A few overall comments on things I saw in my inbox that might help others. The first is the most important part: inciting incident. Make sure your novel starts where it needs to start. That means that whatever the catalyst for the story is, this starts on page one. Not the main character going to work (unless the work day is the turning point). Not the main character waking up. Not hanging with friends, or combing their hair, or whatever. First page, boom, what happens? Why is this a story in the first place? Show the reader.
Because if you don’t, and the reader has to keep reading and searching for whatever the main plot is, they are going to lose interest. They are going to stop reading, put your book down, and not pick it back up. And that’s exactly what you don’t want!
Backstory. Be wary, every so wary of backstory, especially in the beginning. One of the things I loved about my mentee’s novel is that she interwove important facts effortlessly into conversation. It was there because it needed to be there. It wasn’t forced, or a long, drawn out paragraph that made me yawn. It had power. And, yet, I still am suggesting to cut some of this and interweave it in later. Because backstory clogs down a novel. Keep the reader in the present and let them know what they need to know when they need to know it.
Chapter two. I hadn’t realized up until now just how potent chapter two could be. I know I only saw a few, but chapter two gave me a gut reaction in two direction: yes! Mine! Or not for me. It was the difference between pulling the story immediately along, upping the tension and plot and excitement, or continuing at a slow pace to build up to a point where we should already be at.
Now, that may be harsh, but as a new author you have to hook the reader and keep them hooked. You don’t have a track record, you don’t have anyone saying: “Oh, it starts off slow, but Jane Doe really picks up!” No one’s going to know that. You have to put your best foot forward, and that means attacking your novel from all angles until it bleeds.
And, yes, this is a mentor contest. I’m not looking for a completely polished work. But with 50 subs to read, I needed something, anything to hold my interest. In some cases that was all about the illusive voice, the writer’s personal touch that they bring to the page. In other cases it was the plot presented in the query letter.
More honesty: the two that I fell in love with both had large diverse casts. This is my jam, as anyone can tell. This caused me to sit up and be excited. The rest was about the voice. If the writing wasn’t there, even that initial interest would have sagged. But the writing was there, the concept was there, and I literally squealed while reading. I had others high up on my list that had no diverse elements, so this wasn’t an “only diverse entries allowed” thing. I actually found it really interesting to see that these two entries shared something so special to me.
Another thing: queries. I actually didn’t pay too much attention to them, I used them to get a feel of the novel and focused my energy on the pages. But I saw a trend that I asked the other mentors about, and they noticed it, too. Some people are writing two paragraph queries, where both paragraphs sum up the novel. So the second paragraph may give different details, but doesn’t further along the story. As far as we can tell, this is not something being requested by agents. Use your query to tell a story. You can use a log line, but one line, and then expand on it in the rest of the query. You have 250 words, don’t waste words repeating what has already been introduced.
If your goal is to find an agent, query agents, not editors. Agents prefer you don’t send your ms to editors because that’s their job. There are exceptions, where an author lands a publisher and then an agent. Ultimately you don’t want to spoil your chances.
Find critique partners. I’m blown away by some of the subs I’ve read, where I was one of the first to see these words. I’m so happy these authors are stepping out and sharing their words, ready and willing to grow and learn. And I really hope they now are searching for critique partners (CPs). A writer needs them. My agent expects me to use my CPs before sending her work, so I can send her the best I’ve got. My CPs are my friends, they hold my hand through the ups and downs of this business, and work hard at adding and removing commas in my novels.
I want to take a moment and thank all my subs, for sharing their words with me, and all the cool people hanging out on the #PitchWars feed. You all are amazing and talented, and I can’t wait to cheer on your successes!