Why didn’t we win? #RevPit editors provide answers
It hurts so good.
It does hurt. When we don’t win, our minds jet back through time and conjure every awful feeling we had when we weren’t picked in gym class. It’s a fact.
But we all knew this had to happen to some of the #RevPit entrants. It just happened to be us! Let’s do some math to make us feel better:
2 submissions per entrant
100 submissions max per editor
Let’s see… that means if every entrant submitted to two editors and every editor maxed out at 100 submissions, then about 750 people entered, right? My math is probably waaay off, but honestly, that number doesn’t even matter. Your chances were basically 1 in 100.
That’s pretty tough.
So, if you weren’t picked, it is okay. It hurts. But it’s a good kind of hurt because it was a healthy (I’m gonna say it… I’m gonna say it…) fail. It was a healthy fail! We all learned a lot, even if one of those things may be:
My book’s not good enough… yet.
If I didn’t make it clear by using those fancy italics, that “yet” is a huge part of that sentence.
We are not done.
Our story is not over.
We can still be authors.
We just have more work to do.
Let’s break it down
Okay, so, if you’re still with me, if you’re still here to answer the dream that called to you, if you’re still refusing to give up, then we first have to ask: Where did we fall short? Essentially, there are three areas where our weakness could be lurking:
3. Craft (first 5 pages)
Some of the editors have so graciously responded to all their submissions and gave them some tips. If you were one of those people, praise the skies above because that advice is priceless. If you didn’t get personalized notes from the #RevPit editors, you may need to look at the comments from your beta readers to see which area (or areas) is your weakest link.
Once you know the problem, then you can work on fixing it. I reached out to some of the #RevPit editors for their best advice on where we go from here. What problems did they see the most and how do we go about making our manuscripts stronger? Here’s what they had to say:
“Regarding premise, there were so many amazing concepts this year […]. Concept is wonderful, but it’s only effective if executed, well, effectively, which means keeping character in focus and letting them lead us through that concept in a way that builds empathy between the character and reader.”R. R. Campbell
“To improve on a premise, I’d suggest reading widely, and in other genres. Find books similar to yours, completely different than yours, and look at what they do that you like and what they do that you don’t like. For books that are different, what drew you to them? For books that are similar, how can you make yours stand out? […] I highly suggest the nine-grid plan for organizing plot to make sure everything flows and stays connected.” [Access the worksheet here! Find out how to use it here!]Editor Cassandra
“[…] I would say that for my own list of entrants, I can’t call any of them ‘non-winners.’ There were so many fabulous entries and I labored over every one of them. As far as the queries, most of them were spot on, with really solid summaries, manuscript info paragraphs, and bios. The basic advice would be to keep those summaries to about two paragraphs and make sure that the MC’s desire (both emotional and concrete) is expressed, and that we understand what is at stake if those desires are not achieved.”Jay Whistler
“In your query letter, show us what is unique about your book. What makes it different from the other queries crossing our desks? And focus on your stakes. Don’t just tell us the large ones, (i.e. “they must save the world”), but the personal stakes that are the true motivation for your MC. What is missing in their life and what they need to fulfill it. Their personal goals. And if you can, maintain your voice in the query letter, not just the pages.”Carly Hayward
“Queries — letting the character fall out of focus was a concern, particularly for speculative stories (i.e., sci-fi and fantasy). It makes sense to include some world-building details in a query, but our characters are the ones driving the action, and we need them to really be the force that guides us down the page (both for queries and our pages).”R. R. Campbell
“[…] make sure that you read those MSWLs carefully. I had to reject a number of manuscripts because they did not match what I was looking for (e.g., I was not taking any adult). Also, it’s a good idea to really understand genre and be sure you know where your manuscript lies (hint: magical realism is NOT fantasy lite). All that being said, I hated having to turn down so many deserving manuscripts. I feel confident that some of these gems will find a home with an agent very soon!”Jay Whistler
“And one final matter that popped up a few times was a lack of tangibility. In other words, in queries there would be mention of “promises made” or “secrets kept,” but there wasn’t *quite* enough information included about those to draw me in. I don’t mean to argue that writers need to give away all the twists and turns to their story while writing their queries, but rather that we need to at least know why those promises and secrets are important to the characters and why we, as readers, should care. If we can get a little more of the *why* baked into queries that mention secrets, promises, and other yet-to-be-revealed bits of information, we’ll have enough tangibility to know whether it’s something we’re truly interested in reading more about.”R. R. Campbell
“I did an exercise recently where I took a book I had written in first person and wrote it in third, and as a screenplay. You don’t have to do both, but looking at the story this way, externally as an observer rather than internally from a specific character, helped me see it in a new light and really focused my need to be sure I’m setting the scene properly, describing things using all five of the senses.”Editor Cassandra
“Another trend was a lack of connectivity between queries and first pages. For example, I might get a great query with a wonderful premise that clearly communicates characters, goals, conflicts, and stakes, but then I’d get to the pages and we’d be off somewhere else with a character who didn’t figure into the query at all, or a character who was only mentioned in passing in the query. Connectivity between a query and the first five pages is so key, as it builds trust between a writer and the individual evaluating their submission.”R. R. Campbell
There are many paths to publication
I hope this advice helps you to take a step back and look at your materials as an outsider. As we write, our stories become so alive to us—we become our characters, we live in their worlds—and it can be difficult to see our manuscripts and query letters objectively.
Take a minute to walk away from your work, but then have a plan! Like Jeni Chappelle says, “there are so many paths to publication”—know which route you want to take and then you better be jumping in a Ferrari to get there. See you on the road!