What do agents and publishing house editors look for in a manuscript?

A good book impacts the reader. The memory of the imprint lasts long after you’ve turned the final page. When a reader experiences that kind of attachment to the work, you know you’ve hit the nail on the head. So how do you push your book to that “unforgettable” status? There are many elements that compose a good book, but what turns an “okay” book into a page-turner? The following list reflects what an editor would assess in a manuscript to separate the exceptional from the mediocre:

1. Overarching Theme. A book without a theme is like a bird without wings: it can’t fulfill its purpose or reach its potential. What is a theme? It’s your lasting point. It’s what you want readers to take home with them after finishing the book. Readers want to learn or experience something new, and a good book delivers a defined purpose, direction, and reason for sharing the story or information with the audience. A theme gives the book a distinctive quality that permeates the text. An editor looks for a consistent theme throughout that is obviously presented by the end.

2. Sharp Focus. Does your book stay on target? Avoid straying from your purpose with rambling or deviated tangents that don’t enhance the tale. This principle applies to the storyline or teaching presented in the book. True focus keeps the central characters, primary plot, and overarching theme always in view. Sharp focus avoids adding elements that do not enhance the text. So what shows lack of focus? Anything that bogs down the flow or repeats previous points. Any redundancy or insignificant details should be assessed and corrected.

3. Emotional Power. Emotional power determines the lasting memory of the work. All books should reflect passion for the subject. An editor can immediately determine if the book abounds with passion. How do you know if you have emotional power? The reader can’t put it down. The language is creative and the theme empowering. Everything feels real and applicable to the reader. That is emotional power.

4. Relatable Characters. Are your characters flawed? Are your characters growing throughout the story? Readers want to understand what makes your characters tick–both good and bad. If your characters have no personality, they won’t jump off the page into the reader’s life. Just like each individual takes a life journey and has a unique background, so too should the characters in your book.

These are just a few tips to help you as you hone in on how to make your book stand out.