The question that keeps emerging writers up at night is this: What do publishers really want?
In my career as an author I’ve faced every challenge you’re facing. Having had ten novels published with sales of over half a million books, I know what agents and publishers are looking for, what they want—and don’t want.
What they always want, whatever the genre, is a page-turner. A book that leaves readers saying, “I couldn’t put it down!”
So, let me share with you the essential “Three A’s” of writing craft.
People. A book’s characters. They are the lifeblood of your story. People are what readers come to a book for, and why they stay. Long after a book’s plot intricacies and carefully sculpted sentences have become a blur in the reader’s memory, what lingers is the impact of the characters. Vibrant, unique characters live on for years, even—from Moll Flanders to Ebenezer Scrooge—for centuries.
Story structure. The backbone of your book. You likely have a good instinct for this already, but instinct will take you only half the way. When it falls short, an operational understanding of story structure gets you moving again. This knowledge is essential, yet often under-appreciated by emerging writers. The cleverest wordsmith and most gifted creator of characters cannot bring these riches to a wide audience unless they are delivered in the “Story” form the human mind is hard-wired to receive.
Style. The actual words you write. I use the somewhat dismissive term “adornment” to convey the vital truth that of the “Three A’s” style is the least crucial. Don’t misunderstand—word choice is important. Tinted by evocative imagery, it can even be sublime. But a deeply engaging story with vibrant characters will live for a reader even if the prose is unadorned. The reverse is not true: exquisite prose cannot carry a stagnant story about dull people.
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But what is the mysterious literary essence that really hooks a reader and doesn’t let them go? I offer this one-word answer: emotion.
Character creation, story structure, and style are not ends in themselves, just tools to produce the result we want: a meaningful emotional experience for the reader.
Because when characters in a story move readers to pity, or laughter, or loathing, or dread, or just the simple warmth of human fellow-feeling, that’s what makes them keep turning pages. They crave to know: What’s going to happen to these people? They care.
So, whether you’re revising your story or just starting it, focus on this guiding mantra: Make Them Care.
Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed.
All my best,