Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Six Questions for Elizabeth Harvey, Acquisitions Editor, Divertir Publishing

From the website:

"Divertir Publishing is an independent publisher located in Salem, NH. Our goal is to provide interesting and entertaining books to the world, as well as to offer new and exciting voices in the writing community the opportunity to publish their work. We seek to combine the knowledge of the established publishing houses with a unique understanding of the desires of the modern market." Learn more here.

SQF: There’s been quite a bit written about the demise of the paper book and the decline in the number of books published. What is your view of the current state of the book and the book market?

EH: I’m going to give this question to the head of Divertir Publishing, Dr. Kenneth Tupper, since this particular question is his forte.

KT: According to Bowker's New Book Title data, in 2002, 247,777 books were published. In 2008 the number was 561,580. So in fact, many more books are being published now than in the past. However, since 2004 the number of books published by "traditional publishers" has remained flat. The question becomes where is the difference in the number of books being published?

The difference is in the number of books Bowker considers to be "non-traditional," which as a category had over 8 times the number of books published in 2008 than in 2002. In fact, predictions for 2009 are that over 750,000 "non-traditional" books will be published, which is almost three times the number of books published by traditional means. The "non-traditional" category includes self-published books. This suggests that more authors are forgoing the traditional publishing route and publishing their own work, either as electronic books or using digital (print-on-demand) technology. The rise in self-publishing and the popularity of electronic books have several implications for the book industry:

  • From a marketing point of view, you are no longer competing with 288,000 books for attention but with over 1 million books. This means that publishers and authors will need to work harder than ever to get their message out so their books are not lost in the "noise." This needs to be a partnership with the authors heavily involved, because people very rarely buy books based on the name of the publisher. No one walks into a store and says "I'd like the latest book by Divertir Publishing."
  • The trend is going to continue for authors forgoing publishers to self-publish. But authors will need to keep in mind that while writing is an art, publishing is a business. People who are not ready to get into the business of publishing will probably not be successful and would be best advised to continue to seek out a publisher to work with. As large publishers continue to publish fewer books and agents become harder to find, more and more small presses will come into existence to fill the needs of these authors.
  • Electronic books are not going away, and sales of electronic books are going to continue to rise at the expense of paper book sales. Does this mean that people will read less? Not likely. The best analogy would be the typewriter -- people still type as much as they used to, they just no longer use a typewriter to do it. People will still read. It's just the format of the books that will change. Publishers will need to have a strategy for electronic books which is fair to authors, or authors will just publish electronically themselves.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?



Small mistakes are alright—even big ones if the writing is good enough (though it rarely is). But generally speaking, if a person doesn’t understand the basic rules of grammar when writing a manuscript, it usually will result in me sending out a rejection letter. It’s like a resume in a way. If you don’t write the best you’re able to and try to get everything as correct as possible, then it shows you’re not really going to work hard on the editing process.


Facts and information in the manuscript should be accurate. If you are saying that Gary, Indiana is north-east of Missouri City, Missouri, then you ought to check your facts again. When writing, it’s very important to make sure that your narrator is trustworthy, and if there are glaring errors it means that the readers can’t rely on the character. Whether a novel or a non-fiction work, accuracy demonstrates research and a familiarity with the material, which is extremely important to making the work believable.

Character Development

If I’m reading a novel I want good, rounded characters and an interesting plot. If the characters are as three-dimensional as the original Mario Nintendo game, then I won’t likely keep interested to the end of the book. And if I can’t keep interested, the readers probably won’t read through the book. While plot is important, character development is one of the most important points of writing and without that the plot falls flat.

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

EH: I think the biggest issues authors have when submitting their manuscripts to us are: not reading our submission guidelines, not following our submission guidelines, and not understanding the purpose and construction of a synopsis.

Writers that don’t read and adhere to the guidelines for submitting their works show very clearly that they can’t follow directions and puts us on notice that they may not be willing to work with us while we edit, market, and print their book. I recently received a blank email with a story attached. When I responded that they needed to follow the submissions process, they replied with a statement that it was far too much work for them. That sort of behavior is absolutely never going to get you published.

While the first two are inexcusable, writing a synopsis is not always easy, and no one likes boiling their baby into a few short sentences because it loses so much of the meat and seems thin. There are guides to writing synopses out there, and I have actually been willing to coach people on that subject when they send theirs in. It’s not a “cardinal sin,” but it does seem to be a problem for people so it deserves to be addressed. 

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

EH: So far, all of the authors we have worked with have been unpublished. Divertir has been focusing on unpublished authors, at least in the beginning, because offering the short story collections allows us to provide a “test run” for an author to see if we are interested in working with them for a larger work. It gives us a chance to develop a relationship with the author and get a feel for how they write and act through the process of the publication. In addition, it gives us the ability to get their name out and develop them as an author.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

EH: If you’re looking to be published for the first time, I would advise that you start with small presses. While everyone dreams of being picked up by Random House, they have to start somewhere. Also, small publishing houses often don’t require agents.

In addition, make certain that you read and follow the submission guidelines for the company, however inane you feel them to be. The ability and willingness to follow direction (even if you make mistakes here and there) shows that you are professional enough to make the effort to really put yourself forward. In that vein also, do your best to spell check and grammar check your emails to the company. If I receive an email that is written using horrid grammar (hey, will u publish mai buk 4 me?) I will either not reply at all, or send a polite rejection while referring the author to our submission guidelines.

The other important comment I have is to behave in a professional manner. You’re likely to get a lot of rejection letters and be waiting a long time. Being gracious and polite means that, even if this particular work didn’t make it to the printer, the publisher may consider you in the future because you behaved well. 

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

EH: A question I think should be asked is “Is there any advice for authors enduring the editing process?” I have, on multiple occasions, received very angry reactions from authors while their works were being edited. Often I have had people claiming that I want to “ruin their story,” or “make their story mine,” and other such accusations of nefarious deeds. The truth is the job of an editor is to make your story the best it possibly can be, to make sure that it is ready for publication, and to make sure it will appeal to as wide an audience as possible given the genre. Also, chances are the editor is very knowledgeable about the craft of writing, grammar, and all other aspects of the publishing process.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to trust your editor. Ask a billion questions if you like, think things through, research them, but if your editor says that your comma is in the wrong place then arguing with them won’t fix that. Usually, editors are right. If there has been a genuine mistake made, then talk to us about it. We are here to help you, not to take your story over and turn it into the equivalent of a literary zombie.

Thank you, Elizabeth and Dr. Tupper. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 3/11--Six Questions for Alec Cizak, Editor, All Due Respect

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