That meant I sent 64 responses. It took me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning I spent 32 hours on these emails 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*:
Dreams that become real: 5
Tarot cards: 4
And the reasons I passed:
Not right for current market: 3
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match for..." list): 8
Started in the wrong place: 5
Writing not ready: 13
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 33
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 7
And just because:
Highest word count**: 100k
Coolest comp titles: Dracula meets Don Quixote
SCBWI members (yay!): 14
(Hmm, just realized 5 of the 7 the entries I requested more from were SCBWI...)
I learned a few 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 or asked for sample pages, either.
- 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 most everyone's tops were different, and something I passed on in my first cull got snatched up as someone else's first choice.
- Great pages can outshine a so-so query, but so-so pages will sink a great query. If you're getting all thumbs-ups on your query, but agents seem to be rejecting after they request pages, take a hard look at your first chapter. I went through this too. Sometimes it's a matter of starting in a different place. Sometimes it's a matter of polishing your manuscript as much as you've polished your query.
- A lot of you are SO close. Holy cow, y'all brought your A-game this year. I was practically driven to tears by the quality of the stories in my inbox, because I was having to pass on things that were really solid and that I'd normally request.
I'm ready for a month-long nap now, but I can't wait to see all the "I have an agent!" announcements that are sure to follow, whether or not you were chosen for Pitch Wars. Remember, I didn't get picked as a mentee or alternate when I entered.
And last but certainly not least, please congratulate my mentee Marisa Hopkins and alternate Alex Brown when you have a chance. They did #TeamTallahassee proud, with Marisa scooping up nine requests for more pages (eight regular requests + 1 ninja agent) and Alex nabbing six in the alternate showcase. They worked SO hard the last two months, and I'm excited to see where these stories take them!
*I still requested pages from multiple entries containing these themes, but you might consider what you could do differently with yours if your request rate isn't high.
**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.