In an hour, I banged through about two dozen subs. That works out to roughly 2.5 minutes per sub, except that averaging them out in this way doesn't give a good representation of how the hour was actually spent. I opened the submission and scanned right away for three things:
- Is it romance?
- Is there erotic content?
- What is the word count?
That still works out to about 4.5 minutes per sub, and though that's almost double our earlier average, it probably still seems like I'm skimming or not giving enough attention to each manuscript.
But again, averages don't show the whole picture. Of that dozen subs that passed the 1-2-3 test, probably 10 were rejected quickly for problems in the technical aspects of the writing. In general, if the first page contains multiple verb tense errors, dangling modifiers, bad dialogue tags, punctuation errors, and so on, we know the rest of the manuscript will be in much the same shape. Those can be rejected in probably two minutes each, three if I get distracted and start editing in my head.
So let's estimate 6 minutes on the subs that are completely wrong for us, and another 20 minutes on the ones that are fast rejections for bad writing. This leaves us with two manuscripts and about half an hour left in the hour or so. If the writer followed our guidelines, this means we're looking at two one-page synopses and two ten-page partials.
For the first the writing is very good. Lots of energy in the prose. Clear characterizations. Good stuff. But from reading the synopsis, it's clear that there's a structural problem in the plot. I make a few notes to be included in the rejection letter -- this is a good writer, and the problems are fixable, so it's worth a few minutes to jot some notes of encouragement and explanation for her. Still, this one doesn't take more than ten minutes of my time, including my notes.
That means that the one good submission, the one that is appropriate for our house, well-written, and (based on the synopsis) well plotted, gets roughly 20 minutes of my time. This is ample to read enough of the submission to know that we want to see the full manuscript. I don't need to perform a detailed analysis at this point, after all.
Perhaps worth noting is that the two best submissions also had the best cover letters. One opened with a log line clearly encapsulating the characters and conflict. Then followed a paragraph with a conflict-focused plot summary and a paragraph with credentials and similar data. Based on the submission, I can tell that this story is very character-driven with lots of emotion and a prominent conflict. The query letter plays to these strengths.
The other opened with some discussion of her theme and premise, both of which are unusual enough to be eye-catching. She only gave a quick sketch of the plot, just enough to fill in some blanks left by the discussion of the premise. This works, though, for this particular book, and again, it plays to the submission's particular strengths.
In other words, both of these cover letters demonstrate a clear-eyed understanding of what makes these books stand out from the pack. Neither used "hooks" but they managed to hook me, just the same.