#AskTheEd with Manifold Press
No matter how confident we are in our writing, a glimpse of what the publishers are enjoying is always welcome. This month we have one of Manifold Press' editors, Sandra Lindsey, answering our most pressing questions.
As an editor, what's the first thing that draws you to a story/author?
Initially, strong characterisation & a good sense of place are what catch my attention in a story—the same as when I'm reading for my own enjoyment. After that, when reading submissions other questions need to be taken into consideration such as whether the genre, tone, and style of this specific story are a good fit for Manifold Press. As for being drawn to a particular author's writing? I'm a sucker for someone who's passionate about their stories and characters. A good writer can make you believe in their characters, a great writer makes you think you might bump into their characters if you happened to walk down the right street at the right time...
We all love a fluffy HEA, but what tips a book over from romantic into cheesy?
Oooh, this is a hard one for me! I'm a romantic so I have a slightly different view of what constitutes a romantic gesture than most people might... A lot of the time though, it simply comes down to how the author uses tropes and clichés: are they used in a manner consistent with the character's development throughout the story? Or do they not quite seem to fit with the specific wants, needs, and aspirations of these characters at this time?
That said, I do love a bit of cheese—when I'm in the mood for it—but even then, I like a bit of conflict to be left at the end of the tale. After all, we're only ever seeing a glimpse of a specific period in the lives of these characters. They're bound to encounter more obstacles in the future, whether we get to read about them or not...
What are your biggest bugbears when reading a submission?
An unclear sense of time & place. We primarily publish historical fiction and I have sometimes found that even by the end of the third chapter of a submission, I have no idea of which century the story is set in. This may well be down to gaps in my own historical knowledge, but how difficult is it to state at the start of the manuscript or synopsis the year in which the opening scene is set?
This might seem like I'm trying to make everyone conform to a specific style—that's not my intention, I'm just saying please make things easy for us? One of the criteria we have to consider when reading a submission is historical accuracy. It therefore helps to know whether we should be expecting to encounter—for example—men dressed in trousers or in breeches, and how accurate and reliable any firearms could be expected to be. Small things, but plots often hinge on details like this, and we need to work together to make sure we get them right as our readers are a very knowledgeable group of people!
Once an author's finished a manuscript and is ready to send it in, what are the key points that should be included in their query letter, and is there anything that shouldn't be left out of the synopsis?
Beyond the basic advice which can be found with a quick internet search—like, "Don't leave key plot points out of your synopsis!"—one of the key things I'd look for in a query letter would be an understanding of why you feel Manifold Press is the right 'home' for your story. You don't have to spell it out explicitly, but do show through what you write when introducing yourself and your story to us that you understand what it is we publish, as every publisher has their own niche and we might not be the right fit for you.
What do you think is the next trend in romance publishing, and is there a specific subgenre that you think is making a comeback?
Gosh, that's another hard question, especially as someone who tends to focus quite tightly on queer historical romance rather than working across the full spectrum of romance genres... In what I've read of published books over the past few years I have noticed it being increasingly likely that characters' political opinions are shown explicitly on the page, which could be fiction following real world events, but equally it could just be that I personally am drawn far more to that type of story now than I was when I first started reading romance.
Has there been an attempt to diversify editors, and those working behind the scenes in publishing, as there has been to embrace diverse authors?
From some things I've read (particularly the Guardian article which circulated a few days ago), the answer here is probably, "not as much as we'd like to see", but as I'm not fully immersed in the publishing world—Manifold Press is a small press publisher and the work I do here is in addition to a day job that pays the bills—it's hard to say.
What I can tell you for definite is that one of our aims when recruiting the new editiorial team for Manifold Press's relaunch was to increase the diversity of those behind the scenes, and this is something we plan to continue improving. We would be particularly interested to hear from queer BAME Brits who would like to become part of Manifold Press.
How often do you get to read new manuscripts and submissions?
As often as I have time!
All submissions to Manifold Press are read by at least two members of the editorial team before a decision is made, so we all aim to read as many submissions as we can so that we minimise the waiting time for the authors.
What's the one thing you wish authors knew about your job?
That if we say "Thank you but no, this story isn't right for us," that's exactly what we mean. As an author myself, I know how easy it can be to read other—unintended—meanings into the phrasing of rejection letters. As a small press publisher we have to ask ourselves—regardless of how much we love it—if this is the type of story our readers will expect when they pick up a Manifold Press book.
And what are you looking for right now?
The easiest way to answer this is to quote from our Call for Submissions page. For the near future the Press will be specialising in Queer Historical (all aspects of LGBTQ+).
We seek fiction in a range of genres grounded in historical realities that finds space for LGBTQ+ and non-traditional protagonists (we will consider historical fantasy set in this world, but we are not at this stage taking fiction set in fantastical worlds). We are actively committed to diverse publishing.
We want: Novels: 50k + Short stories for our newsletter: maximum 7500 words.
We recently had a call for submissions for a Valentine's anthology (Rainbow Bouquet, due out 14th February) and we are likely to have other specific calls in the future—keep an eye on our website and social media feeds for future announcements!
How do you think publishers need to represent diverse projects? Would you rather submit to a specialist publisher of diverse work or continue to campaign to force all publishers to show equal diversity? Have you worked with Manifold? Comment below to chat to us on social media!