Guest Blog: Submission Tips from NineStar Press

Greetings, and welcome to the first of what I hope will be several guest blogs, in which publishers and editors offer commentary and advice. Today I am joined by Raevyn from NineStar Press to answer some questions about what she looks for in a manuscript submission.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your company
NineStar Press is an LGBTQIA+ publisher owned and managed by LGBTQIA+ people. We work to showcase amazing literary works about characters less represented in fiction: ace, aro, trans, nonbinary, genderfluid, bi, pan, etc. We adore romance and erotic romance, but we also like genre-bending fiction, fusion genre, and stories that don’t quite fit into a particular category.
Books have always been an important part of my life, but there were never enough books with people like me when I was growing up. And as the owner and managing director, I am always looking for books that tell our unique stories. Stories that have marginalized people as the main characters.
I have worked to find people to join me who have a passion for good stories. People who have the same ideas when it comes to the books we sign. We want to be immersed in the time period or the magical land. We want to empathize with the characters, to feel like we know a good deal about them by the end of the book. To feel like we are finally fully represented in books that can be found on genre shelves rather than in the small LGBT sections.
And so NineStar’s goal is to fill the world with stories for and about people across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
For more about Raevyn, the owner:

2) What are the top things you look for in a manuscript?
While it’s not the manuscript exactly, a passionate author goes a long way. If you’re passionate and love what you’re writing, it will show. A reader can tell by the words and what is behind them, even before it gets through professional editing. That means more than your commas and word choices. (Those aren’t unimportant, but they can be fixed. Your heart in the story cannot.)
The other thing about a passionate author is that they are often really into promoting their book, and that is something that cannot have enough emphasis. As a publisher, we do provide some promotion, but it is nothing compared to what an author can do. This is because an author should truly have an intimate knowledge of their audience, and this often includes interaction through social media. We’ve had authors who took the inch we started them with and led that book right to displays at various Barnes and Nobles.
But back to the topic of the question (whoops!) – The manuscript. If you think about a few people around you—maybe people you know, perhaps those you don’t—they are not simply one thing. In addition to being humbled by many #ownvoices authors, we cannot stress enough the importance of intersectionality in a story. Meaning, sure they may be gay or bisexual or lesbian or genderqueer… but they are also other things. People don’t exist in a vacuum; your characters shouldn’t either.
I also wouldn’t be able to answer this question without the buzzword we all know… Creativity. So you’re writing a contemporary second chances story? Awesome, but what makes it different from all the others? Is it the characters? Is there some genius plot that no one will expect? Does it take place in a country too often left out of books? (If it does, make sure you know it or you research it, but the point remains.) If it’s sci-fi, go somewhere bold with it. If it’s historical, put us in the time period. Be creative, be daring, and when you think you went too far with it, go one more step. Editors can bring you back easier than they can push.

3) What are the biggest turn-offs when you read a submission?
This is a complex question. As with the positive/top aspects we look for, it starts immediately. You start to form an impression with the first line of your e-mail, before we even get to the actual manuscript.
First off, submission guidelines. I know, I know. It’s a pain to have to read instructions to put together a table, let alone to submit a story to a publisher. Still, they exist for a reason, and it is almost always apparent right away when someone has passed go and not collected a thing. (AKA: Read the guidelines.)
After that, when a submission is pasted into the e-mail or we open a document to find the manuscript in either one giant paragraph, has no indents/tabs at the start of a paragraph, or some other odd formatting, it will be unreadable and not assessable. Also, if there’s an obvious typo in the first paragraph, it tends to put off a reader, so it definitely is a turn off for an editor reading the submission. That being said, typos are to be expected… just make sure your first few pages and initial e-mail have been proofread and are as typo-free as they can be.
Another aspect people seem to forget is that we as a publisher are active on social media. When an author submits a story, sometimes we look them up. No fears, we’re not trying to stalk you. BUT – be mindful of your social media presence. Like any employer, we aren’t desperate for an author who behaves badly, and in the end, it could weigh into if we decide to publish or not. Why? Well, because the book is only half the battle. You don’t want to work with a coworker who hates what they do, and we don’t want an author who hates writing or puts down readers or is blatantly *phobic, not only toward LGBTQAI+ themes, but toward any aspect of diversity. We stand for something, and we want authors who can represent that. (This goes for the story also. It’s in our submission guidelines that we will not accept demoralizing stories that perpetuate harmful stereotypes/ideas.)

4) How can an author maximise their chance of acceptance?
I think a lot of the last two answers go to this question, but if it was tl;dr…
1.    Be creative.
2.    Be kind.
3.    Follow guidelines.
4.    Be passionate.
5.    Be human. We are.
       a.    We love when a submission comes with a simple paragraph about you as an author.
6.    Patience. It’s a nice concept. We like it.
7.    Be ready and willing to work on your story. This may be uncomfortable at times, as change always is, but your voice will be respected. Our editors are there to make them clear and help you grow as an author. So be ready for it.

Also, if you don’t know something, please feel free to ask questions. We are happy to help where we can.