Friday, May 20, 2011

Confessions of an Acquiring Editor - Part One

Cate is a very close friend of mine. We've been working together as crit partners for five years (how lucky am I?!) and have been friends for just as long. I was so excited when she agreed to come to my blog today to share about her experiences as an acquiring editor. I know I've been getting the 'naughty-naughty' finger more lately and know that as hundreds of manuscripts pass by this awesome woman's eyes, I need to listen. :-D We all need to listen... So without any more delay, here's Cate Chase, Acquiring Editor for Astraea Press:

Writing has opened many doors in my life. I’ve met some wonderful, fantastic people in this realm of creativity. One of them, Elaina Lee, invited me to guest blog today. I was honored, and here I am—with a few confessions.

Once I admitted to the world I was a writer, doors began to open. One special door opened last fall and I landed in the acquisitions end of the e-publishing pool. What a great job, except for the rejections.

I can put myself in the author’s shoes and know exactly how that rejection letter feels. Actually, I’d have to take my shoes off and put on sleep pants and a tank top, since I usually write in clothes I can’t wear out of the house. My children’s friends no longer ask if I am sick after hearing time and time again, “She’s writing...”

When I’m not writing, I garden, cook, and forage through submissions. I’m the person everyone fears… Only I’m not very scary. I’ll even tell you my secrets, the things I look for in a submission. How’s that?

First and foremost, the house’s guidelines, which are usually well documented under submissions. Make my job a snap. Second of all, clear goal-motivation-conflict for your hero and heroine, and a recognizable character arc.

If those two things are present, my next goal is to read until the author loses me. No matter what the flaws, if the story is compelling enough to keep me reading, I’ll do everything in my power to get you a contract. If not, I’ll make a detailed list of what needs to change before my publisher can accept your MS and send it to you.

So, let’s talk about what stops me.

1. Start where the action starts. Then, you can fill us in on the things we need to know about your heroine and her situation. Don’t wander into their lives on a boring day so we can meet the cast and crew. Get acquainted chapters just don’t work for me.

2. Good grammar. Bad grammar makes my eyes hurt. Enough said.

3. Move me. Thanks to my young adults, I can comfortably use the word ‘emo’. While not every book is meant to be some emo, soul-searching, Kleenex festival, depth and insight make or break a book for me. I want gut feelings, reactions; I want to cheer with your heroine, to cry with her and laugh, as well. I can’t do that if nothing is sizzling below the surface. If I’ve read twenty pages and still haven’t seen a glimmer of depth, I’m putting it down.

4. Sentences started with it’s. Tina Turner can sing about how it’s raining men, but any sentence starting with it’s is a black mark in my book. Two per novel, in third person, and those only if necessary. In first, I understand they are almost unavoidable sometimes, but each one waves a big, red flag for me. One of my mother’s favorite authors and her favorite series by the author is overrun with the things. Being a grammar snob, I can’t read the books. Since the man is raking in money hand over fist with these books, on this one, you can ignore my advice. Just know I won’t be accepting your MS. You’ll have to find some other path to the greatness you most assuredly deserve.

5. Fill in the scenes. Don’t just give me dialogue, a little thought, a little description and write on. Don’t just pencil a drawing on paper, paint me a picture. I want to be able to visualize where your characters are, what they are seeing, smelling, aware of. How the world around them affects them. For instance, I have a bad reaction to butterflies. My breathing stops. So does my heart. I had surgery when I was very young, and the first flying creature I saw was a butterfly. They are not beautiful in my book. My body goes into panic mode. How does your heroine feel about let’s say… roaches?

The last secret, those people reading your submissions are people just like you, with the same daily challenges, needs, wants and schedules. See us in our underwear. I WANT to be able to recommend every book we receive to my editor. I really, really do! So, next week, if Elaina will let me come back, I’ll share what moves me to keep reading.

Happy Friday,


Oh Cate will definitely be back! So be sure to check in again next Friday for what she looks for in the stories that instantly grab her. :-)



  1. So, this opening line probably wont grab you, huh?

    "It's not that it wasn't what it was meant to be, but that it didn't make it clear that it wasn't."

    A shame. I worked all of five seconds on it.

    Hi, Cate and Elaina!
    Had to stop by and wish you both well. =)

  2. Extremely informative piece. Thanks for the inside scoop Cate. Elaina, you are always on point Lady.



  3. Awesome information! I can't wait to read more. I am taking notes.

  4. David, my eyes are bleeding!!!! AGGHHHH!!!! Thanks for stopping by, I miss you all... I'm down in the pits of creation. Sigh.

    Cornelle, Cate is a wealth of information, and if I'm always on point, it's because of her! :-D

    Thanks, Winona! It's always helpful when you know a few tricks. *wink*

  5. David, David, David, I'd read that sentence enough to make sense of it and pray you didn't have too many more like it...

    Cornelle and Wynona, I love this business, all aspects of it, it seems. Anything I can share to help, I'm glad to.

  6. And Elaina, I wouldn't still be here without you.

  7. Hugs, Miss Cate! Thanks again for sharing your awesome knowledge on my blog. I can't wait for next weeks post!

  8. Love especially since I've been on Cate's desk a time or two and will continue to be. What a great blog! Hugs you girls.....

  9. Great info! GMC, absolutely. EMO, totally. :-)

  10. Thank you so much for posting this. I think everyone should listen to the Cate. Even if she rejects you, if she gives you advice I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to listen. I did, and after some revision, sold my book.

  11. Monique, I have heard some fabulous things about you *wink* As your cover artist I get a copy of your print book, and I'm looking forward to reading it!!!

    Thanks, Meg, for stopping by!

    Liz, I hear you. It is SO important to listen to an acquiring editors advice on revising your MS. I've been there too and wow the difference it makes!

  12. I don't get why you hate starting a sentence with it. I'm screwed. I do it. Not often but I'd be rejected I guess.

  13. Oh, Jerri... I'm afraid she got that particular pet-peeve from me. It's my BIGGEST one in writing. Grates on my nerves like stryofoam pieces rubbing together. I'm pretty sure, when I critted you, you probably noticed, LOL! There is always another way to start a sentence, unless it's in conversation, then it's acceptable. *grin*