Question: What characteristics get a book published? And how is the publishing done?
Writing teacher, Brian Henry, often says in his workshops that it takes three things to get a book published:
1. A good manuscript.
However, he adds that you often only need two of the three. Sometimes bad books get published because the writer is persistent and lucky. Sometimes writers with a good manuscript get lucky and make a sale before their perseverance is tested. And writers with bad luck can still sell their work if they persevere long enough.
By perseverance, I mean continuing to approach publishers and agents, even though you keep getting rejections.
Most successful writers collect a lot of rejections before they make a sale. Many of the most successful and popular books were rejected numerous times.
The tragedy of this business is that there are almost certainly a lot of great manuscripts that never get published because the author was unlucky and didn't have enough emotional strength to persevere in the face of numerous rejections.
Of course, you could also argue that the difference between the number of great manuscripts and the number of titles published each year makes the odds too steep for the average aspiring writer.
A third view is that the number of manuscripts being sent around to agents and publishers is so high that agents and editors cannot take enough time to properly assess each manuscript they see. (They often make their decision based on
the first page alone.)
Fourthly, agents and editors more often hold the view that the real problem is that the number of bad manuscripts vastly exceeds the number of good ones, so that finding a manuscript worth publishing is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And too be fair, their job is on the line if they choose to support the wrong books.
Getting back to your question...
The characteristics that determine if a book is worthy of being published vary with the genre.
For instance, sometimes it's a matter of potential sales - which can depend on a host of factors such as...
- the author's style and writing ability (in particular the creation of an intriguing voice)
- a solid and engaging plot structure
- appealing characters
- a topical subject matter or theme
- the author's fame
- the popularity of the genre
- appeal to a particular readership
On the other hand, if potential sales was the only factor that counted, no one would ever publish a book of poetry or literary criticism. Such books are published on presumed merit.
If you want an overview of the traditional route to publication, take a look at this article...
However, there are also many emerging forms of self-publishing that writers are turning to either because they want total control over their work or out of frustration with the traditional process. Your chances of making money or earning critical acclaim are slim with these routes, but you never know.