Some of you might have seen my tweets as I waded through the second round of #PitchMadness slush last week. Truth be told, I had an absolute ball doing it, but as usual, there were a few trends and a few singularities that stood out.
Most of us tend to tweet our thoughts as we’re reading. So, I thought I’d do a compilation of my thoughts during the slush diving, and expand on a few of them in the hopes that it’ll help people who plan to return to – or someday venture into – a slush pile.
1). Watch repetitious words. Several of the same word in one paragraph is unnecessary and can feel clumsy.
Spelling mistakes and repetitiveness in the first 250 words don’t inspire confidence.
Opening your first page with a clichè fosters little hope for originality in the rest of the manuscript.
These three are all related. I saw them more than I expected to. There are so many words in the English language that there’s rarely an excuse for using the same word multiple times in a fifty word space. If you’re not choosing to emphasize that word for an integral reason – then use another.
Spelling should be as close to impeccable as possible in your whole manuscript, let alone the first 250. When I find spelling mistakes, and an exhibition of limited vocabulary in the first 250 words, my hopes and expectations for the rest of the manuscript dwindle.
Cliches are rarely necessary. Sometimes they can work, but pick your battles, and definitely don’t make one your first line. Just don’t.
2). Just because you specify MG/YA etc doesn’t mean a thing. Make sure the voice matches your classification.
Categories need to be voiced right. Old sounding MGs just don’t work, neither do childish YAs.
A strong voiced MG makes my heart happy. Just saying 😉
This was a reoccurring theme. Quite a few YAs sounded childish, and MGs grown up. Like the voice was swapped, or the author was trying to squeeze the story into the genre they’d dictated for themselves. Don’t do that. Finish the story, read through it, and make sure the voice is categorized correctly. There’s no shame in adapting the age group and it’s usually a rather easy fix.
I’m very happy to say there were occasions where I found perfect voices, both in MG and YA. It’s not all dark and gloomy 😉
3).Ahhhh how I love a strong, witty and believable male voice.
Male pov needs to be authentic. Even if the prose is good – a feminine voice ruins the excerpt for me
This really got to me. I love male point of views. Seriously. My favourite two sets of books ever are from a male perspective. By female authors – and they work. Please make sure your male pov is authentic and not just a female voice trying to be a guy. I read a couple with distinct feminine overtones in their descriptors, thoughts and speech. However, I did stumble across several who executed male pov extremely well.
4). Pitch is generic, first paragraph is superfluous, BUT the rest of the excerpt has distinct voice!
Wow – that pitch had me ready to label the entry NO, but the excerpt changed my mind. YES!
I might be the only person who did this, but on occasion a pitch would confuse me. It wasn’t clear what the stake was (I’ll go off on that tangent in a few), there was no clear plot depicted, or a lot of characters already introduced and no clear anything for me to cling to.
However – the excerpt was distinct, clear, and very well written.
So in those few cases I would vote YES because the writing in the excerpt pulled me past the travesty of the pitch. There weren’t many of these, and I’m not sure an agent would react the same way, so I really hope those queries are better than the pitches, but sometimes if that first page is stellar, it can trump a skewed pitch.
Also – superfluous is one of my favourite words, and has been since I was eight 😉 It is not okay to hide your character’s voice with a first paragraph that appears to be written by a completely different character. Ditch it. Regardless of how clever you think that awesome first paragraph is – get rid of it. Start with the guts of the character.
5). A choice between doing something or dying really isn’t a choice. Stakes – make me care
THIS! If Jane doesn’t hand over control of her life the ENTIRE WORLD WILL BE BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS.
See that right there? That is NOT a stake. Why on earth not, you ask?
What happens if she hands herself over? Oh? Really? She saves the world? Well THAT WAS A DIFFICULT DECISION wasn’t it? See – if she even contemplates NOT doing it, she’s a selfish cow and I couldn’t be bothered to read anything about her.
Make your reader care. Give them a true stake. Pick between two things. World A or World B. See – lots of death all around there. How about – She has to find out who is responsible before A kills everyone in that tiny freaking Pretty Little Liars town. And really she should hurry, because they’re just dwindling right now.
See the point? They could just leave town and be done with it, but that’s selfish because A will rip everyone left apart.
Stakes. Learn them. Love them. GET THEM RIGHT.
Last but not least – this one was popular:
6). First person doesn’t give you free rein to start every other sentence with I. All that shows is lazy writing.
I should give you some background – To me, this is the sort of thing that should be taken care of when you go through your final edits. Make sure you don’t have five sentences in a row beginning with I, He, She, The etc. Check that you haven’t inadvertently used the word look 777 times in your 77k manuscript. Polish it. Make it shine, make it tight.
So – I shouldn’t read a four sentence first paragraph in a first person pov where every sentence begins with I. Or that 75% of the sentences on the first page begin with I or some variation thereof (I’ve, I’m, I’d etc.). This is lazy writing. Do other authors do it? Sure they do. But I don’t read their books for long either. You can make the prose so much more compelling without this. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to have a couple or even a few sentences with the same word or variation thereof. But in the first 250? It’s lazy.
Keep in mind that all the entries I saw had already passed through one round and they were good. Seriously. I don’t think even one entry that I saw was bad. Some just weren’t quite as good as others.
I’m just an agented author on then next leg of her journey. Remember that agents receive hundreds of queries a week. Your work needs to stand out, to grab them by the short and curlies and say: YOU WANT TO READ MORE!
Don’t be generic – make them want to read further. Make them want you.
Good luck to everyone who made the Agent Round! Impress them all!