[Podcast] How to Get an Editor's Attention

“I have a manuscript, but is it ready for submission?”

Maybe. Maybe not.

There’s no magical formula for what will catch an editor’s attention. Sometimes editors just follow their gut.

But with years of publishing experience under our belt, we know a few things about what manuscripts catch the attention of editors—and which ones are trashed.

Check out our 8 must-dos to get an editor’s attention.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road—Writer’s Guidelines

One of the most basic yet important steps is to follow the guidelines established by publishing houses. Guidelines are your guide in getting one step closer to being published. This is a step you can’t skip, but aspiring writers often bypass.

Publishing houses have varied and strict guidelines on how to submit material. Before you submit a manuscript, research the houses you want to reach out to. Determine whether there is a specific word count, a letter to be included, or other necessary guidelines to be completed before submission.

If you have a personal connection who can get your work in front of an editor, you may be able to bypass this step. If not,  your writer’s guidelines are your first step to making the connection!

Editorial Grid

Publishing houses have their own niches. And they have a definitive audience in mind whom they want to serve. This is true for magazines and book publishers. It’s important that you recognize what stories the publishing house is interested in. Figure out what they want. If you don’t have material that fits into the house’s niche, don’t waste your time on a submission.

If your material does relate, then think about the audience the house wants to serve. Ask yourself: “Who is their audience? Is my manuscript a good fit for this audience? Do I have an expertise that would benefit their ideal audience?” Make sure your material provides some sort of value to their audience. And in the pitch letter (if they ask for one), make sure to reference your understanding of their target audience.

Hook ‘Em to Win ‘Em

Editors are drowning in unsolicited manuscripts. If you want yours to be the one that pulls them up for air, you have to hook them.  Your  first sentence/paragraph of your manuscript must breathe some energy into the editor—at the very least, make them think “This is fresh! And they can write!”

Editors have limited time. They scan the first paragraph and might skip to the conclusion. But they typically will not read the middle. You don’t have time to build up to some dazzling insight or prove you have writing chops.

One caveat: when writing your opening, stay away from clichés—ideas and phrases. Clichés reflect unsophisticated thinking and writing. Find a unique angle on your subject.

Also, create some tension that demands the editor’s attention.

If you’re looking to pitch an article, do some research on how articles in your area begin. And then stay away from those clichés.

Refine Your Thesis

To get an editor’s attention you also need a focused, clear, and unique thesis. Editors reject vague writing.

To remind you, a thesis is the big idea that governs your book/article/blog. It consists of a subject and a complement.

Here is an example of a thesis. Say you want to talk about fly fishing in Yellowstone. Start with your subject, which is what you’re writing about. In this instance it’s this: subject: Fly fishing Yellowstone’s rivers in October is ideal. Then, create your complement: “What am I saying about what I’m writing about?” The complement would be: The fish are more plentiful and the crowds are fewer, which makes for ideal fishing conditions. Your thesis would be: The best month to fly fish Yellowstone’s rivers is October.

Invest time in refining your idea and rethinking your thesis.

The Berkeley 5-Minute Rule

The Berkeley 5-minute is the idea that if an editor can come up with your idea on their own within a -minute conversation, then your idea isn’t fresh.

To avoid a manuscript with bad ideas, spend some time in the drafting stage. Write out all your ideas—even the bad ones. Then think through which idea has an interesting, personal anecdote. There is nuance to personal stories. And the more personal an anecdote, the more captivating the writing.

“What if my ideas are unoriginal?”

We want to remind you that no idea will ever be original. Ideas are spun off one another in all aspects of life. To make your unoriginal idea extraordinary, you will need to frame your thoughts with a unique angle. In a fresh way. Seems like a constant theme, right?

Always strive for a fresh narrative in your writing!

Your Writing Isn’t Engaging—So Let’s Fix It!

One of the hardest pieces of feedback is that your writing isn’t engaging. It hurts. But remember, anybody can learn how to write. Writing is a craft. That means those who write can improve their craft!

To improve your writing, seek feedback early on from somebody who is honest and has professional expertise. This person should know how to craft ideas, have an understanding of developmental editing, and recognize writing that touches readers.

We also recommend that you invest in the writing life. Being a published author isn’t the end-all-be-all. If you want to be a writer, invest your time in developing the craft. Put yourself out there, get rejected, learn from your mistakes. It’s all a part of the writing journey!

A Platform Lifts You to New Heights

When viewing manuscripts, editors want to know if you have some sort of following or a platform to promote your published project on. Unfortunately, publishing houses are busy. Yours is not their only project. They will look for writers who have a crowd to tap into once their project is ready to publish.

Don’t have a platform or following? That’s okay. Take small, simple steps. Create an email list. Or start on social media [link to blog about social]. Interact with various accounts, promote your work on social, start small and work your way up.

Another option for growing a following is to network into associations related to your area of expertise. The more people you know, the more connections you build, the more noticeable you will become to an editor. Sometimes these connections even lead to an introduction to an editor.

Building a following should be a part of your writing life. You don’t need a mass audience, but having a hundred people prepared to read your book—and then refer it—makes you more attractive to publishers!

Ask for Opportunities, and Prove Yourself

The most important lesson: nobody is going to ask you to write. So, you need to start small, and ask for opportunities to write for lesser known publications. Maybe even offer to write a free article for a publication. Get their feedback and implement their recommendations. You might have to write multiple free articles before you land the publication of your dream. But each article done for free builds your credibility (and portfolio of work!). That in turn builds your confidence and deepens your understanding of the editorial process.

If your offer is rejected, don’t let it get to you. Be grateful for the opportunity, thank the editor or publisher for speaking with you, and don’t ask for anything else. You never know, they might reach back out and offer you something in the future. If not, strive for improvement and continue to put yourself out there!

The next time you submit a manuscript, complete this checklist. And then submit the best draft of your writing. You just might get an editor’s attention!

Here’s a Glance at the Episode

[2:36] Dave and Melissa share their backgrounds in editorial work.

[5:45] Learn about the different types of editors, and what they do.

[9:25] Dive into the eight recommendations on how to improve your manuscript.

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