Monday, December 13, 2010

On Slush Choices and Imbalanced Genres

In perusing the (very helpful) comments on my Baker's Dozen survey, I noticed a few repeated themes.  This is good, because repeated themes help me to identify problems and strengths as I plan for next year's auction.

Yes.  I think another auction is a given.

*pause for cheering*

However, one of the repeated themes isn't something I can't change, so I thought it would be a good idea to address it.

Paraphrased:  "There were too many fantasies."  "I wanted to see more women's fiction/historical/fill-in-the-blank."  "Way too much YA."  "The genres weren't evenly distributed."

Okay.  I've got to say this tenderly.  When one is faced with a finite pool of submissions, one must choose THE STRONGEST of the bunch.  As you all know.  And if there happen to be stronger entries in some genres than others, the slush-readers don't have any control over that.

Here's an example (totally made up):  Let's say there's one more slot left in the MG/YA section.  We've already got lots of SFF and YA, and it surely would be nice to add an MG historical to the mix.  As luck would have it, one of the three remaining entries is a MG historical!  The other two are both YA urban fantasies.

So we read the MG historical with bated breath.  And...it's not strong.  REALLY not strong.  Not query-ready.  Probably needs a good overhaul before it hits the eyeballs of agentkind.

We mark it as a "maybe" because the logline is decent, and because we know we've got to fill the final slot.  Then we move on and read the YA urban fantasies.  And one of them is STRONG!  So we choose it.

In this situation, there is no way we would choose the MG historical just to "make the numbers more even."

So unless we ran a separate submission window for EVERY SINGLE GENRE, there is no way to control how many of each genre and subgenre make it through the final curtain.

And, folks? There is no way I'm running separate submission windows for every genre.  That's in the realm of ludicrous.

So splitting it into two categories--adult and children's--is the best I can do.  And my decision to take more children's than adult's was made after analyzing the tastes of our participating agents.  Frankly, there was a lot more MG and YA listed on their websites.  We have to go with what the agents want.

Who knows?  Next year we might end up with exactly the opposite--more adult and less kidlit.  It's all about the agents.  Happy agents come back to participate in future contests, yes?

Anyway, I hope that helps you understand why you saw what might've seemed like disparate representations of genres.  Jodi and I weren't paying attention to genre.  We were paying attention to writing.

And that's what agents are paying attention to.  Writing.

So write on!

Oh, and one more thing.  A few of you lamented that you wished you'd been given a reason for your rejection.  For as frustrating as that is, I just can't email reasons to everyone whose work doesn't make the final cut.  The writing either worked for us, or it didn't.  It either felt "ready" or it didn't.  It's totally subjective, yes.  And Jodi and I REALLY clicked as a slush-reading team.  To a scary extent, even.

There isn't a single entry over which we argued.  Not even in jest.

And?  I deleted the rejected entries after we made our final decisions.  Reading slush took A LOT OF TIME.  Sending reasons for rejections wasn't something we could add to that.

You'll hear the same thing from agents.  So you'll have to be ready for that.  For the Reasonless Noes.

I can tell you this: It was never because I don't love you. *smile*

So to ALL OF YOU who entered:  THANK YOU.  To all of you who filled out the survey:  THANK YOU.

The whole experience blew me away.  It's absolutely worth repeating.

13 comments:

Kathleen said...

I noticed the plethora of fantasy, but I guessed that the reason was exactly as you stated. I, too, would have liked to see more women's fiction, etc....mostly b/c I love to see what other people are doing, to see what works, and so on.

I'm glad you're doing it again next year. Next time, I won't be one of those fighting "plain text" vs. "rich text" formatting. :)

Durango Writer said...

Authoress, I think the majority of us truly understand the process and appreciate the amount of work it took to pare down the list to strong entries. You and Jodi did a phenomenal job. I enjoyed seeing what others are writing regardless of genre. I look forward to hearing news of those who made it to the next step: representation.
Mandy

Berinn said...

You and Jodi were phenomenal, especially trying something of such huge magnitude for the first time. You deserve to be heroines in a NY Times best seller.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Sounds like the same sort of feedback that comes from frustrated writers when the query anywhere.

Agents don't owe explanations just because you send them a query - any more than the guy who doesn't open the door for a salesman owes a reason why.

As for the genre split, take a look at the shelves in a book store, and at what's selling to editors. It's NOT an even split. People's tastes aren't split evenly. Some things are more popular, and just because it would be "nice" to see things more even, it doesn't work like that.

Danielle La Paglia said...

As one who didn't make the cut, of course I would love to know why (we always want to know why), but considering the amount of time and effort you and Jodi put into this to make such an awesome contest for so many aspiring authors, all I can say is thank you for the opportunity. I can't imagine how much time this took out of your lives and all to give us a chance. You guys (gals) are awesome!

Anonymous said...

I tried for both windows for adult and recieved already full messages. That was a bummer but it was fun to watch and it sure as heck was a learning experience. I was able to take comments and apply them to my own work.

Thanks so much for doing this and I am SO happy you're going to be crazy, I mean, brave enough to do it again. :)


Violet

Sharla said...

I understood the split wouldn't be even from the beginning, since the submission number for YA/MG was larger. And what you said about what the agents wanted makes sense. It does get frustrating for us adult writers though...you see it everywhere...more doors and windows out there for kidlit. Makes me think I need to start writing in that genre just to stay in the game! LOL. But this was a fantastic idea, and I'm looking forward to the next round...whenever that may be! Kudos on a great job! Thanks for all you do.

Laura said...

I didn't make it in the window, but I'd definitely give it another shot in the future. I think you did a great job picking entries. I'm sure it must have been exhausting. You're generous to give an explanation to those who were disappointed. My ms is MG Urban Fantasy, and I see there were a lot of those. I imagine it will be hard to make the cut... Thanks for everything you do for us! :-)

RubyRed0 said...

Authoress & Jodi, you didn't even have to do any of this for us, but you did, and during the holiday season on your own time. We do appreciate it. You two gave us all a wonderful chance to see dreams fulfilled. We are all happy when someone makes it. To all those out there who haven't made it YET ;-) keep ur hopes & never, never give up. Happy Holidays ;-)

erica and christy said...

When I first read this, I thought you meant those were agent comments. I quickly caught on (sorry, my fault, not yours). Interesting would be what the agents thought about the selections. We know how the specifics went (what was bid on, what won, who won, etc.) - but did this match their usual slush in terms of genre, etc.

I'm sure that's impossible - every agent has their list of preferences.

Just a thought I had. . .congrats all around for this auction. I didn't participate, but still really appreciate how much work was put in and what I learned from it.
erica

Cat said...

I think most of us understood your reasons but in the survey, you asked what we would like to have changed. So, you got some wishful thinking.
I am sure, no one was truly annoyed about any issues. For sure, I am looking forward to next year.

Jennie Englund said...

You're working your tail off, and this seems like a job that could take over your whole life, easy.

Thank you for this huge difference you make to the writing community!

Pamela Hutchins said...

I'm really interested in your awesome auction. I tried to participate last time, following instructions to the letter, but alas I did not get through (no confirmation of receipt, no rejection, no nada). I also sent you an email; no response. I fear I am just not getting through, technically, because if there is one thing you are, it is uber responsive. I use 'aim' altho I changed it to plain text settings to contact you. Has anyone had trouble before with web-based email systems like aim or aol? Thanks. And congrats on landing the wonderful agent! You rock!!
My email is pamelafhutchins@aim.com, by the way, if anyone wants to contact me directly to tell me how I probably messed this up when I tried before :)