to each specific agent, editor, or publisher. Having said that, there are a few universal tips I can share of mistakes you might want to avoid.
1. Sending your manuscript to the wrong slush pile. Yes, you need to be in slush piles before you can be out of the slush pile, and yes, you need to submit submit submit, but you also need to be aware of who you are submitting to. If you write epic fantasy, you might not want to submit your book to a publisher that doesn’t publish epic fantasy.
2. Writing a summary that doesn’t really tell me anything. When I have a stack two feet high of manuscripts on my desk, I don’t have much time to spend reading each one. A sketchy summary, rather than piquing my interest, often just gives me permission to move to the next submission.
3. Writing a summary that tells me too much. Likewise, I have a hard time responding positively if your summary goes on for pages and pages. In the beginning, I don’t really want to know about the side characters and the subplots; I want to know the points of the main narrative. One trick to writing a strong summary for a query letter is to answer this question: How would you describe the book to your friend? Do that for me and chances are good that you’ll be on the right track.
4. Providing too much needless personal information. I want to know what makes you the best author ever—what you have written, what awards have you won, what writing conferences have you attended, what organizations you belong to—and not where you went to elementary school or that your cat’s name is Dave.
5. Forgetting to include complete contact information. At least provide an email address, please. (Preferably one that looks professional—I kind of cringe when I have to send an official message to HotGrrlWhoLuvsBks@gmail.com.)
Q—Do authors ever take query or story rejections so personally you get dirty looks or other ugly behavior at say...a writing conference?
I have had people call me and yell at me over the phone for rejecting their manuscript. Or send me hate mail—that’s happened too. Usually people are much nicer at writing conferences, though often many of my conversations start with, “Hi, I’m so-and-so. You rejected my manuscript.” While that can be awkward, it can also be a chance for me to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you working on anything new?” And that can lead into a much better conversation.
Q—What is one thing you wish aspiring authors knew?
Writing is a personal expression. Book buying is an emotional choice. Publishing is a business. And when a publisher makes a business decision (i.e., whether or not to publish your book), it’s not personal. And the more an author knows about the business of being an author—which is more than just writing the book—the better off that author will be.
Q—What misconceptions have you encountered as an editor for an LDS Publisher?
Lots of people still seem to think that Deseret Book doesn’t publish fiction (we do) or that we only publish books by General Authorities (we do publish them, but we publish lots of other books too). I also sometimes encounter the attitude that LDS fiction is somehow less than “regular” fiction. Yet, I think the quality of LDS fiction (and the quantity) has been on the rise for years now.
Q—What is the role of an editor beyond accepting or rejecting queries and manuscripts?
Ultimately, an editor is the reader’s advocate. Our job is to aid in the communication between the author and the reader. We comb through manuscripts and not only correct the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but we also help clarify ideas (if it’s nonfiction) and help strengthen plot and character (if it’s fiction). We frequently help soothe an author’s fears and bolster his or her ego. We work with designers to make sure the best cover is used on the book and with the marketing department to make sure everyone in the world knows that an amazing book is available.
Q—What process does a manuscript go through on its way to hopeful publication?
Once a manuscript is submitted to Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain, we log it in to our database and let the author know that we received the submission. Then we do an initial review to see if it is worth passing along to the next level of review. If not, then we let the author know that we will be passing on the manuscript and return it. If the material shows promise, then we have some people in the office read through it all the way through. If the reviews are positive, then we pass it along to one of three Product Directors who read it again and make the final decision of whether or not we’ll publish it. If the answer is yes, then we let the author know the good news and we schedule the book for an official release.
Q—We all know that a manuscript should be as sparkling and perfect as possible but mistakes are inevitable. What mistakes stand out the most and which ones are overlooked and why?
Whenever I review a manuscript that is being considered for publication and find a mistake, I always ask myself, “Is it fixable?” Easy stuff like typos and missing words are fixable; of course, if there are too many typos then that’s a red flag that is harder to ignore. Bigger problems like clunky writing or faulty logic or flat characters are the kind of problems that will prompt me to pass on a manuscript.
Q—What’s your favorite part about being an editor?
One of my favorite things is finding that elusive diamond-in-the-rough manuscript and helping the author shape the story and polish it until it is perfect. I love feeling like the authors I work with are friends and not just my clients.
Q—What’s your least favorite part about being an editor?
The unrelenting deadlines are not always fun. And it’s sad when a book we work on really hard doesn’t find the audience we’d hoped it would.
Q—What should people realize about publishing in a niche market?
Publishing in a niche market is a lot like publishing in a big market. There are the same opportunities for success. You have access to quality editors and solid marketing plans. If you are writing a book, publishing with a niche market is a good option to consider.
Q—What are some of the biggest surprises you find authors discover as they see their first book get published? Like sudden fame being a myth.
One thing that I think comes as a shock to many first-time authors is how quickly they need to turn in their second manuscript. Often an writer can spend years working on their first book, and yet, if all goes well, they might only have months to finish their next one in order to get it into the publishing queue.
And once that first book comes out, there is a lot of marketing that a publisher asks an author to do. Aspiring authors always say that they will do anything to help promote their book, but often that can mean spending every Saturday at a book signing or at a conference or, yes, even answering questions for a blog interview. Juggling writing and marketing can be tricky for beginners.
Q—Do you feel like a celebrity at times in the LDS writing world? What kind of strange behavior have you encountered among the giddy writing masses?
Sometimes, which always makes me feel a little strange. I mean, I’m just me. I’m just someone who had a good idea and wrote a book. I’m just someone who works with books because I love books. When I’m at writing conferences and such, I just try to be friendly and accessible so people who have questions about writing or editing feel comfortable approaching me.
Thanks Lisa! I find that I can now think the word "query" without the immediate onset of heart palpitations.
Thanks Lisa! I find that I can now think the word "query" without the immediate onset of heart palpitations.