This post is coming to you on Friday so that I could have a bit of time to round up some of the common mistakes I saw in my Author Mentor Match submissions inbox. These are just my observations, and they may not apply to your book/query/synopsis. Or maybe it does! Nothing to fear–just some notes that may help you edit.
When I read through submissions, I read every query and then decided if I was a good fit or not for the project. After that, I’d read the synopsis. If the plot sounded solid, I would read some pages. If the pages held up, I requested a full. My time was very limited, so I was very picky.
AND I did find a mentee!!! A wonderful one!! Definitely go say hi to Abigail Welborn over on Twitter. Her dancing magic book is marvelous and yummy and deals with such interesting themes. I can’t wait to dig deeper into the book!
And now, without further ado, my AMM Feedback Roundup…
I didn’t consider projects over 100k. Firstly, because I don’t have a lot of time. Secondly, in queryland, many agents will auto-reject if your project is over 100k words (for YA). There are always exceptions, but I think it’s wise to play it safe at 99k or below.
Do your research! Find out what word counts are appropriate for your age category and genre! A 50k YA Fantasy is too sparse, too. I’m also an underwriter, so I really feel for this, but sometimes an agent will look at that low word count and think you skimped out on the worldbuilding.
I got a few submissions that were strictly historical, science fiction, or contemporary. I didn’t ask for any of these genres! I’m not the best pick to help mentor those genres specifically.
The takeaway lesson is to search agents’ Manuscript Wishlists very carefully! Some agencies will only let you query one agent — don’t throw away your shot by sending your high fantasy novel to someone who only reads contemporary!
There were a few submissions that compared their books to Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, and Twilight.
These are huge titles, and also largely outdated, in the publishing world. For comp titles, I believe you should find one book in your genre and age category that’s been published in the past three years. Ask your friends for recommendations! Search around on Goodreads! Go to your local bookstore or library and ask someone who works there for help!
I usually recommend you have two or three comp titles. And this is just my opinion, but I think you can get away with one that’s recent and in your age cat/genre AND a wildcard (a movie, a board game, a book that’s a few years older). But please. I beg you. Try to stay away from those huge titles mentioned above!!
Are you SURE you’re writing YA??
Young Adult is very present on Writing Twitter especially, but not every story pitched as a YA is a YA. Some examples I noticed:
Sometimes I read a query or a sample and the voice skewed younger. I actually had this problem myself! I wrote a story that I swore was YA, but my beta readers all said the voice was more MG. I made some changes–taking out some swear words, a couple of darker moments–but otherwise, my readers were right. It already was a middle grade story!
Concept + what’s selling
Magical schools and portal fantasies especially strike me as middle grade. If you comp Coraline, your book is probably MG. Consider, too, that YA Fantasy with a boy protagonist isn’t selling as well as MG Fantasy with a boy protagonist. If you’re set on having a boy be your hero, maybe consider aging it down some!
Age of the protagonist
If your protagonist is from the ages of 10 to 13, I’d consider your book Middle Grade! Unless it’s like a child serial killer, in which case, it could be an Adult novel. For YA, there’s a pretty strict protagonist age range from 16 to 18.
Where’s the magic?
A few submissions claimed to be Fantasies but then didn’t have any fantastical elements hinted at in the query. Adding rich, sensory details to your query really helps it stand out and stick in the agent’s mind. More than that, I want to see how your story stands out in the Fantasy sphere, and what kind of magic there is in your world. What cool, fantastical thing to you bring to the table? And why do you call your book a fantasy and not a historical fiction or a contemporary?
A weak query
I know this is a mentorship contest, so no one will have perfect sub materials. But I also expect potential mentees to put in the work. I got a couple of queries that really struck me as not having any research behind them–they didn’t really read like query letters at all. I didn’t even consider these projects because the author hadn’t put in the work to tell me what their project was about! Agents will have even less patience than I did!
Other query problems I saw:
–Too many characters were listed. I just need to know your main character and maybe the love interest or villain!
–Not enough character. In some queries, no main characters were listed at all! Or I couldn’t tell ANYTHING about who the main character was, what they wanted, what mattered to them, what they were fighting for, et cetera.
–Too much backstory. This is a hard balance to strike: I want to know what makes your world unique, but I want to know your character’s place in it, not necessarily a whole paragraph of the history of your world. Keep it simple and keep it focused on your main character.
Weak first pages
Prologues aren’t always book-killers, but they CAN be a barrier that keeps me from knowing and falling in love with your main character. My time is very short, and agents’ time is even shorter. I want to get a clear picture of your main character and what they care about as soon as possible.
You don’t need this to be with an action scene, but I do like to see your main character doing something rather than being told something or sitting in class or being bored. If your character is bored, I’ll be bored, too!!
Author Mentor Match (and many agents) ask for a synopsis that is 1-2 pages.
Problem one: I had a few synopses sent to me that were more than 2 pages or less than a page. I put down a big frowny face for these ones. FOLLOW THE RULES, PLEASE!
Problem two: Too many characters! I read several synopses with EVERY character listed (or at least, too many of them)! I think you can name-drop just a few, no more than five. The Main Character, the Love Interest, the Villain, a minor character or two… that’s really it! Too many characters makes the synopsis very confusing AND it can be a sign that the main character is not being active enough, with other narrative “jobs” being assigned to other characters!
Problem three: Sometimes, a synopsis read to me to be just a list of “things that happen to the characters.” I’d rather see a synopsis as dominoes that your main character has knocked over! And more than that, it’s hard, but I want to be able to see the emotional journey your character(s) have gone on just by looking at the synopsis. The events of the story are there to push our main characters towards growth and change! Furthermore, I need to know that the characters have been following some sort of goal and that they either have or haven’t achieved that goal by the end.
“Just not my jam”
As I go through my notes, I’m struck by how subjective this whole “picking a mentee” process is. It’s very similar to querying. A lot of the times, my note to myself about a submission was that it was just “not my jam.”
Retellings of certain myths I just wasn’t interested in. A main character who just didn’t grab me. A setting that I wasn’t in love with. A contemporary setting when I was looking for something that toed that waters of history. Demons. Elves. Aliens. Nothing’s wrong with any of these things specifically; it’s just my subjective taste. I wouldn’t be the best fit for giving you the passion that your book deserves!
You want a mentor or an agent who is so passionate about your book that they will read it again and again — because, thanks to revisions, they WILL read your book again and again.
To everyone who submitted to me, thank you SO much! I am so thankful to have gotten the chance to read your words. If you didn’t get into AMM, don’t give up and don’t despair! I never got into any mentorship program, and I still found my way. Finding writing friends and being willing to accept feedback–that is what makes an author ready to find an agent.