Making the First Cut
("Intern Extraordinaire" -Lilly)
What’s in the submissions pile, and what can you do to stand out?
When I first began reading over submissions at Full Circle, I really had no idea what to expect. Over the past few months, it’s been interesting to discover exactly what kind of work authors are putting out there. Many submissions have stood out amongst the piles; some in positive ways, and others less so. But perhaps what I have come to notice most are the undeniable trends that seem to permeate a good chunk of the submissions pile.
Here are some of the most popular types of submissions, accompanied by some tips to help yours stand out:
The Memoir: Why is it so popular? Because let’s face it, we all want to feel that our lives are so fascinating that they must be shared with the world. Unfortunately, truly appealing memoirs are hard to come by. Even if you are a brilliant writer, the story you are sharing must have a unique appeal. And of course poor writing can make even the most incredible story seem dull or confusing. It is very difficult to become interested in someone else’s story unless they have a distinctive and fascinating life experience to tell about. (Do not ask your friends if you have an interesting life; they will say “yes.”)
Common writers of memoirs: teachers, social workers, immigrants, veterans, and divorcees.
If you really have your heart set on writing a memoir (and I can’t legally stop you), or you have already devoted a good portion of your life to writing one, the following may help your cause:
Use your proposal or cover letter as a tool to clue us in on what makes this memoir different.
Make sure what is “different” is actually different. (Having a family of eight or 15 minutes of fame on the local news are not examples of different.)
As you are writing your proposal or cover letter, think about the market you wish to appeal to. (Who will be interested in your story and why?)
Be SPECIFIC!!! There is no need to be mysterious about the trials and tribulations that make your memoir interesting. Make your angle clear and convincing.
The Larry Potter: With the release of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling achieved enormous success and fame throughout the world. Now we all know that with any success in any creative business, there is always someone right behind, ready to recycle the same idea in a different color. “The Harry Potter” is a young adult novel or chapter book in which a child or group of children find a passageway or object which allows them to travel to some new magical world. Although Rowling was certainly not the first to come up with this format, she certainly popularized it.
Now if all this is sounding a great deal like something you’ve already written or submitted, don’t panic! Although there is sometimes a great volume of submissions that fit the above description, I do pass some of them on as a result of a unique twist or compelling characters.
Make your cover letter exciting by hitting on key twists and turns that might make your novel especially appealing to the intended audience.
If your YA novel or chapter book has a slower or more chaotic beginning, sometimes a synopsis can help to clarify where the story is going.
The Midlife Crisis: These are novels in which the protagonist (usually a woman) seeks a new life in an exotic foreign country after a heart wrenching divorce or death shatters the world she once knew. She then rediscovers herself and learns to live and love again.
The problem of “The Midlife Crisis” is that too often, the ‘twist’ in the story is simply the fact that the plot is set in a foreign land. There needs to be more than this. If you are having a midlife crisis and have already written this book, here are some tips:
Be careful not to veer into the vast waters of mainstream romance. If this is the intended genre for your work, you might consider other agencies. (However, we DO like chick lit.)
If you have written “The Midlife Crisis” and made it into a mystery thriller, make sure that you have a unique and marketable twist. (And please remember that we don't represent mysteries, thrillers, or other genre fiction!)
If your synopsis or cover letter sounds just like the description of “The Midlife Crisis,” add more details about what makes the protagonist a compelling character and what themes the setting and plot really have to offer.
Of course these are only a few of the many types of submissions we receive. Keep in mind, my job is much more exciting when I don’t have to read the same story over and over again. So, I hope that when you sit down at your computer or put that pen to paper, you will think of me and write something so unique and compelling that I will have no choice but to pass it on.