Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What this editor likes... and doesn't like.

Apart from being an author, newspaper sub-editor and writer of editorial and advertorial, I also **gasp** edit commercial fiction, with a specific focus on F/SF/H, although of late I've found myself editing crime and historical novels when someone waves money in front of my nose. It happens. Most of my freelance work comes in by word of mouth, so I can't always predict what sort of job I'll take on.

My real love, however, remains with genre fiction and I'm going to give a quick run-down as to what sort of stories push my buttons and make me squee with delight (and make other rather inelegant noises while trying to snatch at a submission).

First off, I'm going to tell you who my favourite authors are. If we match here, chances are good I'm going to sit up and notice if you mention this connection with regard to your fiction. Top of my list: Neil Gaiman, Storm Constantine, Poppy Z Brite and Jacqueline Carey.

Other authors who are on my favourites list include Ursula K Le Guin, William Burroughs, Mary Gentle, Fiona McIntosh, Robin Hobb, CJ Cherryh, George RR Martin and Trudi Canavan.

There, that gives you a good idea of my tastes. However, whatever you do, DON'T tell me you're the next Neil Gaiman or something similar. That will only make me laugh at you. However, you can tell me that your story should appeal to someone who's enjoyed (insert title) by (insert appropriate author). That will give me an idea of what market your book will appeal to.

Please don't tell me how your fiction will make me feel. Let me decide for myself. If you tell me I'll be moved to tears, or feel some sort of emo vibe, I'll laugh at you.

Now, there are particular themes I dig. Some of them may be grossly overdone but hell, I'll still read or salivate after them if they're good.

I love stories about witches and magicians, especially in a contemporary setting, who go up against adversaries. I love it when I can see an author has done her research and hasn't just watched The Craft or Charmed. Those kinds of "snap your fingers, thy will be done" just takes all the fun out of the story. I love dusty tomes, ancient grimoires, age-old mysteries... What I don't want to see is "Satan is going to take over the world" or "if you mess with the occult you're coming to a sticky end" or clear-cut definitions of good/bad Hollywood style. I like shades of grey. I like humour. I like my demons moonlighting as burlesque girls at the gentleman's club down the road.

Here we go. I'm a total sucker for Egypt. If you've done a believable ancient Egyptian setting and you've done your homework, you'll have me begging to see your story. But... be warned... I've been an amateur Egyptologist since I could read my first National Geographic magazine. If you have your pharaoh eating fish, I'm going to give you a very stern look and waggle my finger at you. If you write about how the ancient Egyptians are descended from Atlanteans and so much as breathe a whisper about the Face on Mars, I'm going to laugh at you and hit you over the head with Fingerprints of the Gods.

Yes, vampires are overcooked in fiction at the moment, but I've been into them since... Well, since I read Lost Souls at the tender age of 13. What I don't want to see is eternal wangsting about OMF... I have to kill to live... Or oh noes... I've fallen for a hooman... Or Underworld revamped with vampires vs. werewoofs. Unless you're going to put one heck of a spin on the aforementioned themes, I'm not even going to laugh when I read the query letter or, gods forbid, the synopsis. I'm going to yawn. I do believe vampires make excellent characters to throw into a novel where a lot of other stuff is happening and being or becoming a vampire isn't central to the theme, but may either bring about obstacles or advantages for a character who is that way inclined. I'm going to be far more interested in a vampire playing at being Indiana Jones, just tellin' ya.

I. Do. Not... want to see the "Oh, I'm wangsting after my soul mate" thing, okay? It has its place in paranormal romance, mmkay? Although borderline bestiality is not my thing, I don't mind seeing weres or shifters doing the same thing my vamps are: having an adventure where their abilities are either an advantage or disadvantage, but not central to the theme.

...are twee. I don't mind talking animals that are not merely anthropomorphosised caricatures of cuteness. But here I'm thinking Lucien or Matthew the ravens, and if you know who they are and what milieu they belong to, then we're on the right page. Those are the kinds who have some sort of secret history you're not sharing. That's fine. But I don't want furry sidekicks, okay? And if there is a furry sidekick he or she'd better have a very good reason for being there and impressing me, okay? Otherwise I'm going to laugh. And quite possibly point.

I like dragons. Ursula K Le Guin got it right. Barbara Hambly got it right. So did Tolkien. When I was 12, Anne McCaffrey worked for me. Sometimes, if I'm in the need for goo, I'll go reread one of her Dragonriders of Pern novels for shits and giggles. Hell, a while back I even found writing fanfics set in her world fun. But if you're going to be bringing in dragonriders into the equation, you had better make sure you're not pulling a Christopher Paolini, okay?

Contrary to popular belief, I do feel sex and erotica has a place in genre fiction. Just look at what Jacqueline Carey does. I enjoy reading about all manner of wild stuff. BDSM doesn't scare me. Bring on the rod and the molten wax. But please, oh please spare me the purple prose. I don't want to read about "cock", "clit" and "pussy". Those are, in my opinion, lazy words that belong in Hollywood. Writing good erotica is a challenge. You can only use the word "throbbing" so many times. I've seen too many erotic novels with words like the aforementioned offenders that just drag me right out of those pages and back into the real world saying "Ick, ick, ick". Heroines who get wet panties every time the hero walks into the room don't work for me. Heroines who fantasise about what they'd do to said hero later... and who get inventive even if they're on their own...after a nice hot bath... My advice: keep it real. I don't don't mind a good few shags but FFS, gratuitous boinkfests make me feel vaguely glad I don't know people like that in the real world.

Oh... and I love debauched bohemian types who fall off society's radar. I love stories about misfits who make all the wrong choices and do all manner of stuff that goes from bad to worse. Granted, I'd like to see some character development. But I don't want to hear about how they get saved when they go "straight". Gypsies, circus folk, freaks, artists, strippers, musicians, writers... Any story featuring a main character with something odd about them will have me sit up and notice. But please... do your research. And let them solve their problems in a way that is unique to their personalities and traits.

And... I'm always on the look-out for fresh me- sorry... fresh talent. If you think you've got a novel I'd be interested in, drop me an email at

Also, go take a gander at my publisher's submission guidelines:

1 comment:

  1. I'm entering "gratuitous boinkfests" in my lexicon of favorite phrases. Seriously though, the epidemic of wet panties is just ridiculous. I especially hate it when it happens the first time the heroine meets the hero. There's got to be a better way to express arousal than that. It sounds like something a 14 year old boy came up with.

    The thought of a vampire version of Indiana Jones makes me jump up and down with squee. I like the idea so much I might have to steal it.