We are frequently asked ‘What kind of books are you looking for? What is it about a manuscript that will make you want to publish it?’
The answer to this isn’t simple. Commissioning editors will often talk about books that have a certain something, that ‘jump out’ at them, and that it’s this personal response that leads them to follow up a submission. I think this is especially true for tiny indie publishers like ourselves. Our resources are even more limited, in terms of money and time, and publishing any book carries a certain risk. We’re going to choose books we really like, so that our enthusiasm is genuine. We can’t fake it!
You’re probably thinking that’s not very helpful, though, so I’ll try to describe the factors that make a manuscript turn our heads. I’m going to be talking about fiction here. We’ll cover non-fiction another time.
At the risk of stating the obvious, your book needs a good story. You need a protagonist, a dilemma, a conflict and resolution, although that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a happy ending. Your characters need to be three dimensional and convincing. We need to be able to know them and believe that they would take the actions you have them take.
Your theme, or your message, is your subtext. This needs to be implied, communicated through your story, not explicitly shouted from the rooftops.
On a practical level, your book needs to be as polished and professional as it can possibly be. If we take on your book, we will, of course, work with you to edit it and lift it to its best, but it needs to be in pole position to start with. Discuss it with family and friends (if you can be sure they’ll give you an honest response!), your local writing group or one of the many writers’ forums on social media. Find some readers in your target market to test it for you. All these viewpoints can really help develop your story. Make sure you’ve edited it yourself to iron out as many spelling, punctuation and grammar issues as you can. Maybe find someone to proofread it for you. A well-presented manuscript will give you the best chance of success.
All that’s true for any publisher, though. What specifically are we looking for at Bird’s Nest Books and our imprint, Eyrie Press?
You’ve no doubt read on our submissions page that we are keen to publish titles that ‘reflect the lives of individuals and communities that do not often recognise themselves in books’. What do we mean by that? Putting it simply, your book doesn’t necessarily have to be about the community you have in mind (although it can be), but we are looking for writers who can acknowledge the differentness of people and aren’t afraid to include that in their stories.
For example, at Bird’s Nest Books and Eyrie Press we have a particular interest in home education, or indeed any education outside of the mainstream. We would love to see more books that include home educated characters. But we don’t just want them parachuted in, with their background making no difference to their actions. We want to see them intermingled among the details of your story. Whether they are your main hero, their best friend or their next door neighbour, they have a unique outlook on the world and this will inform their motivations and their choices and alter the trajectory of your plot. And we’re not just looking for books about children and teenagers. Your adult characters in your science fiction novel could just as well have been educated out of a school and that will affect the way they approach the problems they face. Through all of this we hope that, bit by bit, the concept of home education will filter through to the reader and that will help dispel any stereotypes and prejudices they may have had.
The same will be true of characters from other communities and only you, the writer, will know what communities you’d like to include. Maybe your character is a vegetarian, or a single father, or an adult who grew up in foster care, or someone who is living with depression and anxiety, or a myriad of other topics…write what you know and share your enthusiasm with us! We’re very much looking forward to reading it.