How would modern romance publishers react if Margaret Mitchell was submitting Gone With The Wind today?
From: Today’s romance publishers
To: Margaret Mitchell
Regarding: Your submission, currently titled Gone With the Wind
Dear Ms. Mitchell:
Thank you for the opportunity to review your Civil War novel. We regret that we must take a pass on the book at this time. However, since you are an excellent writer, we are happy to take the time to make suggestions in the hope that a revision would be more likely to meet with a positive response from publishers and readers.
We find that the era for saga novels has passed, because readers today have a much shorter attention span. In its present form the novel is far too large and unwieldy, and we suggest that you think hard about which story you are most interested in telling. Right now there is far too much war and too many potential heroes for the story to be a romance. Honestly, does Scarlett really need to collect every man she meets?
Perhaps you’ll want to consider dividing the experiences which you have given to Scarlett among the three O’Hara sisters and creating a trilogy. We have found that trilogies about sisters sell well in today’s publishing climate. This would allow you to deal with each story at a more manageable length and create a true romance with each sister having her own hero. (Of course, sell-through figures on the first book would determine whether the second and third were of interest to the publisher.)
We find that our readers do not respond well to Civil War settings, and frankly the cast of your novel and the treatment of your African-American characters is (how do we put this gently?) somewhat racist. Perhaps you would find it an inviting challenge to re-envision the novel as a Regency, set in England against the background of the Napoleonic Wars. Rhett would be a natural as a rakish earl, and Scarlett might be the spoiled daughter of a duke. We suggest modifying his signature line to “Frankly, Lady Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”
You might also consider strengthening the paranormal elements which already exist in the story (you have hinted that Scarlett is something of a witch).
Furthermore, we don’t understand your title, and since there doesn’t seem to be a single wind metaphor in the entire novel we suggest renaming the book The Southern Rebel Blockade-Running Rake’s Gold-digging Bride.
We hope that you find our comments useful and that you are eager to tackle this revision with an eye to strengthening your story and possibly making it saleable. These suggestions, of course, should not be interpreted as an indication that we would actually buy the book if you revise it along the lines we have suggested.
(My thanks to the students in my Gotham Writers Workshop Master Class, who contributed ideas and enthusiasm to this project.)