Monday, 8 August 2016

Is My Novel Publishable?

by Iola Goulton


I recently completed a manuscript assessment for a new client. After I’d given her my feedback (a lot of feedback), she emailed back with a number of questions. Two stood out—while it's the first time I’ve been asked these questions, I’m sure many of my other editing clients have had similar queries:

  • Is my manuscript publishable?
  • What do I do next?


So today I’m going to look at the first question, and I’ll tackle the second next week.

Is My Manuscript Publishable?

Easy answer: yes.


The advent of ebooks and print on demand (POD) technology means everything is publishable. But, to misquote 1 Corinthians, you might have the ability to self-publish, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s especially not a good idea to self-publish through some “service” aka a vanity press—apart from the quality issues, it’s not good Christian stewardship to spend thousands on something you could organise yourself for a fraction of the cost.

So is my manuscript publishable?

Hard answer: it depends.

On what?

It depends on who you want to publish your novel: a major US publisher, a smaller US publisher, or a local (e.g. Australian) publisher. And attracting that publisher will depend on your book scoring well in three areas:

  • Setting
  • Genre
  • Writing Craft

If you’ve written a novel set in Australia or New Zealand, it’s going to be a tough sell to an American publisher. Not impossible—Narelle Atkins and Kara Isaac have both done it—but not easy.


You’ll need a literary agent to have a shot at any of the big-name US CBA publishers like Bethany House or Thomas Nelson. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that here.) You don’t want just any agent—you want an agent with a track record of selling to the major CBA publishers. Michael Hyatt has a list of agents who represent Christian authors, and you can download it from this page.

In order to get signed by an agent, you’ll need to have credibility as a writer. One way to build credibility is to enter and final in major writing contests. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that as well, as did Carolyn Miller).

And you’ll probably need to attend a major US Christian writers’ conference such as the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee, as major conferences give you the opportunity to meet agents and publishers in person.

Setting

Your novel will also have to have sales potential. Big sales potential.

Major US Publishers

That’s the problem with books set in Australia: major US CBA publishers prefer books set in the US, because that’s what they sell best. They will sometimes diversify and read a historical novel set in England or Scotland, but for the most part, they prefer their fiction to be set in the good old U S of A. Or, at the very least, with an American lead character. For example:

  • Close to You, Kara Isaac’s debut novel, capitalised on the US love for all things Lord of the Rings by having an American hero and a Kiwi Lord of the Rings tour guide heroine.
  • Mail Order Bride, Lucy Thompson’s debut historical romance, is set in Colorado and utilises the much-loved mail-order bride trope. There may even have been a cowboy.
  • The Elusive Miss Ellison, Carolyn Miller’s upcoming debut, is a Regency romance set in England.

Australia

Australian publishers love books by Australian authors with Australian characters and settings. They tend to accept submissions direct from authors (so no literary agent required), and it’s easier to get to meet them in person (the best opportunity for Christian writers is at the Omega Writers’ Conference in October). Personal connections help.

The downside is the Australian market is smaller, which means fewer potential buyers (a fact many Australian authors have lamented on). It also means our small publishers can’t publish every manuscript they see, much as they might like to.

Smaller US Publishers

There are a myriad of smaller Christian publishers, mostly in the US, who may be open to submissions.

If you want a free list of close to 100 publishers who publish Christian fiction, click here to sign up to my mailing list. This list does not constitute an endorsement, and I don’t recommend any specific publishers … although there are a few I recommend people steer clear of (like the publisher which offered me a publishing contract without actually seeing my manuscript. Or the publisher sued for deceptive practices).

Writing Craft

There is also the aspect of writing craft: is your manuscript good enough?


The bigger the publisher, the better your manuscript has to be. There are so many authors fighting for an ever-decreasing number of publishing slots that anything less than excellent isn’t good enough to get the attention of a major publisher. Publishers get so many excellent submissions that they don’t have time for could-be-excellent submissions or almost-excellent submissions or submissions they can’t see a market for.

The most saleable manuscripts are those which fit clearly into a popular genre. With novels aimed at the Christian market, this includes meeting the expectations of CBA readers, and being careful regarding ‘edgy’ content—topics so expansive I could write a book about them (wait. I am).

We’ve discussed some of these issues in previous blog posts here on Australasian Christian Writers:

And I looked at different genres:
The closer your manuscript aligns with a popular and established genre, the easier it’s going to be to sell to a publisher. But what if you don’t fit a popular genre (e.g. Christian Science Fiction, or New Adult)?

This is when you might consider self-publishing. 

But if you pursue self-publishing, pursue excellence as well. Don’t self-publish as a shortcut, to fulfil your publishing dream. Instead, write something good enough to win a major contest or be published by your dream publisher, and choose to self-publish because that’s what you believe God has set out as your path.

Because there are several paths to publishing, and—surprise!—I’ve written some blog posts about them:


To go back to the original question. Yes, your novel is publishable. It’s not there yet in terms of the writing craft (and we’ll discuss what to do about that next week), but it is publishable. Your challenge is to work out how you want it to be published, and do the work necessary to achieve that.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask a freelance editor? Leave a comment below, or contact me privately via my website, www.christianediting.co.nz.


About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at www.christianediting.co.nz to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.

You can also find me on:
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9 comments:

  1. Thanks Iola,
    So many people will appreciate having this set out so clearly.

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  2. Thanks Iola,
    So many people will appreciate having this set out so clearly.

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  3. Great advice as usual, thanks Iola.

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  4. Great overview Iola. I've been thinking about some of these things re my novel lately, as it's set in Nova Scotia, Canada. I guess there are always exceptions, but I've been thinking that Australian publishers generally go for at least some Australian connection in the book. Though Kate Morton managed to have her debut novel entirely set in England. Now if I could just get her sales ;)

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    1. Janette Oke set a number of her books in her home country of Canada ... but I can't recall if her early books were set in Canada or the US. However, a lot of US readers do like Canada and especially Nova Scotia. I guess it's the Anne of Green Gables link.

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