Someone sent me a link yesterday to a blog written by an editor (http://edittorrent.blogspot.com) that reinforces what six years in this busines has taught me: editors (and agents as well) don't read much before deciding if your work will be rejected.
I don't blame them. They're deluged with material, since the computer has made writing a book possible for almost anyone. They know what they're looking for and over time have honed their skills so they can spot it early on, or at least spot what is NOT what they want.
The question is, what does that teach those of us submitting manuscripts? (Warning: I don't think this will surprise you if you've been querying for long.)
1. The MS must be as perfect as you can possibly make it. No mistakes, proper format, and businesslike presentation. When I present workshops on this subject I can always spot the people in the audience who've been submitting their work on pretty paper or in eye-catching folders. There's a look of surprise: "You mean it's not good to be different?" Blessed are they who believe, for they shall get a few more seconds' consideration.
2. The writing, the first sentence, first paragraph, first page, must be your best shot at grabbing interest (it's called a hook). Yes, you have to deliver later, but there is no later if the hook doesn't set.
3. You have to prove that you know the standards. Study what a query letter should look like, what a synopsis should contain, and how sample chapters are set up. Study everything you can find on that particular agent or editor's preferences. It's maddening sometimes how one wants the first line of a chapter indented and the next doesn't, but every iota on the plus side is good.
4. (And final) It has to be both good AND current. You only control the "good" part. I suppose you could write to the current trend, but chances are it will be gone before you get there. Write what you're good at, revise it until it's as good as it gets, and then submit.
If you build it (really, really well, and if it fits what that particular reader is looking for on that particular day,) they will come.