What Publishers Look For In a Manuscript [Guest Post]

Off the bat, can I just say that I help to run a traditional, indie publishing company and we NEVER charge our authors for any services.

In this industry, there are many sharks circling, waiting to take a desperate writer’s money. As an
author, even a new one, money should flow to you and not away from you.

As the Creative Director of a small UK based publishing company, I sometimes love my job and I
sometimes loathe it.

One of the worst aspects is sending out rejections.

It is never personal when we decide to reject an author’s work. It is always to do with us and our
tastes or publishing limitations. It really is the old saying. “It’s not you, it’s us.”

We are very gentle with our rejections and we wish those writers the greatest success. I would never
begrudge an author hitting the big time and coming back to say, “see, you should never have turned
me down, your loss!” I agree it would be our loss, but each decision is made without hindsight and is
based on our personal views, if we do not have the time to fully commit to a manuscript, it is
probably best that it went elsewhere.

Most writers are fine with our rejection, but a few get in touch and ask for more information on why
their work was not accepted. That is ok, I will always try to answer their questions honestly.

Today I would like to try to address the two questions that come up the most often, after a writer has received a rejection from us.

These are often impossible to answer.

“What can I do differently?”

With regards to the first question, usually we would say that you should not change anything in your

You will hear hundreds of stories of successful authors being rejected over and over before their big
break, and those are usually true. A publishing house may turn down a best seller, but if they had
not turned it down and published it without having the passion for it, or the budget/market for
it…maybe the book would not have been the success that it was.

Of course, there are exceptions, if a manuscript is badly edited, badly written or has a very offensive
subject matter, maybe you could change a few things.

The one thing I bash on about is editing. Edit, edit, and edit some more (then edit again).
Get your work to the best place you can before you send it. If you cannot afford a professional
editor, ask friends to help, ask for honest opinions, see if another writer will swap manuscripts with
you and you can both edit each other’s work.

Making connections is also particularly important. Join writing groups, ask for help and be ready for
criticism, it will hurt, but if you can use it, you can improve your work and polish your manuscript,
ready to submit it.

If you find that you have a whole host of rejections, maybe put the story away for a while and come
back to it after a few weeks. It can be a revelation. You will notice things about the work that you
didn’t before. Or you can try reading it out loud and recording yourself. This can help with finding
plot inconsistencies or mistakes in the text.

“What are you looking for?”

This second question is a very difficult one.

It depends on the time of year, the other books we have taken on, your genre, your style, your

I might love a strong female character that speaks to me, but another publisher may be sick of
strong female characters and pass on it in an instant. I may love a scene with a child standing up to
bullies, but another publisher may think it is cliched and overdone. First person perspective can be
controversial, and some styles are either loved or hated by readers. Even big name authors have
people who will never read their work. No one is universally loved.

We use beta readers to help us decide if a manuscript is interesting enough, marketable, and well
written. If the feedback is encouraging, then I clear my schedule and start reading. After that, it will
depend on my feedback to the rest of the team. If I am excited about a book, I will pass it on to the
other directors and together we decide if we should move forward with the writer.

For us it also depends on a few things that have nothing to do with the book. Because we are a small
company, we need authors that are receptive to being part of their own marketing, to being a
member of a writing family that will help to promote each other’s books and support one another.
This back up is essential to growth, and many of the authors that we take on are first timers or only
have a small fan base, so, they need all the love they can get.

To try to answer the question a little more concisely, as a publisher I am looking for a good story,
characters I can relate to, an edited manuscript, a book that knows its audience and aims to entertain them, consistency in plot and character development, an enthusiasm from the writer for their work but also an openness to collaboration and being part of a team.

As an ending to this I would like to thank our authors for putting their trust and hard work in our
hands, to all of you for reading, to the wonderful resident blogger for allowing me to ramble on, and,
lastly to all of the writers out there. Keep writing, keep striving, keep believing and keep editing.

Chrissy Brown – Creative Director of CAAB Publishing LTD – www.caabpublishing.co.uk

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Published by Kelly Schuknecht

Kelly Schuknecht is a marketer with a background in the publishing industry. She is passionate about all things related to books and loves helping authors navigate the world of social media for book promotion. She recently launched the course Marketing Your Book on TikTok.

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