How many times has someone rendered you speechless simply by asking you what your novel is about? I’m raising my hand because I’ve been there ten dozen times. If you’re a writer (and especially a speculative fiction writer), I guarantee you’ve been there too.
I can spend several years on a manuscript, dedicating every moment to finishing a novel. I can know it inside and out. Yet the moment someone asks me to summarize it, I freeze up, usually because it’s too complicated to explain in a way that won’t make it sound weird!
But here’s the thing, folks: If you can’t explain what your novel is about and why it matters, nobody will read it.
And it’s not personal. Don’t ever think it’s personal. Readers are busy people. They need a reason to stop what they’re doing to read a book. And besides that, there are a dozen and a half other bestsellers on their to-read lists . Make no mistake, friends, you’re competing with those bestselling authors for a reader’s time.
Are you intimidated yet? Don’t be.
Everybody loves a good story, and that’s what you’ve got to get to the heart of if you want to convince people to read your book. But before you even get to the point where you can convince a reader to read your book, you have to convince a publisher first.
With that being said, here are a few things you should make sure you know before you pitch a manuscript to us:
Know your story
Maybe that sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many conversations we’ve had with people who are pitching a story without knowing what actually happens in it.
If you come to a pitch appointment (or submit a patched-together proposal) without any concept of what your story is about or where it’s going or why you’re writing it, we aren’t going to take it seriously. Because if you don’t take it seriously enough to think it through to the end, why should we?
Not trying to be rude here. Just being honest.
Know what your story is about and come prepared to tell us.
Know your genre
Genre? What genre?
We’re only half joking.
Genre writing (science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, etc.) is a thing. And there are people who prefer to stay within the boundaries of one genre, and that’s great. But there’s a whole world of writers out there who love to cross genres (time travel romances, space westerns, mystery fantasies, etc.), and that’s great too!
But whether you’re going to stick in one genre or cross genres, there is one majorly important aspect you need to be aware of:
Don’t disappoint your reader.
If you’re writing science fiction, you need sciency stuff. If you’re writing fantasy, you need fantasy cultures or languages or magic. If you’re writing romance, there needs to be some romance, people! Come on!
If you claim your book is in a certain genre (or that it contains elements of multiple genres), there are certain aspects of each genre that must be included in your story. Otherwise you’ll disappoint your reader, and that’s never a good strategy.
If you’re going to dip your finger into science fiction, read science fiction books. Ditto for fantasy, horror, romance, and all the other genres.
Yes, Crosshair wants stories that supersede genres. And that’s 110% possible. But you’ve got to have a genre before you can supersede it. And regardless of how experimental or stereotypical you are, you still have to market your book, and if you don’t have a set genre for it, you’ll find marketing to be 10 times more difficult.
Know your audience
This goes back to the point above, honestly. Don’t disappoint your reader, which means you have to know who your readers are. But knowing your audience is different than knowing your genre.
Who are you writing for? Are you writing for adults? For teenagers? For homeschool middle schoolers? What about the 30-something singles who live in their parents’ basement (yes, that’s a for-real demographic)?
You must know who your book is directed at. That knowledge will help you navigate the difficult decisions you’ll need to make concerning your story later on.
Want an example?
Crosshair’s mature imprint Steel Rigg is getting ready to release the third part of our epic space opera trilogy in December. New Name: The Destiny Trilogy Part Three has been a long time coming, and we’re beyond stoked to share it with you.
New Name (and the preceding trilogy novels Nameless and Namesake) are written for an adult audience, specifically women ages 18 to 35. That’s the primary demographic the Destiny Trilogy was marketed to. That demographic informed our choice of covers, interior formatting, file types, and availability.
Now, did we discourage anyone other than women 18 to 35 from reading the Destiny Trilogy? Good grief, no. We wanted everyone to read it. But you can’t effectively market to everyone.
You have to market to a primary audience, let the novel gain popularity, and wait for the word to spread. So now, here we are more than two years later, and Nameless, the first book in the trilogy, has sold thousands and thousands of copies. And only a percentage of those thousands and thousands of purchases have been to women 18 to 35.
Decide on an audience up front. Know that audience. Know what they want and what they’re looking for and what they want to read. Then sit back and wait, and if the story is good enough, it’ll grow its own legs.
Know your motivation
Hands down, this is the most important thing Crosshair needs to know about you.
We want to know why you’re writing this story. Don’t just slap it on the page “because it’s fun” or “because you were bored.” That tells us you’re not serious about your story, and we need you to be serious about it.
What is your heart? What is your goal? What is your vision?
Are you just writing because you have nothing better to do, or are you writing with a purpose because God gave you a gift with words and you feel the need to share your story with the world?
Your motivation will keep you chasing your dream even if your results aren’t what you want.
Your motivation matters to us because we can’t accept everyone’s book. I wish we could, but we can’t. Our resources are limited.
If we don’t love your story, we won’t accept it. And that’s not a reflection on you or your skill as a writer. Not at all.
Publishing a book is a massively involved and time-consuming process, and we just don’t have the resources available to spend all our time and effort working on a book we don’t love.
But just because we don’t love it doesn’t mean someone else won’t.
You could have the most beautiful novel ever written, and we might not publish it. Many, many, many award-winning books have been turned down by publishers (Could you imagine being the publisher who turned down Frank Peretti? Or J.K. Rowling?), but that’s on them. Not on the author.
So if we reject your manuscript, please understand that we aren’t rejecting you. We really do think you’re amazing (see last week’s post!). But no matter how amazing you are, your story isn’t for everyone.
So if we turn you down, please keep trying.
I know it seems like a lot of leg work. And it is. But if you can’t identify these things about your story, it’s not ready to be published. If you don’t know those things, your story probably isn’t even ready for an edit.
So that’s what you need to know about your manuscript before you pitch to us at Realm Makers. Next week we’ll share what you need to bring to a pitch appointment!