BEYOND THE PAGE: How Editors Find Authors and Manuscripts

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July 20, 2015

BEYOND THE PAGE: How Editors Find Authors and Manuscripts

It has arrived! The second installment in our BEYOND THE PAGE series, a tell-all about the process of turning a manuscript into a published book. 

Jane Arbogast is the Assistant Editor at FFF Digital, and she found FFF author Catrina Burgess on Wattpad. Read her bio here, and then read all about how she finds books for FFF Dig:

First of all, Serious questions that must be asked:

You’re ordering at Starbucks—what’s your drink of choice? Not a huge Starbucks fan. Maybe just a green tea …

Current book you’re reading for fun? Disclaimer by Renée Knight

What’s your go-to snack food? Definitely popcorn, but if there’s none of that around—pretzels!

What’s an object sitting on or by your desk? TUMS for when I eat too many of the above snacks.

Now, down to business:

How do you go about finding stories for FFFDig, and what are you looking for in a story?

Full Fathom Five Digital loves Wattpad (and other similar online story databases like fictionpress, and fanfiction.net, and Archive of Our Own… the list goes on). Besides our regular submissions list (in which authors, or agents on behalf of authors, submit their manuscripts directly to us), those user-driven websites are definitely our go-to places to search for the best and most original content.

The challenge there for a publisher is the seemingly limitless wealth of material. It truly is a process for us to sort through the thousands and thousands of stories to find that one, rare piece of writing that really speaks to us. The vastness of the internet these days is a curse and a blessing—but mostly a blessing, because without these sites, which allow writers to post their work for all to see, we would be forced to sit back and wait for authors to come to us. These websites let us take a more proactive approach. Some of our most popular and successful titles were originally fanfiction and stories published on sites like Wattpad (ahem, The Dark Rituals!). It’s a great resource, and as more and more publishers become aware of this phenomena, it has become a race to find the best material! This means we have to be even more innovative and forward-thinking in order to see potential in works that other publishers have yet to recognize.

When we’re on the hunt to find new material, FFFDig is looking for a pretty specific type of story, although it’s not so easy to define what, exactly, that means! We publish commercial fiction, so we look for stories that are accessible, concise, and that can usually fit into clear genre categories (although, this isn’t always the case). When evaluating a submission or online story, we ask ourselves several questions: Is the writing good enough that we don’t need to spend lots of time and effort overhauling it? How is the character and plot development? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end to the story? Does it have potential to be a series? Have the characters kept us engaged throughout the story?

We actually have a “top secret” scoring rubric that we use to evaluate each submission we look at and give it a numerical value, which helps us sort the definite “no’s,” from the “maybe’s” and the “yes’s.” But, even with this scoring system, at the end of the day our answer for each submission is not so exact.

There always has to be something—an “it factor”—that draws us to the manuscript. And we not only have to love it ourselves, but we have to really believe that we’ll be able to successfully sell it to readers—which, from a publisher’s perspective, is arguably the most important factor to consider. Often, we deliberate amongst ourselves about acquiring certain titles for months. There’s never a “right” answer, and when it comes to the final decision, we have to trust our intuition and go with our gut. A lot of times we disagree with each other, or feel strongly about certain aspects of the book. We deliberate a lot, and weigh whether we think the story has potential and whether we can help an author take their manuscript from its raw stages to a successful, published book!

Aside from content, we also consider the marketability of the book (can we and how will we sell this book?). Some of the things we ask ourselves include: Does the author already have a following? If the story is posted on Wattpad or a similar site, what feedback has it received?

In the case of Catrina’s Dark Rituals series, I was looking at the list of winners of the 2014 Wattpad Prize. Awakening had over one million reads and had also snagged the title of best suspense story. Those credentials were impressive (if a million people choose to read a story, there must be something to it!). I immediately got to reading and could tell that we had a special series on our hands that was both highly original and commercial enough to be easily marketable. It was easy to like the main character, Colina. The only way to get this revenge is to learn some seriously dark magic—and what person, no matter their age, doesn’t understand what it’s like to feel dark inside? (Of course, later the FFFDig team learned that the darkness spoke to us so clearly because Cat drew on her own life experience when writing—see last week’s tell-all!) Immediately after reading the story and presenting it to our director, I contacted Cat via her Wattpad profile and asked if she would consider publishing her work with Full Fathom Five Digital. The rest is history!

P.S. In the past we have had people ask us whether we have an age requirement for submissions—we don’t! Whether this is your first attempt at writing a book or you are a seasoned veteran, we are interested in looking at your story. In fact, our youngest author is an amazingly talented 16-year-old whose story we found on figment.com, another Wattpad-like site.

Stay tuned next week as our BEYOND THE PAGE series continues. Next Tuesday, Cat comes back to tell us why she decided to sign with FFF Digital.

What is BEYOND THE PAGE?

Ever wonder what happens after you sign with a publishing house? Catrina Burgess, author of The Dark Rituals series coming this October, has convinced us to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how a manuscript becomes a finished book. Tune in every Tuesday for a new installment, and check out the series on the author’s blog at catrinaburgess.com!

Catch up here:

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