Monday, May 3, 2010

What Now? After You Finish Your Manuscript: Q&A with author Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani is an author, reviewer and freelance writer. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She's had over 300 stories, reviews, articles and interviews published online and in print. Her nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (co-authored with Anne K. Edwards) is a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. In addition, she's assistant editor of Voice in the Dark Ezine
Visit her website at
For her children's books, visit

I've had the privilege of working with Mayra several times during the last year, and I consider her to be one of the most generous and gifted writers that I know.  Mayra dedicates a lot of her time to showcasing other authors as the Latino Books Examiner for The Examiner.  


So you've written your manuscript, joined a peer critique group, made some adjustments, narrowed down agencies, agents and publishers who work with your genre and you think you're ready for the next step. What else needs to be done before you take that next step?

Two things:

Make sure your manuscript is as flawless as it can be. 

Just giving a few chapters to your critique group and doing some adjustments is not enough. Long gone are the days when the average editor or agent had the time to sit down and heavily edit your book. Nowadays editors and agents want projects that are almost ready to go to print. 

More and more writers, myself included, are hiring a professional editor to go over their manuscript before they submit it to a publisher. The traditional publishing industry is extremely competitive and the only way to fight the odds is having a near perfect manuscript. Even if you decide to self publish, any writing you publish will be representative of who you are as an writer, and you owe it to yourself and your readers to edit it as best as you can. The best way to do that is by having a set of objective and professional eyes go over your manuscript. And your friend, sister or aunt doesn’t count!

Write a knock-out query letter.

A query letter is your first ‘date’ with an editor or agent. Agents say that 90% of all queries they receive are unprofessionally written. Guess what? These agents dump these queries in the trash. What can they expect from your book if your query is poorly written? So make sure your query is clear, brief, straight forward and professional. There are hundreds of resources online and many books on how to write a great query letter. Be sure to do your homework first.

Once you've done that, what are the next steps?

Prepare a submission schedule and stick to it. Submit often. Submitting once a month is a drop in the bucket. Consistency and persistence are the keys. You need to have those manuscripts moving around editors’ desks at all times. Nowadays most agents and publishers are okay with multiple submissions as long as you let them know in the query letter.

Keep track of submissions in a notebook, Word.doc file or Excel spreadsheet. 

For each manuscript you send, record the following:

·       Title
·       Query/manuscript/sample chapters
·       Publisher’s/agent’s name (you may want to include their contact info)
·       Date sent
·       Sent by snail mail/email
·       Response
·       Response date
·       Notes
Stick to your submission schedule and in the meantime, start another book!

What can you expect from the submission process in regards to turn-around time, feedback, and rejections?

As far as the waiting time goes, it’s different from editor to editor. Some publishing houses respond in two weeks, while others respond in eight months. Some agents that accept email queries may have a response for you within a day.

Editors and agents are so busy they seldom have time to offer feedback. If they take the time to write a handwritten note and say a few positive words about your manuscript, then you can be sure they saw something special in it. There are many reasons why an agent or editor may not accept your manuscript. It doesn’t only mean that it is poorly written. Maybe it’s not the type of book they’re looking for at the moment; maybe they published something similar a while back; maybe the present market is overwhelmed with similar types of books. This is why it’s so important to do your research before contacting each editor. You have to know exactly what they’re looking for before you submit. The best way to do that is by checking the market guides or better yet, their websites. 

Did you start out with an agent?

I don’t have an agent. I’m in the process of looking for one.

How did you get through your first publisher's doors?

Anybody who wishes to submit to publishers must purchase a copy of the Writer’s Market guide. That’s what I did. Then you have to make a list of those publishers who are open to queries and unsolicited submissions and who are looking for books in the same genre as yours. Follow their guidelines. If they want only queries, then send them a query. If they want sample chapters, then send them that.  Publishers like to work with authors who follow directions.
In my case, I found a nice home for my books among the smaller traditional publishers. 

How do you determine whether to approach an agency first, or query a publisher directly?

If you’ve written a high-concept book with strong commercial potential, my advice is to look for an agent. This is the type of book they want because they’re looking for a sure sale. If your book doesn’t fall in this category, I’d contact the editors directly. It’s better to have a good agent to handle your writing career, but you don’t need an agent to get published. I know many authors who have sold books to traditional publishers and they have done it without an agent. Then, once you’ve sold your book to an editor, you can contact different agents and ‘bait’ them with the sale.

You co-authored a book on reviewing (The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing) what are the three most important qualities of a good book review?

If I have to narrow it down to three, I'd say:
Honesty: Honesty is what defines a reviewer's trade.  Readers, who turn to reviews before purchasing a book, depend on this honesty.  Without honesty, reviews are just marketing copy.

Clarity: A good review should sparkle with clarity.  Sentences should be straight and to the point.  A logical order when describing the plot and writing the evaluation should be followed.  Many beginner reviewers let their thoughts stray all over the place.

Tact: This is especially important in the case of negative reviews.  Stating thoughts tactfully and eloquently while offering examples to support the evaluation will keep the negative review from sounding harsh, mean, or insulting.  Instead of saying, "I hated this book," one can say, "This book didn't live up to its potential for the following reasons..."  When negative reviews are stated tactfully, authors can learn from the reviews.

What can an author expect from book reviews?
I always smile when I get this question. Let me just answer this way: if you’ve never received a negative book review, then not enough people are reading your book.

Book reviews are one of the cheapest forms of promotion for an author. Ads are temporary and expensive, but for the price of a review copy, a review can be posted on a website or blog indefinitely and for a fraction of the cost.  As I mentioned before, a review can also serve as a teaching tool for the author.  If a reviewer points out, using examples, that your plot is unbalanced, then maybe you will play closer attention to plotting when you write your next book.  That said, remember that a review is one person's opinion, so while one reviewer may hate your book, another one may love it.
A million thanks to Mayra for providing some really fantastic advice for writers! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the submission process-do you use a method similar to what Mayra recommends?


  1. The author responded to the interview with the same honesty, clarity and substance that she advices to writers! Thank you for the informative and encouraging comments.
    Herney D.

  2. Thanks for having me on your blog toay, Nilki!

    Thanks for your nice comment, Herney. I'm glad I was able to offer some information.

  3. Hi, great interview. Always known Mayra to give out good advise and being quite knowledgable about the book industry. She's the person to claim to have "spotted" at lunch.
    thanks Nilki for another insightful conversation. You make this feel like a date for a coffee to talk. thanks, Jo Ann

  4. Thank YOU Mayra, it was a joy and a great resource. I'll be following your advice to a T! :)


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