Great Beginnings by Anita Mumm

It’s January and I’ve got beginnings on my mind—in this case, the opening pages of your novel. In 2012 we read 1,029 sets of sample pages and from those we requested 81 full manuscripts. So what made the difference between a “no thanks” and a “tell me more”? Here are five key elements:

  • Voice. Every author has a voice, but what makes some stand out from the crowd? In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass calls voice “not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world…” Another key element is authenticity. Do the narration and dialogue ring true with the characters and story? This is particularly important for YA and MG—nothing turns young readers off faster than writing that feels like an adult trying to mimic them. In that sense, the voice should be invisible— effortlessly capturing readers without calling attention to itself.
  • Stand-out writing. We see dozens of fairy tale retellings and spin-offs every month. Nevertheless, one of our newest clients is the author of a reimagined Sleeping Beauty tale. Her secret? The story felt incredibly fresh while retaining key elements of the fairy tale—a recipe for reader satisfaction. Beautiful writing can make an old theme feel new; focus on polishing your craft, not worrying about what is in vogue.
  • Authentic world. While it’s especially important for sci-fi/fantasy and steampunk, world-building can make or break any story. Your goal is to create a literary microcosm that feels real (historical authors—don’t skimp on the research).
  • Stories with heart. We’re looking for novels that feature relevant issues without compromising story. Examples: stories about bullying, contemporary YA with teens battling real-life issues, LGBT stories.
  • Characters who face great challenges with grit and integrity. What they don’t do is become jaded, nasty, or overly angsty. That definitely works for some stories, but our personal taste leans toward characters who rise a little higher.

Keep in mind that these elements can—and must—be firmly established or at least introduced in your opening pages; we ask for thirty, but it’s usually obvious in five. Take a hard look at your opening pages and if they feel a little flat, it’s time to consider a revision. Because no matter how amazing chapter five is, without a dynamic start readers may never get that far.

May 2013 bring success and satisfaction in your writing career. Best wishes!

Anita Mumm is a Literary Assistant at the Nelson Literary Agency. This post was taken from their monthly newsletter and posted here with permission. To get more great industry news, subscribe to their newsletter.

A Picture Book: What Do I Do Next?

I am looking for advice on publishing an LDS children’s book.  My book is in the very early stages.  I’ve written a first draft, and have an artist who has agreed to do illustrations.  Everyone who has read the story has told me I should get it published (without me asking, and without them knowing I’m thinking about doing it).  I’m just wondering if you have advice on the process of publishing an LDS childrens book.  What publisher(s) do I send it to? In what format? Thank you very much.

The children’s picture book market is a tough one—especially in the small LDS niche market. This is because, in general, the cost to print them is higher and the expected return on investment is less.

To increase the likelihood of success, do your research. First, read a lot of picture books. Study the ones that are really popular and determine what makes them so.

Second, write a unique story that lends itself to unique illustrations.

Learn all you can about the process of publishing picture books. For example, did you know that most picture books are 32 pages long—and that includes the title page.

Formatting for submitting a picture book is different than a standard fiction book. Research that so it’s easy for the editor to see where page breaks should occur.

Also, most publishers hire their own illustrators. It’s rare that they’ll use your illustrator.

Once you’re armed with a good story and knowledge of the industry, go to Deseret Book and look at the LDS picture books they have on the shelf. Write down the names of the publishers and then start submitting.


Publishing a Poem

Good Morning,

My name is [Bob]. I wrote a poem called, “[Bob’s [Poem]” . The poem was electronically filed online to the US Copyright Office in Washington, DC … where I paid $35.  Once it was copyright to the U.S. Copyright Office, I sent this information to the news media, and Oprah Winfrey, and CNN network, just to see their response.

Please tell me what you think about my … poem. [atttached] I would like to get the poem published. The information concerning everything about the poem is in the attachment.

Thank you!

I don’t review work here at this site. I also don’t help to get specific projects published—except for the Christmas Short Story Contest and their resulting anthologies.

In general, your best bet to publish a poem is through a magazine that publishes poetry. Go to your local library and look at the current year’s Poet’s Market or Writer’s Market. Look through that to find magazines that use the type of poetry you’ve written. Follow their guidelines to submit.

Where Do I Find an LDS Editor?

I asked myself this question last February and after looking at many sites in Utah and outside, too, I wasn’t able to find what I was looking for. All of the editing services I found were doing it the old-fashioned way of having the writer print a manuscript on paper and mailing it to them. They would then mark it up and mail it back.

