On Writing for Publication - What Publishers Consider When Evaluating Material

Overwhelmingly, publishers are an honorable lot. And I firmly believe that the very first consideration for most is the literary value of any work they're considering for publication. Yet even though I'm confident this is an accurate assessment, would any publishing house refuse TWILIGHT or FIFTY SHADES OF GREY once its readership was established?

What's the Norm?

For the sake of the integrity of this article's topic, let's assume we aren't discussing what surrounds one mega blockbuster that comes out every three years or so and controls the bottom line of a major publisher. Instead, we're looking at the industry based on a manuscript presented by a writer who's trying to gain a foothold.

The Market for the Story Will Be High on the Agenda

If the draft appears patently readable (this isn't a joke), the initial consideration often gets down to market. This isn't always from a dollar-driven perspective but relates to the specific market to which this house sells its books. The key to this is the word "specific," since each publishing group's marketing operation has generally spent years (read "decades") branding its various imprints.

I've mentioned Pinnacle before, and since I've tried to write for the firm a couple of times and missed the mark for one reason or another, I can discuss what I experienced firsthand. Pinnacle wants a thriller with the murders described as they occur and in gruesome detail. The killer must also go after the story's protagonist, and the latter must have a love interest that's clear to the reader from the outset. Failure to deliver any of this and the narrative will be rejected. Almost every imprint has a set of guidelines that are inviolable.

A Publisher's Comfort Zone Has To Be Recognized

Ask yourself, would a story sell to the New York market if written about an Amish buggy maker from Yoder, Kansas, who trades in his leather punch for a pair of handcuffs and travels the 30 miles to battle crime on the mean streets of Wichita every night? As silly as this might seem, I've experienced difficulty getting traction for a soon-to-retire criminal investigator from Florida who happens upon a serial murderer in rural Indiana. If the historical aspect of the story wasn't absolutely paramount to the plot, I'd have moved this narrative's setting to Long Island or outside of Philadelphia. Really! So, geography is another consideration; or, setting to be exact.