The Art of Killing Your Chances

Pitch Wars, like any other contest — or querying in general — is very subjective. But many writers shoot themselves in the foot by making mistakes that cost them credibility or disqualify them automatically. 

C’mon, guys. Writing a book is epic and legendary. Don’t do something careless to knock yourselves out of the running!

Here are some of the most common Pitch Wars problems I saw while digging in the slush. Also note, while these particular observations are about Pitch Wars, most of them could be tweaked slightly to apply to querying agents and publishers as well.

1) Vague query. You want to tease, but not to obfuscate. (See what I did there?) But in all seriousness, when I was critiquing queries, my most frequent comment BY FAR was “Ok . . . why?” Tell me why this matters. Give me stakes. If I don’t know why this is important to your MC/the world, why should it be important to me?

2) Your query doesn’t match your pages. If you have an awesome premise, make sure it is translated to the pages. Don’t try to spice up your query with things that don’t actually happen in the book. Agents will be twice as disappointed if you lead up to something amazing and don’t deliver.

3) Beautiful, polished, amazing first five pages. Letdown afterward. Guys. POLISH YOUR WHOLE MS. Not just the first few pages. Agents often complain that querying authors spend too much time polishing their query and first five/first chapter and not enough time actually polishing their MANUSCRIPT. You know, that thing you want to sell them and publish?

4) Too much info-dump in the first five. Guys, watch Episode 1 of Firefly. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.

5) Not being open to criticism or changing key points. Standing up for yourself is not a bad thing, but pick your battles. Consider their advice before automatically responding, “NO!”

6)  Submitting in the wrong category/genre. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! Know what kind of book you wrote! If you don’t, RESEARCH. Do homework. And please, don’t say “it’s a sci-fi romantic comedy with a bit of historical fantasy for all ages.” Just don’t.

7) Wrong voice. Your voice is awesome! But it doesn’t match your character. I can’t tell you how many times I heard mentors say something similar to, “This person has a great male teenager voice! Except their character is a 35-year-old woman.”

8) Entering contests (or querying) before it’s ready *cough NaNo cough* Polish these MSs. SHRED THEM. Let them rest, then shred again. If you just finished your book, congratulations! Please, for the love of all that is burned with fire, DO NOT just send it out to the world without doing some hardcore editing first. 

9) Not querying/submitting to the right person. STALK. Stealthily and courteously. BUT STALK. The fastest way to get tossed out of someone’s inbox is to submit something to them that they don’t represent.

10) Insulting them/yourself/their colleagues. For the love of burning things with fire, do not flame people. Keep your frustrations to yourself/your support group/your Mom. Never let them leave the box of secret silence.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Killing Your Chances

  1. I love the word ‘obfuscate’! Yeah, I’m probably alone on this one…

    Great post. What I hate, though, is when some readers say they get my query, but others are confused by it. My mind screams “now whose advice do I follow??”.

  2. #9 rings so true…thought I’d researched an agent enough and happily fired off a query to her. Somehow I missed that she didn’t rep what I wrote. *headdesk* She was VERY kind in her obvious rejection, even gave me someone else at her agency to query. Found out via twitter that she’d wanted my book badly. I had a good experience with this screw up but not all agents will be that understanding. Double check before you press send!

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