Submissions have been light lately - I'm not sure why; maybe a lot of people are using the cooler weather to writer rather than submit - but I was fortunate enough to find a few good queries and request a few full manuscripts. None of them got contracts, from me at least. So this week's blog post will explain why.
1. Oh, the underwhelming ending! A good book goes out with a bang, not a fizzle. I know that I'm more traditional in this regard than a lot of other editors, but I want the last chapter to be memorable. Even if the villain has been brought to justice a bit earlier, I like to see a nice, unexpected twist at the end. Not necessarily pyrotechnics, but an ending that makes me feel that the author has kept me involved until the last sentence.
2. Oh, the endless backstory! I understand the desire to tell me your protagonist's life story in Chapter 1, I really do. You've thought about it a lot and you want the reader to understand your character's motives. But mystery fiction is propelled along by action in the present, not a rehashing of the past. The point I try to make, often, is that too many writers think "mystery" refers only to plot or events. Characters, even protagonists, can and should have some mystery about them, too. Think about it this way: Once you know everything about a person, how interesting does that person remain? Not very, methinks. A little bit of mystery keeps the person intriguing.
3. Oh, the self-indulgence! I can't speak for others, but I'm not overly interested (read: not interested at all) in "writerly" novels. Oh, the endless process, the pages of verbal inventiveness, the self-indulgent jags that add nothing to plot or character development! There lots of places for writers in love with his/her own words - creative writing programs, workshops, various listservs - but my list isn't one of them.
4. Oh, the bitterness! Here's a good story: One of my colleagues left me a manuscript with a note saying she was feeling quite bullish about it, and would I take a look? I gladly did so - and understood the bullishness. But, due to the volume of paper in our office, the cover letter was somehow misplaced. Fortunately, the writer had included phone number and email address on the title page. My colleague wrote an email of interest (in my experience, one of the greatest joys a writer can experience) to the writer, who wrote back with a long-winded diatribe against publishers, the publishing process, our greed, ad nauseam. We Googled the writer and found many an angry posting all over the Internet that strongly hinted that any relationship with Said Writer would end up in court. Said Writer, to whom we wish the best of luck, would have had a contract a couple of weeks ago; instead, Said Writer received manuscript back with a polite note.
5. Oh, the tortoise-like pacing! I had requested a manuscript whose high concept was quite promising, and whose first chapters showed promise. I finished it and gave the writer high marks for characterization and even for storytelling, which showed some really first-rate plotting. But plotting turned into plodding about 100 pages in, with major story events taking place only ever 50 pages or so. Perhaps a book for FSG or another literary publisher; but not for us.