If you want some terrific insights into this question, I’d recommend Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein. (The full title tells it all: Second Sight: an Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.) It’s a collection of speeches given to writers, plus a few blog posts from her website.
Defining Good Writing
One chapter that might give you a clue about your rejections was on defining good writing. Klein wrote about five qualities she thinks about a lot when considering whether she wants to acquire a manuscript:
- Good prose: the quality of the writing. Smooth? Clean? Lyrical? Good pacing?
- Character richness: interesting people with dimension. Do they grow and change? Do I care about them?
- Plot construction: things must happen. Logical? Unpredictable? What’s at stake?
- Thematic depth: the story says something about the world.
- Emotion: being caught up in the emotions felt by the main character (and those emotions may vary widely)
What About You?
Cheryl Klein says to be “a literary success, a finished book has to be really strong in at least four of those categories,” most importantly (to her) #2 and #5.
How about you? When you read a good book, what is most important to you? What is the one (or maybe two) qualities it must have for you to pass the book along to your best friend as a “must-read”? [For me, it's character richness. I don't care how great the writing or the plot is until the author has made me care about the character.]