#p2p16 – Pitch to Publication

Time to get serious about #p2p16.

Bloggers note: I originally published this post for the #p2p16 March contest. I have since updated with information for the #p2p16 October contest.

Let me just say up-front I’m not affiliated with the contest in any way, other than having participated in it last summer (2015).

Now I’m generally a pretty easy going person and most of my posts are fairly laid back. This is not going to be one of those posts.

If you plan to participate #p2p16 then I’m here to tell you – Go into the contest with the conviction that you are going to win this thing. Put the wine glass down, lower the volume on the radio and stop listening to that shrill little voice in the back of your head that says you don’t have a chance. It’s time to go to workDetermination_stone.

Remember – you already wrote an entire manuscript and that’s way more than a lot of people can say. Seriously…you know what it took to get to this point. How many times did you want to quit? How many times did you feel like your writing was terrible? How many times did you pick yourself back up off the floor and keep going when any reasonable person would have just curled up and played dead? Only to find yourself knocked back down on that floor again later?

Despite all of that, you still did it. You wrote your book. Take all that determination, all that grit, all your passion – ball it all up and then explode on #p2p16 like you own the place. Don’t back down now. You can do this. This is your chance to find an agent.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I’ve included advice below, based on my own experience with the first p2p contest in the summer of 2015. Hopefully you find it helpful.

Before we get to that though, it probably makes sense to go over a rough outline of how the contest works.

Here are some highlights of the rules (I put these here as a convenience only – the official rules on the #p2p16 site should be considered the single source of truth):

#p2p16 is organized by writer Samantha Fountain. She gathers together 15 or 20 editors that will be looking at your query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript. Based on your query and first five pages, editors will pick 1 (or maybe 2) writers to work with. They will spend a month with you (yes, an entire month) honing your entire manuscript to get it to shine. Then in the next round, agents get to see the final product and if they like what they see…you may get “The Call.”

When: Saturday, October 22nd starting at Noon EST.

What to submit: Your query letter plus first 5 pages (all submissions must be from a fully completed manuscript).

How to submit: using the form on the #p2p16 website.

So the key is getting selected by one of the 15 editors in that first round. Because eve if you don’t ultimately find an agent, you still benefit from having a professional editor work on your MS for a month.

As a side note, let me say that in the past I have practically stalked editors…searching for the good ones. I recognize a lot of the names on the #p2p16 editor list. Trust me, these people know their craft. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be selected by an awesome editor…but that’s the subject of a different post I’ll put together later.

My advice based on participating in the last p2p contest.

1. Don’t settle for “good enough” from yourself.

Oh, I think you know what I mean. I’m talking about the way you feel when you look at your query and remember how painfully frustrating it was to put together. So you think to yourself: Well, maybe it’s not great, but it’s better than a lot of others I’ve seen.

Sorry, but that is simply not acceptable. Don’t let that little voice in the back of your head tell you it is.

Each editor will be looking at 100 entries or more. Last time around, I think there were a total of like 2,000 entries that came in (I don’t have insider information, I just remember seeing that number tossed around). So if you think that just “being better than a lot of others” is good enough, then you are in for a disappointment.

You need to dig down into that well of determination that got you this far and come up with the best query you have ever written. Seek advice from others. Read everything you can about writing better queries. Push yourself as hard as you have to, but whatever it takes, when you submit that thing to the contest you need to be able to honestly say “Now THAT is the query that’s going to get me picked.”

What you need to have ready:

A tagline: (sometimes called a logline) This is a one sentence blurb that boils down the essence of your book. Tough to do, but come up with something. As long as you don’t sound like a complete blubbering nitwit, the editors will read passed this and get to the meat of the query. So my advice is focus more on the query than the tagline.

The query: (Angelic horn music trumpets in the background). Yes, you need a real live query letter. It will need to include the genre (e.g. Fantasy), the category (e.g. Middle Grade) and the word count (you can only enter fully completed manuscripts). But that’s just the housekeeping stuff. The real meat of the query is the description of your story. This is the first chance you get to impress (and hook) the editors, so make this as good as you possibly can. As mentioned earlier, you have to commit to work on this thing until it shines.

A bio: Unless you have killer writing credentials (won awards), then I would not stress over this part. Be honest, and give the editors at least a general idea of your background, but don’t go overboard here. They are going to be looking at the query more than anything else (except for maybe those first 5 pages which have to be killer too).

All this may sound a bit daunting, but know this: YOU managed to write a 60k, 70k or 100k novel. Don’t tell me you can’t bang out a killer query and a righteous first five pages.

