Over the last two years, I’ve been asked to be a reader/judge in four online writing contests. Each time I’m asked to read the slush, I’m overwhelmed by the honor to read writers’ work. Just recently, I was asked to be a “Pyrotechnic” (my reader name due to the contest’s proximity to the Fourth of July holiday) for Michelle Hauck’s New Agent contest.
From the beginning it was amazing to watch the entries appear, and by the end there were 190 entries waiting for all of us to read. My first impression overall? Voice. These entries had it in spades. And the quality of writing was top-notch which made my job very difficult.
Here are some overall observations from the slush:
– Too high or low word counts. If you decide to write in a certain category and genre, be sure you know what is an acceptable word count. I often refer to the two links below to make sure my work is hitting the right numbers. Word count isn’t always hard and fast. There are exceptions, but as a writer you need to be aware of where your numbers fall.
Literary Agent Jennifer Laughran’s Wordcount Dracula: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html
Writer’s Digest Definitive Word Count Guide: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post
– Queries that read like a synopsis. A query should be no more than one page and hit on three topics (which I learned from an agent at a conference):
The hook: one sentence that explains your main character’s conflict
The book: A paragraph stating your character’s wants/needs/struggles and how he/she is going to conquer them
The cook: A short bio including relevant publishing/writing credits
One more note: The query should never include the ending. Your final line (the sinker) should leave your reader on a cliffhanger, enticing them to want to read more.
– Category issue: Fantasy
I saw numerous fantasy entries this time around. Many of them had great concepts, but I got lost in the query due to too much world building. Yes, it’s important to weave in elements of this cool new setting you’ve created, but it should not be the entirety of the query. As a reader what I want to know is character, conflict and cost with setting being a background element.
This time around I saw a lot of:
– Alien invasion
– Living on other planets for centuries and then returning to Earth
– Bullies (in both MG & YA)
– Women’s Fiction (lots of broken down women trying to rebuild their life)
Overall, again I have to say, I was honored to read each and every entry. There is some incredible writing talent out there just waiting for an agent, or publisher, to discover them.
So here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. My New Agent picks:
Oliver’s Ghost Machine – Upper MG Dark Fantasy
Encircled – YA Fantasy
The Long Walk Home – YA Horror
The Monster’s Den – Adult Literary
The Great Pretender: MG Contemporary
The Hopping Dead: MG Sci-Fi
Steve & Austin – MG Adventure
The Other Kind of Normal – YA Contemporary
Many thanks again to everyone who entered the New Agent contest. It takes bravery to put your work out there. Like I’ve said before, publishing is very subjective. Because your entry was not selected DOES NOT mean it doesn’t have merit. Keep writing and querying and your time WILL come!