The book editor/publisher discusses audience and high-maintenance authors and translates the real meaning of a manuscript being “not ready.”
Sheyna Galyan is the founder and owner of award-winning Yaldah Publishing, which specializes in books written from a Jewish perspective, Sheyna is fascinated by the intersection of tradition and technology. She holds a graduate degree in counseling psychology. Her favorite questions are Why? and Why not?
“Before I started Yaldah Publishing, I was a writer looking for a publisher for my first novel in a Jewish suspense series. Publisher after publisher had the same response: “we love it but….” The reasons were varied: we don’t want to take a chance on a series; we love the series but want to see a track record first; we love the book but we’re moving toward more non-fiction; it’s too religious; it’s not religious enough; and my favorite: we love the book, love the series, love your writing, but can you make the rabbi a minister instead so it can have more mass appeal? Eventually I realized I had the skills I needed to start my own publishing company and contract with freelancers for needed services. I worked with several mentors and today I can say that I really do understand the perspective of an author collecting “we love it but” rejections. And I know that maybe I can help.”
Meredith: With all the manuscripts that cross your desk, what is the internal experience between the one you know is “the one” and all the others—even if all the others are quite good?
SHEYNA: Unfortunately, I have not yet experienced a situation where, in any given period of time, all of the submissions were quite good. As many as 80% of the submis sions I receive are unrelated to Yaldah’s catalog, full of spelling and grammatical errors, or writing that is simply painful to read, and sometimes all three.
Of the remaining 20%, I will admit it is a subjective decision. It could be written really well and fit with our catalog, but I just don’t love it. And I have to love it. As th e owner of a small press, I am intimately involved with every manuscript, and a manuscript that I
love is one that I can market and promote and stand behind. Th e ideal manuscript is one that is in keeping with Yaldah’s vision and catalog, written well and free of errors, unique, with an appealing topic and a strong voice, and one that I can’t put down.
Meredith: What do writers most misunderstand about editors? What don’t they “get?”
SHEYNA: The job of an editor really is not to bring back nightmares of high school English classes and red pens. Nor is it an editor’s job to make writers feel good about their writing, although I prefer editors who highlight the positives as well as the negatives. Ultimately, the job of an editor is to take a writer’s great writing and make it extraordinary.
Editors also have a sense of the audience (readers) when they’re editing, and in my experience that’s probably the biggest thing that writers don’t always quite “get.” Writers often believe that they are writing for themselves and not for some publisher’s marketing machine. Consequently, they see no need to edit, revise, clarify, or otherwise change their creation. Writers who write for themselves, who see their work as art that should not be subjected to an editor’s or publisher’s scrutiny, are often not good candidates to be published, especially by a small press. The best candidates for publishing are writers who understand that publishing—no matter how much editors and publishers love books and respect writers’ art—is still a business, and that theirwork with an editor is the negotiation, the balancing point, between art and business.
Meredith: How do you view rejection? What greater purpose does it serve in the creative process—for the writer?
SHEYNA: As a writer, I used to look at rejection in terms of the adage, “Every no leads you one step closer to a yes.” But since I’ve been in publishing, I realize exactly how unhelpful that is. I didn’t get into publishing to go on a power trip and tell hopeful writers “No” just because I can. In fact, if it weren’t for writers, publishers would go out of business! If I have to say no, I want to let the writer know why. T he most common rejection I give is actually, “Your manuscript is not yet ready to be a book.” And then I give the reasons, which typically include poor character and/or plot development (in fiction), insufficient research/citations (in non-fiction), readability, awkward sentences, and multiple grammatical/spelling errors.
It is my hope that writers will take this “not yet ready” rejection and use it, along with my reasons for rejection, to make it better, whether that means rewriting or working with an editor. I don’t necessarily expect that these writers will resubmit once they’ve reworked their manuscript, but I do believe that treating others the way you’d want to be treated is just as important in business as it is in life. And I’d much rather receive constructive criticism from a publisher than a simple thanks, but no thanks.
Meredith: Who would you rather publish: a high-maintenance author with an exceptional story but who needs lots of attention and praise, or someone who works/plays well with others but whose story needs more direction creatively, and writerly development?
SHEYNA: This is a trick question, isn’t it? Really, there are pros and cons to both. Having an exceptional story could make sales easier, but may require more non-billable work (keeping a high-maintenance author happy). Similarly, an easy-going author would require less hand-holding, but a not-quite-ready story would mean more work on my end, or my paying an editor more to work with the author. From a business standpoint, the high-maintenance author would impact the bottom line less.
I actually have had several submissions that I liked but needed more work than I thought I could provide, and I have recommended that these writers work with an editor on a rewrite and then resubmit. I also have had submissions from writers who included in their query their recommendations for who should play their characters in the Hollywood film, or suggested that they’d like me to send them on an international book tour (at no expense to them). When it became clear that I could not and would not guarantee a film or TV deal, nor would I send them on an all-expenses paid trip to Europe, they were not all that interested in pursuing a contract. I’m just as happy about that.
Meredith: How long does the decision process of what to publish take you? What’s going on internally as the decision is being made—and what should authors know?
SHEYNA: The decision takes longer than most writers might think. I may make an initial intuitive decision based on their query, but just because I like the pitch and it fits with our catalog doesn’t mean an automatic yes. Since I run a royalty house, meaning that authors don’t pay any money to have their books published, I need to consider costs as well as the manuscript itself. [Some of the things] I need to consider and answer before I can make a decision about a submission:
■ Do I have the capital on hand to publish this book, and how many other books are in the pipeline that may need that money?
■ How much editing will this book need?
■ Will this book need illustrations? What kind? What will the price of an illustrator cost me?
■ What kind of cover is required for this type of book, and what will that cost?
■ What can the author do to market and publicize this book, and how willing are they to do it?
■ What is the market for this kind of book? How much are books like this currently selling for? Can I make a profit on this type of book given the costs of printing, the market, and the average retail price?
■ What is the competition for this book?
■ What are the author’s expectations, are they realistic, and can we negotiate a workable agreement?
I need to crunch numbers, look at the competition, and do some projections to see if a submission will be a good business decision. I had a submission, for example, that was intriguing, but had almost no market, which meant a large print run was out of the question. It was a full-color interior, it was going to cost about $5 per copy to print, and the most I could charge for it, given the competition, was about $7.00. And I needed to offer a 40-50% wholesale discount. The math just doesn’t work. I had to say no.
View complete submission information for Yaldah Publishing by clicking here. “We do not require agents, but we will work with them if an author has an agent. We do require a query letter prior to submission,” Sheyna adds.