Editors and agents always say they are looking for a compelling story, great voice, proper pace, believability–and excellent writing. However, no one can say exactly what that will be until it lands in their inbox.
This isn’t the industry being fickle, it’s what fiction is meant to do: take us to a fresh setting we want to spend time in, introduce us to new characters, make us think about meaning in our lives in a way we haven’t before. As Steve Jobs said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (Business Week, 1998).
In education and academic publishing, and certain genre fiction, commissioning editors know what they are looking for and work with authors to create series or texts. However, in trade publishing everyone is looking for the next ‘big book’ and we look to the creators of content–writers and storytellers–to bring the aspirational qualities I mentioned above to life.
I have a good idea what interests me thematically and topically, but I also love being surprised.
(Photo Illustration by Ben Wiseman, NYT)