Home page  |  More useful articles  |  Search for more information

What Do Editors Really Want?
"Musings" - December 2007

by Margot Finke

Writers who attend many conferences tell us what they hear from the editors they meet. Editor blogs always promote the kind of books these editors are looking for. Then, there are the personal opinions of children's writers who already have an editor (or two): these writers are either published, or on the brink of that goal. Plus, all those smart and insightful insider articles: they also offer advice about what editors want. Our editor-information slush pile is always simmering.

However, one constantly heard acquisition theme rises to the top of this slush pile. TA-dah! Most editors are looking for a fresh new voice, a character driven plot, and either screwball humor, devious drama, or a quirky romance. Put a new twist on everything!

Yeah right! But what does that mean, exactly?

Rejection letters come in many flavors. The editorial business is subjective, and fraught with decisions that often bypass an editor who loves your story. Frequently, someone higher up the publishing food chain will axe a story for any number of artistic or bottom-line reasons.

Publishers want writers to send them manuscripts that fit their current list of books. An editor may think your story is terrific, but if it does not complement their list . . . rejection! Editors also cringe when they read badly written manuscripts that fail on several levels--all are grist for the rejection letter mill.

Do these Editing Gods really know what they want from us writers? Who knows? A Thesaurus once whispered in my ear, that what editors want is hard to pin down --like a name that's on the tip of their collective tongues. However, they know it when they read it. . .

I know, I know. None of the above helps. However, when I looked at the problem from a variety of angles, I came up with this final gem of wisdom: You might be able to hook one editor some of the time, but you can't hook all editors all of the time.

I decided to take this gem of an idea completely out-of-the-box, and concentrate on what NOT to send an editor. So, remove what editors don't want, add a lavish sprinkle of talent and luck, and whatever is left in your manuscript should be what editors wants to publish--right?

So here goes, my list of:

What Not to Send an Editor

  • Pages in need of grammar and punctuation first-aid.
  • Chapters replete with wimpy verbs and tired, overused adjectives.
  • A plot that creeps along without any fireworks.
  • A first chapter that leaves the reader without a clue.
  • Characters that have all the richness, depth, and charisma of week old spaghetti.
  • Writing that waffles on, yet never draws the reader in, or tightens the pace.
  • A plot and characters that don’t light up, and begin to “cook,” until chapter three.
  • You can save your postage if you haven’t mastered the art of weaving in the back-story, plus those juicy flashbacks.     
  • Kid dialogue that is old Aunt Fanny, rather than cool young Brad.
  • Chapter endings that don’t HOOK the reader into reading on. . .
  • The main character’s VOICES are uncertain and vague.
  • Chapters where FOCUS has gone AWOL.
  • A manuscript that has not been run through your critique group at least twice – friends and relatives don’t count.

After you’ve digested my outa-the-box ideas, maybe a little chant to the Editorial Gods wouldn’t go astray.  You’re welcome to join me.

“Ommmm . . . Ommmmm . . . Oh . . . Ommmmm . .  .  Omm - Book Contracts. . . Ommmmm. . . .”

May the Holiday Season Bring You Bouquets of Good Writing Luck.


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

Crayon tiphomearticlesCrayon end
Home page | Articles index