What Publishers Want

My Kindle Scout Campaign has got me thinking about this again. I covered it a bit back in my posts on writing query letters, but it’s back on my mind. I’ve been very active on the KBoards forum during my campaign, talking to a herd of other active campaigners, and watching which books get chosen. Some excellently written books with wildly successful campaigns have not been chosen. I’ve come to a serious conclusion.

It’s a crapshoot.

Now, that’s not really true, but it is how it feels to the writers of books who are trying to get their projects picked up. Any publisher has criteria for what they are looking for, and no writer can be aware of all the criteria involved. So, let’s take a look at some possible criteria.


Figuring out what publishers want is akin to figuring out why this flower is blooming in December. You may never know all the variables involved.

-They want their submission guidelines followed.

It doesn’t matter how awesome and shiny your book is, if you can’t follow their submission guidelines, they may never look at it. Look at their website. Find what they want, and only give them that and exactly that. If a publisher wants a query and no pages, send them a query only. If they specify that they do not publish horror novels, then it doesn’t matter if your horror novel is the coolest book since Jaws, that publisher doesn’t want it. It doesn’t matter what your justification is, if you don’t follow their simple instructions, it’s as if you showed up to an important job interview in a dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans. Follow the guidelines.

-They want a book that’s exceptionally well written.

You just finished the first novel you’ve ever written! You do a quick re-write, and you are ready to send it out to publishers! How exciting! Hold that phone. I can guarantee you that the first book you have ever written has a 98ish percent chance of not getting published. It takes practice and critique to develop excellent writing and excellent voice. To excel, you need more practice than one book. Critique helps you find the issues with your work and overcome them. Unless someone tells you “Hey, do you realize you use the word ‘that’ too much?” you may never notice it. Get more practice. Seek out informed critique. Learn and adapt. Thanks to the ease of the digital age, everyone and their dog is writing a book. There’s a lot of first efforts getting in the gigantic slush piles of publishers. Your book has to be a diamond to get noticed.


This rhubarb cream pie is not the first pie I ever baked. It came from decades of practice and critique.

-They are tired of (insert very trendy genre here.)

Paranormal Romance thrives as a genre, especially those involving vampires and werewolves. Readers love a good tale of quintessential bad-boy vamps and their chosen loves. It’s quite true. The genre remains popular because readers enjoy it. You’ve just written an awesome tale of vampire love. An experienced writer with beta readers to help you polish it until it is the sparkliest of vampire romances, you don’t understand why publishers aren’t beating a path to your door to beg you to let them have this masterpiece. Then no one rings the bell. While your book may be sparkly-awesomesauce, there’s a problem. Publisher A has 938 well-written vamp love stories in his slush pile just for today, and he’s sick to death of all of them. Publisher B just published a vampy romance and the plot is too similar to yours, so she doesn’t need a spare. Publisher C specifically stated “no paranormal romance” in their submission guidelines, and you didn’t notice. Publisher D has just deleted his entire slush pile because he can’t look at one more vampire story and is desperately wishing someone would send him a quirky story about sirens.

That said, a book recently chosen on Kindle Select was a vampire romance. It was not like all the other vampire romances already out there. I salute the author for making that genre uniquely their own.

Writing to current trends can be dicey. No one knows when the trend will end, and publishers see so many similar projects that they get glassy-eyed. If you write to a trend, you had better make sure that something about your story is unique and interesting compared to all the other trend tales in the slush pile.


There are millions of black and white cats in the world, but Pyewacket was unique.

-The publisher has criteria you will never know.

Don’t lose heart if your exceptionally written novel is not getting picked up. It doesn’t mean the book is not crafted well. For example, while romance is always a strong part of the publishing industry, some sub-genres might not be what’s selling. According to the Romance Writers Association, the most popular sub-genre in both print and eBook form is romantic suspense. It is a large chunk of the romance novel pie. Contemporary friends to lovers is hugely popular. Not as popular, according to Amazon sales, are sports romances and Gothic romances.

As a romance writer, you could pen a brilliant story about two Goth kids who play soccer. It might be the best book written all year. It also might not get any attention from publishers. While it is important that your book has elements that are unique, writing for a sub-genre so specific it is considered niche might work against you when sending it to publishers. If they are afraid they won’t sell enough copies, they won’t pick it up, no matter how excellent it is.

It’s a fine line between unique and niche. It’s not always apparent where your particular book stands. All you can do is write the story you most want to tell, write it the best that you can, and refuse to get discouraged if it doesn’t get picked up.


I will never know how many leaves are in this pile, and that’s okay.

Don’t Get Discouraged.

I truly can’t stress this enough. If publishers don’t want that Goth soccer teen romance, self publishing might be the way to go. Somewhere out there, there’s a Goth soccer playing teen who is seriously jonesing for that story. You may not get big sales numbers, but the people it speaks to are going to love it. After that, start the next book. It’s not going to write itself.


It’s time to vote!  I submitted my book, Descending, to Kindle Scout.  Descending has to get nominated to be noticed by the Kindle editors.

What to do:  If you have an Amazon account and you want to help, go to this link  https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1GSTCATCKN5TS   and nominate Descending.  Each Amazon account holder gets 3 votes for books they’d like to see published.

What’s in it for you: If Descending is chosen for publication, every person who votes for it gets a FREE advance copy of the e-book, and an opportunity to review, if you wish, before anyone else.

How you can help: Vote, if you can.  Share this post with friends if you are willing.  Vote now!  Get a free e-book!

About JulianneQJohnson

I am a writer in Indiana who lives with two cats, two ferrets, and one fiance. I enjoy cheap coffee and expensive chocolate.
This entry was posted in getting published, Kindle Scout, writing, Writing Advice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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