Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wordcraft -- What an editor wants to read

Recently, Lou Anders conducted what he says on his blog was his first ever writing workshop at FenCon VIII in Addison, Texas. Few workshop leaders would be better equipped to tell us what an editor wants to see in the first pages of a novel. He’s this year’s winner of the Hugo Award for editing, long form, and the editorial director for Pyr books. He hears twelve to fifteen pitches for books daily, and he and his assistant at Pyr look at, by his calculation, a thousand manuscripts annually. Of those, Pyr publishes thirty.

After talking through a few of the nineteen workshop submissions, he tactfully formulated “the no prologue, no multiple POV (point of view), no unlikable protagonists rule” of things that turn off readers within the first few pages. Our starting goal as writers is to “give people as few reasons as possible to drop out” of reading a story.

What else turns him off? Perhaps surprisingly for a hard-boiled looking guy -- profanity. “I like to save profanity for the moments that count,” he said.

That’s partly because, he said, for all the emphasis on action in science fiction and fantasy, women and girls constitute the overwhelming majority of readers -- 75 to 90 percent. For YA (young adult), the reader demographic is even stricter -- teen girls and their mothers. Writers must master the art of “getting it past the mothers -- and getting the mothers to read it.”

So what does Lou Anders like? Contemporary sounding language, for one thing. Telling details, for another. He commended a writer for a passage in which a character flipped her long hair from under the handle of her bag, although admitting he might forget to add something like that because “I don’t have hair. . . (but) little tiny details that are realistic prepare people for the nonsense to follow.”

He also likes humor. “Find a way to be upbeat even when you’re downbeat. . .Even dark books have moments of humor, and the darker they are, the more humorous.”

And how to get those sympathetic protagonists? Not by making them pathetic or overwhelmed. But for a struggling character, “If we see what she’s given up and what she’s juggling, we’ll sympathize with her.”

Want more of Lou’s writing advice? See his blog, “bowing to the future,” And check back here next Wednesday for his discussion of novel structure from a former screenwriter’s point of view and ways to break into writing.


Looking for markets? Don’t get tricked into forgetting these small publishers’ deadlines timed to coincide with Halloween:

CLIFFHANGER BOOKS -- Submissions window for its second anthology of Paramourtal romances closes October 31. See
DARK TALES OF LOST CIVILIZATIONS -- Also closing October 31. See

NAKED READER PRESS -- Quarterly open reading period ends October 31. See

Other deadlines at although Naked Reader wasn’t there when I last checked.


Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, North Central/Northeast Texas, holds its annual conference this Friday and Saturday, October 7-8, at Fielder Road Baptist Church, 2011 S. Fielder Road, in Arlington. Authors, editors and agents will be there. See for registration and details.


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