Recently,
a friend asked me how an editor can tell that an author has found genuine “voice”?
That’s
a deep and profound question.
I only
wish I had a concrete answer.
The truth
is, I cannot speak for all editors, because editing, like critique, or a reader’s preference is subjective. This means that I come into the editing process
predisposed to look at certain areas of the story. Many authors have heard it said that an editor
can tell if the manuscript is right for them after the first five pages.
Literary Agent, Noah Lukeman, wrote a book entitled: The First Five Pages in which he sets out those things that he
looks for within the first five pages that tells him if the work is ready for
publication. I can attest that his assessment is correct. In most cases, I can
tell within the first five pages if I believe a work is ready. This
has mainly to do with mechanics.
However,
on a few occasions, an author’s voice has shined through to me in my review of
submissions, and despite a lack of mechanics, I read a little further. If that
voice continues to resonate with me, I continue deeper and deeper into the
story. If that voice is like the Pied Pier for me, and I finish the story, I’m
more than likely going to ask for a contract. I cannot give you a definition of
“voice” or how I recognize it. I hear it when I read it. It’s like beautiful
music. It catches me and carries me away. Still, though, the music that carries me away in a novel might sound to another editor like someone playing out of tune.
I have
an unpublished friend. If someone asked me to pick out her novels from among the works of ten other
authors, I’d be able to do so. I can hear her reading the story to me. She
writes in deep point of view without narrative telling, but she is there, and
her words are beautiful. I recently met another author whose stories resonated with me. His voice carried me away into his stories.
Author John Otte is another writer whose voice blows
me away. I’d never met John prior to reading his book, but the voice he lends
to first person in his Failstate
novels captured me and tuned me into young adult fiction, which I now love to review and acquire for Pelican’s Watershed imprint. Tracy Bowman and Jenness
Walker caught my attention from the first page of their novel Bliss and made me laugh from that page
until the very last page. If I could describe what captures me as a reader about
these unique authors, I might possibly make a lot of money. Voice is one question all
writers would like to define, but it’s as hard to tie down as the wind.
The truth
is, voice is subjective. What resonates with one editor or reader does not
resonate with another. This is true in all arenas of writing…from the creation
stage (what type of stories do you, the writer, like to write?), through critique (do all your critique partners always agree with you about the way your story is written?), submission (you have to find that editor who appreciates your voice), and even marketing (not every reader will like what you present). Different voices draw
the attention of different people.
My
suggestion for any author attempting to capture the magic of “voice” is to allow himself the freedom to roam among the pages. This
does not in any way mean that a work of fiction should have an ounce of author
intrusion. When an author puts a little of his heart into each character, I truly
believe a unique voice will shine through.

Happy
editing.

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