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Article  •  5 September 2023

 

The rare success of one author's open submission

An author and editor share the unique publication story of Amy Doak's debut novel, Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer.

Getting a book published is rarely easy.

Whether you submit through an agent, pitch directly to a publisher or send your manuscript into an open submission, the process is always nerve-wracking. And, as anyone who’s tried to get their book published will know, the odds aren’t usually in your favour. With so many submissions pouring into publishers' inboxes, it can sometimes feel like a fruitless effort.

But all it takes is one ‘yes’ to turn things around.

Nobody knows this better than Amy Doak, a debut author who bravely submitted her manuscript to an open submission to Penguin Random House (PRH) AU. Unlike submitting with an agent, open submissions can only be sent in at a specified time – and don’t have the extra backing of an agent advocating for you.

So when Amy Doak received an email from publisher Zoe Walton and editor Mary Verney expressing interest in her YA manuscript, she could hardly believe it.

Now, her novel, Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer, is hitting shelves with a sequel already in the works.

But how did everything unfold from her initial submission to publication day?

Read on to find out how the publishing process unfolded – directly from Amy and her editor, Mary.

How Mary discovered Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer

Once open submissions close, the selection process begins. And while it might sound like an exciting job, sorting through manuscripts is not as glamorous as you may believe.

The first few pages of each manuscript are printed and everything is put into a big plastic tub. While looking through this box, Mary first came across Amy’s submission: Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer. ‘It was the title that grabbed me first,’ says Mary. ‘Then I flicked to the first page, and that first line hooked me straight away, Eleanor’s voice just leapt off the page, and I wanted to know more.’ After reading a few pages, Mary printed the entire manuscript and returned to her desk to read the whole thing.

Partway through, she knew that this was a book that PRH needed to publish. ‘For me, voice is very important, and that’s often what I look for most in a story – and Eleanor just grabbed me straight away.’

While Mary was reviewing Amy’s submission, the author awaited a response – though she wasn’t very hopeful. ‘I did not expect it to go anywhere,’ says Amy. ‘I knew it might not even get looked at, so I just put it out of my mind.’

Much to her surprise, she received an email only four weeks after she had sent her manuscript. PRH was asking to chat with her about the book, the beginning of what Amy knew would be a long path to publication. ‘I nearly fell over!’ she says. ‘That was super exciting.’

For Mary, it was an exciting time too. Though she’s been in publishing for twenty years, she can only recall one or two other times when she had such a strong reaction to a manuscript from open submissions. ‘I’ve often thought, “What if I hadn’t picked it up?” There were two other submissions on the pile before that one, and I think, what if I had stopped after those?’

About the book

Following a high school girl named Eleanor Jones, the book opens right after an attempted murder.

Eleanor has just started at her ninth high school in less than five years, and – unfortunately for her – the single person she speaks to ends up stabbed and left for dead. When the police interview her, Eleanor realises that they don’t have all the facts and steps in to investigate. In trying to uncover what really happened, she and an eclectic group of students discover a deeper danger lurking at the heart of the town.

In addition to the catchy title and gripping opening line that first caught Mary’s attention, the book’s cast of characters will keep readers invested from the very first page.

Each character is so lovable in their own way that both the author and editor struggle to choose a favourite. ‘Obviously, I love Eleanor. None of us would be here without her,’ says Mary. ‘But I also love Alfie and Namita . . .  and I do also have to give a bit of a shoutout to Min, Eleanor’s mother.’

Likewise, Amy finds it equally difficult to choose a favourite – especially as many characters are based on people she knows in real life. ‘I love all of the characters a lot, and I feel like they’re all a part of my extended family now.’

What’s next?

Luckily, she won’t have to say goodbye to them anytime soon.

With a sequel in the works, both Amy and Mary have plenty of time ahead to spend with the beloved cast from Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer.

The first draft of the next book is already finished, and the duo has just begun the process. ‘I just finished reading it, so I’m writing some notes and then we’ll get working on it,' says Mary. ‘It is so wonderful to be back in Eleanor’s world and to see where she’s going next. Amy’s found a really good hook into a story.’

While they can’t say much about it now, Amy gives a hint: ‘There are two mysteries. A current-day one and one in the past.’

If you’re looking for a new, totally absorbing YA series to dive into, then Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer is for you. While you might have to wait a bit for the sequel to come out, we have a feeling you might want the extra time to re-read this stunning debut while you wait. Trust us – the second you finish the book, you will want to be back in Eleanor’s world.

 

Intrigued? Read a snippet, here.

Feature Title

Eleanor Jones is Not a Murderer
Karen McManus and Holly Jackson meets Fleur Ferris in this fast-paced YA murder mystery.
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