Last week, as I was going through a pile of submissions, I was thinking about the kinds of submissions I’ve been seeing. Many of them work really well, and it’s made it hard to choose, in some ways. I’m working with a few authors on manuscripts in various stages—though as you know we don’t have anything to announce just yet—but what about the rest? What are the things that make me say no right away? What kinds of things am I not seeing? So here’s a random list for you. Some of them are pretty obvious, but sometimes lists can be useful.
What I’m seeing in the submissions pile:
- A lot of really great Asian-based fantasy. Which is awesome, but it’d be nice to see more of other cultures & ethnicities too.
- A lot of really great YA. I’d like to see more middle grade books.
- Really, really short books or really, really long books. If your book for teens is 13,000 words long, it’s too short. (That’s too short for most chapter books.) If your book for middle graders is 150,000 words, it’s way too long.
- The occasional ms based on a “Native American” culture (i.e., not a specific tribe, but the label “Native American”). Be aware of cultural appropriation issues as well as how diverse the people behind the term “Native American” are, especially if you’re writing transracially. If you want to include any kind of Native American content, be sure to check out the resources at Oyate and American Indians in Children’s Literature (those are looking at currently-published books, but it’s a great way to see how to avoid cliches and misappropriation as a writer). There are hundreds of different cultures, not just one, and most First Nations/Aboriginal/Native American cultures regard their traditions as sacred and it’s important to respect that when mining history, religion, folklore, and mythology for magic systems and worldbuilding. If you do decide to include a Native American character and you’re not writing from that background, do your research and consult experts.*
- Adult wish-fulfillment fantasy that has nothing to do with children’s/teens’ immediate lives. Remember, your audience is young readers, not adults.
- On a similar note, stories that feel out of touch with kids/teens as they are today, rather than as they were at the time today’s adults were children.
- Fantasies based on northwestern European folklore. These are not non-Western cultures. They are the very definition of Western. Perhaps I’d love them from another publisher, but I don’t want to publish them for this imprint, sorry.
- Realistic tales about real, important world events that involve no fantasy or science fiction element at all. I’m sure they’re lovely/gripping/horrific, but I don’t want them. I’m looking for speculative fiction.
- Certain kinds of characters that just don’t suit my tastes, like anthropomorphized inanimate objects and animals. For some reason, though I LOVED anthropomorphized animals as a kid, they’re just not something I want to read anymore. Blame it on missing the farm? Though SF about bioengineered people with animal DNA is fair game as long as it’s original.
- The oddly occasional blatantly racist tale. Though thankfully I see these only very rarely.
- A lot of not-quite-ready and not-right-for-me manuscripts that do follow the guidelines well (thank you!), which is just as it should be. Some manuscripts will work for me, some will work for other editors, some will need some more work before they’re ready to be published. Some had problems with voice, which I discussed in a previous post. Some had speculative concepts that needed more development and just weren’t ready for me, though they sounded like they had potential. Some were, honestly, downright incomprehensible. (At least there aren’t any submissions in crayon from prisoners yet. Yes, this has actually happened in the past.) That’s a normal part of the process.
The takeaway: I’d really like a few more awesome middle grade books to consider (that fit my submission guidelines, of course). And that there are lots of cultures/people I’m not seeing enough of in the submissions pile. I’d love to see more Latino, Middle Eastern, and Native American/Aboriginal/First Nations characters.
I’d love to see a Native American or Middle Eastern character (from a specific background; I’m being general here to include the many different cultures this could mean) in a futuristic/dystopian/SF novel, by the way. One that extrapolates how things are today and creates a new world with new problems. Something akin to Setsuna‘s world in Gundam 00 (does the future include peace in the Middle East? Has the balance of world power changed ala China’s influence in Serenity? (minus the no-Chinese-main-characters thing)), or something more culturally specific and less of the same generic New Age-y “Native American” discussed above than Chacotay. How might the world look to someone of a specific ethnicity in 200, 300, 400 years? Different from the mainstream because of their cultural background? Sublimated into the larger culture? Gone underground? Lost, even? In 400 years, will American culture be colorblind/accepting of all/dead/something else completely, and the issues people face be completely foreign to someone from our time? What about that same scenario, but in Iraq? And how would all that play out amidst changed technology?
Oh, the possibilities! Where is the Native American The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm?
* I wish I could find the link or at least the place I saw a link to guidelines the Australian government put out about writing using Aboriginal content, because it would probably raise some really great issues whether you’re dealing with that culture or another. If anyone knows what I’m talking about and has access to that link, can you share it?