'When do you know when you've found a good one?' That's a question we're often asked at Hobeck by people interested in the publishing process. Ask Rebecca, and she'll tell you that she lets her bath water get cold. Ask me, and I'll say the tell tale sign is the hairs on my neck standing up and a shiver creeps down my spine. I'm talking, course, about submissions from authors seeking a publisher.
As they continued to flow in this week, I had to remind myself that just a few months ago we were worried we wouldn't attract any manuscript submissions at Hobeck. After all, we were a new business with a website, a great logo, and one brilliant author, Robert Daws. We had planned to tour the UK's crime festivals seeking unpublished talent, but only managed to attend one in September 2019 before COVID-19 brought the festival scene to a grinding halt. Ironically, that festival, Morecambe and Vice eventually secured us our second author, Antony Dunford, who witnessed my faltering debut as a podcaster as I stood in for Robert on the Partners in Crime show with Adam Croft.
The submissions really began to flow after we published Robert's Sullivan and Broderick series in July. It started as a trickle, gathered momentum and now it's reaching flood proportions. It's a good problem to have. From the outset, we decided that Hobeck would take a different approach to submissions from authors. We have two rules: one, we always acknowledge receipt of a submission, and two, we always reply with feedback, whether it's good news or a rejection. We believe passionately that it's the least we can do. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking that deserves respect, and we have always hated the way that so many authors never hear anything back from publishers.
Of course, such a commitment means that we have to set aside a considerable amount of time to ensure we read each submission, decide whether or not to request the whole manuscript, and draft detailed replies to all the authors who contact us. Rejection letters are one of the hardest aspects of the job. We believe in honest feedback, and at times this can be hard for the recipient to accept - but rather that than some empty platitudes and a 'better luck next time' dollop of insincerity.
So what are we looking for? You'd perhaps be surprised at how fast we can build an impression, especially a negative one. Is the covering letter full of typos? Has the author written to us by name and picked up some of the key messages from our website? Does the synopsis make any sense? Has the author been clear about the genre, the word count, and explained if the book is a standalone or part of a series? If some of these elements are poorly presented, then the book itself has an uphill challenge to impress us.
Not that all is lost I hasten to add. The real secret to a great submission in our view is to grab us in the those opening paragraphs, drag us into the world of your story, bring characters to life with sparkling description and dialogue, and make us want to read more! We're wearing several hats when we sit down with submissions on a Friday in a local cafe. Above all we're thinking of potential readers. Do we think that book buyers will love this story, the writing and the characters? If so, how would we market it? Does this author have the potential to write more great books and build a loyal following? Will they be fun to work with?
With due respect to the five authors we've signed to date, winner of the imaginary 'best presented submission award' would go to our most recent signing, Alison Morgan. Every aspect - from covering letter, to synopsis, to the opening three chapters were on point. We knew about her previous experience as a novelist, how her career had shaped her stories, and how she'd struck on the idea for her latest novel, Show No Pity based on the knowledge and experience of her daughter. She also impressed us with how much research she'd done into us as a company and as people. Taking that time really pays dividends.
Ultimately though, we're looking at the quality of the writing before us. You'd be surprised how many submissions come to us with grammatical errors, misspellings, missing words or sentences that simply make no sense at all. Read your submission out loud. Does your prose flow? Does your dialogue sound natural or distinctive? Have you been consistent with the point of view in your narrative? Are you writing with all your senses - not just what the character can see and hear? We're looking for gifted storytellers. We want writers with a voice and character themselves.
To date, we have signed some twenty per cent of the authors who have sent us submissions. For a further twenty per cent we've offered advice and invited them to re-work things and come back to us. For the remainder we have offered feedback but regrettably a rejection. I suspect that might make Hobeck unique in the publishing world, but it's what we believe is important. If you've taken the trouble to reach out to us, you deserve our considered attention. And as we celebrate getting to number one in the International Mystery and Crime category on Amazon this week with Robert Daws and Killing Rock, we can't wait to hear from the next #1 selling authors through our submissions process.