Two weeks later and I am still thinking about the spotlight session on St. Martin’s Press at RWA’s National Conference in Manhattan.
I had decided to take that particular day and have a little fun. Choose workshops that weren’t necessarily honed in on craft, possibly pop in on a book signing or two and I’m so glad I did. I had no idea what the “spotlights” on the publishing houses were going to be about but one of my favorite authors writes for SMP and so I found a seat and debated whether or not I’d need my notebook. Just to be on the safe side, I dug it out of my overstuffed bag and relaxed into my seat. I scribbled a header on my blank note page and thought that I’d probably be jotting down submission guidelines once things got started. What I found myself voraciously copying down once the ladies of SMP began their presentation was not just information I could easily find on a website somewhere but truly invaluable insight that was only being shared there in that room!
The question the editors posed, “What makes us buy a book?” (The room’s posture collectively became a little straighter, eyes and ears perked up.)
The answer, “An interesting voice.” (An internal erggh, “But what is that?” silently bounced off the walls.)
They then each took a turn at reading the passages from books that hooked them into wanting more and eventually buying. For some it was a relatable character they’d become invested in, for others a great set-up, lush details or an emotionally intense scene. Sometimes the hook leaped out at them right from the first pages while one editor noted that her favorite passage hadn’t revealed itself to her until well into the second chapter. (A sigh of relief from those of us who need a few more pages to get good and meaty.)
It got me thinking about how my favorite passages or moments from the truly unique and memorable books I’ve read are still right there in my mind. Completely unforgettable and also unique to me, the reader, a bit like they are to editors. I’d like to share a few of mine:
“Orange is the second color of the rainbow. It’s bright and sticks out like your husband in a crowd.” From the essay “The Rainbow Means Life” by Alexandria Soto-Flores. This fresh and touching way to describe the color struck me right away and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
The cherry-flavored salad dressing discussion amongst Olivia Cunning’s rock stars on a trip to the grocery store in Backstage Pass. The heat level in this book is the highest I’ve ever gone but what had me cracking up and loving it, what gave it heart for me, are scenes like this one that come out of nowhere and tickle your giggle bone.
Kristan Higgin’s wheelchair bound grandma in Too Good to be True when she compares Meme’s ramming the chair into Grace’s shins to be as “ruthless as Ramses bearing down on the fleeing Hebrew slaves.” I once thanked Kristan for giving us Callahan O’Shea from this wonderful book but I wish I’d have thought to thank her for weaving in passages like this one that make us laugh in spite of the fact that it’s a painful situation we’re really dealing with.
These are only a few examples of what I believe the St. Martin’s Press editors were trying to convey to us that day in their spotlight. That special and unique voice that we all have, just waiting to become a reader’s favorite passage.
Even if you can’t recall the exact words, what are some of your favorite parts of books, the ones that you’ll never forget? Please share.