Authors, pay attention.
I have been reading the slush pile again, and here are the problems I found. One book had too many heroes. The story was well written. I was hooked right away by a lovely description and some interesting action. And then the story went awry. Every character was a hero. The family – father, mother, and baby were all equally important. The neighbor’s family – father, mother, and baby were important! And the secondary characters kept taking over the action.
If you have several heroes (thinking of Lord of the Rings here) then you need a strong, simple framework to carry them. The story has to be simple. “Take Ring To Volcano”. What is simpler than that? Then you can have several different heroes. But be careful – don’t overwhelm the reader. Each hero has his chapter. Each chapter has its structure. In the book I just pulled from the slushpile, the plot is complicated, the characters many, and I cannot get attached to any of them. I’m Overwhelmed.
I pulled a second book out of the slush pile. I read three chapters. Not once did I get into any of the character’s heads. It was written in what I call third person omniscient. It’s a good way to start a novel because you can introduce the setting and characters quickly. But it puts a certain distance between the reader and the characters because you’re never deeply in their heads. So I read on, hoping that the second chapter would give me a clue as to who the hero was, and on to the third chapter, where the tone stayed the same. Good, clear writing. No connection at all with the characters. I needed a hero I could connect with, and I got comments on the weather.
POV is terribly important. Head-hopping is not bad if it does not confuse the reader, but it’s a rare author who can pull it off. When I read the slush pile, I’m aware that most of the authors are just starting out. That’s why we try to make our rejection letters as constructive as possible. We also invite the autors to resubmit if we like their writing and think they can fix the problems. Sometimes they are OK with our suggestions, and sometimes not. It’s up to them. But I’ve never subbed a book anywhere without knowing that it will have to be edited. And my goal is to make the editor’s job as easy as possible, and authors should keep this in the back of their minds. Their books WILL need editing. If the book needs too much, we can’t afford it. Time is money, as they say, and if the book takes too long to edit, it’s not worth it. So pay particular atention to POV. And count your heroes. (And heroines.)