by Arline Chase
Being a college freshman at 35 isn't easy for Beth Reilly. The last thing she needs is to develop romantic illusions about her professor.
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Question from the e-mail: I got my book back from your company -- thanks for the feedback. Would you consider other titles I might submit? Also, I'm not quite sure what the readers meant by remarks about the "synopsis taking too much time" and that my book "needs work." I thought the writing in the synopsis didn't count. Any ideas...?
Answer: We will look at a query letter from anyone about any book. All anyone has to do is e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org But we only consider solicited manuscripts for publication. We would certainly welcome inquiries from you on your other books.
The "needs work" comment usually means there were grammar or usage problems -- missing caps, mixed homonyms, missing quotation marks, words that spell check won't find, but that are not the correct spelling for the use -- "a mountain pique, a pear of scissors," etc. The time comment on the synopsis may have to do with the many years involved in the timeline of your particular story. Most novels cover a year or less. Some cover a week. A story that covers a 30 time-period needs truly compelling characters, and enough suspense and tension to carry the story arc over the whole length of time.
I think that's what reader number one was saying. I chose her because she (a former student) had a similar problem with a story that covered 11 years -- from the beginning of the civil war, through reconstruction, where the characters moved on to another location and rebuilt built a different life. Her book was too long as well, about 250,000 words. She ended up making it a series of three books: one about the war; one about male character's return the end of the war and their move west for a new beginnimg; anf the third about their struggles to make a home in the nee land.
I may have said the writing in the synopsis doesn't count, but the story always counts. First the committee reads the synopsis to see what the story is about and how interesting it is, whether the characters are ones the reader will care about and whether the ending is satisfactory. THEN they read the three chapters to see whether the writing is up to snuff and whether it follows the synopsis closely enough that the book is telling the story as it was given.... They look at the sample in a business-like way. Writing is art, but publishing is always a business.
Synopsis writing is All Telling. It doesn't have to be good, only accurate as to what happens in the story. It should always start with the problem: Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but has nothing to wear. Etc.
Writing a novel is a work of art, but the good ones can surface from the above filtering process. Every publisher's goal is to find and publish as many good ones as we can. As a writing teacher with 25 years of experience, I know there is a LOT of good work out there that deserves recognition, but goes largely ignored. It seems cruel to say the manuscript must be ready to go and not need editing, but the more editing we do, the more time it takes, the fewer books we are able to publish. We are a small publisher. Yet our goal is to publish four books per month. We do not have best-sellers to provide the cushion of heavy profits. Our only hope of solvency is in our product numbers...
It is grossly unfair to judge a work of art on these standards, we know. A novel takes years to write and a great deal of devotion to complete. That's why writing is my passion, but publishing is a pleasant way to pass the time. To look at any book as a mere "product" may seem unfair and unfeeling and for that we apologize.