What the Editors Want, Part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts I do this week on the topic of what editors want. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address in my posts on this topic, feel free to email me (jamiesobrato AT yahoo DOT com) or post your questions in the comments section.


For those of you struggling to sell your first book, trying to figure out what editors want can seem like a maddening and neverending quest. You read the publisher guidelines, you read the how-to-write-fiction books, you google an editor’s name until you come up with an interview they’ve given in which they say what they’re looking for… Maybe you even go to conferences and listen to what the editors say they want. Then you write your book, doing your best to fit your creative vision to the market’s needs. You submit your work, and you get rejected.

Okay, maybe that’s not everyone’s process. It wasn’t even my process exactly when I was trying to sell my first book, but it’s a good representation of what many of us do.

So how do you overcome the frustration of putting in all that work and still not selling the book?

The truth is, you don’t. Instead, you become one with the frustation, you embrace it, you have breakfast, lunch and dinner with it… You get the idea. Frustration is part of the process, and what you do to survive along the way is hold on to any little good signs you get and use those as motivation to keep going.

Maybe you give a pitch at a writer’s conference or in a query letter, and the editor says she loves your idea and that you should send her the manuscript to read. Turn that little bit of good news into the air that you breathe for, oh, say, the next year or however long it takes to get your next little bit of good news.

Just as important though, make yourself aware of what you did well in that pitch, and in that manuscript, that caught her interest. If you write a query that’s good enough to catch an editor’s interest, then take note. What did you do well? Do it again.

If, after submitting your work, you get anything other than a form rejection, glean every little clue you can from the feedback you get. Did the editor invite you to send more? Marvelous. Did she say no to your book and let you know why it didn’t work for her? Just as marvelous, because now you’ve got a road map toward improvement.

And now I have to qualify the above. One of the most important parts of becoming an experienced writer is learning to trust your own judgment about your work. Sometimes I think a book is good enough to sell and I’m wrong, but honestly, that doesn’t happen often anymore. If it does happen, it might be my judgment that’s faulty, but it’s just as likely to be market conditions or editorial taste. The point is though, sometimes, when you write something and you’re sure it’s the best thing you can write and you’re sure it’s going to sell if you just find the right editor–sometimes, you’re right.

The editor who rejected you may not be the right editor for you. So you keep trying until you find the right editor. You learn to distinguish matters of editorial taste from matters of manuscript quality. But that’s a topic for another post…

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.


  1. Excellent insights! Thanks for sharing, Jamie. I have become one with the frustration (10 1/2 months and waiting on a full) but the other method I’ve used to handle that is to KEEP WRITING and sub to multiple publishers. I’ve already sold two other manuscripts, one to Ellora’s Cave and one to Spice Briefs. I may never find a home at Blaze, but I’ll continue to write in the hopes that I do!

  2. Thanks ladies.

    Anne, your strategy is a sound one. I once got so bogged down waiting to hear back on a manuscript–it took two years, so I had good reason!–that I had a lot of trouble writing during much of that time. Staying productive is soooo much healthier for us psychologically.

    Congratulations on your sales!

  3. well when your drunk you do dump things like gitetng married to a woman you wouldn’t unless you were under the influence of alcohol.But in some places like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or Reno the places that marry you could care less if you are drunk or not.As long as you have the money they will marry you and it is legal in some places where they go.But most of the time when man wake up and see what they got married to they get a divorce real fast.As long as you have not been married for a year i think you can get it taken care of fast.

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