Guest Blog: Top Three Submission Tips from Dreamspinner Press

Today I am thrilled to welcome Sue Brown-Moore to the blog. Sue is one of the Acquisitions Editors at Dreamspinner Press, and she is going to share her top three submission tips for budding authors.

When Nicki invited Dreamspinner Press to share what we look for in a manuscript, I was excited to participate and pass on some key tips for authors just starting out or having trouble breaking into publishing. I joined the Dreamspinner team as an Acquisitions Editor last fall and have been hard at work finding just the right stories to fit our contemporary gay category romance line, Dreamspun Desires.

In our own way, we’re defining what gay category romance looks like, what it feels like, and what separates it from the traditional category romance subscription offerings from publishers like Harlequin, who have created this lovely little niche where “happily ever after” is guaranteed and wonderfully predictable. Because the Desires line features a very specific type of romance, not every submission or proposal will be a fit, and that’s true of just about any publisher or line out there.

So here are my top three tips for getting your story noticed and your proposal or submission taken seriously:

1. Know your audience

This is two-fold: You need to understand what readers your writing will appeal to, and you need to understand what kind of readers the publisher targets. If these two reader types are not the same, or have no possibility for cross-over interest, a proposal or submission will be a waste of your time and the publisher’s. So how do you research the publisher’s reader base? Read a few of their books. If you’re submitting to a line, read three to four of the line’s recently published stories.

For the Dreamspun Desires line, we want memorable, high-profile heroes—CEOs, movie stars, princes, bodyguards, firefighters…you know, those men you just can’t help daydreaming about—in a setting that sparkles or leaves a warm, nostalgic feeling even ten books later. We’re looking for HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happily For Now) stories that follow a three-act story structure and feature lovable, reader-favorite tropes. So, for example if you write a book with heavy angst that brings on ugly cries, you may have a stellar story, but it’s not going to be a fit for the Desires line. If you wanted to research our stories, you could pull a few of the recent releases from the lineup here.

2. Follow instructions

One of my biggest frustrations as an editor is getting a promising submission that doesn’t even pretend to follow the required format. Publishers ask for specific elements in a submission or proposal because we need them to make an informed decision. When you skip steps or half-ass your synopsis, we notice. And it hurts your chances. Not because you didn’t follow process, but because your submission is missing vital information—details you might not even realize are taken into account—and we can only afford to invest time in stories that show immediate merit. Here are some things to keep in mind when sending in a proposal or submission:
  • Know the difference between a formal synopsis and a casual summary. One is a structured and detailed overview and the other might be as short as a marketing blurb. Know what the publisher is requesting, and give them exactly that. If you’re not sure, send both!
  • Pay attention to word count ranges. If the publisher requests a story outline of 800-1,000 words, don’t turn in something that is, say 400 words or 4,000.
  • Be aware of publishing restrictions. If the submission call specifies no first-person POV or previously published material, that’s the bottom line—that decision was made for a reason. No matter how great your story is, if it doesn’t fit what is called for, don’t submit it.
For an example of what a submission call, and the specific elements requested, looks like, here’s the current Dreamspun Desires line pdf. Remember to visit a publisher’s Submission page before sending in any queries, just to be sure they’re still open for submissions.

3. Go above and beyond. Even if it’s just for yourself.

You know how you can hear someone smiling just by the inflection of their voice? The same is true of writing. Your voice—and the depth of your story knowledge—comes through naturally in the way you phrase lines, the vocabulary you choose, the sentence structure and reading rhythm you establish. Little nuances can make the difference between a submission that shines and one that falls flat, and you should take advantage of every single opportunity to make a good first impression.

Before you write the synopsis or sample chapters for your submission, consider doing these exercises first:
  • Map out the goals, motivations, and conflicts of all the main players in your story, then tie them together by how each of those elements affects each other character. You’d be surprised what you can learn about a character just by digging a little deeper.
  • Define internal and external conflicts and motivation for each main character. Characters who only react to external stimuli can seem boring, and the ones who toil about over primarily internal struggles often come off as angsty. Striking a good balance is the key to relatable, complex characters that readers will remember.
  • Know where the key moments of the story fall, what causes them, and what events they set in motion. Understand these with such confidence that you could explain the story to a stranger in less than 30 seconds and they would understand why it works.
  • Create comprehensive character bios. Your story might never reveal that your hero hates tomatoes because his ex-girlfriend cooked them with every. Single. Meal. But it might feature a scene where the hero orders a pizza with no sauce and makes a long-suffering face when someone asks him about it. That moment is memorable even without the full backstory, but you might never have included it if you didn’t know the hero inside and out. 
All of that work might seem ridiculous for a single proposal or submission, but when you sit down to write your synopsis or summary—and especially any draft chapters—the story and character history in your brain will automatically shape and flavor the text, adding a richness to your proposal that just might be the difference between a “show us more” and a “no thanks”. And if a publisher requests additional information, you’ll be ready! I’d much rather take a chance on an author who is prepared than one who has to scramble to justify story decisions.

So! If your head is now spinning from my wall-o-text and you only take away one piece of advice from this article, consider this:

Take the requirements of a submission call seriously, but have fun with it. Let your personality shine through, and just do the best you can. When the opportunity is right, your attention to detail will set you apart.

Submit to Dreamspinner Press

About Sue Brown-Moore
Sue “DaVinciKittie” Brown-Moore is the Acquisitions Editor for the Dreamspun Desires category romance line from Dreamspinner Press and a freelance Developmental Editor passionate about helping authors bring out the best in their stories. She is also a veteran romance blogger who has grown her love of—*ahem* addiction to—romance into an online community thousands of readers strong. Sue loves connecting with readers and authors, so check out her romance podcast, visit her blogs, and find her on social media, below!