To all the AMM Hopefuls:
Back in 2015, I participated in a writing contest called PitchWars. It was my very first contest--the first time I'd ever submitted my work for critique--and I remember how nerve-wracking the whole experience was for me. I obsessed over my email inbox, and I must have refreshed my twitter feed a hundred times a day. In the end, I wasn't chosen as a mentee (nor was I chosen the following year when I submitted again), but participating in PitchWars was such a rewarding experience for me. Why? Because I learned SO much about querying, about writing, and about how things work in the publishing industry. I will forever be grateful to PitchWars for that.
I tell you that story for two reasons:
1. I want you to know that I've been in your shoes. I have stood exactly where you are standing today, and I know what you're feeling. With the AMM announcement right around the corner, I want you to know that I'm here for you. I see you, and I support you.
2. No matter the outcome, I want you to walk away from this experience like I did, having gained both knowledge and experience. I wish that I could offer personalized feedback to every single one of you that submitted to me, but due to the number of submissions I received, as well as the demands of my family, that's just not possible. However, I asked you guys via Twitter if you would be interested in some general feedback based off of what I saw in my submissions. The response was a big fat YES, so here I am, as promised, to give you what I hope will be some much needed and helpful feedback.
Let me kick things off by saying this: Thank you so much! This was my first time being a mentor for Author Mentor Match, and I cannot tell you how privileged I felt being able to read your pages. It was incredibly humbling seeing all the submissions in my inbox. Thank you for trusting me with your work and for thinking that I would be a good mentor. It warms my heart more than you know!
I have officially chosen my mentee and that person's name is listed next to mine on the AMM mater spreadsheet. I'm really excited to have found a book that really speaks to me and appeals to me on so many levels. I'm working on the edit letter now and I just can't wait to dive even further into this world! This book excites me so much :) That being said though, there were so many other books that I adored and also wanted to take on. I wish there was a way to replicate myself--I wanted SO many of you. However, (and I mentioned this in a twitter thread), I had to base my decision on several factors--most of which have nothing to do with you guys at all. My debut novel is coming out in 2 and 1/2 months, and I am a busy little bee preparing for the release. I've got lots of special promotional stuff going on, as well as several trips planned to book conferences. On top of that, I am working on a new WIP that I hope to finish within the next few months, and as you guys know, I'm a mom. My three kids keep me busy these days. I guess you could say that I already have a pretty full plate, and when it came to choosing a mentee, I really had to stop and consider what sort of project I realistically had time to commit to. There were one or two other manuscripts that I was really interested in, but I felt like they required some pretty substantial revisions. Given my already hectic schedule, I worried that I wouldn't be able to support those books in their revisions like I would want to due to time constraints. It made me sad to pass on them, but it was only fair--for both the potential mentees and me. There were also books that I just died over, but I either didn't think I was the best person to address the issues, OR the books were already super close to being query ready. I tell you this because I want all of you to know that so much more than just the quality of your work goes into a decision like this. If you don't get selected, don't assume it's because your work isn't good. (More on this later)
Let's get to the feedback. I read every single submission I received and there were a lot of common issues that I saw. Here are the top four:
1. The Query Letter
Query letters can be tricky, but I cannot express enough just how important it is to get them right. So many of the queries I read were not written in the proper format, did not give the proper information, or were poorly written. I'm not an agent, so I was able to look beyond this most of the time, but if you plan to traditionally publish, it is crucial that you execute a quality query. There are a number of resources available to you, so please do your research and spend ample time on your query. A good rule of thumb is this (I learned this from my PW experience): You don't want your query letter to stand out. You want what's IN the query to stand out, i.e. your pitch and/or hook. The last thing you want is to stick out like a sore thumb because you didn't follow the proper guidelines or didn't spend enough time polishing.
Unsure about how to write a query or what a good query looks like? Check out these resources:
How to Write a Query
QueryShark (read through ALL of these--especially the archives!)
Examples of Solid Query Letters
Writer's Digest Successful Queries Series
The Parts of a Good Query by Susan Dennard
The Complete Guide to Query Letters by Jane Freidman
I didn't see as many issues with the synopses, but just in case here's a video on how to put one together and my favorite synopsis resource by Susan Dennard.
