Standing out from the Slush Pile by Cheryl Bolen
Some years ago, Cheryl Bolen spent some time talking to three authors and their editor who shared their suggestions on how to distinguish your work from all the other submissions which flood into every publisher. Though this article was originally published five years ago, much of the advice it contains is still relevant today, and the four ladies with whom Bolen spoke all offered encouragement to persevere despite rejection, by defining what a rejection actually means in the publisher’s terms.
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One new author and two established authors and their Blaze editor gave tips at the Dallas Romance Writers of America Conference on how to make your submission stand out.
Joanne Rock said packaging your story is a great selling tool. The total package consists of a blurb which encapsulates your story and provides a market hook that’s written like the back cover of a book; a cover letter which details your credentials (publishing history, contest wins, or relevant experience to tell the story) and shows that you have targeted the line’s audience.
The cover letter should also include your name and contact information, along with the name and title of a specific editor, word count, SASE, and a title that captures the essence of the line.
Rock recommended a potential author study the line’s titles and keep that same voice in her title.
Debut author Tawny Weber said the first line of the opening chapter needs to not only grab an editor but must be carried through in the remainder of the book.
Blaze senior editor Brenda Chin gave the example of a Kimberly Raye first line that hooked her on many levels, but especially for its appropriateness to the spicy line: She needed really good sex in a really bad way.
Weber also recommended refraining from writing the synopsis in a dry, chronological order but to write it in your own voice. A strong voice is what sells a proposal.
Jamie Sobrato urged prospective authors to display professionalism. "Have dignity," she said. Don’t beg editors and don’t be pushy.
Give the editors time to respond before following up with additional queries, Sobrato said. Chin said it is okay to call an assistant at the publishing house when an author has not heard back from a query letter in 3 months, a partial in 4-6 months, or a full manuscript in 6 months.
"At Harlequin we don’t buy authors," Chin said. "We buy careers." She looks for hard workers who are willing to rewrite a book two or three times. She said authors must be able to take direction because, with 38 authors, she doesn’t have time to hold their hand.
Sobrato said it took her five years, five months, and two Golden Heart finals before she finally sold. Weber’s path to publication took four years. She could not grasp the tone of Blaze but finally managed to win the Blaze contest, which led to her first sale. Rock said her quest for publication also took a long time, and she credits Chen for helping her shape several proposals before one actually succeeded.
Chen went on to discuss Blaze’s audience, which appeals to women age 25-40. The line will expand to Blaze Blush in December. Some new directions are also being experimented with. One will have a Chinese setting, and Hope Tarr will be publishing a historical Blaze.
Chen also cautioned against using overdone plot devices and encouraged authors to think of single-title themes. Sex therapists have run their course in Blaze.
All of the presenters stressed that rejection means "not now," not "never."
© 2008 – 2012 Cheryl Bolen
This article was first published in In Print, August 2007.
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.