Monday, August 28, 2017

Pitch Wars 2017: Stats and Takeaways

With the mentees now announced, 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 83 applications. Of those, I'll be sending feedback to 5 random submissions in addition to those I requested pages from, with my apologies that I usually try to get back to everyone, but with the baby and deadlines this year, it just isn't possible. It takes me an average of 30 minutes per entry to give feedback, meaning that if I did them all, I would spend 42 hours on those emails alone. (In case you were wondering why agents do form rejections. And why you should keep your Pitch Wars peers close and your critique partners closer if you're getting said form rejections.)

I had a few trends in my inbox*:

Characters Leading Revolutions: 7
Ghost love interests/main characters: 5

And the reasons I passed:

Not right for current market: 4
Not right for me (was on my "Not a Best Match" list): 13
Too much telling/no conflict in sample pages: 29
Solid submission, but the plot wasn't quite my thing: 28
Confusing pitch; stakes not clear and/or no stakes: 3
Reads too young or too old for YA: 3
Liked it, but wasn't my perfect match: 15

(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 with a confusing pitch, for instance. It just ultimately didn't work out to be the one I picked.)

And just because:

Highest word count**: 125k
Lowest**: 9k
SCBWI members (yay!): 8
Diverse protagonists (non-white, disabled, or LGBT+ - also yay!): 20

Honorable Mentions:
This year I thought I'd reveal who was in my "maybe" pile. But only if y'all promise that if you don't see your name, you realize it's not because your entry wasn't good, but because these just personally spoke to me ... capiche?

In order of receipt:

THE SALTER'S SON by Kyle Cauthron
SUMMONER'S REVOLUTION by Thomas Dominic Macolino
BLACK SAGE by Sher-May Loh
THE CURSED by Cassie McGinty
LUCID by Tabatha Duckworth
REVERIE by Brittney Singleton

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 never truly understood until I mentored in Pitch Wars, but made me feel massively better about querying once I'd done so. In every year I've participated, there have been about 3-4 wars TOTAL (within YA) over top picks. That's 3 or 4 out of more than 70 slots! If "only the good books" got in, then we should all be fighting over the same top choices, right? But entries that I passed on in my first cull went on to be snatched up as someone else's first choice, because just as you and I are different people, so we connect with different things. That's the wonderful thing about reading in general. Just because your mentor wasn't in this particular contest doesn't mean there isn't an agent out there dreaming of a book like yours. 
    • 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. I had 8 entries (in addition to the 6 I requested more pages from) marked as "maybe." This is also in addition to the 28 entries that were solid but whose concepts just weren't quite my thing. And now we're back to that dratted "s" word again: subjectivity. There are definitely concepts and pages I read that I know someone else will fall in love with. So keep querying, because there is an agent out there waiting for your words!

    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 when I entered. And it worked out pretty good, yes?

    Hang in there, writers. You're now one step closer to getting there.

    *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.

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