Five Questions To Ask Before You Dive Into The Second Draft Of Your Novel

By Orel Protopopescu

Adah Megged NuchiAdah Megged Nuchi, Associate Editor at HMH Books for Young Readers, filled a room at the Huntington Public Library on October 18. HMH publishes about 40 hard cover books a season and Adah’s own list includes everything from picture books to YA novels. She favors voice and character-driven fiction. Among the books she has edited, she cited Dear Life, You Suck, Turn Left at the Cow, and the soon to be published, The Question of Miracles.

With humor and candor, Adah took a rapt crowd through her acquisition and editorial processes. She often reads submissions on her commute to and from work. If she keeps reading after she arrives, she knows she has something good. Then she asks: What’s not working? Is enough going on in this story? Is it too similar to other books?

In picture books, she likes to see a fresh approach to universal childhood experiences. She is not averse to rhyming picture books, so long as they are done well. In MG and YA novels, she mostly reads contemporary books, although also loves historical fiction, especially books set in the first half of the 20th Century. (She just edited a book about the 1918 flu epidemic.)

She outlined five ingredients of a story, giving numerous examples. To summarize: Be clear about what your protagonist wants and the actions taken to achieve those goals. Make sure all supporting characters are necessary, as well as subplots. Eliminate clichés. Keep your tone consistent while giving the voice variety. Give the voice a human range, not one emotion.

As for word counts, Adah said, with amusing precision, “write what you need to write to say what you have to say, but remember that for a busy editor, it’s important to make every word count!”

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Orel Protopopescu is an award-winning poet and children’s author. Thelonious Mouse, a picture book, was SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Winner, 2012, for the New York metro region. What Remains, a chapbook of poems, appeared in 2011. A Word’s a Bird, her bilingual (English/French) poetry app for iPad, was chosen by SLJ as one of the best apps of 2013. You can check out her website at   http://www.orelprotopopescu.com

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