[Image description: There are two pictures of Romie. The picture on the left is her reading Negative Capability, by Michèle Roberts, published by Sandstone Press. She’s reading this book for review. She’s wearing a copper t-shirt and grey trousers. The picture on the right is her reading submissions on her laptop. She’s wearing a patchwork jumper with purple, beige and pink on it.]
When I joined the online book community nearly seven years ago, I did not think I’d get to do an editorial internship one day. I was studying Biology, felt terrible about it, and needed to talk about books (my one true love) with at least one person who wasn’t my mom. Now a few years into book blogging and a month into my internship, I can confidently say that there’s a difference between reading (and reviewing) books and reading submissions.
I’m an Editorial Intern at Fledgling Press, an independent publisher based in Edinburgh. My job is to assess submissions, read the manuscripts I requested, write book reports, make content for their Instagram account, and create AI sheets. Today I’d like to focus on one aspect of my job: assessing submissions.
When I first started my internship, I think my fellow interns and I suffered from imposter syndrome. Who were we to judge someone else’s work? Someone else’s dream? What were our qualifications? Mine were: having an English degree, being an avid reader, and doing a master’s degree in Publishing. It took me a few weeks to realise that, yes, these were my qualifications, and if they were good enough for my manager, they’d have to be good enough for my anxious brain. Imposter syndrome is something we all have to deal with at some point in the Publishing industry, and the sooner we get over it, the better.
I can’t say being a book reviewer doesn’t come in handy when assessing my weekly submissions, or I’d be lying. But I also don’t believe reviewing books and judging manuscripts are the same thing or require the same skills. A book blogger reviews the qualities of an already published book: they assess the final product. My job consists of knowing Fledgling’s list and its market, understanding the trends, and seeing where the manuscripts fit in all this.
The first thing I do when opening a submission email is identifying the genre and age range. If one of these two criteria does not fit our guidelines, I immediately reject the submission. It might seem harsh, but there’s no point in reading something I know has no chance to be published by us. You usually can already tell a lot from an author’s email: their writing style, personality (which matters because you want to be working with someone you can respect), a bit about the story and how it came to be. If I have a bad feeling about the writing style, I know it will be confirmed or denied by reading the synopsis. I always hope for the latter.
No matter how good the first three chapters we ask for are, if the synopsis does not make sense and the plot is weak, there’s a good chance it’ll be rejected. I always have to keep in mind that Fledgling Press is a small independent publisher and can’t publish many books a year. It’s also important to remember that small indie publishers won’t make much money by publishing debut authors. They’re taking a chance on them. All this means there are only so many manuscripts I can accept.
When reading a manuscript, I have to think about how long it’d take to edit, if there’s a demand for this kind of books at the moment, and how people would react to it. It’s not simply about enjoying the story. It’s believing and knowing (as much as you possibly can) this book will do well.
As of right now, after having read about 80 submissions and accepted less than 10, there’s only one manuscript I felt so strongly about that I knew I had to let my manager know about it. It doesn’t mean that the other manuscripts didn’t have potential: it only means there’s more about publishing a book than your enjoyment of it.