First, let me take care of a little post-contest business. Surprisingly, we’re still waiting on quite a few winners to send us their material for critique. We’re guessing there’s some furious writing and polishing going on. We’d like to request, however, that all winners’ materials be e-mailed to our blog account by June 15th. This seems a reasonable amount of time to polish a synopsis and first chapter, and frankly, I’ll be going on maternity leave a few weeks later and don’t want Jessica to be shouldered with any remaining responsibility.
If your entry didn’t win a free critique, but you’re just dying to know what a BookEnds agent or another agency might think of your work, consider bidding on an evaluation at bestselling author Brenda Novak’s Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. There are some top-notch agents and editors offering critiques there and some other terrific items to bid on. Best of all, it’s going to a great cause!
Moving on . . .
Once the contest ended two things really struck me as I looked back over the results:
1 — The common denominator in all of our winners was a strong voice. Jessica wrote an article about voice a week ago that sparked a great discussion. What seems apparent to me here, though, is that when given only 100 words with which to judge, we always found ourselves reeled in by the voice first and foremost. The hook was secondary.
I think that’s part of the reason we pulled out so many first-person points of view. It can be the toughest perspective to execute well, but can immediately draw the reader into a certain intimacy with the narrator that’s tough to achieve with a third-person POV. Does that mean Jessica and I favor first-person manuscripts? Not at all. While a first-person POV can create that faster connection with the audience, it’s a relationship that can quickly sour. It’s easy for a reader to grow sick of the narrator. That’s why it’s such a tricky skill to master.
Clearly a strong voice is important to a successful book, but I’d also like to clarify that just because a voice may not have struck us in the first 100 words doesn’t mean the manuscript is lacking a great one. It can often be something that builds. In fact, I just signed a client who entered one of our contests and didn’t even make honorable mention. But when I read her submission, I totally fell in love with her voice. I love the story and the characters too, but her writing style is really what hooked me. So please don’t be discouraged from submitting based on the contest results. It was a daunting task to judge based on 100 words, and so we had to make our decisions much differently than we might in the submission process.
2 — This business really is amazingly subjective. I’ll be honest. I really thought to myself while I was judging, “Oh yeah . . . Jessica’s going to pick this one.” I was almost always wrong. Having worked with her over the last four years, I think I have a pretty good idea of her likes and dislikes. I know which projects to pass on to her because they’re more up her alley than mine. But even so, there’s a certain something special between a reader and the words on the page that’s impossible for an outsider to understand. I just couldn’t predict how Jessica would react to those words: which ones would strike a chord and which she’d gloss over. That strange chemistry is even harder to pin down when it’s based on so few words.
Personally, I embrace that subjectivity. It’s part of what I love about this business. The unpredictability keeps the industry exciting. Sure, there’s enough common ground among publishing professionals to keep the business running and establish relationships between author, agent, and editor, but taste still plays a huge factor. There are plenty of NYT bestsellers that I just didn’t “get.” I know Jessica and Jacky would say the same (though their examples would likely be different). There are others that totally clicked with me that I know were panned by other publishing professionals. It’s a fun debate and one I’ll talk about soon in an upcoming post.
In the meantime, what did you learn from the BookEnds contest? And once we’ve had our break . . . what would you like to see in the next contest?