Friday, January 12, 2007

KB: Ask the Editor, Part 2

Thanks to C.J. Darlington for the following great Ask-the-Editor questions:

1. From your days as an acquisitions editor, what were the top three things you consistently saw wrong with a submission that caused you to immediately put it in the reject pile? 2. What have you learned from your time "behind the desk" that you now apply to your own writing and dealing with editors?3. Are there any trends in Christian publishing you're noticing?

Karen’s Top Three Reasons for Instant Rejection:

Amateurish Writing. Say it with me: “Send no proposal out before it’s time!” I can’t tell you how many proposals I received that weren’t anywhere near ready to be considered for publication. Dialogue, characterizations, voice, descriptives…all showed that the author hadn’t done his or her homework. Sadly, I still see manuscripts like this. Just turned down a couple of them this week.

Been there, Published That. It happens all the time: proposals have storylines too similar to something my house had recently published. I think this happens because the standard counsel is for writers to look at what publishers are doing so they can know what that publisher might want. While that’s true, it’s really a gauge for what genres we’d like, not what storylines. If a publisher already has a Civil War series, they’re not going to be inclined to take another on. But if a writer can come up with something new and unique, set in that time period, without making it a Civil War focus, then that could perk an editor’s interest.

Some may wonder what we do if two manuscripts with similar storylines show up at the same time, which does happen. It’s the same as what makes one manuscript stand out over any other, the quality of the writing.

What Were You Thinking?? Contrarily, another “Instant Rejection” comes when someone sends me a proposal that’s not even CLOSE to anything we’d publish. At Zondervan, we made it clear we didn’t do SciFi or Speculative fiction, but scores of SciFi proposals made their way to my desk. And I won’t even go into all the steamy romances that were sent our way…Suffice to say, I don’t care how moving or inspirational it is, a story on a woman overcoming a difficult marriage with the help of the fifteen-year-old boy with whom she has a secret romance just ain’t gonna fly at Z. Or, I hope, anywhere in CBA!

2. Authors missing deadlines is the surest way to kill a publishing relationship. It causes so many problems and impacts so many departments that the folks on the publishers’ side grow weary and wary. As an author, writing to deadline is the surest way to kill creativity. (At least when you’re writing and working a full-time job, as I’ve always done.) So I’ve made a decision. Once I’m done with the current (painfully overdue) book for Multnomah, which is also my last contracted book, that I’m going to write my next book without a contract. Just write for the love of writing. Of course, I’ll talk with my brilliant agent, Steve Laube, to decide which idea to develop and write, but I’m not having him send it out to anyone for consideration until it’s at least half finished. Maybe more. That way, assuming anyone will want to contract it then, I’ll be ahead of the game. Which will help my poor, beleaguered editor, the stressed-out publisher, and me.

3. Trends? We don’t need no stinkin’ trends! I both love and hate this question, which I get all the time. The hate side is because by the time we actually identify a trend, it’s usually on its way out. Remember, books generally take a year from the time they’re contracted until they hit the shelf. So if I were to say new categories of Chick Lit (e.g., suspense, mystery, thriller, etc.) were a growing trend, which they do seem to be, the likelihood of that helping anyone who is writing now isn’t huge. Because by the time you wrote a book to meet that trend, the trend probably would be over. So spotting trends in categories and genres too often seems a bit of futility to me.

However, I love pondering this as far as business or strategic trends go. For example, I’m seeing more parings of solid midlist fiction authors with best-selling nonfiction authors. When it works, and there are specific reasons why it works, it seems to benefit both parties, even if the association is fairly short-lived.

Also, it would seem the overall acceptance of Christian fiction as viable fiction is broadening, both in the Christian and nonChristian arenas. A 2006 study by LifeWay Christian Resources found that 53% of Protestant clergy read fiction! That’s good news, because it used to be that pastors not only didn’t read fiction, they didn’t encourage their congregants to read it either. And the fact that secular publishers are actively acquiring Christian fiction lines and Christian publishers shows that our books are not just successful at meeting the readers needs, but they’re financially successful as well.

The final trend I’ll mention isn’t such good news. Christian publishers seem to be more stressed than ever before. As evidenced by the musical chairs of late, with folks from House A shifting to House B, and House C acquiring House Q. Those I know who work in the field are pushed to the wall with insane workloads and a dearth of assistants to take on the piddly stuff. Money is increasingly tight, and the mystery of effective marketing continues to plague. (Trust me on this, what most authors consider effective marketing isn’t…and figuring out what really works is a monumental task.) So while Christian fiction seems to be gaining serious ground on many fronts, Christian publishing is in a bit of flux at the moment. Does that worry me? Yes and no. Yes, because of the people I know who are being negatively affected. But no, because if there’s anything about publishing that is consistent, it’s change. Things are always changing! And though it may take awhile, we do seem to come out of it stronger and wiser than before. So, God willing, CBA will be around for a very long time to come.

Karen Ball


At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So I’ve made a decision. Once I’m done with the current (painfully overdue) book for Multnomah, which is also my last contracted book, that I’m going to write my next book without a contract. Just write for the love of writing."

*Snoopy Dancing*

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Carol said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks so much for all these great answers, Karen. :)

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

"...if there’s anything about publishing that is consistent, it’s change."

K: Change. And subjectivity. I've always said it's easier to become a brain surgeon than a published author! Haha.

Seriously, thank you for a BRILLIANT post. So encouraging. So informative. So wonderful. Okay. Pollyanna will stop now. But it WAS good.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Ernie W. said...

HI Karen, Your insights into the arena of editor and author are such a deep and vast wealth of knowledge. It sure is good to have someone of your experience share with us writers the true insight into this world of publishing and writing.

Ernie Wenk

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

Wise, sound, great advice Karen! Laughed out loud at some of the ms that made it to your desk. :)

Well, off to meet a deadline so I don't kill my relationship with my publisher!


At 9:23 PM, Blogger Bill Williams said...

At The Spiritual Oasis we are in the process of developing list of resources for writers. Your blog is an excellent resource and we have listed it on the Writer’s Resources page.

I you are aware of additional writer’s that you would like to recommend, please drop me note at

Grace and Peace,
-bill Williams


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