What Editors Want – Fiction


Over the course of the coming year, we’ll be doing a series of blog posts on what editors and publishers are looking for in a book submission. Our fiction, poetry and non-fiction editors will be telling us what makes a great submission and sharing their tips for getting published.

Up first is fiction.  Seren’s fiction editor, Penny Thomas has had great success since she joined Seren in 2006 and consistently has books on major prize lists. In 2011 she preceded over The Last Hundred Days, which made its way on to the Man Booker longlist. Recent commissions include The Rice Paper Diaries, which won the  2013 fiction category at Wales Book of the Year and the 2013 Edge Hill shortlisted The Scattering. Penny was the driving force behind the hugely successful series, New Stories From The Mabinogion, which brought together ten top Welsh authors to rewrite the ancient myths of the Mabinogion in a modern day context.

Penny shares her secrets to success below.

“The short answer would be a bestseller please, and I suppose authors would be quite keen on this too. But if signing bestsellers were an exact science we’d all be driving Mercs, so what we really want is a manuscript we love and which is perfect for whichever list we are commissioning for. This sounds obvious but the last point is crucial. Occasionally the unexpected can be so glorious that an editor will choose it for their list. But in general there is very little point in sending a zombie horror novel to a publisher of romantic saga, or a children’s picture book to an adult contemporary fiction list – it sounds obvious, but it happens!

Tastes in reading matter vary as much as tastes in music, food or art … so much of what an editor is looking for is going to be subjective. But at Seren when I open the envelope, what I am hoping to find each time is an ms that blows me away with the brilliance of its language, the subtlety of its characters, the originality of its voice and a narrative that draws you in to its world so gently but insistently that you are way past the point of no return before you even think of putting it down. If it’s genuinely funny, happy, sad or thoughtful, or all at once, so much the better. There are no specifics about subject matter, style or location, a story worth telling and told extraordinarily is all we ask.”

Here are a list of Penny’s key dos and don’ts:

Do address to the right person and publisher if possible.

Do research their list first to be really sure your novel/story collection is right for them.

Don’t use cliché or try to sound too much like your favourite authors – think and speak for yourself or your characters through your writing.

Don’t rely on plot alone – it may not be enough.

Don’t send an overlong synopsis, a page is usually fine – the editor doesn’t care enough about the characters yet to be absorbed by what is happening to their mothers, daughters or second cousins in chapter 25.

Do remember that editors can be pedants – if you mess up the apostrophes on page one it’s easily sorted, but it doesn’t inspire confidence in the next three hundred.

Do be patient, the editor may love your work – they just haven’t found it yet in the midst of everyone else’s!

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