An Editor’s Advice After Reading a Manuscript

publishers-and-marketingThis post contains excerpts from an email I sent to a writer who asked me for advice relating to choosing publishers she could query and the audience to whom she should try to market the book. I hope you will find these tips helpful.


Greetings! Thanks so much for the letting me have the privilege of reading your manuscript. As I went through it, I have been jotting down some thoughts for you to consider as you look for a publisher for this novel, and as you prepare to write your next novel. These are some of the points that publishers might bring up as they look at your manuscript, and it is quite possible they will want you to do some rewriting in relation to some of these points. Everything we write is a learning experience in our journey as writers, so I hope these tips will help you out in your self-editing, your search for a publisher, and your future writing.

What publishers would be interested? As I read, I thought about what types of publishers (and/or agents) might be interested in this story. It is important to send out your queries to those who are particularly interested in the genre and themes of your manuscript. I think publishers who might be interested in this story include those who produce books which focus on:

  • Human rights; women’s rights; children’s rights
  • Feminist issues
  • Metaphysical topics
  • Racism
  • Particular cultures, and their values, beliefs, folk tales/myths, etc.

When deciding what publishers you want to approach, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What novels have you read that you think are similar to your novel? Find out what publishers produced those books. Maybe they’d be interested in your book. How would you finish this statement: “If you have read and enjoyed [name of another similar book], you will also enjoy reading this story because…. ”
  • What genre is your novel? Different publishers specialise in different genres, and you need to research to find publishers that produce your novel’s genre. Common genres include mystery, thriller, historical fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, detective, romance, science fiction, western, inspirational. Which genre most represents your novel? Or it is a combination? Note: Don’t describe it as a combination of more than two genres. If you aren’t sure of the genre, go to a bookstore and find where books similar to yours have been placed.
  • Or maybe your novel isn’t meant to be genre/popular fiction. Maybe it is meant to be literary fiction, which offers commentary on social and political issues and uses artistic writing qualities. Literary fictional also focuses on the subjects of the narrative to create introspective, in-depth character studies of interesting, complex, and developed characters.
  • Whatever genre, or literary fiction form you believe your novel to be (something to consider before you start writing future novels), research to find publishers who focus on that. And then emphasise it in your query.
  • Ask yourself: What is truly unique and original about this story? What makes it stand out from other stories? Why should a reader choose to read it instead of some other stories in the same genre? Publishers want to know this. If it doesn’t have a unique quality, how can you build that into the story before querying publishers?
  • Do you think this story have a mass audience appeal (broad general audience), or is it meant to appeal to a small niche audience? Who did you define your audience as being when you started this novel? Does the story meet that audience’s needs? If you didn’t define your audience already, do it now, and if necessary make changes to the manuscript to focus on that audience. Think about their interests, age, gender, favourite genres and topics, and so on, and match that information to your central ideas, purpose and problem/challenge. How will the plot, characters, culture, setting of the story appeal to this audience?. Then find out what publishers focus on stories for this audience.
  • In maintaining your “personal voice,” there is a kind of childlike tone and simplicity to the writing, even though the topics of the content are more aimed at young adults and adults. There is a kind of “innocence” and “naivete” in the tone of the book, which I think probably occurs because of your somewhat limited experience with writing in English (with English being your third language) There is a somewhat limited English vocabulary, and the language is more “street/casual” English, less “literary.” This might be seen as a bit of a problem by some publishers. There is a fine balance between maintaining your voice and making the book accessible to a broad audience. On the other hand, some publishers might think your voice fits well with the “mystery world,” the unique culture, and the sages and other aspects of the storyline and setting.

What are some potential markets you can start building now? You will want to think about marketing as well as seeking publishers. Publishers expect authors to do the majority of marketing, and if you have already created a marketing plan and started building an appropriate audience who will want to purchase the book, potential publishers will be more interested. Some thoughts:

  • You mentioned you are hoping children of upper elementary or middle school will enjoy and learn from this novel. Is the content actually suitable for this age group? I wonder if the use of language like the “F word” as well as other “slang terms” (bitch, etc.), a few sexual references, and a fair amount of drunkenness, violence, etc. would suggest that this book is “Young Adult” (YA) rather than a book for children. I’m thinking it might be more suitable for ages 16 and up. I think it would also be of interest to adults, especially to women, though it deals with issues men should be made aware of. Also, some women may want to share it with their daughters (perhaps ages 11-15 or so), reading and discussing it together.
  • You might recommend it as a “book club” read. It is the kind of book that could really get a lot of discussion going in book clubs, and that is an area of marketing you might well want to pursue. You might also recommend it for feminist groups. Even transition houses and similar organisations might be interested in it for their libraries. (Just a note: some groups may feel there is too much “religion” in it . . . but other groups might find that fascinating.)

Questions and Comments:  Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions to share? I’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to share your ideas and thoughts in the comments. Thank you.

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