Interesting question. At first I thought that a checklist would be counterproductive since writing is not scientific and I would hate to make it so, and then I thought a little more and realized that in some ways I do have a checklist, just nothing I’ve ever put down on paper.
First things first, when I read an author’s work, and this is whether or not I’m considering it for representation or reading a new proposal/manuscript by a client, is gut. If I lose all perspective of time and place, my heart starts to beat faster and I can’t put the book down, I know the book has real potential. Once I’m lost in the book I start to read with a more technical eye. I think about plotting and characters and how it’s all working or not working.
While I don’t have a specific checklist and don’t plan to put one together, I do have a list of questions that I’ve asked my readers to consider when writing a reader’s report for me. These are hopefully general enough that it won’t make my interns think publishing is about writing to a formula, yet specific enough to give me and my readers something to really think about when evaluating a manuscript or proposal.
- What was it about?
- Did the overall idea seem different and unique?
- Was it a common theme, but executed in a unique way?
- What did you think of the author’s voice?
- Did the characters seem real and likeable?
- Was the plot seamless and did it make sense or were there a lot of holes?
- Were you able to easily figure out what happened or did the author keep you guessing?
- Is this a book that would seem to have viability in the market?
- Are there other popular books you could relate this to?
- Are there too many similar books to make this stand out?
- What is the author’s platform? If nonfiction, is this an author with a great deal of visibility in the market (TV, radio, speaking engagements, etc.)?
- Has the author been previously published? With whom?
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer to these questions, it’s just a starting off point for my evaluation of the material. I would also add that I’d like you to be cautious of writing checklists. I think they can be helpful, but I also fear that they make writing stiff and prevent the author from really letting her creative juices flow. And that’s what we want, we want those juices to flow.