I've been having car trouble lately. When a 'check engine' light comes on, I pay attention.
Turns out, in addition to the big-ticket part, the experts found one niggly wire that had a leak. The fuel tank had to be dropped in order to get to it, but in the end, that one little leak made the difference between success and failure.
Which made me think of producing a manuscript... of course. Possibly because the wire reminds me of a hook.
I recently participated in judging some books for the RITA contest. The finalists were announced this past week, and, like most romance authors, I spent some time trying to decipher why these particular books made it into the final round. I looked at their Amazon ranks, number of reviews, read the blurbs and came to a conclusion. It only takes one little thing to make a book rise from being good to being, as Tony The Tiger says, "G-R-R-EAT!"
What is that one little thing? If I had the answer, I'd be on the bestseller list. But my thinking after doing this research is that one little thing is a great hook. Take a traditional trope and turn it on its ear. Hook the reader with your opening scene, your opening line. If you write historicals, try to insert something modern, like Tessa Dare accomplished in her book When A Scot Ties The Knot and her Captain MacDreamy. Fans of Gray's Anatomy get it and laugh at the cleverness, and Miss Dare does it while never dropping the historic bent of the book.
I could cite a couple of examples from the current crop of RITA books, but I can't go into detail on which books I've read. But the overriding thread, the hook, in each of them is they are extremely clever. You can have a really well-written book, but if it's not got something to draw a reader in, it's only going to be that, a good, well-written book like the thousands of others released each year. You can go through your checklist, remove and rewrite huge chunks of the book. You can tweak little parts of your story. You can have a pro look at it, help you polish it to a shine. But unless you can find the elusive niggly wire that will make people talk about it, want to read it, you'll remain in the mid list.
I'm working on finding that niggly wire.