I’m a writer too; I write. I understand how much we crave to have our writing accepted, how much we want to be published.
If you have finished your damn novel I consider you something stupendous. And, at Hawkshaw, we may or may not choose you.
Consider the call you are applying for, from any publisher anywhere. What is it asking for?
Is it asking for stories about moments of grace, and you send a horror novel that has a woman in it named Grace? Is it asking for happy, and you send sad, or sad, and you send happy? Is is asking for stories about the spring, and you send a story about fall?
I would venture to say there are a few reasons why I turn down the stories I turn down:
1. You haven’t gotten the book ready for prime-time. It has multiple errors, or misplaced modifiers, or comments from beta-readers or workshop groups in the margins. It’s not clean, though the author thinks it is. It is the equivalent of spinach in the teeth. It might be a great story, but HP and all the DPP enterprises are a small company; we’re not going to clean up your manuscript because we cannot afford it in time, or money. AND it should be your book, not ours. I once developmentally edited a gentleman as a work for hire, and he related to me how sad he was that his publisher chose all the sections I had written to use for advertising and pullout quotations. He said, “Your writing is better than mine.” I did not want that to happen, and it was his story, not mine, so the lines get all blurred when we have to go in and re-arrange the furniture. Clean, clean, and clean again before you submit.
2. You haven’t read the room. Look around, look at the website for the press to which you wish to submit. In the case of multiple imprints like HP and DPP, look at all the websites. See the book covers. Read the synopses of the books already published. Check out the blog. Who are these people you are asking to publish you? If we’re the wrong press for you, if you wouldn’t want to hang out with us on the weekend, you probably should search out another press. To us, the relationship matters.
3. You haven’t read the call. With HP I see that more often than I had hoped to. We designed a logo meant to invoke Chandler. We profiled classic female mystery authors. We are currently publishing a Chandler disciple and a Christie disciple. And you send Harlan Coben. And though I am enjoying his Netflix series, he’s not what I’m looking for in a book, here. I love Christie, PD James, Chandler, Hammett, Mosley, Doyle, so, if you want me to publish your mystery novel, you should probably lean in that direction. It’s not that you could not have a wonderful novel that is like a Coben novel. Of course you could. But for me, and the amount of unpaid work it will take me to get your book to paper (and all books published traditionally are published on spec, right? I do the publishing work for free, and I hope your book sells, and you and I make a split of the profit), I have to like it, enjoy it, be excited about it. And that is subjective as hell and not fair. And true. And, also, those novels that I love are often in a series. Is your book a one-off? That may be fine for horror, but less welcome for mystery.
4. You haven’t been culturally sensitive. Walter Mosley, a Black guy, has Easy Rawlins, a Black guy, as his detective. Raymond Chandler, a white guy, has Philip Marlowe, a white guy, for his detective. Both books contain characters of other races (good) but both of the main characters align with their authors. Good. I am very sensitive to being careful of cultural appropriation. Are you? Maybe you think that is a lot of hooey and too bad for me, and I need to get over myself. You are entitled to think that, of course. And I refer you to #2, above.
5. You’re a luddite, and you refuse to change. You’re not going to sell any books. Get your social media working. Build an audience.
6. You go on too long (probably like me, here!). A good writer, truly, knows when to cut, and when to add. Some books are long looping rides of fun, such as my beloved Jitterbug Perfume. But mystery novels, at least the kind I like, are more spare. Do you really need all those similies? I bet you could cut a few. He jumped back in horror at her words, like a young boy touching a hot stove. She frowned at him, like a headmaster at an errant truant. When she walked toward him her shoes made a sound like hooves clomping on cobblestones. He began to sweat like a suspect in the hot seat.
Each press is going to have its own vibe, and you will do better with one that is simpatico with you. It takes some effort to check a press out, but it is worth it and saves your ego, your time, and, if there are fees from some presses, your money.
We went from HP being just an idea of something I wanted to do, to over 100 submissions in 3 months. Your book, against that tide of other books, needs to hit the bullet points above really well. What kind of glut of submissions are other publishers looking at?
We hope that at all DPP imprints we give off a welcoming and kind vibe, being welcoming and kind is part of my ethos, and I do want to help good writers who also happen to be, like myself, getting around to this publishing thing after the age of 40, have a chance at publication. I want potential HP authors to know that I care. And yet, though, “It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in,” it actually isn’t. Just take a little more time to think about that submission before you send it off, and maybe you won’t have to number the rejections.