Monday, April 30, 2012

What I Learned From My Very Small Role in Ruth Lauren Steven's Recent Agent-Judged Blog Contest

It's impossible to be a writer and NOT have heard the phrase 'This business is so subjective'.  And having been the recipient of numerous form rejections accompanied with this well-meaning advice, I feel qualified in saying I found it annoying. To me it translated to: 'Your book sucks, but to soften the blow and also to discourage you from sending me hateful emails, I offer you this piece of advice, which is just vague enough to seem encouraging while simultaneously not being so encouraging as to outright say I think your work has merit. Which it doesn't. Now screw off.'

Yeah, I'm jaded. And over-analytical. What of it? (Now that's a phrase that just doesn't get used enough).

Note: as annoying and I found/find this phrase, I'd be lying if I said I haven't doled it out before. Don't know what to say? 'This business is so subjective' pretty much works in any given situation. Guess that means we can add hypocrite to the list!

So then Ruth Lauren Steven went and had a super fun agent-judged blog contest. The idea was that Ruth would read through all the entries and select a number to be given a 'free pass' to the top of the slush pile. These free pass winners would go on to the second round of the contest, wherein two agents would choose a winner to receive a partial critique.

Problem was, there were so many great entries that Ruth was having a hard time selecting which entries would get the free pass.

Enter me.

Ruth emailed me about 20 entries, which included a query letter and the first five pages of the manuscript. In addition to be HELLA FUN, the experience gave me new insight into the hated 'This business is so subjective' phrase. Countless times I'd read an entry, dislike the query but LOVE the pages...only to confer with Ruth and find she LOVED the query and disliked the pages, and vice versa.

Yeah, I was super helpful to her cause.

So while I still find the phrase annoying on the grounds that it's tossed around so frequently and for every writerly dilemma imaginable that it's lost all meaning, I can now appreciate it so much more.

Other things I learned from my very small role in Ruth Lauren Steven's  recent agent-judged blog contest:

-All the query letter help sites saturating the internet must really be doing their job, because the vast majority of queries were VERY good!

-Alarmingly so. As in,  at times the queries were polished to an impeccable shine, but the pages...not so much. It's important to remember that a great query will get your foot in the door, but that won't mean much if the book isn't also polished to an impeccable shine. Just throwing that out there for anyone tempted to jump into querying prior to having edited, re-edited, sat on their book, edited, got a beta-reader, edited, etc etc. I would know nothing of this, of course, being the very patient person that I am. I never rush. Nope, not me! Just not in my nature...

-You authors are CREATIVE! No two plots were alike, which I found amazing. It was awe and jealousy-inspiring to read so many great ideas.

-People likes them some agent-judged blog contests. So much so that Ruth needed my help to field the nearly 100 entries received in just an 8 hour submission window!! So because we love our readers and we love to cater to their wants/needs, together we've decided to host a larger scale agent-judged contest this summer. FUN TIMES AHEAD!


  1. Wow, sounds like an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing your behind-the-scenes look into the process.

  2. Ruth's competition sounds like a fantastic success. What a response! And what an eye opener for you. A peek into the life of a literary agent. Too cool.

    1. It was very cool! Can't wait to do our summer comp.

  3. What a fascinating insight into the slushpile!

  4. Aww, you WERE super helpful. And I completely agree - in so many cases, it really was subjective. Really, really!

  5. Thanks so much for your help in the contest Michelle! It was super uber fun.

    I have to say that when I get the line 'the business is subjective' in a rejection, I hardly even register it anymore. It fells like the old standby, 'not the right fit for me'. Those sentences just don't mean anything now. I KNOW it's subjective, I KNOW (obviously, since I'm getting rejected) that it's not the right fit (hence your rejection of my ms) so they just fall into the background. I appreciate those facts so hearing them again just skims my head.

    In fact, I'd be horrified if you made me sort through prospective clients like agents do. Plus, I'm pretty sure my brain would explode because I'm one of those perpetual 'what if' people, which means that I'll hang on something that nudges my insides, even if I think it's totally unmarketable. Suffice to say, I would suck at being an agent.

    1. I'm so glad another author agrees!

      And P.S, I remember your name from the submissions--the cat story, right? It wasn't a question whether it'd go to the next round. Ruth and I both agreed the query and pages were fantastic! Good luck to you :)

  6. I think the whole contest experience sounds like so much fun. Totally planning one myself soon!

  7. Going to have to keep my eye out for this contest!