I wanted someone who used the “change tracking” and “review/comment” utilities in most word processors to do the work. I wanted to just email the editor my document, have them mark it up and email it back and I then work the edits in the document, accepting some and rejecting others.

Finally, I went onto and posted a job with these qualifications. I received about 25 hits of which five were qualified. I then sent them a document to edit and they sent it back. I made my choice from that.

It worked out very well. We went through the entire book and now it [self-published].

Makes me wonder how you do this.

I pretty much do it the way you described. Almost all my work is electronic until we get to the press proof stage.

As for finding an LDS editor, they’re all over the place. Editors: Want to put your links in the comments?

Need An Editor?

I’m writing a book – not for publication – just to be printed and used by my family and posterity.  It will go a lot faster if I have an LDS editor review my work and make necessary changes and edits, re-writes, etc.  I’m willing to pay top dollar for someone good and efficient.  Can you give me some references?


Well, uh, no. I don’t do that here. I’m still working on this site to provide information like that. (Sorry. Low priority.)

So, Dear Readers. Now’s your chance. Do you provide editing services? Or is there a person/company you’d recommend? If so, leave a comment with a link to your/their site!

The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

Is it okay to query several agents at once? Absolutely. In fact, we recommend it. If you wait to hear back from each agent before approaching another, you could end up waiting months or years for an offer of representation. But there is a protocol to follow. Here are some things to bear in mind as you get ready to launch your volley of submissions.

  • It’s not necessary to say, “This is a multiple submission,” in your query letter (though there is nothing wrong with doing so). Unless you tell an agent she is your one shot and you can’t possibly see yourself working with someone else, the agent will assume that as a savvy writer you are not putting all your eggs in one basket.
  • After you send your query, keep agents posted on any major interest you receive for the project. Always check the agent’s website, blog, etc. to learn her preferences, but in general that means an offer of representation; you don’t need to send updates if you get another sample or full manuscript request. Also, if you sent your manuscript to editors before seeking an agent, it’s good to mention this in your query letter, and definitely keep agents posted if you receive an offer of publication.
  • If you receive an offer of representation from an agent, you have two choices: (1) Let him know that you are waiting to hear back from other agents you submitted to and ask for a reasonable period in which to make your decision—agents hate being forced to read a manuscript overnight. Or (2) decide you want to go with him and accept the offer. Either way, let everyone else know immediately. It’s very frustrating for an agent who has just spent hours reading your manuscript, only to learn that it is no longer available.

Remember that there’s a balance to be found with multiple submissions. Approaching only one or two agents decreases your chance of success, but firing off dozens of queries will only cause headaches as you try to keep track of where you are in each agent’s submission process. Focus on a handful of your top choices, and if they turn you down, go to your Plan B list, and so on. The bottom line is to be courteous and considerate throughout the process—life is unpredictable and you never know when you might be agent hunting again.

Anita Mumm is a Literary Assistant at the Nelson Literary Agency. This post was taken from their monthly newsletter and posted here with permission. To get more great industry news, subscribe to their newsletter.

Before You Send Your Manuscript Out to Readers (or Publishers) by Tristi Pinkston

So you’ve gotten your manuscript ready to go out to readers. You’re excited because you know how close you are to being ready for submission . . . you’ll get this feedback, you’ll make the suggested changes, and you’re finished, right?

Well, pretty close. But don’t think this step is going to be a piece of cake. That’s a mistake a lot of writers make—they hurry and get the manuscript out to readers before it’s really ready.

Here are some tips to help you get that manuscript as ready for readers as you possibly can—keeping in mind that if you take out the glaring problems now, your readers will have an easier time spotting the more complex problems.

1. Go through and do a search for “was.” Most of the time, when the word “was” is used, you can change it to more of an active voice. Instead of saying, “She was sitting on the porch,” say “She sat on the porch.” This brings your reader into closer contact with the story, and it eliminates the repetitive use of “was.”

2. Go through and do a search for “that.” Most of the time, “that” is used when it’s not needed. “She thought that he’d be there to pick her up at three.” Take it out and see what you’ve got … “She thought he’d be there to pick her up at three.” It’s the same thing, but “that” gets repetitive and makes your sentences wordy.

3. Go through and make sure all your punctuation is still there. I’ve noticed when I edit for people that as they take out words they’ve been told to take out, sometimes the punctuation gets taken along with it, erased accidentally by the cursor being in the wrong place.

4. Go through and take out fully 3/4 of your adverbs. Keep only the ones that are absolutely needed—most are indicated by the context, anyway, and aren’t necessary.

