The first thing I noticed was that as soon as I opened one of these books, as soon as I was in a position to professionally evaluate fiction, my standards went through the roof. All of a sudden, good enough wasn't good enough anymore. Books I would have praised from family and friends were subjected to a level of criticism that surprised even me ... and this was instructive. It was like I suddenly looked through the window that agents and editors see every day, and I understood, in a way I never had before, why a book has to be nearly perfect before they'll commit.
The second thing I noticed was this: if I was an acquisitions editor, I would have passed on every book I've read recently. Every. Single. One. And I would have done it quickly, often within the first 10 pages. As an editor, I'm paid to finish, so I do, but it's amazing how quickly you can tell it's just not there. My friend Erica calls this the "meh" factor, and that's as good a word as any.
In a few cases, I think I see potential. The next question is: will the author do the work? And a surprising number of times, the answer is no. Many people seem unable to confront the professional, solid advice that's staring them in the face. I can't tell you how many times I've left detailed editorial comments on a manuscript only to have the author ignore every single one or write an equally detailed defense. I can only hope I'm not unwittingly among that number ...
My last thought was this: exposure to this seemingly never-ending flow of hopeful, often clumsy, but occasionally authentic fiction is like standing too close to a fire. You can feel all that burning desire out there, the thinly disguised traces of desperation in the Introductions and author e-mails, and it's just a little ... overwhelming. I often say that I wish all of my writer friends and I could get seven-figure contracts and retire to a tropical island forever. But when you really see the volume out there, you realize that the island would be the size of Greenland.