I mentioned in the previous post about how I started reading submissions and how at first I took it all rather slowly. As I progressed things sort of sped up because I started to be able to recognise issues in submissions and got more of an idea what the boys were wanting.
The first submission I picked up made it to the editors. After a couple of weeks I asked for feedback on that manuscript. Lee loved it. I did too. I am now a big fan of the author! I’d buy her books anytime. However, it was not quite right for Angry Robot Books. (sad face). However, I was happy that I was able to pick a good novel, a publishable novel. Pity I wasn’t quite on the money. In his feedback Lee said they were looking for intensity and tension. Right. Got it. I interpreted that to mean: grabs me by the throat and doesn’t let me go. Well don’t all publishers want that? Maybe?
If you read the edgy stuff the imprint is putting out, then hell yeah! Do they want the writing turned up to eleven? Oh yeah! Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award! Look at Kaaron Warren writing on the edge and Andy Remic with his nasty, funky fantasy.
So I got with the program.
I really like reading what I like and I can’t help being subjective in my taste. I’m me so it is very hard to exclude me from the reading process because I inhabit the brain that is reading. So I had to tweak my enjoyment levels a bit and raise the bar. Remember there were a lot of manuscripts and, hence, a lot of competition. Even if all 944 of them were fantastic there would still need to be a selection process.
This raising of the bar affected the number of fulls that I requested. I started being a lot tougher on the partials. My full request rate was a bit high. Initially I calculated it at 20 per cent. That didn’t seem right to me. In saying that I don’t mean I had a quota. I tried to analyse it myself a few times, whether there was some kind of pattern but there did not appear to be. I used to think it was two in ten, but then I’d read 20 and pick none and then read another two and pick both of them. I think the high rate of requests, meant that the quality of the submissions was generally high.
So what do I mean tough? Initially, if I read the partial through to the end, I’d request it. At this stage I would examine more thoroughly why I liked it. I like paranormal romance so I’d enjoy something along those lines. However, Angry Robot Books weren’t looking for that. So I’d usually say in my rejection. “I like this but it’s not quite right for Angry Robot.”
I seem to like interesting ideas and literary style, particularly if the setting is exotic. However, these tended not to be full of tension and intensity…but more whimsical…
By this time, too, I was really able to hone in on things like the tension levels, whether the story kept moving. This became a critical element for me. I realise it is very hard to balance character, action and tension levels, but you have to. Character is very important too. So if the character wasn’t grabbing me and the tension was not there and the idea wasn’t anything new, then it wasn’t going to make it through.
Sometimes, there was nothing technically wrong with the submission, it just wasn’t grabbing me. ( I will go into this in a later post). These were the most difficult for me and I agonised over them. Most of the time I didn’t write comments if this was the case. What could I say that wasn’t insulting or annoying? I’d try to and it got too hard and I didn’t have time to sculpt something tactful. It was better to stick to the standard format. I know I wouldn’t like a rejection that said: You write well but this story did not inspire me enough to request the full. (mind you I’ve had a few agents say that in their rejections).
I know I had a couple of good proposals that were very close to what Angry Robot Books had already published. Usually I said so in my comments.
In many cases, the story needed more work or the idea had been done to death and wasn’t adding much new. Sometimes I was too busy to write comments!
When did I provide comments?
This is the interesting bit for me. Sometimes it was the idea or the setting or the energy in the writing and there was something just not quite there. In these cases I tried to give feedback. For example, I might have said something like.
“This is a great idea and it is very similar to this author’s work, however, the frequent flash backs interrupt the flow for me and I can’t quite get seated in the character. Good luck with it.”
Or “This is a fantastic setting and I think what you’ve got has legs, but it’s not quite there yet. Keep an eye on the tension.”
If I thought the MS had promise but had issues and I liked the concept, writing and other things, then I did try to offer something useful. If I had to estimate I’d say a quarter of the partials I rejected had comments.
I might even at the partial stage reject but say I’d pass the author’s name on. I think I did that twice and I’ll probably do it for a couple of the fulls too that don’t make it to the editors.
Bottom line is if you got comments on a partial you excited me is some way with your MS or I felt you had something worth pursuing.
For those with no comments, the experienced writers among you know that you have something. That you write well and something wasn’t right for me as the reader. Of course you really want to know definitively what that is and you so wish that the reader pointed it out. But hey, readers are subjective. We are reading to a particular imprint. Your ms could be just right for someone else, just not Angry Robot. Our comments might not be relevant at all. I mean we are subjective readers all of us.
Generally though it could be the fit. You need to research your market in this case. It could be tension and it could be that I’ve seen fifty vampire detective novels in the week and yours is very similar to others.
If you are unsure, for example, you don’t know whether your writing is good, then do as Lee suggests on the Angry Robot website, get a beta reader (get lots) and choose ones that you respect and that won’t say “It’s fine. You are so talented, mate.” Ask for honesty and accept what is said to you. It may dent your ego but it will in the end make you a better writer.
Some writers wrote back to me thanking me for their comments. A couple even said I was spot on. Luckily no one wrote to me and was nasty.
Remember these are my thoughts and feelings on comments. Amanda will have her own views, I expect. If you are nice to her she might blog about it.
Next blog post will be about some of the common issues I noted. That will be tomorrow maybe…