Writers in the Storm

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October 28, 2011

Blogging Guest - Sue Grimshaw: Acquiring Editor's Checklist

We're so honored to have Sue Grimshaw, editor at Random House's Romance at Random, back with us today. How often do you get to glimpse an editor's checklist? Wow!

Here's Sue:

Hello friends at Writers in the Storm!

Thanks for having me back!  A few of the writers have asked me to give you some highlights on how my job has been going.  Can you believe a little over 7 mos has already gone by!  Well, maybe you can, but I still have to pinch myself. *grins*

It was late March when I left Borders as Romance Buyer and accepted my position at BBD as Category Specialist & Editor At Large. Once on board, we immediately began working on our website & then launched Romance At Random in late June. Soon after, we re-launched the Loveswept line, August 8. 

All along I have been acquiring books, as well as learning & developing new editing skills while brushing up on new computer languages by taking a few courses in HTML, CSS & Java Script (last two courses I’ll be attending over the next few months)! Woot –makes me tired just typing that!

Busy?  Yes.  Enjoying it?  More than ever imagined.   Learning a lot?  More than you will ever know.

One of the things I’ve found useful has been my editing checklist.  As I started reading thru the vast number of manuscripts I had been receiving I realized I needed to organize my thoughts. 

I needed something that would help me determine if the book/MS actually had all the elements of a good story (and if not, could it?).  I’ve learned that I am a person that needs process & must write things down . . . .ie: Sue’s Editing Checklist.

I’m not sure how helpful this will be for you but thought it would be fun to share and get your comments.  Bottom line, this is a basic checklist that I’ve been using to help me determine what books would work best for the Loveswept line. 

I’m eager to hear your comments and hope we can develop a good discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts . . . Ok, ready?

Sue’s Editing Checklist

  1. How does the story begin. Does it have a good hook?
  2. Is there a prologue & do we need it?  Read the story without it & see if it made a difference.
  3. 1st – 2nd – 3rdperson?  What sub-genre is it really?
  4. Is there a balanced mix of action, narrative summary, and dialogue?
  5. Does the action have a purpose? Is it moving the story forward? Is it believable?
  6. Is the story stuck in a rut? Sometimes writers get so interested in their characters that they start drifting off.
  7. Are the plot twists feasible? Believable?
  8. Do all of the subplots resolve by the end of the story?
  9. Is the dialogue necessary? Is it doing its job to advance the plot?
  10. Are the characters staying in character? True to their character arc?
  11. Does the protagonist have a clear arc?
  12. Is the story engaging the reader's senses? Does it use enough description so that readers get a sense of the setting and can visualize the characters?
  13. Show me don’t tell me . . . if you feel it while you’re writing it the reader will feel it while reading it .  .  . no negotiation on this one.
  14. Does each chapter or scene stay in a single point of view?
  15. This is the most important question of all: Is it any good? Will readers be interested in the story?

The questions are pretty straightforward, don’t you think?   I thought that a couple of them, however, might need a little explanation:

#2 – There seems to be some confusion about prologues – consensus is that publishers don’t want them. Not so. Some books need them – just make sure yours does.

Example:  Our debut author, Jessica Scott, BECAUSE OF YOU, (11/14/2011), did not have one.  As I read thru the story, I realized there was a back-story that needed to be briefly addressed to help the reader comfortably move into the story; that became our prologue and it is amazing how well that worked.

In another debut we’ve purchased and edited, the author began with a prologue.  Together we agreed that it did not offer anything different than what the reader learns in the first chapter, so we eliminated it.

#3 – Classic romance stories are best told in 3rd person at least that is what sells and what the reader prefers.  This is a general statement and guideline which has been overruled a few times already, but gives me a benchmark to work with.

Right now I’m reading a 1st person romance and interestingly enough, this is a story that would easily appeal to YA reader by just adjusting the age range of the characters a tad (from 20’s to 17).  In fact, because of the 1st person view, it would probably better sell in the YA sub-genre too.

#5 – Believable is HUGE!  Make sure your characters actions make sense, and are reasonable and understandable to the reader.

