As many of you may already know (because I won’t shut up about it already, seriously), this year’s Christmas in July pitch contest was a huge success. The 30 winning entries featured on our blogs, chosen from over 200 submissions, amassed a hella impressive 81 agent requests. Crazy, right? I’m so proud of these authors it’s disgusting, and I can’t wait for success stories to start rolling in.
But maybe some of you are wondering what made Ruth and I choose our winners over the many other wonderful entries we received (Or maybe I’m just imagining that. Maybe no one cares. Maybe I’m just speaking into a void. MAYBE NO ONE LOVES ME.)
*Ahem* Sorry about that.
So, here I am to shed a little light on this topic.
Great concept + tightly crafted query and pages + Voice= Automatic ‘Yes’.
But this seems obvious, right? And not particularly helpful? So maybe instead of focusing on why we picked on an entry, let’s discuss the reasons we passed.
*Disclaimer* I’m not an agent (Duh). These are my personal opinions.
*Disclaimer #2* No offense is meant to hard-working writers. I know only too well the sting of rejection, having amassed, oh, 90+ agent rejections for Hexed. It sucks. It hurts right in the heart-place. This list is meant to be helpful to those who might be wondering why their manuscript didn’t make the cut and how their entries might be improved. I love you. Muah!
Various reasons entries were rejected
- The query letter was too long (e.g., well over 350 words, sometimes as long as 600). There isn’t a book in history that couldn’t be presented in a one-page query. If you can’t tell us what your story is about in one page, it’s a bit concerning for the type of writing that can be expected in the novel. Show us you can write a focused story!
- On the other hand, vagueness is rarely intriguing either. Example? (That I made up, of course!). ‘Julia is thrust into a dangerous world she never could have seen coming…she embarks on an incredible journey…she’ll have to overcome outstanding odds…” You get the idea. None of these phrases tell us anything about the plot, really. Which brings us to:
- No clear sense of plot and stakes. A query letter shouldn’t begin with a long description of past events leading up to the present dilemma and it’s not the time to show off your flowery prose. We (and agents!) want to know what happens in your book. Start where the story starts, and be clear about what your character wants, what stands in her way, and what she has to do to succeed.
- This point isn’t particularly helpful, but it’s probably the #1 reason an entry was rejected: It just failed to excite. There was nothing wrong with the entry, per se; it just didn’t leave us feeling hungry for more. I think this probably relates mostly to a lack of voice. Without voice, writing can appear bland and non-engaging. The entries with personality really stood out in the massive slush pile.
- The concept didn’t differentiate itself from what’s already on the market. In other words, it felt ‘familiar’, done before. Which leads us to:
- Numerous grammatical and spelling errors. One small error could be an oversight, but many are concerning.
- Failure to follow the submission guidelines. (For example, you were asked to submit a query letter and the first 500 words and you opted not to include a query and sent 2000 words of your manuscript.)
All that said…don’t give up! The book world is filled with rejection. It’s not a death knell. If you work hard, write a great book with market appeal, and keep pushing forward in the face of rejection, someone is bound to take notice.