Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Inner Sanctum

I found this article yesterday, from an AbsoluteWrite board posting. It's an interview with four book editors. I loved getting a peek inside the inner sanctum, to see how their minds work, regarding what they look for in a novel--why they might select one book over another. In the end, it's just as I suspected: the process is extremely subjective, and it takes more than a strong plot or strong voice for an editor to put money behind a book. They talk about "falling in love" with a character or tone, and say the story just "clicks."

Above all, for them (just as for any reader), a book must make a connection with them, one that takes them to a different plane, a different level outside themselves. And don't the best books do that? Whisk you away to another world, so that you're barely aware of this one?

In one way, the editors' subjectivity sort of lets me off the hook, as a writer. There's no possible way to know how to please a specific editor. So, my job is to write what I want to write. To give the Muse what she asks for, to present my personal best. Then of course, edit it, polish it, and submit it.

And by then, the ball is no longer in my court. It's out of my hands, whether an editor will "fall in love" with my book--or not. Which is both lovely and terrifying.


  1. I wish I could emulate your attitude. I'm having a hard time right now. I found a critique partner, and at first, everything was great. He loved my book, I enjoyed his. Until he got to chapter 4 of my book. He didn't like something and made assumptions - though worded kindly - about my story and characters and overall message, and didn't want to continue reading.

    I'm so disappointed. How could he love it one minute and hate it the next? And he's wrong about the characters!

    I'm rambling. This is a comment, not a blog.

    I'm going to go read the link you've posted, and maybe it'll give me some encouragment. Thanks. :)

  2. April - I totally know where you're coming from. I've had serious moments (days, weeks, months?) of doubt in my own work. Especially when someone's read it and disagreed with a plotline or didn't like a character. After I get over the feeling of defeat, I usually try to ask myself if that person was right in their assessment. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If it's a yes, then I make change that I believe in, to improve the text. But if not, I just go with my gut, shrug off their critique, and keep going.

    Honestly, when one of the agents who was interested in my book (she read it, suggested lots of changes) finally admitted she was "lukewarm" about it, I was crushed. But -- that same week, the agent who offered a contract "gobbled up" my manuscript. The very same manuscript the other agent had been lukewarm about. Very puzzling, to know what works for one person, and what doesn't for another.

    I'd just say listen to your gut, and stay true to your characters! :-)

  3. How many of us have received a query rejection assuring us that fiction is a completely a subjective business; and, that although the didn't fall in love with our ms, somebody else would. Unfortunately, it is true. Stay true to your characters, your voice, and your vision and eventually all will fall into place.