December 14, 2012

Casual Friday: Lessons from the PitchWars slush

Happy Friday, Misfiteers!

As most of you will have noticed on Twitter, this week was all about PitchWars decisions. The tension rose high, the mentors freaked out and sent each other nervous mails behind the scenes, and narrowing down to one manuscript seemed pretty much impossible.

Especially if you consider we had almost 1,800 entries. 1,800. I'd write that in all caps, but it'd come out looking like this !<*))

As I've been on inbox fairy duty since the submission window opened and saw most of those entries come in, I figured I could distill some slush truths for them for you. Of course, there are plenty of these posts already, but apparently there can never be enough of them. Because #1 on each of these lists:

simplicity#39#1: FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES
Follow the guidelines when you're submitting to an agent. Follow the guidelines when you're submitting to a contest. Follow the guidelines when you're putting an IKEA cabinet together. FOLLOW THE $%&^# GUIDELINES.

I asked about 10% of the contestants to resend their mail because they didn't follow the formatting guidelines or because they submitted to mentors who didn't read their category. In an actual slushpile I would likely have rejected them instead.

We're not asking you to send us your queries as singing telegram sung by house elves. In this case, it was simply "no indents, single-spaced, a space between paragraphs." If you're not sure how to do that, send yourself a test query. Send a CP a test query. But FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES.

Now, with that rant out of the way some more helpful stuff:

If you see almost two thousand within a week, all those phrases like "To overcome terrible evil, MC has to discover his inner powers and trust his own strengths" blend together. I'm perfectly willing to believe your story is about the MC's journey of emotional discovery, that there are twists and turns, that it's exciting, angsty, funny, scary, dark, original, done before. To put it bluntly, none of these comments mean anything. Because that's the way everyone describes their stories. If my only description of a story is "Quiet, bookish MC falls in love with supernatural guy." you still have no clue which of the many paranormal romances I'm talking about.

What does stay with me are bone swords, freak shows, scams, beserkers. Balloons build from household items, figure skating, Neverland. A story set in a mental hospital. A story set in Álaska. Awesome names and titles. The MC's sometimes-girlfriend. A story starting with the MC lying in the middle of the road. Because these are the details that make a story come to life.

There aren't many original plots, but there are many original stories, characters, settings, details. Focus on what sets your story apart from what's already out there, not why it would be the same.

06-08-10 And With Heart Shaped Bruises And Late Night Kisses#3: BE CONCISE
Unlike this blog post, and unlike what I may seem to be saying at the previous point: be concise. Stick to 250 words for a query. It's hard, but you've written a book! You can deal with that. And it actually is very possible to sum up a book--in a specific manner--in 250 words or even fewer. (But you have 250, don't be too concise either!)

It can be SO scary to allow strangers to read your stuff. It can so scary, because what if they don't like it? What if you're setting yourself up for rejection? What if you'll never make it? Allow me to let you in on a little secret: you already have. You're here. You're playing the game. You've beat 99% of people who say they want to write a book but never get to it and leave it gathering dust in a drawer, unfinished. You're already successful. It doesn't mean agent and editor are right around the corner, but you've come so far already. Be persistent, be brave, keep putting yourself out there. You WILL get there.

What were your PitchWars experiences like, Misfiteers? Did you get any helpful feedback? Will you promise to never to ever not follow guidelines anymore? ;) 


Anonymous said...

I definitely got helpful feedback! My problem definitely lay in the "too vague" category. I've been known to ramble sometimes, especially when I'm talking about my novels, and I was trying to make sure that I didn't do that with this pitch. Turns out I went too far in the opposite direction. But that's okay - I learned from it, and that's what matters. :)

Jae said...

It boggles my mind that some people don't follow the guidelines. I'm always looking for ways not to eliminate myself immediately when querying, contesting, etc. This is a great post!

Maggie Hall said...

Great post! It's always good to remember not to eliminate YOURSELF by not following simple rules!

Anonymous said...

Great advice! Particularly about being brave, and following the rules. Doing that increases your chances of success no matter what you're doing in life.

Lora said...

I got some absolutely amazing, helpful feedback. Without a doubt my query and pages will end up stronger for it. So glad to have taken the plunge :)

Larissa said...

I got feedback from two of my three subs, and the two basically contradicted each other. LOL. :)

Marieke said...

Great to hear! And in the end, it is the learning experience that counts, right? :) And subjectivity, of course, is always fun too. ;)

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