Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Wednesdays and Slush Booty

Happy Wednesday!

After a two-month break from regularly-scheduled posts, Rate Your Story is continuing a Wednesday series with free writing tips.  Instead of focusing on Author Interviews, however, we're going to have a rotating selection of guest posts from Rate Your Story fans/writers, published and pre-published authors, and professionals from the publishing industry (a totally incomplete, tentative schedule is posted on the sidebar).

As a writer myself, I know how time-consuming and nerve-wracking it is to prepare and send a submission anywhere.  Since taking several editorial freelance jobs and especially since launching Rate Your Story in October, though, I've come to remember that the editorial end can be just as time-consuming and nerve-wracking.

So to kick off the Writing Wednesday series, I wanted to share some of the invaluable writing lessons I've learned from being the intern in control of the slush pile that ebbs and flows in the ocean-like inbox at Rate Your Story.

I call these treasured tips and wisdoms "Slush Booty."

Slush Booty
By Miranda Paul

Slush Booty #1
Someone else probably just submitted something similar.  

Or the exact same story, with different character names.

It was only three weeks after Rate Your Story opened that a submission came in with the exact same title as one of my WIPs.  I thought I was the cleverest person in the world when I came up with that title.  Apparently, there were two of us – probably more.

Since we've opened, I can't tell you how many stories we get like this:  MC doesn't like who he/she is (or what type of animal they are), tries out to be every different type of person/animal in the school/garden/farm/zoo and voila! decides that being him or herself is best.  I know the storyline well because I wrote a story like it ("Cock-a-Doodle-MOO!") for iStorybooks a couple years ago (and it just so happens it's not the only children's story out there with the exact same title).  I don't think this is a bad storyline, of course, but if RYS judges have seen this type of story 15 or 20 times in a span of eight months, imagine how many an editor or intern at a publishing house has seen...

And last, which is loosely related to this booty-tip:  Google your title to see if there's been another picture book (or seven) already published with the exact same title.  You wouldn't believe how many submissions we get where the title is already a picture book.  I know, I'm guilty of it too.  But I'm savvy now.

Slush Booty #2
Your title and pitch might be way better than your story.

This is probably the most common thing I see.  As the person who moderates the inbox and passes submissions to judges, I get to see all the titles and pitches in the email body -  but I don't read all the stories before passing them along.  Many, many times I am surprised at an awesome pitch or totally bizarre title that comes back as not-so-good rating.  While the author has done a good job grabbing attention, it's important that what/how you pitch and title your story is matched by the same style and quality of writing.

Slush Booty #3
Editors may or may not read your query/email/pitch.

We get busy.  We get lazy.  We forget.  We get excited by the title and want to get to the MS right away.  Combined with the above advice, make your pitch short and sweet and spend your time on making the manuscript perfect.  An imperfect query or pitch is probably fine, so stop stressing.

Slush Booty #4
Don't send anything that's a Work in Progress (WIP).  

And if you do, because you're probably going to, don't tell the editor that it's "not quite finished yet but I'm submitting it anyway...just to see what you think." Maybe we get this line more often at Rate Your Story because writers feel this is a "practice submission," but it's really unprofessional.  It's like the girl who goes to audition for a role and coughs or makes an excuse that she's hungover and not feeling well just before she even opens the script to read her lines. 

Slush Booty #5
Technology is Evil.

Sometimes attachments don't open.  Sometimes emails get lost in space (probably the same place the dryer sends those missing socks).  Emails get magically marked as read when they weren't.  The lesson here is to follow up!  I realize that many publishers say "no answer means no," - but there's a significant chance that they either haven't gotten to it yet or it really never reached that editor.  I had a piece sit on a slush pile seven months and considered it rejected.  Then, out of nowhere, got an email from the editor asking if it was still available and that she wanted to publish it.  She had just opened it that week - that's how behind she ways.  So, keep a good submission tracker spreadsheet or use an online software and follow up (gently and politely).  The worst thing that can happen is that the editor ignores you or says "no."


Slush Booty #6
Make sure your story is a story.


This seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many stories we get that really aren't complete stories.  While some authors say "this is a concept book," or "it's a chapter as part of a larger novel," etc.  - it's important to remember that an editor is going to look at your piece as a whole.  Especially the editors at a site called "Rate Your Story."  Even concept books or board books seem to have a flow from beginning to middle to end, even with a twist sometimes.  And if you're looking for a critique on a chapter, make sure it can stand alone as a story itself.

Well, those are the most important treasures I've discovered thus far, but there are actually many more nuggets I've learned from being on the editorial ship.  Now, back to slush-buckling, mates!

Join us next week (Wednesday) as we welcome Julie Hedlund, one of the pirates individuals responsible for making our slush pile so much larger by sharing Rate Your Story with the 400 writers participating in 12 x 12 in 2012.


25 comments:

  1. These are great tips. I google titles all the time. I also go to the bookstore on weekly basis just to look at displays and see what books are coming out. It's my way of keeping eye on the market.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Great advice! Keeping an eye on the market is so important these days.

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  2. Thanks Miranda for all the nuggets of information. This is very helpful. Thanks again for creating this great service.
    -Darshana

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    1. Thanks, Darshana. I can't wait for your post where you share some of your experiences.

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  3. This was great Miranda! Loved getting perspective from the other side of the desk. Please keep it coming!

    RYS judges have offered me helpful, constructive advice and commentary. I appreciate the opportunity to share my work with fresher, wiser, more experienced eyes. Thank you!

    - Cathy Mealey

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    1. Thank you so much for that great testimonial, Cathy. I'm always pleased when writers give us feedback on the site that is so positive. It really keeps us going!

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  4. Thanks for all the advice Miranda, very helpful. Also, big thanks to RYS judges for all the critiques they helped me with.

    -Jennifer Young

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    1. You're welcome. It's truly been interesting to be on this end of the submissions bandwagon, and I'm glad to share a few nuggets I've picked up. It's nice to hear that the RYS critiques have helped you.

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  5. Appreciate the information on slush piles. I'm still waiting for a response from an editor. Maybe my email got lost.

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    1. It's possible! I actually need to take some of my own advice and follow up on a few...

      Good luck with those submissions!

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  6. Great tips from your side of the computer! Thanks, Miranda, for volunteering your time to do this!

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    1. You're welcome, Tina! I've learned so much in being on the editorial/receiving end, and can say I'm really starting to understand why some publishing houses have closed their doors or have very strict submission policies. It's not easy to do this, but it is rewarding when considering it from the perspective of a writer gaining knowledge about this process.

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  7. Great tips! I also google title, plus subjects. So if I am thinking about a ballerina hippo, I also google in Amazon books "hippo ballerina". :-) Thanks for all you do!

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    1. Great tip, too, Debbie! And you're welcome!

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  8. I google EVERYTHING, and am so often disappointed by the results, haha. "This has been done...done...DONE." But it's such a necessary step. These are all excellent tips, and what a unique learning position you are in!

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    1. Yes, it really is a unique learning position. know - doesn't it seem like everything is already taken? Although I used a pretty firm tone in my article about Googling titles, by no means do I want to say if it's been taken before, another book with the same title CAN'T be published. But you'd probably have to have a really strong case for the marketing department, (e.g. that other book is out of print, in a completely different genre, was self-published and doesn't make it to the first page of Google, the domain name is still available, etc.). Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Excellent tips! I think I've been guilty of all of them at least once :)

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    1. Only once? I think I've slipped a few times on some of these, especially with following up on submissions. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. Great post, I appreciate your tips from the other side of the desk!

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    1. You're welcome! And thanks for stopping by!

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  11. Yes, I also google titles. Why does everyone have to read my mind before I even think it? ;) Love your other tips, too. Thanks!

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    1. :) Too funny. You're welcome, Hannah!

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  12. Thanks so much for this informative post. It is chock full of tips and wisdom!

    I am a Googling fool! Of course, I pray as I Google..."please let this be so original that Google has never heard of anything anywhere close to this...please!"

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  13. Penny, you always crack me up. And from what I've seen from contest entries you have posted, you always have very original ideas! I wouldn't worry! Thanks for stopping by.

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  14. Great tips and reminders, Miranda! Thank you! And thanks Penny for passing the link along. :)

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