There you have it—four steps to help make your manuscript ready for readers. These aren’t the only things to watch out for—there are many—but these are the most common mistakes and the most common detractors from the story. With these things out of the way, your readers will be able to concentrate on the things that remain and help you polish the story until it shines.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of nine published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

Is There a Market for LDS Spanish Language Picture Books?

Hello, I have some questions that you may be able to answer. I am a graphic designer and I write books for children. I live in [South America].

I have produced the gospel “translated” for them with short texts and nice drawings. So far I have finished the fourth book but I have more than 60 in mind.
I was wondering if I could show you the things I have done, (I write, draw, diagram and desing the whole book). If it is not you whom I should contact, would you please tell me who is that I can write to?

Do I have any possibilities to do this with a book publisher in the US from here?

First, no you can’t send samples of your work to me. I keep a strict divide between my anonymous blogging self and my day-job publishing self. If someone sends a manuscript to “LDS Publisher” I delete it without reading it. Sorry, but this is one of the conditions I have with my boss.

Second, yes, there is a market here in the United States for Spanish-language books that teach gospel principles to children. The fact that you live outside the U.S. shouldn’t be a problem. What is a problem is that children’s books don’t sell as well as books for adults, and picture books are more expensive to publish. (See more on this HERE.)

Also, some publishers may allow you to illustrate and design your books but most will want to do that in-house, having you provide the text only.

What you need to do is send a query to the various LDS publishers to see if they are interested. Here is a list of LDS publishers in the U.S. I’m not sure how up to date it is, so you’ll need to go to the various websites and carefully read their submission guidelines. The big ones to contact are, of course, Deseret Book, Covenant and Cedar Fort.

Target Reading Level for Fiction

Is there a target reading level for fiction? Does a novel with a reading grade level of 12 or higher have a chance at publication?

Yes, a novel written at a 12th grade level has a chance at publication!

But I have a qualifier. The content and story line must be aimed at adult readers. You’ll have better luck selling a literary novel at this reading level, than say, a suspense novel or a romance.

I tried to find some sources to back up my opinions, but Google was not my friend. I had a really hard time finding any recent legitimate statistics (backed up by research) on literacy, reading levels of adults, and the average reading levels of novels. Maybe I just didn’t know the right key words to get to it. There were a lot of guesses and some old research and arguments about how that old research is invalid… So if any readers know of a recent valid study, please let us know in the comments.

I asked a few colleagues, and our understanding is that in the publishing industry, most popular U.S. novels for adult readers are written at a  7th to 9th grade reading level. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any popular novels published at a higher reading level or even at a much lower reading level. (Read this article on reading levels of various novels.)

I also found a forum comment that made the following assertions, which “feel” right to me. They attribute their statements to studies done by the healthcare industry, but I couldn’t find the original source.

1. No matter how educated people are, they actually read three to five grades lower than the last grade they finished. People who finished high school read at the level of 7th-9th graders. (LDSP: Uhm, so college graduates would read at or above the 12th grade level.)

2. When a prominent newspaper lowered the complexity of their articles from college level to 4th grade, the number of readers shot up by 98 percent. (LDSP: Not sure of the percentages, but I’ve heard that when some magazines did this, their subscription rates went up.)

3. The books of the most popular U.S. novelists (Stephen King, John Grisham, etc.) are written at a 7th-grade reading level.(LDSP: That’s my general assessment, as well.)

4. Most romance novels (which make up about half of all paperbacks sold in the U.S.) are written at a 5th-grade reading level. (LDSP: Not sure about this one, but I would suspect that the mass market paperback romances [*cough * harlequin-esque * cough] might fit this.)


I also found the ProLiteracy website which seems legit. They indicate that approximately 29% of US adults read below the 8th grade level, with 14% reading at a fifth grade level or below.

That leaves 70% of the adult US population that read at or above the 8th grade level. Right?

So, yes, I think a novel for adults (as opposed to children and teens) written at a 12th grade reading level or above has a chance. If that’s the level at which you’re comfortable writing, do it. If your agent or a publisher likes it but tells you to dumb it down, then you’ll have a decision to make.

Children’s Picture Books

Thanks for taking the time to write your blog.  I’m just getting my feet wet in the publishing world, and you have given me a place to start.  I have written a children’s picture book.  I’ve been rejected by three publishers so far, and searched dozens of other LDS publishers who are not accepting submissions in this genre.  Would you please direct me?  I don’t know what to do next.

The difficulty with picture books is they cost more to produce and yet the expected sales are lower than books for adults.

Extra costs for a picture book include the cost of illustrations, which can run in the thousands of dollars if they hire a really good illustrator, plus the cost of full color printing, which can be double or more than a book with no color on the pages.

