What Publishers Want By Ronica Stromberg

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As a beginning writer, I wondered, “What do publishers want?” I lacked funds to attend conferences to ask editors in person, but I found answers in the publishers’ books.

Most publishers want books that fit with the books they’ve already published, books that “suit” their list. If they publish nonfiction, they want nonfiction, not romance. If they publish romance, they may want inspirational and historical, not paranormal. And the writing style they prefer may be more literary than commercial or vice versa. I found I could improve my chances of selling by focusing on the books a publisher in my genre published in the past two years. Publishers’ lists change over time, so I never focused on what they published twenty years ago. Nor did I focus on trends. Chances are by the time it would take a publisher to bring my book to market those trends would be long gone. But, for example, if a publisher published vampire romances twenty years ago and was still publishing vampire romances, that genre would be a safe bet.

The bottom line is publishers have established areas of expertise and want the types of books they’ve experienced success selling. Recognizing this helped me sell three tween and teen novels.

My first book, The Glass Inheritance, involves a girl solving a mystery about Depression Era glass she inherits and learning about the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the German-American Bund, and the glassware itself. The book was unusual because it included a lot of history but had a contemporary girl as the main character.

Looking for a home for the book, I studied the catalogues of bigger publishers. None published “edutainment” like my book. I realized I probably should have studied their lists before writing my book, but I had a completed manuscript now. I turned to researching smaller publishers.

I discovered an educational publisher that published fiction, Royal Fireworks Press. Most of their novels included subject matter that fit with elementary and secondary curricula. My book fit with the fifth-grade curriculum in most schools.

I wanted to read some Royal Fireworks books before submitting to them, but I had limited funds to buy books for research. And I couldn’t find the books at my local library. I worked around this by requesting my local library order the publisher’s latest books. I read those titles and discovered my novel fit with their list.

This last fall I sold two more books to Royal Fireworks. These books fall between the Christian market and the main market, “crossover” books that can be hard to place because they fall between genres. Royal Fireworks recognized a growing interest in such books from homeschoolers and public schools that address religion as part of their multicultural curriculum. Teachers interested in exploring the influence of Christianity on U.S. culture could use the books to spur classroom discussion. I noted this is in my submissions letter, and because of my familiarity with the publisher, was able to avoid the too-common rejection letter using the phrase “not suitable for our list.”

Ronica Stromberg is the author of four children’s books, including the international picture book, The Time-for-Bed Angel. Her stories appear in 18 anthologies and various magazines and newspapers. She keeps a blog and Web site at http://www.ronicastromberg.wordpress.com.

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