Tips from a professional editor, part two.
This is Part Two of a special series of tips I picked up from workshopping with Claire Eddy of Tor. If you’re curious you can go back and read:
Part Zero (Or how I got to pick an editor’s brain in the first place)
What does an editor look for in a novel submission? Here’s what I learned.
Writers must be courtesans.
Our job is to woo the reader, to seduce him, to not just make him forget that he initially had to pay to be with us, but to make him eager to open his wallet again and again.
That seduction MUST happen within the first pages. Claire says you have somewhere between one sentence and three pages to grab that reader. As I wrote in Part One of this series, a story must have heart. So as you are writing, you’ve got to imagine yourself in the same situation as your protagonist, and get those feelings down on the page so that your reader finds himself empathizing.
Anything that might pull a reader out of the story is going to cost you. So everything must be there: a strong voice/style, a sympathetic* protagonist, a fully realized world, a compelling inciting incident to kick off the plot. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it IS a lot of work. Do not submit until you’re sure you’ve got the whole enchilada. Well, you might be thinking, I’ve read great books that were missing X, Y, or Z. Okay, but was that book a debut novel? And didn’t X and Y have to be super extra amazing to make up for the lack of Z? It’s already extremely hard to get published. Don’t make it harder on yourself.
Here is a homework assignment Claire gave us, and I’ll give you. Go read the first chapter of Kushiel’s Dart. (If you don’t already own it you can probably sneak peek it on Amazon). Ask yourself, would you have done anything differently? Why? (I will add that this book is not to everyone’s taste, it might not be to yours, and that is something to be mindful of while considering the construction of the first chapter.)
And that’s it for Part Two. Tomorrow, Part Three!
*will be further discussed in Part Three