With the mentee announcement around the corner, I wanted to go over what I saw in my inbox, the main reasons I passed on entries, and what you should take away from this, regardless of whether you're picked. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll recall I got 174 applications. Of those, I'll be sending feedback to 50 random submissions (with my apologies that I usually try to reply to everyone, but in order to keep my sanity this year, I have to slim it down). It takes me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning that when all's said and done, I will have spent 25 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: 4 (I've had this one all three years I've been a mentor)
Mysterious new boys: 14
Grim reapers/characters working for Death: 5
And the reasons I passed:
Not right for current market: 11
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match" list): 5
Started in the wrong place or too much telling/no conflict in sample pages: 54
Solid submission, but plot wasn't quite my thing: 65
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 18
Reads too young or too old for YA: 4
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 34
(Totaling the numbers above will exceed my submission total as sometimes an entry fit in more than one category. I could still like a sub that started in the wrong place, for instance. It just ultimately didn't work out to be the one I picked.)
And just because:
Highest word count**: 136k
SCBWI members (yay!): 46
Non-white or QUILTBAG protagonists (also yay!): 25
Takeaways 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 more than one book 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 literally driven to tears by the quality of the stories in my inbox, because I was having to pass on things that were really exceptional 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.
Hang in there, writers. More soon ...
*I still requested pages from 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.