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Standout Markets: Soho Press and Electric Literature

Submission tips from the editors of Soho Press and Electric Literature. by Vanessa Wieland

The following is an online-exclusive expanded versions of the market spotlights that appears in theJuly/August issue of WD. Click here to order the issue.

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Soho Press: Expanded Q&A with Mark Doten, Managing Editor
MISSION: Soho Press is an independent book publisher based in New York City. Since 1986, we have been publishing literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, and mysteries set abroad.
PUBLISHES: 65 books per year.
FOCUS: Literary fiction and memoir; mysteries set abroad.
KEY TO SUCCESSFUL SUBMISSIONS: Read the guidelines; have a sense of what kinds of books we do.
WHAT MAKES US UNIQUE: We pay attention to un-agented, first-time authors.
WE MIGHT BE A GOOD FIT FOR YOU IF: You just wrote a mind-blowingly good novel.
HOW TO SUBMIT: Mail is best. Start with the first 50 pages.

What makes a submission stand out from other good manuscripts?
A strong, engaging, unique voice. It’s hard to be more specific than that; it’s one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things. I see a lot of submissions—even those with fine prose—that just seem to mark time, where there’s no real urgency to the stories they tell (this is true of both agented stuff and the slush pile). But I’ve also pulled some remarkable things out of the slush pile. Action does not in and of itself equal urgency: A kitchen table conversation about a small domestic matter can, in the right hands, be a matter of life and death; multiple homicide can be boring. Take The Sandbox by David Zimmerman, an Iraq novel we’re releasing in April. It opens with the lines: “The body of the naked child lies in the center of the highway. Except at first I don’t know it’s a child, or even a body. The whole convoy stops.” Who wouldn’t want to keep reading after that?

As the industry adapts to new technology, what opportunities do you see for the future?
We love eBooks. On the editorial side, I don’t know that they’ve changed what we do at all (though that doesn’t mean they won’t—which is a can of worms, certainly), but [as] an independent press, we’ve found that eBooks are a great way to reach new readers.

Any pet peeves that would make a manuscript an automatic “no?” What are some common mistakes you see?
Not fond of the term “fiction novel” in query letters. Not fond of queries that begin with a hypothetical, a la, “What would you do if one morning you found yourself blind-folded, handcuffed, and tossed in the trunk of an ’76 Chevy Malibu?” I have no idea what I’d do, but it would probably be shaming. Let’s just stick to your characters, and how they react.

What support are you able to provide to a debut author on their way to publication?
First books can be scary. You’ll get a decent amount of attention/hand-holding from your editor and our publicist. Remember, we want your book to be as successful as possible, and whatever we can to make that happen, we will do, with the caveats that we are human, and that life at an independent press can be a whirlwind.

Any topics or themes that you are actively seeking? What would you like to see more of?
We have two procedural mystery series set in South Africa (by Jassy Mackenzie and James McClure), but none elsewhere on the continent—I’d love to do another African series. And as long as I’m pulling locales from a hat, I’ll add that we’ve never done a series in Mexico—that would be great. For literary stuff, hmm. I’d love to do a first novel from someone who is pushing the form in interesting new directions; say, someone who’s spent that last decade locked in a ten-by-ten cell with Rabalais’ novel, the stories of Chekhov and Thom Jones, A Farewell to Arms, several volumes of Krazy and Ignatz, a set of Chandler, The Law of Enclosures, and Delmore Schwarz’s ghost. I’d also like to do Ishiguro’s next novel, if I’m allowed to just make stuff up. (Kazuo, call me.)

Electric Literature: Expanded Q&A With Andy Hunter, Co-Editor
MISSION: Electric Literature is committed to keeping literature a vital part of popular culture. We use new media and an innovative distribution to ensure that our stories are widely read and ours writers are fairly paid.
PUBLISHES: Quarterly
FOCUS: Fiction. Electric Literature publishes five short stories per issue.
KEY TO SUCCESSFUL SUBMISSIONS: A charming voice, and a narrative that grabs the reader right from the first paragraph.
WHAT MAKES US UNIQUE: Electric Literature is designed for the digital age. Our distribution model combines print-on-demand paperback printing with eBook and iPhone distribution, allowing us to avoid conventional printing and shipping costs and use that money to pay our writers $1,000 per story. We produce videos for all our writers for our YouTube channel, we have almost 200,000 followers on Twitter, and we are constantly thinking of new ways to promote our writers and literature in general.
WE MIGHT BE A GOOD FIT FOR YOU IF: You think your work would fit well among contemporary authors like Michael Cunningham, Colson Whitehead, Jim Shepard, Rick Moody, Aimee Bender and Patrick deWitt.
RANGE OF PRINT RUNS: Combined circulation for the journal is currently 4,000 copies.
RANGE OF ADVANCES: $1000 per story
HOW TO SUBMIT: Electric Literature accepts fiction only. [Stories] should be between 1,500 and 8,000 words. Submissions are welcome all year long.

What makes a submission stand out from the rest to make it a “must” publish?
Never before has the strength of the first paragraph been as important as it is today, especially as people with eReaders can read a sample before purchasing a book. But a strong first paragraph doesn't necessarily mean shocking content. Good writing, strong characters, and a confident, charming voice really does it for us.

As the industry adapts to new technology, what opportunities do you see for the future?
There are more modes of delivery for the written word than every before. Today, finding something to read can mean anything from stopping by your local bookstore, to pulling your iPhone out at the bar, booting up your laptop, or wirelessly browsing a marketplace on your eReader. The excitement over new platforms is helping to return reading to the popular conversation. Electric Literature is committed to publishing great content, and letting our audience decide how they want to read it. New technology is liberating because the barriers to publishing have never been lower. However, the proliferation of content means that people need trusted editors more than ever, so publications with editorial integrity will still have a role.

What should readers know about your selection process?
All of the editors at Electric Literature are writers, so we understand how nerve-wracking it can be to submit your work. It's important to us that our selection process treats every story fairly. Each submission to Electric Literature is put through a double-blind reading system, where at least two readers give feedback on the story without knowing what the other reader has said. This prevents influence among the readers and keeps a story from being rejected due to one reader's personal taste or bad day. If a story receives a "yes" from a single reader, it is automatically bumped up to the editors for consideration.

What are some common mistakes you see?
While we don't always believe in "write what you know," we do find that affected voices are often unconvincing, for example if an east-coast writer attempts a rural southern voice. It's important to us that a story's environment seems inspired by reality, not by television. An inner city story shouldn't feel like a cop show. Also, writers often try too hard to shock or be extremely dramatic in the first paragraph in order to grab a reader, and it shows. Good writing is a better hook then a rape, murder, incest or cancer in the first line.

Have you ever turned down a project you wished later you had published?
Not yet.

What would you like to see more of?
We'd love to see more narratives from diverse locations and personal backgrounds.

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