First of all, I know it has been a while since I logged in here. We've been busy around the house lately working on arrangements to get my two older kids home from college in NY. Not exactly an easy task. On top of that, I have been working on the new course I'll be teaching with UCLA and their extension program. This is an exciting opportunity for me to teach developmental editing, and for people interested in learning more about the business of editing and agent work.
Today, I wanted to talk about something that might seem totally obvious to you. What I look for in projects that come across my desk.
I have heard at conferences and certainly on the internet, many authors complaining that editors and agents only want to buy the next amazing novel. When they say this, they are often implying that unless we can make a ton of money off of the book, we would never sign the author. They imply that the story has to be soooo amazingly different, unique and off the wall before we buy it.
While it would be great to find that great million dollar book every time, what we really are looking for is quality. Yes, the book needs to be marketable, but if it is not quality writing, we move on really quick.
For those of you who have submitted projects to agents and editors in the past, you know how many times you get to send on a partial or a full for review (assuming you sent it to an editor who accepts unsolicited writing or to editors and agents who actually accept what you write). Writers get requests all of the time, but it is that moving on to getting "The Call" that seems elusive. The reason is, it all comes down to the quality of the writing and the execution of the novel.
I don't know how many times I request projects that sound totally amazing. I read that query letter or hear that pitch and think the story is beyond amazing.
We read the writing. It just is not there.
Often the writing is forced or flat. The enthusiasm we heard in the pitch or the query just is not there. Sometimes it comes down to writing that is elementary. In other words, the author is still learning the craft and it is a project in the extreme beginner phase. In other cases, the story is just not what that author said they had written. Their interpretation of their novel is not what ended up on the page.
Like readers, we want a story that when we open it to the first page, we want to not put the book down. We want to be drawn into the story and the world of the characters. If it is not there, like readers, we put that book down and look for something else.