(And yes, you’re allowed to read this if you didn’t submit to me, I don’t take it personal.)
So now that the dust has settled, I wanted to go over some of the things I saw in my #Pitchwars submissions.
1. A lot of amazing entries. Seriously. I really cannot emphasize this enough. There were 80-90 people who wanted me to mentor them, and I would have gladly read more on almost all of them.
2. Voice. I skipped straight to the pages, so my initial triage was how much do I connect with this voice. This was the biggest determining factor. I not only needed to like the voice, it had to feel like one I wanted to spend a good deal of time with. It also needed to be one I felt I could edit well.
3.Opening too early. A lot of entries had rather meandering or confusing openings that don’t let their voices show through. If your character is doing something mundane, or it’s years before when the major action of the plot happens, skip it. If it actually matters to the plot, you can sprinkle in references to it later on, and your reader will piece together what happened. Any time where people try to cover years at once (I see this a lot when it’s basically a character’s life story, or they want to make someone they’re afraid will be unrelatable seem understandable), it inevitably is dull telling. We don’t need to start with when they’re born, or conceived, or when their parents met, or when they wake up. Sometimes you, as a writer, NEED those bits to find where your story really starts, and that’s fine. But by the time you’re submitting it, be it to contests or agents or what have you, strip it down to as little as possible before Awesome Things occur.
4. Confusing worlds. This is almost the opposite of 3. If you start too late, the reader needs brought up to speed in a way that doesn’t slow the action down. For example, two characters are talking about how to commit a crime in a very back and forth stream of dialogue. For obvious reasons, they aren’t saying things the other person already knows, which is good, but the description around the dialogue doesn’t fill in the blanks. We don’t know, as readers, if we’re supposed to be connecting with the characters or if we’re supposed to be holding our breath for them to get caught, or where/when this is. It’s a fine balance to strike, and HARD to do. But it needs done.
5. Concepts the agents would shrink from. Once I narrowed down on the voices and initial stickiness factor, I went back over a list of what the agents generally represent, and any #MSWL they’d done in the last 6 months (I assume anything older than that, they either acquired already or are sick of seeing submissions referencing it that aren’t what they’re looking for.). Since I have a good sense of what the over all market trends are doing (part of my ongoing job is to keep pulse on that), I was able to weed out some that would only sell if their voices were utterly stunning, and that I didn’t feel were quite there. The voice is the one thing I don’t want to edit on people’s work, because it is so personal.
Once I narrowed it to a top 10, I requested 4… and then a fifth. Because I couldn’t resist. The others, if I’d had time, I would have requested. Then I read, making notes as I went about how I felt things worked. I’ll be sending those I’d requested fulls from emails with specifics once I find 5 minutes to rub together.
There was a LOT of scrapping going on in the secret group we mentors had, and I think had we had more time, we’d still be arguing over the MSs. Finally, I ended up rolling a dice. Seriously. Challenged one of the 2 other mentors over their pick, and we let the author decide. She picked the other one, but that’s ok, because I loved 3 of them, so I was able to snag the brilliant Sarena Ulibarri. I set up an email to auto send at midnight, with some gist notes I’d made and the big picture things I wanted to get her opinion on. She’s so enthusiastic and insightful on her own writing that I have an easy job here. It’s a matter of tweaking and adjusting, and she’s already diving in.
There was one in the top 10 I hadn’t had time to request and read, but wanted to. The opening was lovely, a fun, quirky thing that I could already picture a cover for. I wanted something that sounded pretty much ready to go for my Alt, because, well, I knew I wouldn’t have time to do an in depth line level fuss through on it (And we’re only supposed to do a query/first chapter crit anyway). I went back through all of my top 10, but my gut said to pick Rissa Watkins‘ hilarious novel. So I did, sent her an email automatically at midnight too. Since I hadn’t read her MS yet, I did request it, even though I’m not going to do a full crit on it. I had trouble putting it down, it was such fun. Also, I discovered in doing so that the query under sells it, so that gave me a better basis to adjust the query. 😉
All in all, if I compare the entries vs my intern inbox? Oh ye gods, you folks are AMAZING. Seriously. Keep querying, keep writing, keep working so hard, because you’re all so very, very close.
(Note: Agent woman is NOT looking for SF/F or MG right now, please don’t query her with those so I don’t have to reject you. She really wants a good horror novel right now, bloody and dark and evocative. Thrillers are also good for her, especially contemporary ones that have a strong mysterious element and shifting time POVs. Those are getting lots of requests from her lately, but the pacing has to be tight enough to make it interesting.)