Since I am neither an editor or an agent, I bring you the words of some real-life ones, so that you can begin to hone your editor-whispering skills.
First, The Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves. They are somewhat vague, but still a very good starting point. Absorb them till you think like that about your own work.
Second, for something even vaguer, but essential because it's about that all important gut-instinct, here is wonderful blogger and US lit agent, Rachelle Gardner on why she says yes or no to a book. It's worth highlighting the essential part of the post:
"You know how sometimes you're reading a book and you don't want to put it down, and you're really frustrated that it's time to go make dinner or put the kids to bed, and you just want everyone to leave you alone so you can read your book? And whenever you're doing something else, you just want to be finished so you can get back to reading your book?I believe that if we remember that the agent or editor has to love it that much, just like any reader, we will a) improve our work by working harder to capture and hold our readers and b) understand better why a tecnnically good piece of work may be rejected. One thing I tell my clients at Pen2Publication is that we should read our work aloud, imagining that our audience consists of people desperate to go to the beach / pub / bathroom.
"But other times you're reading a book, and it's easy to put down. You find yourself distracted. You go check your email, or see what's on TV. Or fall asleep. Not that you can really define anything bad about the book, it's simply not holding your attention. And when you have some time to read, you debate whether to go back to that book or not."
Finally, here are two fascinating ones. Lit agent, Janet Reid, lists the reasons why she turns down MSS, with stats. And editor Betsy Mitchell [I think that's the right name!] reveals her own list of reasons for rejection. Some of these reasons are worth a whole blog post each. They may get one, later.
One the the most interesting reasons, I thought, was this one: "Writing quite good, but this isn't the story to launch an author with."
The reason that caught my eye is that it's another facet of the point I've often made: we don't just have to write well - we have to write the right book. Not just the right book for the market, but the right book with which to launch a career, to make a splash, to attract attention.
Open your eyes, writers: think like an editor or agent and you're more likely to hook them. Editors and agents are trying to think like readers, so what you actually have to do is think like an editor or agent thinking like a reader.
If only sales and marketing departments consisted of these readers, things would be so very simple.