Questions Editors Ask

It’s always a good idea to build a mental model for yourself of the questions editors ask themselves when they read a novel. Novels are tricky things, and there are so many things we authors have to get right if we want to sell our work to an editor, since even one major flaw could lose a book readers (and therefore sink a sale to an editor). So it’s useful to have a pretty extensive checklist, to help one’s own beta readers focus on the right issues when reading a draft.

So, without further fuss, here’s the list I’ve gradually built for my own use. It’s focused on what makes a good YA fantasy novel, so it may need some tweaks for other genres, but I think it covers a lot of useful ground.

    What was your overall reaction to the novel?

  • Did you fall in love with it?
  • If not, did you at least enjoy it?
  • Did you finish reading it?
  • If you did not enjoy, or stopped early, where did you turn off, and why?
  • If there are any sequels (or this is the start of a trilogy), would you want to buy the next book?
  • If you can identify one book that is similar to this one in its themes and its overall quality, which book would that be?
    What was your response to the opening (especially the prologue and first chapter)?

  • Did it engage your interest?
  • Did it prepare you to enter into the world of the story effectively?
  • Did it seem obvious or typical, or striking or different in any way?
    What is your overall reaction to the protagonist and her voice as expressed in the story?

  • Did she have a distinctive voice?
  • Did you get a clear sense of her personality? Did you get a strong or a weak impression of her as a person?
  • Were you able to connect/relate with the main character as a person?
  • If so, did anything specific make you love her or hate her? If so, what?
  • Does the voice feel young adult, or does it have more of an adult feel?
  • Did you get a clear sense of her goals soon enough?
  • Did she take charge or seem too passive?
    How does the protagonist develop? Did you find that development interesting and satisfying?

  • Does she change over the course of the story? If so, how?
  • Does the way her character arc develops make sense?
  • Is the way her arc unfolds ultimately satisfying?
    How do you feel about the world building?

  • Was the world building clear or confusing?
  • Was exposition handled smoothly or intrusively?
  • How interesting is the world?
  • Did the world seem original or derivative? Will the book stand out compared to other books on similar themes?
  • What kind of atmosphere is created? What effect does that have on you as a reader?
  • How did you react to the way people and places are named? Did it draw you in or put you off? Did the names seem to fit the characters, setting, and/or atmosphere?
    How do you feel about how the storytelling was structured?

  • Was the plot easy to follow?
  • Were character motivations clear?
  • Did the way events unfold from character motivations seem natural or even inevitable, or trivial and obvious?
  • Did the pacing seem too fast or too slow?
  • Were action scenes effective and engaging?
  • How often did you experience the need to just read a little more, vs. tending to tune out and only go back to the book later? Were there any page-turning moments, or did you feel less than compelled to read on?
  • How familiar are the themes in the story? Were the tropes ones you enjoy? Was there anything interesting in how they were developed, or did they seem too familiar?
    How do you feel about the actual writing — the language used?

  • Did it flow well?
  • Did it seem rough or polished?
  • Could you connect with it?
  • Did it draw you in, or fall more flat?

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