What Publishers Ask

I evaluate fiction manuscripts for a publisher, using a standard form crafted by the publishing house. The form contains a list questions, grouped by subject: premise, plot, POV, character, dialogue, and setting. I’m sharing some of the questions so you can see specifically how a publisher might evaluate your manuscript.



Does the first page grab the reader’s attention?

Does the first chapter set up the basis for the rest of the story?


Premise and Tone:

Is the basic premise or theme interesting? Believable? Unique?

Is the focus of the work revealed early in the novel?

Is the basic premise of the novel well executed?


Point of View:

Is the point of view consistent throughout?

Are shifts in point of view, if any, necessary and simple to follow?

Is the point of view used appropriately to convey the thoughts or emotions of various characters?


Structure, Plot, and Pace:

Is there a planned series of carefully selected interrelated incidents?

Are there situations that heighten the conflict?

Does the story have a clear conclusion or satisfactory ending appropriate to the genre?

Do the plot and structure sufficiently hold the reader’s interest throughout?



Is the setting described appropriately without slowing the pace of the work?

Does the novel provide an appropriate sense of place?



Does the author provide a clear visual image of the characters?

Does the behavior of all characters seem realistic?

Are the characters presented with realistic challenges and life situations?

Do you feel an emotional connection to any of the characters?

Are characters introduced effectively and for a specific purpose?



Does the dialogue reveal the character’s background or identifying traits?

Is there a good balance of dialogue and action?

Does the dialogue sound authentic, and is it used effectively throughout?


As you can see, publishers have high—and specific—expectations that apply across all fiction genres.


L.J. Sellers is the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, and Passions of the Dead. All are available as e-books for $2.99 or less.