Want free advice on writing your query? Well there are lots of sites out there including Query Shark and loads of others. I even took a tongue-in-cheek swipe at it with the section of my site titled: Larry’s Queries.

2. Get organized and do your research in advance.

The #p2p16 web page lists all the editors that will be participating. Now here’s the important thing: you don’t get to submit to every editor. You have to pick three of them that you think would be a good fit for your book (you get a bonus 4th editor as an alternate).

You’re responsible for figuring out which four editors are most likely to find your writing and your book worth investing their time in. How do you do that? Well for starters on the #p2p16 web page, there is a section for each editor titled “What types of books do you enjoy working with?”

If you see the editor likes working with Adult Romance, but you write Middle Grade Sci-Fi, then you probably don’t want to pick them as one of your four editors.

But just looking at that section on the #p2p16 web page isn’t enough. These folks have an online presence – websites, facebook and twitter accounts (no stalking please). But take a closer look and see what type of Middle Grade Fantasy they prefer. What’s this? They particularly like MG written with snarky boy characters – that’s my book exactly! So yeah, they go on the list as one of the four editors.

Just so you know – in last summer’s p2p, the very last editor I added to my list was ultimately the one that ended up picking my entry (don’t tell her that). I had originally bumped her off my list, but as I did more research, I saw she had the credentials I was looking for, a non-stop work ethic and most importantly she knew the genre I write. So she went back on the list, and it was the best thing I ever did.

Moral of the story: Do your research and be prepared.

3. Get your entry in early (another reason to be prepared early)

Last time around, I nearly blew it. I thought as long as I got my entry in before the end of the contest then everything would be fine. Not so.

Here’s the deal. As the entries come in, they are assigned to the editors (based on who you requested on your entry form). Naturally some editors are going to be more popular than others. Once those popular editors hit 100 entries, then that’s their limit.

So if you enter late, then that dream editor you think would be just perfect for your MS, may not be available. They may have already hit their limit. So be ready and make sure you get your entry in as soon as you can. This is definitely not a case where patience is a virtue.

Have EVERYTHING ready to submit on the form. Check the contest website carefully. You need more than just the query letter and first 5 pages. There are going to be some writer “get-to-know-you” questions (e.g. what’s your favorite meal). Now it may sound silly to prepare those answers ahead of time, but remember the clock is ticking. If you are wasting time figuring out how to spell Crème Brule, someone else may be snatching up that 99th slot in your dream editor’s queue.

Here’s a question that’s on the form you will definitely want to think about ahead of time: How do you feel about the revision process? Wow. Talk about a minefield of a question. Remember these are editors that are looking at your answers…yeah, editors. They revise stuff for a living and they are trying to pick someone to work with for a month. So if you say you hate revising and would rather stick a hot poker in your eye…well then go stick a hot poker in your eye, because you’re done. Look, answer honestly but you need to be open (or better yet eager) about the idea of revising your work. If you aren’t, then this isn’t the contest for you.

4. More advice on the query (aka beating a dead horse)

Ok, so I know I already went off about how important the query is, and how hard you have to work on it. Well, it’s so important that I’m going to talk about it again.

This is just my opinion, but in this contest, I think one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is with a humorous voice. Don’t get all campy and silly…and if you know you are bad at humor, don’t try to force it…or if your story doesn’t lend itself to humor then stay away from it.

But if you have a query that you can inject with a smidgen of humor, then this particular list of editors is likely to appreciate it. Keep in mind they are real people, just like you and me. I’ve followed p2p since it started and I’ve followed a lot of these editors. Some of them are downright hilarious and there’s nothing they enjoy more than a well-placed chuckle. Take advantage of that.

5. Even more advice on the query (I saw the horse’s leg twitch. It aint dead yet.)

In the last section I recommended incorporating a voice with humor for your query. I think that’s a good strategy, but just keep in mind the story is still king. Your query has to communicate that story well. Don’t sacrifice clarity and the essentials of your story for humor…instead try to augment your killer story with a touch of humor.

6. Are the editors picking an MS based on how good it is…or are they picking an MS they think they can “fix” with their professional touch?

This question came up last time around and I honestly don’t know the answer. On the one hand, some people felt the editors were looking for an MS (based on the first 5 pages) that was as polished as possible. This meant it was close to being publish-worthy, and maybe just needed a little professional tweak to get it ready for the agents to look at.

On the other hand, some people felt that if the editors saw an MS (based on the first 5 pages) that was already well polished, then they would pass on that MS. The theory being the MS was already so good, it didn’t need their professional touch. (We should all be so lucky to have problems like that.)

