Monday, January 04, 2010

Questions to ask yourself

by Lauren

Just came across this really handy item that SCBWI's Kathy Temean posted on her blog: Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves When Looking At A Manuscript.  Very useful for all writers, especially novelists, whichever market they write for and whether or not Dutton would be interested.  I recommend you consider these points about your own manuscript before you share it, because most of these are questions that'll be asked down the line throughout the publishing process, in many cases all the way up to readers buying your book.

(via Janet Reid)


  1. Good points, good list. I think #1 is one that authors sometimes forget about. Sorry. Sad but true. The beautifully written, capital L literary novel, the poignant story may be the most wonderful novel in the world, but publishing is a business. Publishers need to know there is a market and a potential readership out there for your work.

    This isn't to say that what's hot now will still be hot in 2 years, so keep trying. Publishers want something of a balance in their product mix and what they have on deck now may not fit with what you are offering... but it could change.

    Cheers, Jill

  2. I'm not sure I'd read any novel ten times-maybe twice: makes sense for a children's book though. How many times have I read Goodnight Moon to my kids!

  3. "I think #1 is one that authors sometimes forget about. Sorry. Sad but true."

    The last thing an author should be considering is his audience. You are an artist, your only concern is elevating your art to the master level, not if you should be dumbing it down to sell it to tweens.

    That kind of thinking is why we are seeing a few hundred Twilight rip-off novels and no one is out there writing the next House of Leaves.

  4. Well, I'm writing the next House of Leaves. ;)

    But, that is a norse of a different litr.

  5. "I'm not sure I'd read any novel ten times"

    Remember that this is an editor talking, not a civilian - just in the normal course of things, editors will see draft after draft of a novel, first as the author amends it, then the various copy editors and proofreaders and so on will amend it again. Every time, the editor will have to read the whole thing again, from scratch.

    Even a book you love to bits will start to pale a little when you do that. So the prospect of rereading a book for the fifth time that you didn't enjoy all that much the first time is not a happy one.

  6. I can't agree with Anonymous. That first question is always the hardest for me to answer and I don't think that's a good thing.

    (And am I the only nerd out there who is gritting her teeth over that misspelling of 'interesting'?)

  7. "The last thing an author should be considering is his audience. You are an artist, your only concern is elevating your art to the master level"

    Much as I hate to disagree with Anonymous - my namesake and one of the most prolific authors of all time - I'd have to say ... no.

    People who say they're concentrating on art and not selling out have manuscripts in drawers that they insist is the best book ever written, but which they won't even let their cat read.

    Even leaving aside the commercial reality (which is: 'there's a commercial reality'), the artistic reality is that all books exist in a network of traditions, lineages and influences. If you understand where your book fits or might fit within those, you'll almost invariably end up with a better book.

  8. Anonymous #1, while I see what you're saying, I think it's important to make a distinction between knowing your audience and writing down to your audience. Some people write with a particular audience in mind and do it quite successfully; others write better in a vacuum and if they're lucky, the audience exists. But publishing is not solely about art OR commerce, and I do believe that understanding the commercial viability of your project is an important step for any author to take before seeking publication. Authors who can't come to terms with the commodification of their work will have a very tough time on the road to publication and might perhaps be better served by never trying to turn their art into a commodity in the first place.
    And I'm saying this as a person who'd probably rather read the next HOUSE OF LEAVES than the next TWILIGHT.

    And good point, Anonymous #4. Influence and imitation are not entirely unrelated pieces of the literary/publishing puzzle. Also, this made me chuckle, and I may have to steal it for writers conferences: "Even leaving aside the commercial reality (which is: 'there's a commercial reality')...."


  9. Re: Commodification - there's just something about that word - as if the combination of "commode" and "mortification."

    I like to contemplate the Beatles, when I contemplate commodification. It's all about the trajectory, baby!

    (I never put "baby" at the end of anything. That was fun. Now moving on.)

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