Michael Stearns is an Editorial Director at HarperCollins — he says there are seven Editorial Directors there.
He tends to buy:
1) “genre novels with literary hooks”
2) books that are “smart funny” (not slapstick)
He doesn’t like issue novels, historical fiction or books on Native Americans. However, he brought up A Northern Light, which is a historical coming-of-age story. But as he says, “who cares? You read it because you want to know who did it!”
He doesn’t care why you write the book (he doesn’t even want to know why you wrote it); he just wants to like it.
Comedy = Tragedy + Time (or Tragedy + Distance).
While we’re writing, we should ask ourselves, “does it hurt yet?” If there’s an emotional core to our story, it should HURT when we write. We, as authors, should feel something at key moments in the story.
I thought the last half of his talk was the most interesting. He put up eleven examples of first pages from novels he’s edited (or novels he loves)…we even got copies of all these first pages…and told us why they were such wonderful openings. I scrawled notes all over my pages. What a wonderful way to see what this one editor responds to! I wish all editors would do that at conferences…