Time and time again, I read authors posting about how they are frustrated with the amount of rejections they have received. They are writing about topics they know people want. They are doing the things that the editors say they want, and yet, the stories are still getting rejected. What these authors are failing to think about is that maybe, just maybe, the story is not well written.
I was thinking about this recently when I was working with my students in my UCLA Extension. They were all upset about the lack of stories out there written by or about, BIPOC and LGBTQ+. They also were frustrated with the lack of diversity by authors of color or characters that are multicultural. They seemed to believe that this lack of representation was due to publishers ignoring these topics or authors.
But that is not true.
I know I have worked with editors that are actively looking. I know I have put out requests, and received limited submissions. What was worse is that the manuscripts I received were not well written. Instead, the authors spent all of their time hyping up those special attributes of their story, but forgot to think about the writing. Were the characters three-dimensional? Were the plots realistic? Was the conflict worthwhile and believable? And more importantly, is this a topic/theme that is currently something the readers are looking for.
Think about it this way. When you buy a book, do you say, "I want a story with a black hero and heroine" and that is the only thing you consider. Probably not. The odds are you look for a story that sounds interesting and "IF" the characters happen to be people of color, or they are from the LGBTQ+ community, so be it.
As I read submissions, I read the query and ask myself if this is a story that the market is looking for and is this something I have connections with to sell it. When I read the actual story, I look at the writing. That is the focus!
So, when you hear editors and agents on those panels say they are "looking for a really strong story with great characters and great conflict." That's it. It really is all about the story.