What Robert, M|W’s Editor, is looking for in a Submission – Part 1 of 2

I was going to write another blog to let you all know what I look for in a submission, but then I remembered that I’m not the only one looking through the slush pile each season! This year, there are three of us; myself, our slushie Sabrina, and our editor, Robert. So I asked both Robert and Sabrina what they are looking for, here’s what Robert had to say:  

It’s almost that time of year again, and Submissions Season is nearly upon us. This is one of my favourite parts of the publishing process, because we get to open our doors and see what you’ve all been working on all year. Every new submission is an experience and an opportunity for us to discover our next big hit, and like any reader, I have a few things that I’m really looking for on a personal level.

In no particular order, they are…

Engagement:

In order for me to get deep enough into your submission (and by extension, the rest of your manuscript), you need an engaging opening. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – having an engaging opening is crucial to drawing in your reader. A good friend of ours has a test he performs every time he picks up a new book: he opens to the beginning and reads the first sentence, then he flips to the back and reads the last sentence. This gives him a good, quick idea of how well the author is able to Start and End a story, which gives you insight into the overall strength of the writing. Openings and endings are Hard, but they’re also very Important, because you want to be able to hook your reader right from the start and take them on a satisfying journey.

I tend to expand the scope of this test to be the first “bit” of the story, whether that is just a sentence, the first paragraph or page, or even the first scene. I’ve seen plenty of examples where the first line on its own wouldn’t have sold me, but it ties into a great opener of some varying length. In cases where there is a prologue involved, I’ll usually look at that as well as the first actual chapter, to get a sense of the how the proper story begins.

Fleshed-Out Characters:

My favourite characters are almost always interesting people, rooted in the worlds they inhabit, and flawed in believable, relatable ways. The characters are generally the heart of your story, so you want to make sure they leap off the page and into your reader’s imagination. Whether this takes the form of interesting quirks, a really strong or authentic character voice, or fascinating capabilities, you always want your reader to be invested in your characters and to want to keep reading to see what is going to happen next.

I want to see characters that really Belong to the world of your story – not just someone who could be in any story, but someone who has connections to and opinions about your setting, your plot, and your other characters. If your protagonist, for example, would be at home in any generic fantasy story you can name off the top of your head, then try to drill down deeper – make them matter and make their environment matter. Show me what makes them unique, what makes this Their story.

I really love reading stories about people with great flaws. I’m not talking about things that aren’t really flaws, like being a perfectionist (unless that leads to them encountering difficulties as they try to make sure something is Just Right and costs them something) or being “too awesome” compared to other characters (unless your story is about the loneliness and negative effects on their personality this would undoubtedly have in real life). Characters that have believable and consistent flaws make for good drama, and feel more relatable to me, because everyone has their own problems. I’m not the kind of person who typically latches deeply on to characters who resemble myself and gets invested in them on a personal level, but I do find characters who struggle to be much more compelling than ones who simply have plot thrown at them as a form of conflict.

Cool Action Sequences:

I like stories with some action in them – this is not to say that every story needs a climactic final duel or a car chase, just that if you are going to have action sequences, you should take care to make them count. I’ve always loved action fighting video games, japanese anime with flashy battles, and superhero and action movies, so these are something I look for in books I read as well. Much like in a well-crafted action Movie, an action sequence in a good Book needs to tell us something about the characters, how they relate to each other, the world, or in a perfect world, all of the above. This is also an opportunity to really flex your dramatic and descriptive muscles in displaying what happens when conflict has to be resolved without words. Having a really cinematic scene really helps to cement your story, world, and characters in your reader’s mind, to be remembered long after they turn the final page.

To be Continued…. 

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