How to write a Synopsis
How to write a One-Page Synopsis
2. Following Guidelines and Manuscript Conventions
This one isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but I definitely wanted to mention it because we saw it A LOT. Anytime you submit to an agent, that agent will have a specific set of submission guidelines that you will be expected to follow. It is SO important that you follow these guidelines. Agents are busy people, and you don't want to ruin your chance to work with them simply because you didn't follow the proper protocol. There were tons of incorrect submissions that came through AMM this round. Follow the rules, guys! So important!
Also, it's important to make sure your manuscript is easy to read and follows some basic conventions. If you're not sure how to properly format your manuscript, check out the following resources:
Formatting your manuscript by Lara Willard
How to Format your Manuscript
3. First Pages & First Chapters--Not starting off in the right place.
If I were planning to give individualized feedback to everyone who subbed to me, I'd say that probably 85% would get this exact same note: Your book doesn't start off in the right place. Here's what I mean by that. I read A LOT of pages and there were so many submissions that had a great premise but a REALLY slow start. A lot of you have fallen into the trap of giving too much backstory or going a bit too far in terms of setting up the scene for the reader. Those first few pages have to grab the reader's attention, and if you're moving too slowly, you run the risk of the reader putting the book down. I'm a fan of getting to the action sooner rather than later. If your inciting incident (the event that launches the MC out of everyday life and into the action of the story) doesn't happen within the first 10-15% of your book, then you're moving too slowly. Also, I saw a lot of cliched openings. Stories that open with a main character sitting somewhere thinking/contemplating life, waking up, or a flashback/dream sequence just don't work. There were also quite a few unnecessary prologues. I'm going to link to several youtube videos for you on these topics. Those opening pages have an important job to do, and if they don't immediately grab the reader they need to be reworked.
How to Write a Strong Opening for your Novel
How to Start (and not start!) Your Novel
Starting Your Novel in the Right Place by Alexa Donne
How to Write a Prologue
Also, I HIGHLY recommend HOOKED by Les Edgerton. It's one of my favorite craft books and it really dives into how to draft a solid first chapter that centers around your inciting incident.
4. Word Counts
There were quite a few books that had really high or really low word counts. If you plan to traditionally publish, you need to understand the word count parameters for your category and genre. Also, please keep in mind that a debut author with a book over 100k is rare. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but publishing houses are less likely to take chance on a higher word count with a largely unknown author.
Here are some resources for you in regards to word count:
Word Counts for Novels: Writer's Digest
Word Count: Lit Rejections
YA Word Count Targets by Alexa Donne
How Long Should my Novel Be?
Word Count Dracula by Agent Jennifer Laughran
That's it! These were the most common issues that I saw in the majority of my submissions. I hope these resources are helpful to you guys, and if you have any questions at all, please let me know!
Now, how about some fun stats! :)
Most Common Genre in my Inbox: Fantasy
Most Common plot element: Twins
Most Common mythological creature: Selkies
Most Common Retelling: It was tie between Beauty & the Beast and Peter Pan
Most Common theme: betrayal
And let me leave you with this:
YOU ARE AMAZING!! I know that when the announcement goes live, many of you will look and not see your names. I am so sorry about that. Trust me, it breaks my heart to know that I am disappointing so many of you. I've been in your shoes and it's not a great feeling. But please remember this: YOU WROTE A BOOK! That is such an incredible accomplishment and you should be SO proud of what you've achieved so far on your journey! So much of publishing is subjective, and one person's success is not a measurement or indicator of your failure. Just because this door may close for some of you, it doesn't mean that your work isn't good or that you'll never be published. You're allowed to feel discouraged, but please don't give up. Keep writing, keep fighting, and never EVER give up. If you need them, here are two pep talks for you:
Alrighty guys! I'm gonna sign off for now! Please know that I think you're all amazing and if you need anything at all, please let me know! Also, I would love to be writing buddies so please look me up on social media and let's be friends! :)
I'm sending you all big hugs! Keep writing! I can't wait to see your books on my shelf one day!
Until next time, folks!