A monthly column written by an Authorlink contributing editor.

We welcome your questions, comments and input to this page.

ASK THE EDITOR A Gift From the Gods

By Susan Malone

January, 2002

Okay, so you've done everything right.  You wrote, you studied, you went to classes and conferences, joined a writer's workshop, even employed a freelance editor, and revised, revised, revised.  Now, you've done your marketing homework, submitted to the right agents (and possibly even some publishers), haven't bugged them by calling, and still, your queries come back with rejections.  What gives? 

As we've discussed many times, a plethora of elements must be mastered and properly addressed in order to make a successful book (whether fiction or non).  And 95% of the time (we'll talk about the other five percent, which has strictly to do with the mood of the market, in a later column), something is still missing.  I.e., it's the rare writer who can master ALL of the elements and put them together in one manuscript, with no holes or glitches or flatness of folks, etc.  I see so many stories that are almost there, just on the edge, and don't quite make it over the hump.  Editors and agents tell me this over and over as well.  "The plot was great, but the characters, well, I don't know . . ."  Or, "She had great characters, but really no story to tell."  And, what I'm hearing more and more these days: "I really liked it.  The characters and plot and writing were all wonderful, but something, I can't quite put my finger on what, but something wasn't quite right . . . " 

And that "something," in a nutshell, is the magic that makes a book a book.  That element that goes past wonderful characters and page-turning plots, more than just prose that makes you sit back and think, dang, why didn't I write that?  It's that indefinable something that causes some editor to fight for your story through all of the readings and all of the meetings and all of the sales' reps saying, "We can't sell THAT!"

This business has a place for all sorts of writers–for those with enormous talent on the literary end to more journeyman writers within the traditional genres.  But no matter in which category you fall, your book not only has to be up to snuff regarding all of the elements, but has to have that "something special" to boot.

The business is just so incredibly competitive these days, and agents and editors are so jaded after reading the nine-millionth manuscript of the season.  To get one's attention, your manuscript must be perfect AND great.

"It must be brilliant," just about every editor and agent I've talked with over the last year has said.  And most add, "And I'm not seeing much brilliance." 

Of course, when asked to define said brilliance, most get sort of glassy eyed and reply, "I'll know it when I see it."  Not terribly helpful to a writer trying to break in, no?

But yet, it can be.  Because what they're talking about is that very magic of which we spoke.  It's that indefinable something, brought about by what we refer to as a book's or story's "moments."  You know 'em when you see 'em. 

And this is one of the hardest elements to teach.  Somewhat like that elusive bird we call "talent," a book's moments must come from within.  They're organic, powerful, and flow out naturally from the very heart of the story.  When they're forced or contrived in any way, not only do they stand out like tomatoes in a potato patch, but the moments are never fully realized in the first place. 

The place to begin, however, is paradoxically where you left off–with learning the art of good storytelling.  This is a left-brain/right-brain endeavor, although we think of creativity as only right-brained.  But that's compartmentalizing something that's holistic by nature. You gotta see the forest AND the trees, and know how the foliage affects not only the sunlight filtering through to the soil, but the shape of the woods as a whole.  You write, then change hats and edit.  You write, then change hats and study/learn.  You apply what you've learned, go a little nuts, and then write some more. 

The more you do this, the better your work becomes.  And suddenly, like an epiphany in the night (or, for the more spiritually inclined, a gift from the gods), a "moment" springs up in your story when you least expect it, taking your own breath away. 

THAT'S when you'll know you've arrived.  And that's when you'll see the magic. 


Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. Ten books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last three years. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com