Editors and Agents are constantly answering the question “What are you looking for?” with some variation on “A really good book.”
This is, of course, the ultimate truth. No editor or agent wants to put the effort into a project they don’t like. It is such an obvious truth that it is of no use whatsoever to the average writer.
The problem is that we are all human. Editors, agents, writers, publishers, readers, everyone involved with the publishing industry has a unique opinion on what is or is not good. Personal taste plays an enormous roll, and can be very hard to pin down.
I love my work. I love every book I’ve ever written, even the ones that were DOA. There is a chance I may be the only one in the world who does. Still, if you ask me if my books are good, I will tell you yes. Of course they are. I consider most of them to be “a really good book.” That doesn’t mean I should send any of them off to just anyone or to everyone.
Thus I am stuck with that hideous question, “What do you like?”
I understand why agents and editors respond with to the question with a generalized answer. They don’t want to pin themselves down when a particularly well written and engaging story can make them change their minds about particular genres or styles or what have you. Nor do they wish to be flooded with books about peacocks or granola bars after having mentioned an interest in them.
Consider the question from a reader’s perspective. As a reader I am quite willing to read any book so good that my friends place a copy in my hands and say “You have got to read this!” I will read such a book even when it is a variety I would not otherwise give a second glance. But when I reach for a book that I have no reason to believe will be any better than what I normally read, I generally reach for the same sort of things repeatedly.
Most writers I know, including myself, firmly believe we write something people will enjoy while also recognizing that our books are not necessarily the best things ever written. We want to put them in the hands of editors and agents who would naturally reach for this kind of book simply because it’s the kind they like. That is why we keep asking the same questions.
What do you like? What are you looking for now? How about a light hearted Romantic Suspense with a lot of sensuality, a quirky sense of humor, and a truly horrific bad guy? How about sensual Historical Romances set in Regency England? How about High Fantasy? Sensual Science Fiction? Private Investigators?
The question isn’t going away. Writers prefer to reduce the amount of rejection they have to suffer as much as possible. Finding someone with the right tastes is part of that effort. Short of flinging our work on an unsuspecting desk and hoping for the best, the fastest way to know if it’s the right place for a given book is to listen to the answer to that question.