Ok, so since you’re writers, I’m assuming you’re also voracious readers. So I’m going to use an analogy that, I hope, might make it easier to understand what agents, editors, and, in our case, mentors, are thinking when we’re considering projects. Bear in mind: THIS IS SUCH A SUBJECTIVE INDUSTRY. This is my view, from helping with 2 contests now, chatting with other industry connected people/friends, and interning for, oh, about 2 years now. (Actually, 2 years as of this month! I didn’t even notice!)
So imagine if you went into a book store. You have a budget (On the mentor side: We can only pick 1 and an alternate. Agents can only take on so many clients, and they can’t take on too many who write similar things, because they’ll compete against each other. Editors have to pick things that fit with their house’s overall style and that they can get marketing and sales on board with… which yes, inherently limits the kinds of projects that will sell in any given genre). You have to stay within your budget, and you can’t exchange what you pick. Once you decide Yes, I want this, you are stuck with it.
Now, imagine you have a running high score table for these books. If it turns out awful, well, that’s the breaks. If it turns into something amazing, you reap the rewards.
OK, following me so far? Good.
There’s no way for you to read every book in this bookstore. The sales staff is, well, a little over zealous. They crowd around you… And I’m sorry, but I can’t resist this image… like zombies, but instead of wanting to eat your flesh, they want you to read their book. There’s hundreds of these people, all convinced that if you just give it a chance, you’ll love it. You know, coming in, that you can’t take them all.
So you pick up a book. You read the back blurb… it rambles on for several pages of impossibly small type. You see one that has a pretty cover. You grab it, setting the rambley one aside as its sales rep slinks off to gnaw on their pride. Meanwhile, the sales force has tripled. You look for a friendly coffee shop, but alas, it’s not in your budget this trip. You grab the one with the pretty cover, but the back blurb is written in Italian, and you have no idea what it says. Except there’s some text that looks like it’s been run through Google Translate or Bablefish, “My book good, you love book, read me!”. You say, “buonanotte” and hand that book back.
You decide to try to impose some order, and stand on one of the overstuffed chairs. “OK, what I need is everyone to get in line. I’ll look at every book, but stay in line.”
They don’t listen. Some few shuffle into something vaguely resembling a line (AKA following submission guidelines), so you start there.
The book in Italian has shoved her way back to the front. “You like. It movie!”
Confused and annoyed, you say, “No grazie”.
Another book, fortunately one you haven’t seen before. It looks like a book, but then it’s really a script with 3 dimensional pop out elements that they need someone else to fill in for them, but surely the concept alone will be enough to show you how brilliant this idea is, right?
Yeah. Sure. And if you could pick all the books, and work with every single one of them to make them amazing, you can see how it could be awesome. But it needs too much work.
You keep reading. Some sound like they’ll be good, but then when you open to the first page, there’s clear issues from the get go. Others, you read into a bit, but after a while, you don’t want to read anymore. All the while, the sales zombies are pressing on you, declaring you are wasting your time with that one and you should read theirs, so you do.
After book 50 without finding anything you fall in love with, and 4 more attempts by the book in Italian, you sigh and stretch. There’s one book with an unremarkable cover, sitting over in the corner, almost forgotten. You take a quick look around and find the sales zombie, at the edge of the horde. She looks nice, with most of her skin intact, glasses, and a purple streak in her hair.
You pick up this book, and the blurb sounds amazing. You start reading, and you’re transfixed. The book store, the zombies, your desire for coffee, all fade away. You devour it, the store is closing, and you don’t even care. This book. This book! It’s AMAZING! It’s FANTASTIC! It’s everything you knew you wanted in a book, it’s everything you never knew you wanted in a book. It makes you have all the feels and all the love and you have to stop yourself from just gushing because you’re utterly in love with this book.
Are there other amazing books out in this pile? Sure! Can a book have a back blurb that’s lackluster (AKA query), and yet have wonderful writing? Of course! Could it have a wonderful query and get dull part way through? Yep. Could it be really amazing, but just not something you like? YES!
Does that mean your book is bad? NO.
But as a mentor, or as an agent, or as an editor, you simply CAN’T pick all of them. Over time, you hone in on what it is you really love. You more ruthlessly say no. You don’t hesitate to stop reading when you’ve had enough, because there’s always more work to do.
Editors have to balance the needs of the house. Agents have to balance their client lists to make sure they have income coming in even if the market whims change.
We mentors have a freedom, yes, because this is for love. But we still want to look at what the participating agents might want, what the overall market is doing, and try to pick novels that might have a chance at getting signed.
Because ultimately? WE WANT YOU TO SUCCEED.
What you’re not seeing on the back end is us mentors GUSHING over works. One saying, “I love this” and others saying “I like it, but if you’re that enamored, I’ll step aside.” or “Let me look at this first, do you have anything else in mind?” and “Hands off, I will shank you if you try to steal this!”. This is all about love.
The whole industry is a labor of love and art and yes, business. But if the love isn’t there, if it doesn’t resonate? It doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It can mean a million things, but they all boil down to the same thing: We have to fall in love with it. We have to feel the problems it has are things we can help you conquer. Everything has to line up right, but when it does, AMAZING things happen.
Even if yours isn’t picked, I can say with absolute surety that what we’re seeing in the submissions is all far, far better than the normal slush pile. You followed instructions (seriously, as simple as this is, you’d be flabbergasted at how many people fail at this.). You approached with respect and a desire to work together, not demands. You were clear about what your novel is about and what happens.
I REALLY can’t emphasize enough how much above the normal slush this puts you.
Keep trying. Even if you aren’t picked, it’s simply due to the sheer number of AMAZING submissions, not any reflection on you. Keep at it. You’re so close. There’s not a bad submission in the whole box. And you know what? That’s utterly fantastic!
See, even the Doctor agrees with me. 😛