That meant I sent 70 responses. It took me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning I spent 35 hours on rejections alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your critique partners close and keep entering contests like Pitch Wars if you're getting said form rejections.)
I had a few trends in my inbox:
Dystopian (or anything with a central government/entity that MC must join or fight against): 8
Post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic: 3
Peter Pan retellings: 3
And the reasons I passed:
Not right for current market: 11
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match for..." list): 8
Started in the wrong place: 11
Writing not ready: 10
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 22
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 8
And just because:
Highest word count*: 103k
Coolest genre: YA Weird Western
Queries that mentioned chocolate: 19
I learned three major things from being in the slush.
- Your query letter really is all about the story. Whether this is your tenth novel or your first, whether you have a hundred publishing awards or none at all, all that matters is your pitch and your writing. One of my favorite entries was just the pitch and a "thank you for your time" - no personalization, no credentials. So basically: don't stress over these. Your awesome story won't be overlooked if you haven't been published before. DO add personalization when possible - but it won't be the reason you're rejected/asked for sample pages, either.
- Fun fact: my mentee mentioned reality TV in her query, and I was thinking, "Girl, I don't know about this, I am a big NOT fan of reality TV..." - then BAM, her pages blew me away. In case you were wondering if personalization could ever hurt you.
- Reader taste is ridiculously subjective. This is something I knew before, but I went in expecting epic battles over the top picks and that I'd have to defend my choices Zombieland-style. But everyone's tops were different, and something I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
- Ya'll eat a lot of chocolate.
I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but you can bet your Twinkies I'll be back again next year to see what crazy-creative things will fall into my inbox. I also can't wait to see which of you will be joining me on the mentor side, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate last year.
And last but certainly not least, please congratulate my mentee Alison Green Myers when you have a chance. She knocked off all kinds of agent socks in Pitch Wars, landing us in a tie for second place with nine full requests. She worked SO hard last month, and I'm excited to see where THAT NIGHT ON BLOSSOM HILL takes her. Keep an eye on that one.
*Word count alone is not a reason to reject unless it is way under or way over the expected averages here. However, it's always a good idea to check your word count against those expected averages before you query, and try your darndest to get inside them.