A while ago, Kathy Teamen posted a list of things that editors are thinking about when they read manuscripts. The whole list is good, but my favorite item on the list is this one:
Am I personally moved by this story or situation?
This is a question that matters in two ways, I think.
First, this is the way I edit. At some level, when I revise my stories, I'm always gauging how I feel about what's happening. In every book I've written, there are parts that I find myself skimming over or moving past without really seeing them. These are the parts, I have learned, that are the boring parts.
Yeah, that's a harsh truth.
But it is a truth. When I, the author, am not moved by a certain scene, that means that it's not, well, moving.
Of course, every scene doesn't have to be high melodrama, but even the parts of stories where characters have to share information or things have to be described, the scenes can be moving. There can be conflict and character detail. Things can be moving.
The second way in which the question is useful is that it reveals that editors are creatures of taste. When they read, they are waiting to be moved. And what moves them, just like any readers, varies from editor to editor.* I got plenty of rejections before Agent Ted said yes. Almost every author gets plenty of rejections.** Once you've got all your writing ducks in a row, the trick is to find a publishing professional who gets your stuff, who likes your stuff, who is moved by your stuff.
* This, by the way, is part of the reason why those publishing stunts -- where someone takes a book by, like, Jane Austen or someone and queries it and gets rejected -- don't mean anything. Besides all the other reasons (like, for example, the fact that the agent or editor recognizes the book and just decides not to waste her time), it's possible that the editor or agent doesn't actually like Austen. Crazy to contemplate, I know, but true. Some people don't like Austen. Some people don't like Shakespeare. Or King. Or Rowling. Or EVERY SINGLE AUTHOR WHO'S EVER WRITTEN ANYTHING EVER.
** There are exceptions, of course--there always are--but those are EXCEPTIONS. Everyone, even those who are exceptions, will tell you that.