In order for a publisher to justify the risk, you’re going to have to have a pretty awesome story line or be an established author with a large following to guarantee sales.

What you need to look for is a publisher who specializes in picture books. I don’t know if your content is specifically LDS, but if it isn’t, or if it can be changed to reflect general Christian ideas, you might want to try a Christian publisher. (Google “Christian Picture Book Publisher).

I’m not sure what to advise your for specific LDS content… Readers? Ideas?


Common Reasons for Rejections

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me?

It is not at all uncommon to be rejected on your first book and by the first publisher you contact. Don’t give up.

The most common reason books are rejected is that they are not a good fit for the publisher. Read the publisher’s submission guidelines carefully. Make sure the publisher you are submitting to is interested in your genre and topic. Make sure they publish things similar, but not the same as what you’re submitting.

The second most common reason for rejection is that the book is just not quite publication ready. Get some critiques on your manuscript. Join a critique group with experienced writers. Go to some conferences that offer critique sessions. Make sure your book is as good as it can possibly be.

The third most common reason for rejection is your query letter isn’t quite up to what it should be. Saying things like, “There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based,” is not really very helpful. Unique how? What specifically do you meant by “experientially based”? Is that experiential component going to add to the cost of creating the book? That might be an issue (or not).

And I can guarantee, the publisher/editor/agent is going to have seen something like it before.

Do your research and keep submitting. Good luck!

Looking for an LDS Publisher with National Marketing

Hi, I’m a fiction writer. I want to query one or more of the LDS publishers, but I don’t know which ones are the largest and with which one I would have the best chance of getting into the national market. I have already been rejected by Shadow Mountain. I’m thinking Covenant or Cedar Fort. Am I right? If so, which? (My book is absolutely clean, no profanity etc., but contains no references to LDS history, doctrine, or anything else LDS.) Is there anywhere to be found, a list of rankings of LDS publishers in terms of size, books published per year etc.?

In terms of size and name recognition, it goes

  1. Deseret Book (with its Shadow Mountain imprint)
  2. Covenant (also owned by Deseret Book; does not have a national market)
  3. Cedar Fort (has both LDS and national imprints)

In terms of the number of fiction titles released each year, flip that list upside down and you’ve got it.

There is also WiDo Publishing, a smaller new publishing company which markets nationally.

But I guess my question is, if you really want to hit the national market, why are you looking at LDS publishers? Look for a national publisher instead.


10 Steps to a Good Query Letter

Your query letter is often your first and last chance to impress a publisher. You can find tips for how to do one all over the internet. They will vary from blogger to blogger, but there are a few basic rules that all good queries follow.

1. Follow Instructions. Check the publisher’s website and scrupulously follow any instructions for creating and sending a query that are posted there. This is the most important step. If there are no instructions, create a 1-2 page letter (1 is better) that is clean and crisp and follows standard business letter format. Some publishers now accept e-queries. They will state this in their instructions.

2. Finish your manuscript. A fiction work needs to be completed before you start sending queries. Make sure it’s your best work. If there are any parts that you feel aren’t quite up to snuff, work them out.

For non-ficton, a solid outline is usually adequate in the query stage, but a publisher want to see finished product before they offer a contract. Until then, you’re writing on spec. Hopefully, you write fast because “hot topics” can change quickly.

Before you call it done, have your manuscript read by at least 6 people who know something about writing in general and your genre/subject area in specific. These need to be people who will be completely honest with you and won’t pull punches. (Recommended: a good writers group; Not recommended: mother, sister, husband, best friend.) Clean up your manuscript based on the suggestions of your readers.

3. Do research. Research the publishing house you’re sending it to. Read the submission guidelines on their website. Make sure they are looking for manuscripts in your genre/area.

4. Address. Address the query to the right person, name spelled correctly. If the website doesn’t indicate a specific name (John Doe) or title (Acquisitions Editor) to send your query or submission to, you might consider making a quick call to ask the secretary.

5. Introduction. Introduce yourself and your book briefly, making realistic statements about your writing ability. Tell about your book. What is the genre? Include your word count. State how you came to submit to this editor/publisher. A referral by a current author or another publisher or someone the editor personally knows is a plus. But don’t name drop unless it’s legitimate. They will check up on you.

If you don’t have a personal referral, just state how you heard about them and why you think they might like your book. Example: “I saw your company listed as an LDS publisher on the XYZ list. I went to your website and noticed that you’ve published several [genre or topic]. I believe my book will fit nicely with those…”

6. Pitch. Give a brief synopsis. Who is your target audience? Why will they buy it as opposed to the 27 others like it on the shelf? Again, be realistic. You could say, “Readers who enjoyed ABC might also enjoy this book.”

