If you’re wondering what makes the manuscript selected by a publisher so special, you’re not the only one.
I recently attended the KidLitVic conference where that question was put forward to publishers Susannah Chambers (Allen & Unwin), Clair Hume (Affirm Press), and Zoe Walton (Penguin Random House Australia). And a room packed full of writers waited with bated breath to hear the answer.
While the answer given was that the MS needs to personally speak to them, they outlined the reasons they’ll say yes and what makes them say no when considering the manuscripts that come across their desks.
6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says Yes
Above all else, the story is what matters. Each publisher said that a good story will always be the defining reason they select a manuscript. Stories that are infused by your own experiences, world, and what you know, written in a way that only you can write it, is the key to those amazing stories.
Next on the MS wish list is great characters. Your MS needs characters that are unique from each other, have distinct voices and are diverse. As for the gender of the MC (should it be a kick-ass female or a Mr. Nice Guy?), the publishers agreed the gender of the MC didn’t matter to them, just as long as the character is great.
When it comes to your prose, beautiful writing is a must. As this is a subjective rule based on personal taste, aim for the best writing you can do, and anything that is clear.
There’s an art to plotting a story and publishers like to see that in an MS. One publisher on the panel went so far to say that beautiful writing wasn’t enough to make her say yes to an MS when the story structure is wrong. If you haven’t already learned what makes a solid story structure, make sure you do, and that your MS is full of it.
A Page Turner
Just as a book can keep you reading until 3am, publishers are also looking for the type of MS that will keep them turning until the last page.
An MS That Lingers
The final reason a publisher might say yes to an MS is because it’s a story that stays with them. If a publisher is still thinking about any part of your MS once they’ve read the final sentence, you’ve got something special on your hands.
Now you know some reasons a publisher says yes, here is why they might turn it down…
6 Reasons Why A Publisher Says No
The MS Isn’t Polished Enough
There’s a reason you never send the first draft to a publisher. There’s a reason you probably wouldn’t send even the fifth draft. Publishers expect the manuscripts sent to them to be polished. Not just read by a handful of people for consistency and then run through a spell checker. Your MS needs to be as finished as you can get it. That may mean having it professionally edited before submission, or as the publishers suggested, getting help from the writing community to make it the best you can.
You Don’t Know The Audience
No matter how well written your words, or how perfect your plot twists, if you’re writing a middle-grade book with an alcoholic fifty-year-old man as the MC, you don’t know the audience. If your MS doesn’t include the right themes, characters, settings, and plots for the intended audience, expect a no.
The Timing Is Off
Timing will play a role in MS selection. If your book about vampires comes along just as the trend is dying, no matter how brilliant it is, chances are it will find itself in the no pile. Unfortunately, this also goes for books the publisher absolutely loved but arrived the week after they signed a similar book to their list.
The MS Just Doesn’t Connect With Them
Just as one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, a manuscript needs to connect to the publisher you’re sending it to. You can try to get around this by researching who will read your MS and ensuring they are the right fit, but in the end, if they don’t love and connect with the MS, no matter how amazing it is, it’ll still be a no.
You Don’t Know The Market
Publishers know the market, and if you don’t, they’ll know that too. Knowing where your MS fits in with the books that are selling today, and getting it into the hands of the publishers who are putting those books on shelves, is a must if you don’t want a no.
You’re Just Out Of Luck
Sometimes when you put your book out into the world, it’s at the perfect time. Your cast of characters are on trend, the theme is universal; the plot is unique, and the stars have aligned. On the more realistic flip-side, your idea is the same as the newest blockbuster, your MC being a sensitive superhero is overdone, and the theme of your novel hit its peak last year. You’re just out of luck, and the MS that could have been a hit when you started writing it two years ago, is unfortunately destined for the no pile.
While these yes and no reasons don’t cover every publisher’s opinion, they’re good ideas to keep in mind as you craft your MS. One of the biggest takeaways from the panel was to keep writing and to keep trying, knowing that every MS you create makes you a stronger writer.
— K.M. Allan