#6 – Ruts . . . . you know what they are?  The story hooks you and carries you through chapter 4-ish. And then dies . . . for whatever reason.  Sometimes it is easily fixable – other times, there is just not enough time to begin. . . .

#9 – Boy howdy!  Does there ever need to be a balance of dialogue and narrative!  I started a manuscript that was all dialogue and I had no idea what the story setting was, who the character’s were, what made them say the things they did . . . .I could not even continue with that story because I had no idea what it was about!

#12 – Engage the readers senses, this is so important . . . if I can’t see it, hear it, feel it then I’ll start losing interest in the story and, more importantly, the reader will too.  Feel what you’re writing so the reader can feel it when they are reading. 


From the war-torn streets of Baghdad to the bittersweet comforts of the home front, two wounded hearts navigate the battlefield of coming home from war in this explosive eBook original from newcomer Jessica Scott.
Keeping his men alive is all that matters to Sergeant First Class Shane Garrison. But meeting Jen St. James the night before his latest deployment makes Shane wonder if there’s more to life than war. He leaves for Iraq remembering a single kiss with a woman he’ll never see again—until a near fatal attack lands him back at home and in her care.
Jen has survived her own brush with death and endured its scars. And yet there’s a fire in Shane that makes Jen forget all about her past. He may be her patient, but when this warrior looks her in the eyes, she feels—for the first time in a long time—like a woman. Shane is too proud to ask for help, but for Jen, caring for him is more than a duty—it’s a need. And as Jen guides Shane through the fires of healing, she finds something she never expected—her deepest desire.

Just by reading this copy you see this is a book readers will feel deeply about – from the explosion in Baghdad to Shane’s love for Jen, this is a military romance that heightens your emotions to off-the-chart levels. Click here for more about this book.

ANNOUNCEMENT: One randomly chosen commenter on today's post will receive a sneak peek copy of BECAUSE OF YOU! 

Click here for more about our author, Jessica Scott.

Look at some of the quotes we’ve already received:

  • “Jessica Scott is an exciting new voice in romantic fiction who bursts upon the scene with an unputdownable debut novel! ”
    New York Times Bestselling Author, Robyn Carr
  • “Edgy and current—and a truly satisfying love story. Put this book, Jessica Scott’s, BECAUSE OF YOU, on your “must read” list.”
    New York Times Bestselling Author, Suzanne Brockmann
  • “Crackling with realism, sizzling with sexual tension, and pulsing with emotion, Jessica Scott has penned an unforgettable military romance that delivers heartache and hope on every page.”
    New York Times Bestselling Author, Roxanne St. Claire
  • “Authentic, emotional, and edgy, Jessica Scott’s sweeping military romance is a vivid snapshot of love, war, grief and–above all–hope.” –
    Allison Brennan, NYT Bestselling Author of If I Should Die
  • “Watch out Navy SEALS, there’s a new hero in town and he’s wearing Army gray! Because of You is a beautifully crafted, wonderfully emotional debut.”
    New York Times Bestselling Author, JoAnn Ross
  •  BECAUSE OF YOU is a tough and tender romance that proves the one thing worth fighting for will always be true love. Jessica Scott is a vibrant new voice in contemporary romance!”
    New York Times Bestselling author, Teresa Medeiros
  •  BECAUSE OF YOU is powerful, timely and wonderfully executed. Jessica Scott should be on every reader’s list.”
    New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Brenda Novak

Thanks so much for having me here today -- I have a soft spot in my heart for WITS. You all have been so supportive of me and my ventures. I'd love to hear from you all!

Happy Romance, Sue G

0 comments on “Blogging Guest - Sue Grimshaw: Acquiring Editor's Checklist”

  1. Sue,
    Great to see you back at WITS! Your checklist is very enlightening. It's good for us writers to know what you're looking for and NOT looking for. Thanks for sharing this useful info, and Jessica Scott is on my list. Because of You sounds like a wonderful story.