Some authors do the pitch first, then the introductory information. That’s okay too.

7. Credentials. Brief description of your publishing credentials, if you have them. (Self-publishing only counts if your books were carried in bookstores and you sold more than 2,000 copies.)

Don’t be afraid to say this is your first book. Every single published author had a first book.

If you’re submitting non-fiction, this would be where you describe your expertise in the area. Example: a nutritionist writing about a new weight loss program. Life experience is also a credential, if it applies to the subject area. A formerly 300 pound homemaker can speak to weight loss as well.

8. Conclusion. If you have some good marketing ideas, you might do a 1-2 sentence pitch on that. Otherwise, just say something polite and end the letter.

9. Clean Up. Run the spell check. Let it sit for a day, then print it out and read it to make sure you haven’t left out words, etc. Print your query in an easy-to-read font: 12 point type, Times, regular spacing. If you e-query, do a virus check before sending it. Also, do not attach a document file as your query letter. Just copy and paste it straight into the body of the e-mail.

10. Include SASE. If you’re submitting my regular mail, include a SASE. I know some of you don’t believe in SASEs, but if you want to make a good impression, do it.

If you e-query, put the editor’s e-mail address in your address book so the reply does not bounce back. Also, if you have any of those annoying programs that make people “register” before they can send you e-mail, TURN IT OFF. Or get a separate e-mail address just for submissions, and don’t give out the address to anyone but editors or publishers. (An address like is probably not the best for creating a professional, businesslike impression.)

If you need more specific help, ask your published writer friends if you can see the query they used to get their book accepted. But don’t cookie-cutter it. You are original. Your book is original. Your query should be original, too. (And whatever you do, don’t buy one of those software programs that writes your query for you!)

From the Archives, 5/1/06

Manuscript Presentation: Italics

Hi! I’m a reader of your blog, and I was hoping I could pose a question to you. My friends and I have been debating how to present italics in a manuscript. Some say underlining, but I recently heard that editors prefer straight-up italics, so they don’t have to change the format later. Do you know which is currently preferred?

A lot of this depends on which software you use to create the manuscript and which software the publisher uses to typeset. Generally, if you use Microsoft Word, it doesn’t matter how you indicate italics because it can be converted to usable files for most advanced typesetting programs with the styles intact. In this case, it’s a simple Find/Replace for the typesetter to tag your styles in their program.

However, if you’re using WordPerfect (and if you are, stop it right now and join the 21st century!) or some other archaic word processing program or if you’ve added a lot of unusual styling or fonts to your document (and if you have, knock it off!) that won’t easily import to QuarkXPress or InDesign (the two most commonly used typesetting programs), the styles are stripped out in the conversion process and the typesetter must reference the original file to put the styles back in. In this case, underlining is MY preferred way to indicate italics because it’s much easier for the typesetter to see them.

As to which you use, if the publisher’s website doesn’t state a preference, go ahead and use regular italics. If they want it underlined, they’ll do it themselves or have you go back through and do it.

And one last note: a lot of writers overuse italics. Make sure it’s really needed before you use it.

Writers Groups

I just finished my first manuscript. I have a friend who wants me to join her writers group. She thinks this would be a good way to get some feedback and determine if I’m ready to submit. But I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I’ve heard horror stories about critique groups. What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?


Dear Groupie,

The good news: A good writers group can be an invaluable resource. It can be a great incentive to write according to schedule. Sharing information, successes, rejections is a great support to the often lonely world of writing. The bad news: Good groups are hard to find.

A good group often has a mix of beginners and published authors. It may also help if the group is specific to your genre. You don’t want to be in a group that is too nice to give you honest feedback, but you also don’t want a group where flaming and destructive criticism are allowed or encouraged. Good feedback should point out what you did right, as well as places that need work. All feedback should be given with respect. You also want to avoid groups with overbearing personalities that dominate the group. Interaction should be a give and take among equals, not bossy know-it-alls condescending to share their advice and experience with the ignorant. (I’m not a bossy know-it-all. Well, not always.)

Go to the group. Read a few pages. Listen to the comments. Think about the feedback. It only takes one or two visits to determine if the group is a good fit for you or not.

And don’t be offended if a group invites you to attend on a trial basis. There are a lot of new writers who start out with a bang, but then become hit-and-miss non-producers. This is a burden to the group. A screening process allows a healthy group to protect the integrity of the resources they offer. If you are rejected because you’re not a good fit for them, you probably wouldn’t have had a good experience with them anyway.