It would be nice if I or anyone could answer those questions. I know I can’t. I can point out spelling, grammar and formatting errors that will weaken a writer’s chances for success, and I can give my response to the material; that is, did it grab my attention, were the characters’ actions and motivations reasonable, and did the story have an interesting plot? But I can’t guarantee a book I like will be successful, or can I say it won’t be. Neither can agents, editors, nor reviewers.
I remember attending an RWA® session years ago where the panel was made up of agents and editors. These agents and editors worked with a variety of writers, not just romance writers, and they were discussing how they picked a story to publish and decide how much to pay the writer and how many copies to publish. One editor mentioned a book that they’d recently published. He said when he read it, he liked it and felt it would do fairly well. So he took the story to the marketing department, which, in turn, told him they felt the book would sell reasonably well and to offer the writer (a new, unknown writer at the time) an advance of fifteen thousand dollars.
We in the audience all laughed when the editor told us the name of the author and the title of the book. It was Robert James Waller who wrote Bridges of Madison County. 50 million copies were sold worldwide. The book definitely earned out its advance.
But who knew?
The list of books that have been rejected multiple times goes on and on: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone; Gone with the Wind; Catch 22; Jonathan Livingston Seagull; M*A*S*H; Carrie; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Lord of the Flies; and… You get the idea.
If agents or editors knew what was going to be a best seller that’s all that would be published. But just because a book is a best seller doesn’t mean everyone is going to like it. (Obviously those editors who turned the books down didn’t like them.) So thank goodness there isn’t a magic formula or template to determine what will sell millions of copies and what won’t. And, for exactly that same reason, when I’m asked to critique a story, I always hedge my comments. I can tell the writer if the book appealed to me or not, but I can’t even begin to predict how others might react to a story. The writer really can’t even depend on a critique group. When you look at the number of rejections some of those best sellers received, it’s amazing the writers had the tenacity to keep sending the mss out.
But send them out they did. And why? Because the writers believed in their stories. Maybe they tweaked the plot or characters a bit after receiving a rejection (I don’t know), but they were persistent and didn’t give up. They wrote stories that meant something to them…and finally found an editor/publisher who shared their opinion.
So if you’ve received a rejection—even many rejections—don’t give up. If you truly believe you’ve written the best possible story, if that story means something to you, who knows…it may be the next best seller.