    1. Enjoy Nicole -- I'm sure the checklist will grow in time -- that's when I'll come back & share the updates with WITS

  2. Love the check list Sue. It can and should be applied to any genre. Sometimes the unsaid needs to be stated. Having clear guidelines doesn't mean you have to live within them if it works, but they give us something to reach for when the story doesn't work. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Enjoyed the interview and loved the checklist, Sue. Thanks for an insider's view from behind editor lines. Will definitely be watching for Jessica and her new release. Thanks for the visit!

  4. It is always a pleasure to fine another great post from WITS and this morning was no exception. Thank you, Sue. I think your checklist can be applied to any story. It contains all the elements we want to look for in our own stories as well the ones we read. Because Of You sounds like a beautiful story 🙂 This post "shows" us how much you love your work.

    1. Thank you -- yes, the checklist is basic enough and should be applicable for most genres & for the overall Fiction category. You figure if the MS don't contain these basic needs, well . .. you know 😉

  5. Thanks so much for this list! I'm in the final edits of my MS before I start querying as well as starting a new book, so this is perfect for me. Congrats on the new(ish) job and glad you're enjoying it:)

  6. This is a great checklist--something to look at during the revisions of a story, to make sure eveyrthing is there that should be there, and to confirm nothing that shouldn't be there has sneaked in. I'm looking forward to Jessica's book. It sounds wonderful.

  7. Thank you Sue for your check list and for getting me out of a "readers rut" I love Mary Balogh books you suggested.I can't wait for Jessica's book. I love the cover.

    1. Hey there --- Balogh is awesome and saves me from those ruts as well. Madeline Hunter - The Charmer; The Sinner, etc., can't remember the name of that series, but is another guaranteed Calgon take me away moment - I hope you enjoy BECAUSE OF YOU - Shane stole my heart.

  8. This has been a wonderfully informative interiew, Sue. Your checklist is fantastic. I also enjoyed reading about Jessica Scott's upcoming ebook. It's always terrific to discover new authors. 🙂

  9. Sue, I'm printing off your editing checklist and posting it on my board! Maybe it'll make my first round of revisions more thorough. But you're comments are always spot on and I think having insight into how you get to them really gives writers, even writers who may not work with you, a chance to step back and look critically at their own work, which IMHO is one of the most crucial skills for an author.

    I'm so flattered to see that folks are anxious to read Shane's book. Shane and Jen really are the book of my heart and it's so daunting to see them get ready to hit prime time!

  10. Thanks for posting this very helpful information. I look forward to reading Jessica's book. I love reading books about suffering heroes.

  11. I feel that this is a very helpful post, both as a reader and a writer. It's interesting, as a reader, to sort of get an idea of how the publishing houses and editors might think when choosing manuscripts for publishing. And it's interesting for those aspiring to write in that it gives us an idea of what to look out for in our own works.

    Thanks for the very helpful article!

  12. Great list for writers! The more writing worksheets and checklists I collect, the more I realize they come down to a few elements that can be readily numbered -- like this! -- on one page. And in the end, it really comes down to #15.

  13. WOOT - Jessica rocks & her story does too -- BACK TO YOU inspires you equally so, book 2 in the series.

    These books are solid love stories.

  14. This was a most valuable post! Thanks for the list, which will likely grace the files of all writers who read this, Sue!

    And I'm so excited about Jess's book. Heavens knows she's an excellent writer, and I don't know anyone more deserving of the chance to strut her stuff.

  15. Thanks, Sue. This list is definitely a keeper. Jessica's book sounds fantastic too. Please count me in on the drawing 🙂

  16. Really interesting post. thx for the insight.

    Please count me in for the drawing - the book sounds great.

    hankts AT internode DOT on DOT net

  17. This was very interesting to read especially since I am planning on doing a romance for my NaNo project

    I'll be keeping this checklist in mind

  18. Thank you for the clarification about prologues. For genres such as science fiction and epic fantasy, prologues are common and can be quite necessary.

    I struggle with this, because my paranormal novel (non-romance) starts with a 3,000-word prologue. It's not part of the characters' present-day story, but it offers a glimpse into the vampires' history through a first-person view set in the 19th century (far more potent than the character's brief memories of the events). With paranormal characters living longer than normal lives, some back story is expected and necessary.

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