Monday, December 21, 2009

How do I know when a book is good?

A lot of authors will ask agents what they are looking for in a book. Of course we have heard the same answers time and time again. "I love a good story with great characters and a great voice." Ugh, I hate hearing that answer and I know all of you do to. It really doesn't give you much to shoot for.

One thing to remember is that we really don't know what we are looking for. Sure, I have a list of genres I would love to see come in that are amazing, but just because you write it, doesn't mean you have what we are looking for. So the question comes down to - what is it that catches my eye when I read a submission.

I think Shauna Summers of Bantam Dell made a great comment at a conference once. She described those perfect books as "stories with characters that seem like they are your neighbors." She said that you didn't refer to these people as characters in books but really dealt with them as if they were real people. The settings and the story worked the same way.

For me, I want a story that I can't help but tell people about when I read it. I want to pick up the phone and call all of my friends every time I read a great passage or even a single sentence. My wife gets annoyed at this because I will often bug her repeatedly with a great story. This is that thought of not wanting to put the book down. It has hooked you so much that you want to keep reading.

Now, hooking a reader does not mean the action is so intense or that you are leaving me with a lot of questions. It is just that voice that really shows you were writing from the heart and not just telling a story. I think that too often, writers are so hung up on the plot of the story that they forget that this should be really a living breathing document.

For me, characters are also the same way. I want characters that I want to hang out with. I just got back from Borders and saw the latest Highlander installment from Janet Chapman. First of all, if you haven't had a chance to meet her, she is amazing and very thoughtful. This is one genuine writer that really has a passion for her writing. And guess what, that passion comes out in her writing. But secondly, this series is great because you have fallen in love with this highlander clan living in the present day. From the first book, I was hooked. This is just a fun group of people that you want to hang out with.

I am reading a submission right now that still has me hooked. I hate reading submissions like this during the holidays because I have so many other things going on and I simply can't sit down all day and read the dang thing. But I am still relishing the story.

I am sorry to say there is no formula for what I look for. It is all in the voice. Some of the time you will have it and sometimes you won't.

If I don't get back to you before the holidays, have a great time but if you are writer, keep working. Even a little bit of work each day will be worth it.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post.

    Merry Christmas.