Monday, October 22, 2012

Karen Block on Writers and Publishers

Karen Block, editor with Turquoise Morning Press in Kentucky, enlightened me on the inner workings of a publishing house.
Let’s start at the beginning, Karen.  What is the first step for a writer wishing to be published by Turquoise Morning Press, aside from checking out the website
We ask for a query and the first three chapters.  The author should state the genre and it is helpful to know the intended audience.  The executive editor then assigns one of the editors that works with that genre to read the sample chapters. 
What is your genre?
I’ve been getting young adult, paranormals – which are my favourite, thrillers, and suspense.  All have a level of romance to them but I don’t edit erotica.
How important is it to know the intended audience? 
It’s very important, particularly if an editor is reading a manuscript intended for a specific age group and some of the content is clearly not appropriate.  The editor can do a thorough job only if he/she knows the audience the author is trying to reach.
So much emphasis is put on those first three chapters.  The rest of the book could be incredibly good but the author choked at the beginning.  I’ve attended writers forums where it is suggested that a first time writer hire someone to edit their book before sending them out to a publisher. 
I get a lot of new authors who hire me to go through their manuscript and help get it into a submittal state. 
Actually, a writer is better off having a bad manuscript turned down than published.
I read the first book that one of my favourite authors published and it was awful.  I heard that she’s embarrassed about it.
Sometimes with first time authors, it is necessary to see the full manuscript.  I read the first three chapters, skip to the middle of the book, and read a chapter, then go to the ending to see what happens there.  If there are too many mistakes or if the manuscript is too rough, I decline. 
And then?
If the book sounds lame, I write a very nice let-down letter.
You don’t use form letters?
No.  Turquoise Morning Press is a young publishing house and there is still a hands-on approach.  A rejection is absolutely devastating and a form letter tells the author nothing about what they’ve done wrong.  I usually give them three or four pages of what went wrong.
That’s amazing!  How soon can you tell if it is a good manuscript?
I read enough of the book to get a feel for it but I usually know in the first chapter.  If it has potential, I send a recommendation to the executive editor.  The executive editor meets with the senior editor.  The Acquisitions Committee meets once a month to discuss potential publications.
Is that why it can sometimes take months for a writer to receive a reply from a query? 
I think so.  Big publishing houses in New York have thousands of manuscripts coming in.  They have readers that sort through the slush.  I’m not sure but there are probably fifteen of us at Turquoise Morning Press.  Our publishing company has a good stable of writers but it is not as large. 
Tell me more about the Acquisitions Committee.
They decide on the submissions to be published and consider possible release dates.  At that point, they give the authors a formal acceptance and a publish date is established.  An editor generally has two months of intensive editing and working closely with the writer to meet the deadline to go to the publisher for galley.
Two months isn’t a very long time.  It’s my impression that most publishers want a manuscript that is pretty much ready to go.  Do you agree?
Some writers submit books that are ready to go – almost word perfect.  Not everyone writes that way.
No, most manuscripts are not word perfect, Karen.  Your services are very much required.
Read Karen Block’s profile at
For Karen’s Ten Tips to Writers check the September 3 blog
For Karen’s views on writing romance, check the September 17 blog


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