In another thread, I was asked to start a new topic on this subject so I am. Here are a few things I can say on the subject.
#1 - You have to catch the readers attention and provide them with incentives to keep reading. This is known in the industry as “being compelling.” If you feel you need to do a bunch of “setup” work you probably aren’t starting your book at the right place. Readers (whether they be agents, publishers, or readers) will give you scant little of their time early on, so make that time count. In particular. If you can’t get them “hooked” within 5 pages, your work probably isn’t ready for prime time. If you want an example of this read the opening of my short “The Thieves” When you get to the line that reads: If they say to avoid them, there’s a good reason.” You are at the end of the 5-page mark (when using standard submission formatting (double spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, with 1" margins).
#2 - Don’t be wordy! Your writing needs to be “tight.” Again, in those first five pages (in particular) every word should play a part, and if it doesn’t get rid of it. Be ruthless with your line edits. Let me give an example…
- He sighed, his shoulders slumped as he considered the possibility that he had to talk to a stranger.
Do you see all the extra words? I can easily pair it down to:
- He sighed, his shoulders slumped as he considered talking to a stranger.
Both say the same thing but the second does so with six fewer words – words that provide NO VALUE.
#3 Does your piece meet the length requirements of the target? YA tends to run shorter, fantasy, longer. But if you have written a 48,000 “novel” and think it’s ready to submit to a fantasy publisher – you’re wrong. It has to be at least 80,000 (the sweet spot probably being 90,000).
#4 Does your story continuously give your readers a reason to keep going? I make the analogy that it’s like the movie ET when Elliot is trying to get ET out of the shed and does so by placing Reeses pieces on the ground at regular intervals. You have to entice your reader. Get them to the bottom of the page, the end of the chapter, and on to the next. Look at what Dan Brown did with The Da Vinci Code.
#5 Get the opinions of others – and hopefully people who don’t know you personally. This means beta readers and critique partners. If you ask them if they feel it is “ready” and they all come back to “not yet” then you have more work to do.
I may think of more but those are the "big things for now.