Read the Submission Guidelines First, Folks

Teen and Young Adult Fiction

Teen and Young Adult Fiction (Photo credit: Blue Train Books)

I haven’t kept up with my blog this past week, but it’s for a good reason, I promise. Or at least the original intent was good.

You see, a writer friend posted something on Facebook about Harper Voyager, an imprint of the publisher HarperCollins, allowing unagented submissions of science fiction and fantasy for the first two weeks of October. When I first read it, I thought it was too good to be true. But then I saw that it included young adult fiction, and I have a young adult fantasy novel that I’ve been peddling to different agents for years. Two babies and an almost-two-year stint with a scammer agent have caused several hiccups on my road toward hopeful publication, but I recently became enthusiastic again. And why search for an agent if a publishing house is seeking submissions?

There was one stipulation that made me hesitate, and it was that the manuscripts that are chosen will be printed digitally. My dream has always been to see my book on a shelf in a bookstore or clutched in an eager reader’s hands, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Getting my foot in the publication door in any way possible would segue into traditional publishing later, I hoped. So I pulled out my manuscript and went back to the beginning, working on one final revision.

It has not gone as quickly as I hoped. I have sacrificed a lot of extracurricular activities (such as writing this blog) to proofread and edit. On a really productive night, I might get through twenty-five to thirty pages (and my manuscript is over two hundred forty double-spaced pages). I told myself I needed to have it done as early during the submission window as possible, so I wouldn’t kill myself to do one last proofread before the deadline. But with an ending that I’ve recently changed and little time to devote to polishing it, it’s become the last-minute rush that I feared. And I didn’t want to blow it by turning in a manuscript that read like I was flying by the seat of my pants.

The deadline is this Sunday. Optimistically, I thought I might finish editing by tomorrow (Wednesday), as long as that pesky new ending didn’t trip me up. Then it occurred to me that I really would be in panic mode if I tried to submit it on the last day, only to find out they required a synopsis, too. And there is nothing I loathe more than writing a synopsis (but that’s for another blog).

What was it about today that made me finally look up the submission guidelines? Was it God’s cruel trick, since I’m so close to the end of my revision? I guess it’s better finding out today rather than Saturday or Sunday. Finding out what? you ask. That I’ve been working my butt off, trying to trim my book to under sixty-six thousand words, and Harper Voyager requires a minimum of seventy thousand, although they prefer eighty to one hundred, that’s what. Usually, my problem is that I am too verbose, so I have struggled to take the axe to my poor literary babies. And this time, all that hard work has put me out of the running for a potentially career-changing opportunity. Now, I can come up with fluff all day long, but when it comes down to it, I need to be true to my story. It started out at over seventy thousand words, but over the years and after much editing, it has come to life only after I’ve pared it down and chiseled away the rough edges. And it fits right into the conventionally accepted length for young adult fiction. Why Harper Voyager doesn’t have a separate requirement for young adult fiction, I don’t know. . . but I have a good guess.

I am one of many readers for the University of North Florida’s online literary journal Fiction Fix, and let me tell you that we receive a ridiculous number of submissions—and we’re not big like Glimmer Train or HarperCollins. Like the Field of Dreams, if you publish it, they will submit. Manuscripts, that is. Good, bad, grammatically depraved, eloquently penned, we get it all. And although our submission guidelines are not all that stringent, I can attest that there are times when the format (or lack of format) of a particular story decides whether it stays or goes. No, we don’t require twelve-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, but if an author decides to single space some eleven-point font or smaller, I’m probably going to get a headache and say, Why didn’t you have more respect for the person who would have to read this? No! And what makes the people at Harper Voyager any different? Their submission guidelines are there to help them control the quality and quantity of what they have to read.

While lamenting to my mother this afternoon about the whole debacle (and admittedly feeling a tiny bit of relief that I am not going to kill myself, after all, to meet the deadline), I laid out all the facts. My story fit all the criteria listed; in fact, it seemed as if Harper Voyager was talking to me, like it knew about my story and wanted me to submit it. Except for that itsy bitsy thing about the word count. (And did I mention it’s the first thing listed on their submission guidelines?) Maybe if I did a good job of pleading my case, they would make an exception for me, right? I mean, after all, J.K. Rowling broke the rules and submitted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)
to an agent who didn’t generally consider that kind of fiction, and look where she is today. By not submitting, am I missing out on my own J.K. Rowling moment?

Mama pointed out to me that they will probably receive so many submissions that they will be looking for excuses to reject manuscripts. Can’t meet the number one requirement on our list? Out! Don’t care if it is the best young adult manuscript ever—learn to color inside the lines like all the other kids!

Does this make them hateful and limiting? I don’t think so; it’s a business decision, to which there are natural consequences, such as being rejected for submitting something that doesn’t meet all the requirements. And I would encourage anyone who does have a manuscript that qualifies to give it a whirl—what can it hurt? As for me, I can still try the agent route. Or I could publish on my own, who knows? One thing I know for sure, I am going to read the submission guidelines first from now on, so as to curb the headaches and heartache that come with striving toward a useless goal. And I am still motivated to write, with or without Harper Voyager as the carrot dangling in front of me, thank goodness.

I am moving on, publication or not. Time to write.