I am often asked—either personally or rhetorically—what a publisher is looking for in a manuscript. While I certainly can’t speak for all publishers, I would guess that most publishers would have similar criteria when evaluating book queries. I own a small independent publishing company at Red Penguin Books, and we offer both traditional publishing as well as publishing services to authors of all genres. For our traditional publishing applicants, we look at several factors to predict whether an author is a good fit for us, including:
- The potential size of the author’s reading audience based on either (or both) the level of interest in the author’s choice of topic and the number of contacts (potential readers) already in a relationship with the author (such as on email lists and social media connections.)
- The compelling and timely nature of the author’s message, theme or viewpoint.
- The book’s genre—along with our desire to include/expand that genre (particularly a specific niche area) in our catalog.
For fiction, the author having multiple books in a growing niche is of particular importance, while for non-fiction, it would be more of a question of the author’s platform and mission. For both, quality of writing and enthusiasm of the author in participating in our partnership to promote the book are certainly key factors.
While only a small number of authors who apply for our traditional publishing option are accepted, we do believe strongly in the benefits of publication for many potential authors, which is why we offer publishing services to those whose profits will come in ways other than book sales. For example, many books are published to promote the authors professionally to enhance their credibility in their field. Other books are published as personal projects, which will become treasured keepsakes for families in the future. There are many reasons to wish to write and publish books, and we wish to assist all potential authors, regardless of their book goals. If an author’s book goals align with our own, we would be delighted to partner with them in our traditional publishing program, and even if an author’s first book doesn’t meet our specific criteria, later books may be just perfect, and we would be delighted to adjust accordingly.
All publishers have their own goals and requirements, but for all, the hope of bringing books to enthusiastic readers is a common thread. If you are looking to submit a query to a publisher, you will certainly want to think in terms of having a book with a subject targeted towards an existing audience, with quality writing able to educate, entertain and enlighten your readers.