Thoughts from the NestPitch slushPosted: April 11, 2014
I was recently a slush reader for the NestPitch contest. My part is done now, although the contest is ongoing, with the nest bloggers choosing their final picks from the slushies’ shortlist for final agent consideration.
Because the contest isn’t done, I’m going to keep this slush feedback general. But hopefully it will give people an idea of the things I noticed as a common theme in the slush, and the main reasons I said no. Reading slush for a contest like this or Pitcharama really gives you a unique insight into what it must be like to be an agent or editor.
Length: too long, too short, just right
Hearing your manuscript is far too long or too short is hard, and—unlike with the next two pieces of advice—there is no easy fix if you want to be traditionally published.
This post is a great guide to length, and is the one I referred to when I had doubts about the average length of a genre. For example, of all the genres being pitched, I don’t currently read middle grade (although I no doubt will as my son gets older—we’re still reading picture books and chapter books). So I looked it up.
If your book falls outside the “safe” range for your genre, you’re much more likely to get passed over by an agent. Publishers aren’t interested in 200k-word epics or skinny novellas by debut novelists, so neither are agents – because as well as loving your book, they need to believe they can sell it before they’ll make you an offer.
One book in my slush pile was all wrong for its genre. It was a picture book that was thousands (many thousands) of words over the recommended length. It was long enough I was left wondering whether the writer had meant to classify it as middle grade and had somehow mistyped.
I read all of every submission in my slush pile (something not all agents will do), but books that were well outside the range already had a strike against them before I started. Some got the tick despite their length. Most didn’t.
Age bracket: square peg in a round hole
I tweeted a few days ago about how it’s particularly vital that kidlit writers (anyone writing anything from picture books to NA) make it clear in their pitch or opening paragraphs how old the protagonist is.
This was prompted by me reading a pitch for a book whose length was on the low end of middle grade but that featured a protagonist who appeared, based on their actions, to be at least seventeen. My take-home impression was that it was a YA novella that the author had optimistically called middle grade based on its length.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the character was really twelve and was doing things no twelve year old should be, as part of the story. But that wasn’t clear.
Proofreading and spell check are your friends
Some books had writing that needed a lot of love, and I passed on them because taking a non-query-ready manuscript to an agent does none of us any favours: the author, the agent or the NestPitch team.
But some were beautifully written…except for a single typo or incorrect word.
There were two in particular that caused me heartache, because I loved them but the first 300 words had these types of errors. One of the two had a misspelled word that a spellcheck would have picked up; the other had one word in place of another—something spellcheck wouldn’t detect but a proofread would.
I ended up giving both manuscripts the tick but whether the bloggers will choose them at the next round I’m not sure. If they love one of these pitches and another without errors, and they only have one space left on their list, they’re going to choose the one without errors.
Pitching or querying a manuscript takes an enormous act of courage. That document that you’ve slaved over for months or years, that you’ve only shown to those you know and trust, is out there, before the eyes of strangers. I admire and respect everyone that entered NestPitch, regardless of my final decision regarding each manuscript on my pile. I hope that my guidance above help anyone that ultimately gets told “no” see whether there are problems with their manuscript.
And I’ll be cheering for the thirteen members of Team Cass (even if they don’t know they are on Team Cass) at the blogger and agent rounds. Good luck, folks! 🙂