*NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN
Keep in mind, this is my opinion only, and this is an incredibly subjective process-Much like the rest of publishing. And NONE of this is meant to call anyone out (I’m deliberately NOT mentioning anything only one person did.). Remember: All the good stuff is about YOUR MS. The bad stuff is about someone you don’t like’s.
I’m not answering comments that seem to relate to individual entries. (It’s happened in the past on these posts, so I’m just throwing it out there ahead of time)
I look at the pitch last thing. For me, the writing is making 5/6th of the decision for me. The pitch is just to see what the overall concept is, I don’t care if the pitch is well written as long as the concept is there/workable. Then I glance at the age/word count to make sure if they’re compatible together with the writing. The ones that hit all the right areas? Highest marks. There were some common writing aspects that worked against you, and while I tried to get as many of you as possible who’d asked personal feedback, there’s just not enough hours in the day with the dayjob in the way. So I’ve rounded up the following for you, if you have questions, shout in the comments. I won’t be able to see your entries now, the teams are in there making their choices and the key was handed over, so I can’t give you personal feedback. If you still want personal feedback, check out Chimera, we’ll work something out.
- Let’s start with the easiest: Things that were way outside the rules-Coloring books, picture books, nonfiction, things that would get an X rating, and combinations thereof. Dude, this is a fiction contest limited to specific genres/ages, come on! Also some people entered more than one story. We noticed, accepted their first entry only, and disqualified the rest. (There were duplicates of the same entry, the duplicates were deleted as irrelevant).
- Some projects were way outside their age/genre’s word count range (This is my usual reference). A little off isn’t a big deal, but when you’re far off, it usually indicates other issues.
- If it’s too low, either there’s not enough plot to support the story, or there’s not enough description/sensory information/internal monologue. I draft very light myself, hitting the main events, tying them lightly together, and mainly focusing on emotional twists and dialogue. Then I fix the plot first, and add in all the rest.
- Opposite, cutting, look first for scenes you don’t need. Do you REALLY need 3+ POVs? Probably not. Also make sure you’re not dragging on too far after the climax, or starting too soon before the inciting incident. Then check for redundant words and passive phrasings. Had, was, possibly was going to.. Anything where there’s a more active, succinct way to phrase it, go with the active way. This post from pitchwars might help on that, and while you’re at it, there’s a lot of other advice from this past Pitchwars on this tag.
- Speaking of passive voice-Especially if your character is sitting, waiting, or engaged in an ongoing action that doesn’t require their focus, watch their internal monologue for passive phrasings. Waking up, births, planes taking off/landing, they’re common starts, and all very prone to this problem.
- Then there’s the opposite-Throw the characters into a really intense situation. They’re running, they’re panicking, they’re hurt or being attacked. Well, there’s only one problem. We don’t know your character enough yet to CARE that this is going on. The idea of starting in the middle of action, in media res, is to hook the reader. Problem being? If your hook doesn’t give the reader a piece to empathize with, we’re desensitized, and the action alone isn’t going to get readers turning the page.
- If your character doesn’t notice something, and we’re in their POV, don’t mention it. Think of it like a camera. It can only focus on what’s in front of it, and you can control where it moves/what it centers on. Use that to your advantage. Center on what’s going to create the strongest effect.
- Onomatopoeia, while fun, are often distracting in an opening. Especially when capitalized/repeated. Use with extreme caution (MG can get away with it more.)
MORE TO COME: I have a couple advanced techniques I want to show you guys examples for, but I don’t have the right file with me. I’ll get that up ASAP, keep an eye out.
Writing is hard on the ego. It really is. But developing a thick skin will be important. Finding the agent is only a one step on the journey. You will still have rejection-from editors, from reviewers, from the marketing people, etc. If you ever want to make yourself feel better, go read the one star reviews of a popular/successful author. It’s a marathon, and there will always be obstacles and negatives. The authors who make it? Persevere.
Questions so far? Shout in the comments. 🙂 I love helping you all, it’s what drives me to do these contests and dedicate extra time to it. It’s fun, and I love how excited everyone is.