Manuscript Prep

Post image for Great Beginnings by Anita Mumm

It’s January and I’ve got beginnings on my mind—in this case, the opening pages of your novel. In 2012 we read 1,029 sets of sample pages and from those we requested 81 full manuscripts. So what made the difference between a “no thanks” and a “tell me more”? Here are five key elements:

  • Voice. Every author has a voice, but what makes some stand out from the crowd? In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass calls voice “not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world…” Another key element is authenticity. Do the narration and dialogue ring true with the characters and story? This is particularly important for YA and MG—nothing turns young readers off faster than writing that feels like an adult trying to mimic them. In that sense, the voice should be invisible— effortlessly capturing readers without calling attention to itself.
  • Stand-out writing. We see dozens of fairy tale retellings and spin-offs every month. Nevertheless, one of our newest clients is the author of a reimagined Sleeping Beauty tale. Her secret? The story felt incredibly fresh while retaining key elements of the fairy tale—a recipe for reader satisfaction. Beautiful writing can make an old theme feel new; focus on polishing your craft, not worrying about what is in vogue.
  • Authentic world. While it’s especially important for sci-fi/fantasy and steampunk, world-building can make or break any story. Your goal is to create a literary microcosm that feels real (historical authors—don’t skimp on the research).
  • Stories with heart. We’re looking for novels that feature relevant issues without compromising story. Examples: stories about bullying, contemporary YA with teens battling real-life issues, LGBT stories.
  • Characters who face great challenges with grit and integrity. What they don’t do is become jaded, nasty, or overly angsty. That definitely works for some stories, but our personal taste leans toward characters who rise a little higher.

Keep in mind that these elements can—and must—be firmly established or at least introduced in your opening pages; we ask for thirty, but it’s usually obvious in five. Take a hard look at your opening pages and if they feel a little flat, it’s time to consider a revision. Because no matter how amazing chapter five is, without a dynamic start readers may never get that far.

May 2013 bring success and satisfaction in your writing career. Best wishes!

Anita Mumm is a Literary Assistant at the Nelson Literary Agency. This post was taken from their monthly newsletter and posted here with permission. To get more great industry news, subscribe to their newsletter.

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I am looking for advice on publishing an LDS children’s book.  My book is in the very early stages.  I’ve written a first draft, and have an artist who has agreed to do illustrations.  Everyone who has read the story has told me I should get it published (without me asking, and without them knowing I’m thinking about doing it).  I’m just wondering if you have advice on the process of publishing an LDS childrens book.  What publisher(s) do I send it to? In what format? Thank you very much.

The children’s picture book market is a tough one—especially in the small LDS niche market. This is because, in general, the cost to print them is higher and the expected return on investment is less.

To increase the likelihood of success, do your research. First, read a lot of picture books. Study the ones that are really popular and determine what makes them so.

Second, write a unique story that lends itself to unique illustrations.

Learn all you can about the process of publishing picture books. For example, did you know that most picture books are 32 pages long—and that includes the title page.

Formatting for submitting a picture book is different than a standard fiction book. Research that so it’s easy for the editor to see where page breaks should occur.

Also, most publishers hire their own illustrators. It’s rare that they’ll use your illustrator.

Once you’re armed with a good story and knowledge of the industry, go to Deseret Book and look at the LDS picture books they have on the shelf. Write down the names of the publishers and then start submitting.


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Publishing a Poem

November 20, 2012

Good Morning, My name is [Bob]. I wrote a poem called, “[Bob’s [Poem]” . The poem was electronically filed online to the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC … where I paid $35.  Once it was copyright to the U.S. Copyright Office, I sent this information to the news media, and Oprah Winfrey, and CNN […]

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Where Do I Find an LDS Editor?

November 19, 2012

I asked myself this question last February and after looking at many sites in Utah and outside, too, I wasn’t able to find what I was looking for. All of the editing services I found were doing it the old-fashioned way of having the writer print a manuscript on paper and mailing it to them. […]

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Need An Editor?

July 3, 2012

I’m writing a book – not for publication – just to be printed and used by my family and posterity.  It will go a lot faster if I have an LDS editor review my work and make necessary changes and edits, re-writes, etc.  I’m willing to pay top dollar for someone good and efficient.  Can […]

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The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

June 12, 2012
Thumbnail image for The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

Is it okay to query several agents at once? Absolutely. In fact, we recommend it. If you wait to hear back from each agent before approaching another, you could end up waiting months or years for an offer of representation. But there is a protocol to follow. Here are some things to bear in mind […]

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Before You Send Your Manuscript Out to Readers (or Publishers) by Tristi Pinkston

April 19, 2012
Thumbnail image for Before You Send Your Manuscript Out to Readers (or Publishers) by Tristi Pinkston

So you’ve gotten your manuscript ready to go out to readers. You’re excited because you know how close you are to being ready for submission . . . you’ll get this feedback, you’ll make the suggested changes, and you’re finished, right? Well, pretty close. But don’t think this step is going to be a piece […]

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Is There a Market for LDS Spanish Language Picture Books?

April 16, 2012

Hello, I have some questions that you may be able to answer. I am a graphic designer and I write books for children. I live in [South America]. I have produced the gospel “translated” for them with short texts and nice drawings. So far I have finished the fourth book but I have more than […]

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Target Reading Level for Fiction

March 26, 2012

Is there a target reading level for fiction? Does a novel with a reading grade level of 12 or higher have a chance at publication? Yes, a novel written at a 12th grade level has a chance at publication! But I have a qualifier. The content and story line must be aimed at adult readers. […]

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Children’s Picture Books

March 8, 2012

Thanks for taking the time to write your blog.  I’m just getting my feet wet in the publishing world, and you have given me a place to start.  I have written a children’s picture book.  I’ve been rejected by three publishers so far, and searched dozens of other LDS publishers who are not accepting submissions […]

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Common Reasons for Rejections

March 7, 2012

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me? It is not […]

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Looking for an LDS Publisher with National Marketing

March 6, 2012

Hi, I’m a fiction writer. I want to query one or more of the LDS publishers, but I don’t know which ones are the largest and with which one I would have the best chance of getting into the national market. I have already been rejected by Shadow Mountain. I’m thinking Covenant or Cedar Fort. […]

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10 Steps to a Good Query Letter

July 5, 2011

Your query letter is often your first and last chance to impress a publisher. You can find tips for how to do one all over the internet. They will vary from blogger to blogger, but there are a few basic rules that all good queries follow. 1. Follow Instructions. Check the publisher’s website and scrupulously […]

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Manuscript Presentation: Italics

September 9, 2010

Hi! I’m a reader of your blog, and I was hoping I could pose a question to you. My friends and I have been debating how to present italics in a manuscript. Some say underlining, but I recently heard that editors prefer straight-up italics, so they don’t have to change the format later. Do you […]

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