Mining for Heart: An Editor’s Point of View

This month, I’m honored to feature Sylvie Frank, editor at Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster. Thank you, Sylvie, for sharing your thoughts!

SF headshotBuying a book is an investment. It’s an investment for the publisher that acquires it, the library that buys it for its collection, and for the reader who buys it at the bookstore. How do you get people to reach for their wallets to pick your book over all the others? You guessed it: heart.

Lots of very smart people have already discussed the literary aspects of Mining for Heart. So I want to talk about heart from an editorial and business point of view. Here’s what our editorial meetings look like: Every Tuesday afternoon the Paula Wiseman Books team sits down to talk about the submissions we’ve read that week. (Full disclosure: Paula and Sarah Jane are sitting in New York City. I am sitting in Boulder, Colorado. We chat via FaceTime.) We take turns reading aloud from submissions that have captured our interest. Yes, we talk about the author’s publishing history and sales track. We talk about similar books already on the market and sales potential. But mostly we talk about the literary merit. Does it have a strong, relatable character? Does it have a real plot with a beginning, middle, and end? Does the writing blow us away? But then we turn to the most important point: heart.

We call heart by a lot of different terms in our meetings. We call it theme, the so-what, and, one I coined myself (or at least I think I did), the re-readability factor. Yep, it’s a mouthful. Here’s the thing: it’s not enough for a book to have a good character, a plot, and nice writing. For someone to fork over $16.99 for it, they have to feel confident that the book will be worth readFullSizeRendering over and over. Each time that book is read, the reader should find deeper meaning and more nuanced characters.

Take a moment to remember the last book you read. That moment when you closed the cover – what were you thinking about? Were you smiling? Frowning? Laughing? When I’m reading a submission, that’s the moment I ponder. I ask myself what a kid reader is left with when the book is shut. If it’s a particularly heartfelt, re-readable book, a kid reader should have a question at the end. A good book starts a conversation. Heart, then, is less about the emotional content of the book itself. It’s about how it lingers in the heart of the reader.

5 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: An Editor’s Point of View

  1. My heart is lingering on this post. That slippery, je ne sais quoi, that you can’t put your finger on. I think I fall short in this area so often, it’s dis-heartening. And I’m only smiling a little as I write that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sylvie’s last line lingered with me…and the “conversation” really rings true. I think that it’s not only the story itself, but also that a reader interacts with text in the reading process, in negotiating meaning, and then the metacognitive process with the story as well. Such a delicate balance of leaving space but not leaving gaps. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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