I’m not sure which way editors really made their choices. It may have been completely dependent on the individual editor. If any of the #p2p16 editors happen to read this, I would love to hear their thoughts on it.

In my opinion though, you want to put your best foot forward no matter what. Put your very best effort into those first five pages. If an editor passes on you because your work is so good it doesn’t need help, then my guess is the editor will let you know. And that’s a real compliment on it’s own.

7. Be polite and courteous.

This is probably the most important advice I can give you. I was serious when I said at the beginning of this post you should go into #p2p16 with the conviction you are going to win. Let it all hang out.

But we all know not everyone is going to win. If it doesn’t happen for you this time, be graceful in your dealings with the editors who put their time into this contest and to Samantha for organizing it. We all know writing is a small community and supporting each other is sometimes the only thing that keeps us going.

personal_freedomWhich brings me to one last thought. No matter what happens, you will meet some incredible people during #p2p16. You will make friends on twitter and share in the anticipation and fun that surrounds the contest. It’s really a blast.

So take it seriously, but have fun doing it. After all, isn’t that why we all got into this writing thing to begin with?

If you’re curious about what it’s like after you take the plunge and actually submit an entry? Try my post here for a humorous look at what runs through your mind.

Let the contest begin! #p2p16

All the best,
JD Burns

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9 thoughts on “#p2p16 – Pitch to Publication

  1. Hi JD! Great post. To answer your question: I declined several manuscripts last year for being “too good”. I reached out to each of those authors, though, and let them know they should focus on querying agents, not participating in contests. At least three of those authors signed with reputable agencies in the past year, which just speaks to the high quality of applications P2P attracts.

    With only a month to revise, I’m looking for a manuscript that has a super-strong hook and premise; writing that reflects sophistication and confidence (i.e., If you don’t know how to use a comma already, we probably don’t have time to address all the issues your manuscript is surely harboring); and perhaps most importantly, room for focused growth.

    I personally can’t WAIT to see the entries this year. Our editors are going to be really present and available via #askeditor Twitter sessions prior to the contest and #tenqueries sessions in the week following submissions. Let’s get to work!!

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    1. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for the feedback. Amazing that you had three entries from last year that were already good enough to go looking for agents…and found them. Plus if I recall correctly your P2P pick ended up signing with an agent as well. That’s not a half bad track record!

      I had another editor reply that she basis her picks on potential, which is something you also echoed. I particularly like the way you add the qualification of “room for focused growth.” Sounds like you’re looking to get into a manuscript and really make it sing. That’s the kind of editor any serious writer should be dying to work with.

      Thanks again for your reply. Like you said: I can’t wait to see what the P2P entries will look like this year. I’m almost excited about this year as I was last (and I’m not even participating this year!).

      All the best,
      JD.

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  2. JD, this is awesome!

    Yes, there were a couple I rejected because I didn’t think I could help the writer improve, either because it was submission-ready or I didn’t think I would have been the best fit. I did tell those writers that.

    And yes, a good query is important (I adored yours, obviously), but I’m looking for great word choice in the entire application. If I see a fresh turn of phrase or something that makes me laugh in the first pages, I’m going to want to keep reading! I know I requested A LOT of partials last year. This year I’m hoping to make choices a bit more quickly—I want to give feedback to everyone, but I want to give more feedback to partial requests than regular submissions, and my time is limited.

    All of this is to say, I’m not looking for perfect, but I am definitely looking for a voice I want to spend time with.

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    1. Thanks Lara! I’m seeing a trend in the editor’s responses that you are looking for potential rather than perfection. It’s also noteworthy that every editor that’s responded says if they see something that’s already “agent worthy”, they are reaching out to the writer and letting them know that. I think that speaks highly of the caliber of editors that volunteer for P2P (and the caliber of writers submitting work).

      I can also completely verify that YOU in particular look for “a voice I want to spend time with.” From working with you I think the biggest thing I took away was honing my word choice to create a clearer voice.

      I also felt like you really had me look at some of the technical aspects of my writing (e.g. sentence length, word repetitions, and paragraph structure). I hadn’t really looked closely at those things before. That’s a lot of work to pile on a writer in a month, but you were quite literally without mercy.

      *** Caution to writers considering submitting to Lara: If you don’t want to work, then don’t submit your book to her. On the other hand…both the writers she mentored landed an agent. 😃 ***

      Thanks for the reply Lara. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of great entries come out of #p2p16 this year.

      All the best,
      JD

      Liked by 1 person

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