What is the magic ingredient that agents and publishers look for? Does anyone know? Do agents and publishers know that they want?
I am sure there are thousands of well researched, well written books flooding through their letter boxes and inboxes every day and most of the writers receive no more than a polite thank you, but no thanks.
It can be disheartening. It can be soul-destroying. I heard someone say of Mills & Boon that they make "nice" rejections, because they are kind people and they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
That can be bad, too. The next agent, perhaps pushed for time, may tell the plain unvarnished truth of the same submission: this is total rubbish and unpublishable. Which is the kindest in the long run?
What would help, and is virtually impossible to receive, are concrete facts on what publishers want. I think the truth is they want the next bestseller but don't know it until they see it. A bit like me searching the dress racks rejecting them all and then pouncing on one item: thats it!
But what do you think a book needs to make it that hot certainty?
Clarity of prose? Accurate research? a good story? or does it come down to the real nitty gritty - no adverbs, no past tense, no passive sentences?
Must we follow fashion and write in the first person or the present tense? Must there be a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter - or, as I read somewhere last week, at the end of every scene?
How much luck is involved? If I am writing a book about Merlin (I'm not, but let's imagine I am!) and a new tv series on Merlin starts to rapturous ratings just as my manuscript hits an agents desk, will that do it for me?
H'mmmm. If so, I'd better buy a crystal ball.