At a recent writer’s conference, ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I attended a workshop presented by two editors representing different publishers, Ami McConnell from Nelson and Becky Philpott from Zondervan, both being part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. They shared advice on how an editor views a novel, being considered for publication, based on four categories: Professional Eye, Profit and Loss Eye, Literary Critic Eye, and Reader and Ally Eye. The information provides authors with information on the serious business of writing a novel that will appeal to book publishers and result in sales that will bring in an advance on royalties, marketing and distribution.
Editors must determine the author’s skill level. Though many writers sit down and write a novel without the hard work of honing the craft, editors recognize in a few paragraphs their amateur status. This means too much time and effort to teach the craft while editing the book. Authors are advised, if they want a career in writing fiction, to take the necessary time to build their skills by reading books and magazine articles on writing, attending conferences and workshops, join writers’ organizations, be part of a critique group, enter contests, and plain old write, write, write.
Editors are looking for the ability to meet a book deadline. Deadlines are important for not only scheduling the revisions, line/copy edits and galleys but also for time to gain endorsements and book reviews which promote the book and catch readers’ interest. They look for author’s ability to use both hard copy edits and digital tracking and to present an accurate timeline in creating a story. Do the plot elements fall into a logical pattern that moves the story forward without confusion? Does the story provide a continual story theme, appropriate hooks, believable and intriguing characters and layers of plot elements? All of these qualities are important to the editor.
Profit And Loss Eye:
Editors estimate the profit and loss to evaluate a book’s success. What is unique, special or different about the novel will arouse readers’ interest. Reader appeal reflects how many books will be sold, and this determines the profit and loss of the book. Publishers are in business, and making a profit is the only way they can stay in business.
An element of profit and loss is hooks that grab a reader and keep him tied to the story. Hooks create “buzz.” It’s the word-of-mouth promotion that is invaluable to a sale. It’s the reason novels become New York Times Best Sellers.
Readers’ expectations fall into play here. A thriller must be thrilling. A romance must have a happy-ever-after ending. A speculative novel takes the reader to another world or another time which enables her to experience adventures she can’t even imagine. This becomes an author’s “brand” —romance, adventure, thriller, suspense, historical, and “other world” novels. When a reader loves one of the author’s books, it draws her into the author’s backlist, providing greater profit for the publisher and the author.
Literary Critic Eye:
Editors must weigh the possible critical reviews of the novel which ties in with meeting deadlines, reader expectation, author’s writing quality and brand. The last two reflect what readers admire and use to identify a novelist. Editors weigh the scope of these elements by deciding to whom this book appeals: teens, mature women, young women, mothers, the elderly, men and women.
First Reader and Ally Eye: The first reader is usually the editor who is the author’s true ally. An editor looks for a dynamic work of art. They look for depth of emotion and the quality of the main story. Does the story reflect what the theme promises the reader and will it meet their expectations? Does the author offer the editor a mutual understanding of the book’s message? Is the theme fleshed out? Are the senses tapped into—taste, smell, touch, see, hear?
Does the plot provide enough action and conflict to drive the story forward? Are the editor’s expectations fulfilled by the author? Are they on the same page? In romance, does the first kiss meet the readers’ expectation? Is it logical and fully developed, matching the romantic progress? Does the author bring setting and clothing to life through word pictures where appropriate? Does the author meet the publishers word count? Is the author’s brand clear, and does it open doors for the next story?
Although this sounds demanding, if an author wants to develop a career with novels in bookstores and eBooks online and if they want to develop a broad fan base, these four areas are required to interest an editor to contract your novel and] are worth working toward.