Editors are so very specific in that they want only stories that are compelling.  Well, duh!  Of course, they want compelling stories. Isn't that a given?  Who publishes a boring story, with any hope of making money from it?  Of course, your story is without a doubt the most compelling result ever born from the magical mating of keyboard and imagination.  Anyone who doubts such a thing should simply ask you.  Right?  So what's the problem?   What the editor is really saying is she wants a story that is compelling to her (for purposes of this blog, editors will be female—because it's my blog and that's the way I want it.)  I cannot stress with enough fervor, DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Choose a specific editor you intend to submit to, based primarily on what type of book you have written, and find out every possible thing you can learn about her.  What type of story does she prefer (in other words, what does she finds compelling)?  Does she specialize in romance?  Police procedurals?  Spy stories?  When you have established her preferred genre, break it down even further.  Romance can be marriage of convenience, cowboy, secret baby, and on and on.  Police procedurals can focus on drugs, gangs, "everyday" crime (murder, rape, kidnapping, etc.), serial killers, etc.  I don't read enough spy stories to know what their subgenres might be, but you are the one writing the spy story, so find out--now!  When you have established your target editor's general preferences, read at least a couple of the books—more if possible--she has edited.  She must have really liked those books.   But, take heed!  The very worst thing you can do is try to write your own copycat version of one of those same books.  Do, however, pay attention to pacing, chapter length, point of view (first or third person), whether the book has action and adventure as well as passion, and in what quantities. A calculation of rough percentages of each would be even better. How long is the booK? Obviously, if you have written an underwater adventure story, please don't choose to submit it to an editor who specializes in romance.  You are wasting everyone's time, especially your own.  No need to shoot yourself in the foot and lose your paddle before you ever get out of the gate.  (By the way, editors also hate clichéd phrases we've all heard a hundred times.  Also mixed metaphors.  But you would never make such a faux pas, I'm sure.  I certainly never would!) 

                Another hint about editors:  SPELL HER NAME CORRECTLY!!!  If her name is Theresa, be sure to include the "h"—or be sure to leave it out if her name is Teresa.  You insult her by not taking the time to learn the spelling of her name.  I suspect even the good Pope Benedict himself would be aggravated to receive official correspondence addressed to Pope Benny Dict.    

                Another good hint is to be sure your very best work is reflected in the first chapter.  Although tempting, do not use that first chapter to establish the entire back story.  Boring.  Yawn.  We need to meet the main characters at the very first and learn something about them.  After we meet them, you can pepper little nuggets of their back story throughout.  Readers don't need everything dumped on them in one big bucketful.  Start your story at a vital, pivotal point.  A writer once cautioned that every story should start with a murder.  Of course, if your story has no murder, you might find a murderous beginning to be a challenge.  No, it's not.  The proverbial murder she discussed is any life-changing moment that alters everything.  My book REMEMBER THE SHAGMEISTER is about as far from a murder mystery as anything can be, but it starts with the heroine asking a man she  doesn't really love to marry her.  She is horrified to hear herself utter those words, and has no idea why she is saying such a thing. The consequences of his response could be horrendous.  However, she finds herself babbling on and can't seem to stop.  My hope with that opening was that those words will instill enough curiosity so the editor will commit to sticking around at least long enough see what her motivation might be to do such a thing.  In READY OR NOT, the first words are "It might have been a gunshot."  So...was it a gunshot?  If not, what was it?  Wouldn't you read on at least until you found out what it was?  Don't rely on the tired, overused, old "It was a dark and stormy night."  You may have written the next TWILIGHT but no one except you will ever know because that manuscript it took you five years to complete will be discarded before you can say "Team Jacob."

                If you've ever studied writing at all, you already know about the ever-popular GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) that every work of fiction must possess.  There are excellent books on this subject, by writers certainly more knowledgeable on that topic than I am.  But an over simplification of the whole process is that each main character must have at least one (or more goals), some sort of motivation for doing whatever she does, and a stout dose conflict—the thing that pushes her away from the resolution of the story.  And somehow it  must all tie together.  I write romance so my simple example of GMC would be:  Mary, the product of a broken home (conflict) is working hard to establish herself in a well-paying job (goal) so she can support herself and not be forced to depend on anyone (motivation).  She meets Bill, who is divorced.   Bill is fun and she dates him casually but when the relationship grows serious she must force herself to back away because she cannot trust a divorced man (conflict) and she must not allow herself to be dependent on anyone (even more conflict) because of the way her father abandoned his familyAs the story unfolds, we will learn how, despite her conflict, Mary will overcome her innate distrust of divorced men and allow Bill into her life forever, but not without some significant angst and soul-searching.  In the end Mary will have no choice but to follow her heart as it whispers to her that Bill is a good guy and worth the chance she will have to take in trusting him, while at the same time ignoring her head screeching into the other ear that Bill is divorced and all divorced men are wretches. Suffice to say, Bill has his work cut out for him.  He will be forced to do some desperate things to prove his worth.  Best-case scenario would be he somehow manages to save her life while risking his own.   But nursing her through life-threatening pneumonia or some terrible and painful injury will probably do the trick if no life-threatening scenario presents itself. 

                To wrap it all up and tie it with big red bow, compelling is a subjective concept.  What knocks my socks off may be of no interest to you at all.  You simply must, must, must know your market.  And, most difficult of all, you will constantly be aiming at a moving target because that market changes daily and moves on.  As you wrap up your final chapter of a vampire series that will make Stephanie Meyer weep with shame at her pitiful effort as compared to yours, suddenly vampires are out and space aliens are the only show in town.  Welcome to the wonderful world of writing, my dear.

                This blog has addressed just the first ten yards of your climb up Mt. Everest (notice I didn't say tip of the iceberg, which was my first thought—but what an old and overused cliché—see the end of the very first paragraph above) of the countless obstacles you will be forced to overcome for your work to be recognized and, with luck, published.  I will address others in future blog entries. 

                I would welcome your comments on this subject. 
6/4/2012 02:34:40

I love this interview! It's so true! My books are compelling, but unless I can get past that gatekeeper that is my first reader, be it an editor or ebook reader, I need to do homework and write that good book.
And for what it's worth, I hate that term Compelling, too.
Thanks for the great interview, Carol. I just bought your book.

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