A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila.
Your computer ends the physical drudgery of writing. But it can’t prevent you from making mistakes or ensure that what you write is salable. You may have only seconds to seize the interest of agents and editors who are swamped with submissions. In descending order of importance, here are the eleven most important elements in a novel or memoir:
- The idea: Will it excite editors because it’s new or a fresh take on an old idea?
- The first page: Do the first sentence, paragraph, and page compel readers to keep going? (For more about this, please see my earlier post on The S Theory.)
- The story: Do your conflicts, story twists, and subplots make readers want to know what comes next?
- The people: Will your readers connect with your characters and care what happens to them?
- Page-turnability: Does the pace vary and does the tension or suspense keep your readers turning the pages?
- The dialogue: Is it varied and distinctive enough and to portray the characters through tone, emotion, and the way they speak?
- The writing: Is it good enough for the kind of book you’re writing?
- The setting/s: Does it reflect, enhance, or drive your story?
- The structure: Is how you constructed your story the most effective way to build tension until the climax?
- The ending: Is it the perfect dessert at the end of a great meal?
- Your future books: Do you have a synopsis or proposal for a follow-up book?
Also Worth Noting
The synopsis: Does it tell the whole story in a way that will make agents and editors who read part of the manuscript eager to read the rest of it?
Rising Fast in Importance
- Your promotion plan: Will it help get enough books to the cash register?
- Your platform: Do you have continuing visibility, online and off?
You need knowledgeable readers to help you answer these questions. Ask them to use this list when you share your work. My partner Elizabeth Pomada, who handles the fiction and memoirs in our agency, and our assistant, Claire Cavanaugh, helped with this list, which doesn’t claim to be definitive. These elements may vary in importance.
Two suggestions to help you:
- Make your models first resource: the books you love that inspire you to write yours.
- As in all things, trust your instincts and common sense.