Thursday, November 13, 2014

Submission Ramble

So I know how hard it is to be waiting while someone reads your stuff.  Silence makes things worse, so here are some random thoughts about this year's burnt sacrifices submissions for the Baker's Dozen:

  • Some of the writing simply isn't ready.  This doesn't mean you can't write--it means that you're not writing well yet.  It means you're learning your craft.  It means you've got cool ideas and the words to go with them, but it hasn't gelled yet.  This is not an inherently bad thing.  It only means that, in our opinion, your work isn't quite ready for the eyes of agents.
  • Some of the stories start in the wrong place.  Again, this doesn't mean you can't write--it means that, well, your story isn't starting in the right place.  Sometimes it's a "car crash" opening (dropping us right into the middle of huge action without grounding us); sometimes it's a matter of needing to back up in order to help us know your protagonist and his world a little better; sometimes it's someone waking up or slogging through a particularly boring afternoon with nothing happening to actually draw us in.  Which means that you need to find a different point of entry.
  • Sometimes I recognize a story.  Often it's because it's been written by one of my clients.  If this happens, I always defer to Jodi.  Sometimes I will offer insight--for instance, Jodi might see merit in something but isn't sure, so I will point out that I know where the story is going and that it actually works well.  She takes that into consideration, but it's ultimately her decision, because I want to avoid subjectivity of any kind.  (In short:  being my client doesn't guarantee you a spot.  But you already knew that.)
  • Sometimes it is a matter of subjectivity.  It might be a knee-jerk reaction to something gross, or a hang-up about a particular subject matter.  Usually Jodi and I balance each other in moments like this, so that whomever is not having a knee-jerk reaction can calmly point out that the entire thing doesn't suck.  If we're both having a gut reaction against something, though, then it's a "no".  That's just the way the milk curdles.
  • Sometimes we don't think agents will see a market for your work.  And in this case, it wouldn't be a good idea to put your work into the auction--you wouldn't get any bids.  Again, this doesn't mean you can't write.  
  • Honestly?  In five years, our editorial eyes have become sharper.  What might've been a "yes" three or four years ago is a "maybe" now.  (Many maybes turn into yeses during our final judging round, so "maybe" isn't necessarily a bad thing.)  What might've been a "weak maybe" is now a quick "no".  At first we thought this was happening because the writing was worse this year.  Then we thought that maybe we'd morphed into ne'er-be-pleased crones.  But the truth dawned, and we're actually glad: WE HAVE GOTTEN BETTER AT DETERMINING WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS.  Not that we're always going to be right.  Not that our participating agents will agree.  But we're a lot more confident in our culling skills, which feels good.
  • Sometimes we have to choose between two "maybes" and we don't hate either one.  This is where it comes down to "which one will have a better chance in the auction".  
  • If a logline sucks, we ignore it and go on to the writing.  If the writing is okay but we're not doing cartwheels, it's a "no".  If we can tell what the author is trying to accomplish, but it's not quite there even though the writing is decent, we'll say "maybe" or "yes" because we believe that an agent will see the same potential we do.  It's a classic case of "revise and resubmit".  So, yes, some of our winning entries will fall under this category--"We see where this is going and we like it.  Someone will take this on, get good revisions, and offer representation."
  • We respect the time and effort each of you has put into your submissions, and we thank you for trusting us to judge it for this auction.  If your entry is not chosen, KEEP WRITING.  Write new things, work on your old thing, keep moving forward.

    The 25 winners of the adult round will be emailed tomorrow, on schedule.  If you do not hear from me, your entry was not chosen.  (But PLEASE check your spam folder, because sometimes I end up there.  Want to be proactive?  Add facelesswords(at)gmail.com to your contact list NOW.)

17 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I can't imagine the time it takes to put together a contest like this and that you've taken additional time to write out your thoughts, well, it gives me the warm fuzzies. Onward, writers!

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  2. Thanks for your insights! This is a fabulous contest and opportunity. Waiting with a tub of chocolate raisins until announcements for MG...hoping and eating.

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  3. Stag awaiting the cull :)November 13, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Great notes. Thanks. With only 35 out of 245 chosen for MG/YA, you're probably going to have some tough choices to make.

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  4. It's so nice to hear your thoughts as you sift through the entries. Any tidbit of info can help all of us improve our work! Thank you for the crazy hours you're putting into this and the amazing contest! :)

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  5. Thank you for all your hard work! It sounds incredibly fun, but also very stressful to try to make the best decisions for the agents involved.

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  6. Can't wait to get this blood-bath, er bidding, started. ;)

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  7. Thanks for taking the time to post the great feedback on entries. Every little nugget of information helps!

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  8. Out of curiosity, do you often have to eliminate "yes"s because there are too many? (IE: draw out of a hat or flip a coin because they're both equally great) Or have you never had that problem?

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  9. You and Jodi are aces for doing this. Can't even wrap my head around how much work it must be. Thanks ladies.

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  10. Julie -- we have never had to do that. We always have maybes that we have to turn into yeses, so that's where the biggest decision-making comes in.

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  11. Adding my thanks to you and Jodi for all that you put into connecting writers with each other and with agents and editors!

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  12. It's such an amazing and fun/nerve-wracking (those two go together, right?) opportunity, so thanks!!

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  13. Thank you for posting your reactions. I understand why agents--who receive all these submissions and more--opt to say, "Not for me, good luck!" Publishing is a subjective business. Timing matters. And our writing groups full of unpublished writers can't always lift us to the next level. We need the feedback of experienced contest judges. Again, thank you very much for all the time and effort it takes to coordinate and judge an open competition.

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  14. Thanks for your encouraging words. I didn't enter the contest. In fact, I know my writing is far from ready, but it's nice to hear that that's ok, and it's all just part of the learning process.

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  15. Great feedback on the submissions...gave me pause to consider the weak points in mine.

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  16. "Some of the writing simply isn't ready."

    I don't want to start a whole DIY versus Traditional debate, but this is one of the things I see missing from the DIY route. There's really no where along that path where you are told 'your writing simply isn't ready'. Of course, that's never an easy thing to hear, but it can help.

    You have to infer that your writing wasn't ready from poor sales and bad reviews, but at that point you are sort of already 'out there'.

    That's not to say that Trad gets it right all the time, they don't.

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