Here at Carina, we’re always looking for new authors to sign, publish and build. But we recognize that putting your manuscript out on submission can be an intimidating process. How do you make your manuscript stand out, from the query letter to the last page? We’re here to demystify the submissions process by giving you some insight into what a Carina Press editor looks for when she opens up a submission for review.
Today’s post comes from freelance editor Deborah Nemeth, who since 2009 has edited more than 200 books for Carina Press. She’s eager to acquire well-paced manuscripts, especially romantic suspense, mystery, m/m, Regency, New Adult, erotic and contemporary romance.
Page-turning books that keep readers up at night tend to share certain characteristics, such as unforgettable characters, intriguing plots and compelling conflict. These stories will also be well paced—written in a way that engages a reader’s attention from the outset and holds it until the end.
While there’s a strong correlation between speed and pacing and readability, the goal isn’t to achieve and maintain a breakneck pace from start to finish, but instead to calibrate the pacing of each scene for variety and maximum impact. Most of the scenes in a well-paced manuscript will move along at a fairly good clip, shifting into quicker- and slower-paced sections where called for.
When pacing is too leisurely, readers’ attention can wander, and it can be too easy to lose interest and put the book (or manuscript submission) aside. Here are some techniques that authors can use to improve story pacing:
Hook the reader from the very first page by making us care about the viewpoint character and what will happen to her/him next. Introduce questions that pique our curiosity, making us wonder about the answer.
Give the character a goal he/she cares deeply enough about that readers will also become invested in it. The goal can be wanting something or trying to avoid or prevent something. In the first scene, it doesn’t need to be their main story goal; a bridging goal can compel our attention until the main goal and conflict is introduced. We also need to understand why the protagonist wants it: in other words, what’s the motivation?
Ensure that every scene contains tension and conflict as well as goals and motivation. Until the end, don’t resolve any conflicts or story goals until they are replaced by others.
Make sure that stakes are clear, and as the story progresses, complications should mount, with the obstacles becoming more difficult and the stakes greater. Imminent deadlines and a sense of time running out on a goal can also accelerate the pace.
Heroes who drive the story tend to be more attention-grabbing than passive characters who react to a series of events. The protagonist’s actions and decisions should directly affect the plot.
Avoid big chunks of exposition (especially in the early chapters) and instead layer in backstory in small bits, timed when readers need to know about something in order to follow along.
Begin scenes late, and end them early, and be selective about which actions and details you include. Do you really need to show your character waking up, getting ready, drinking coffee, driving, parking, talking to the receptionist…or can you jump right into the job interview?
End scenes with strong hooks. This doesn’t mean each chapter needs to finish with a cliffhanger, but ending with an unexpected piece of news or a twist, or with a note of worry or uncertainty, will better tempt a reader to turn the page than ending with the heroine brushing her teeth and going to bed.
Showing in action is more immersive and tends to be more page-turning than scenes with lots of telling in narration. Watch the balance of introspection and action. Chapters containing long passages of internal monologues, and/or exposition, without any action or dialogue, may stall the pacing.
Review dialogue for punch. Trim excess dialogue tags. Break up long speeches into smaller ones. Clip full-sentence responses into fragments to sound more natural.
Prose that is written tightly, in deep viewpoint, will provide a quicker read, whereas filter words and wordiness and repetition will slow things down. Even punctuation can have an effect on pacing, with semi-colons and ellipses providing a more leisurely read than commas and em dashes.
Certain scenes benefit from slower pacing. When a terrified youth is hiding from a killer, the tension will be ratcheted up by slowing things down, so that every instant of waiting feels like a nail-biting eternity. Writing out each action and sound—describing thudding heartbeats and ominous footsteps, the doorknob turning, the creak of a door—stretches out the suspense moment by moment.
When a beloved character dies, or a romance protagonist is dumped, applying the brakes to wallow in the moment will allow readers to experience their sorrow. Remain in the moment longer, showing the involuntary physical reactions and internal thoughts.
This technique of slowing down with plenty of details of actions and reactions and thoughts also works to convey sexual tension or arousal in a sex scene. Other romantic scenes such as first kisses, declarations of love, and proposals of marriage are also key moments worthy of more deliberate pacing, for optimal emotional resonance.
On the other hand, scenes of intense action call for quicker pacing. When depicting a bar brawl, chase scene, avalanche, wildfire, swordfight or race, use shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences, active voice and strong action verbs to speed up the pacing.
Knowing when to slow things down, when to speed them up, and how to apply techniques to manipulate the sense of time in the story will help prevent pacing problems such as slow starts, sagging middles and rushed endings.
Thank you for reading—we hope these tips have you excited to submit your manuscript to Carina Press! Here are some quick references to help you through the submissions process:
- We’re always open to submissions!
- We respond to all submissions within 12 weeks.
- Have a question and can’t find the answer on our guidelines page? Email us at Submissions@CarinaPress.com and we’re happy to help.
- Looking to target your submission to a specific editor? Find out more about editor submission calls here.
|We are currently acquiring||We do not publish/no longer accept submissions in|
|All subgenres and heat levels of romance (excluding inspirational romance)||Non-fiction of any form, including memoirs, biographies, poetry|
|New Adult||Women’s Fiction|
|Mystery and Crime (all sub genres)||Thrillers|
|Action Adventure||Literary Fiction|
|Science Fiction (and sub genres)||Faith-based/inspirational fiction or romance|
|Fantasy (and sub genres)||General historical fiction (any historical fiction that does not contain mystery, fantasy, alternate history or romance as primary focus)|
|Interactive Adventures||Young Adult|
Looking for more information on our submissions process? We’ll have more posts coming in this series, and in the meantime, you can read about our acquisitions process here, and find out more about what an editor does here.
Ready to submit? Click here to start your publishing journey with Carina Press!