Thea Devine here, with a true confession: Long ago in a publishing landscape far away (and over the course of the next twenty-five years), I read manuscripts for several mass market publishing houses, back before electronic transmissions, back when we were writing 500 pp. books on real paper.
I read historical and contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, mysteries, sagas, fiction for reprint, and non-fiction, agented and slush. And I assure you every proposal was looked at, no matter what form it arrived in — single spaced, cursive font, unchaptered, block paragraphs, handwritten, buried in popcorn. strangled in rubber bands.
And there were always manuscripts; just the number of conferences across the country on a weekly basis assured that. But after National — the deluge.
During those years, I never had an editor tell me what to look for, what they didn’t want to see. Nothing was culled before it landed on the reader’s shelf.
But really — it was always about the story. Those grab and go opening pages still grab editors.. And they really do know it when they see it..
But what the editor told me when she hired me was, don’t be afraid to be wrong.
Think about that. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Because what if you passed up another Gone With The Wind or DaVInci Code? What if the manuscript you loved was shot down and rejected by the editor and then became a best-seller for another publisher? (It happened). What if … in the fragile world of publishing as it was then, and is now, so dependent on the subjective opinion of reader and editor.
Don’t be afraid of rejection. Because the editor could be wrong. And if the editor could be wrong, then a rejection doesn’t t mean you wrote the worst book ever. It just means this book didn’t move the editor or it didn’t fit into a particular marketing slot.
That still holds true. The market itself will judge a book, in this new publishing milieu, if not an editor in a publishing house. All you can do is write.
Some writing secrets from the reader:
It’s the story. It’s always been the story. It’s how you get into the story. Get your characters moving. Make sure the inciting incident is critical, grabs the reader, and requires your characters to do something.
Conflict. Your protagonists can’t want the same things (his family stole her family’s business; she wants to get it back; he wants to give it back), even though they can want the same thing (an object of desire — like the Grail in Indy 3).
Pile it on. The more obstructions, obstacles and problems you present your protagonists, the harder it will be for an editor — or reader — to put your manuscript down.
Grammar counts. Sorry. No dangling participles. Subject and verb must agree. A line edit takes forever on a manuscript that needs a lot of work.
Motivation. Why exactly did your heroine go into the burning mine when everyone specifically cautioned her not to? There are always reasons why your characters do what they do. Make sure your reader buys into it.
Make sure the ending holds up after all the build up.
Have you ever been rejected? How did you handle it? Do you think a publisher using readers is a good thing or bad?