Blog author’s note: I originally published this post for the #p2p16 March contest. All of the analysis that follows is for the March p2p16. However, this gives us an important glimpse at what to expect for the October p2p16.
The #p2p16 (Pitch to Publication 2016) contest submission started up this past weekend and it’s already been a lot of fun. The submission window was open for two days only (Saturday and Sunday). Writers submitted their completed manuscript to a panel of 15 editors with the hopes that one of those editors would take them on for a month of free mentoring. The editor’s selections will be coming out in a few days on March 12th.
In between the time when the submission window closes and the editor pairings are announced, there is a flurry of twitter activity. Many of the editors will tweet teasers about the entries they are reading and if they are going to “pass” or “request” more material. The teases are intentionally vague so the contestants can’t tell which entry the tweet refers to. As you can imagine this is like a delightful bit of torture for the contestants as they try to guess. I’ve been through it and it’s a strange mix of emotions.
I’m not in #p2p16 this year, but I am very interested in that flurry of twitter activity the contest generates. While the teases may be deliciously tantalizing on their own, they can also be extremely educational. Particularly when we take a look at some enlightening trends that run through them.
Here’s what I did – hopefully you find it interesting too:
With their gracious consent, I pulled the tweet history for the 15 editors that are participating in #p2p16. Specifically, I was looking for tweets related to feedback on the entries (#tenqueries, #10queries, etc.). So these would be tweets about why they loved an entry, or why they passed, and everything in-between. Then I ran that through a few algorithms to see what kind of patterns would pop out.
It’s a nice little treasure trove of writerly advice.
Before getting into the results though, I have to put in a disclaimer that my analysis methods wouldn’t exactly impress a Nobel Laureate. As you can imagine, this was pretty messy data and the results are generalizations at best. Still though, it’s thought-provoking to see what cropped up.
I also have to thank the editors for the incredible job they’ve done posting feedback. I have no idea how they do this and keep up with their regular lives. The same has to be said of Samantha Fountain @ for hosting #p2p16 in the first place! Thank you editors and Thank you Samantha.
Note: Even as I write this, there are still some teaser tweets going on, and unfortunately, those won’t be included in my analysis. Sorry, I had to cut off at some point, so I stopped pulling twitter data around 10:30am on March 9th.)
Ok, so first some general statistics:
If nothing else, our friendly editors are a talkative lot.
Highest number of tweets from any single editor: 394 (I’ll let you all guess who gets that dubious title – btw, many others were nearly as high)
Highest number of tweets containing an exclamation mark: 190 (Interestingly enough, this excitable editor was not the same editor that had the highest overall tweets).
Number of editors that used the word “love” in a tweet at least once: 15 (yes, all of them love us)
Obviously, with this much feedback I wasn’t going to print this out and go through it by hand. I used search algorithms to scan through the tweets looking for certain words or phrases. That allowed me to analyze the data in a reasonable amount of time, but it can also be prone to false positives. For example if I was looking for the word “request”, I could get a false hit if the editor said “I won’t request this one.” I did my best to filter those case out by hand, but I could only do so much. Take everything that follows, with that caveat in mind.
Now onto some of the more interesting trends:
Trend 1: What were the editors chatting about anyway?
Across all the Tweets, I was curious to see what word or topic came up the most. Why is that important? Well, as writers we obsess over anything that might hook an agent (keep in mind the editors were looking for stories they felt could “close the deal” in the agent round). So, should we be concerned about clearly stating our stakes? How important is the plot? Does voice matter in the query? Are they looking at pacing? How closely does it need to hit their MSWL?
You get the idea. We’re obsessive about every little detail.
Now the real answer is that all of these things are important and if you slack-off on any one of them, you’re in trouble. But what I was looking at is the relative importance of each of these things. In other words, I wanted to see if there was one topic that really captivated the attention of our fine editors.
Anyone want to take a guess what it was?
Well, according to the data the most commonly referenced topic among #p2p16 editors is: Wine.
Wait. What? That can’t be right. **shuffles through stacks of papers** Huh. How about that. It is wine.
(joking. I’m joking. It wasn’t really wine. The actual results are below.)
Most common topic in all editor tweets: (Among total of 2,106 original tweets)
Note: To classify the tweets in topics I used a variety of words or phrases. For example I counted it as “Voice” if the editor mentioned any of the following: voice, connected, drawn in, grabbed me, etc..
My thoughts on what this reveals (purely my own speculation, so take it for what it’s worth):
It’s not surprising that in a writing contest the most frequently mentioned thing is the Story (aka plot,premise,concept). However, what is very telling is how prevalent the second most frequently mentioned topic was: VOICE.
Whether the editors were drawn in by a good voice, or put off by a bad one, it was clearly a major talking point for them.
So does that mean you should just focus on voice and throw the rest of the stuff out the window. Uhhhh nooooo. That other stuff is super important too (namely the story itself). But what this does show, is that if you want to grab an editor’s attention, then you have to…you know…grab their attention. Not just in the pages of your manuscript, but in the query too.
What!? I can hear you screaming from here. In the query too? But there is so little room in the query and everyone says it has to be short. It’s hard enough to describe my story, highlight my characters and show my stakes in 250 or 300 words. Now you want to throw voice on top of that? That’s utter and completely lunacy.
Well it can be done. Know how we can tell? Because the people getting the requests are the ones that managed to squeeze all that other stuff in their query plus voice. Then they kept that voice in their pages. You can do this. Deep breath and then go make it happen.
Voice is incredibly tough to do and I won’t even pretend to tell you how to develop your own. But I do know this much – voice is something you can work on. You can get better at if you are willing to put in the hard work. Scour the internet for advice (there’s lots of it – some good, some bad). Talk to an editor or a writing coach. Have them look at your writing, and work with you to develop your voice, because clearly it’s worth it.
Last note on this topic. You can see how big the percentages were for both STORY (14%) and VOICE (11%). But there cold be overlap in those percentages if an editor mentioned both the STORY and VOICE in the same tweet. So I decided to see what the percentage was for a combined category (without the overlap.)
The results: 463 tweets which is 22% of the total. That means over 1/5th of the time, the editors were talking about your premise and/or your voice. Mental note to self (pay attention to those two things).
Trend 2: When the editors said they were going to request more pages, what was the reason?
Yeah, this seems like something we’d want to know, right. Each editor had a boatload full of entries to look through and they ended up requesting maybe 10 or 15 out of their pile. So if we can figure out what was special about those entries then maybe we can do the same thing next time around (or when we query an agent).
This was probably the most difficult analysis because the sampling is smaller. Remember, each editor is only going to request more pages from 10 or 15 entrants. It’s hard to draw conclusions from that small a sample. Even just figuring out the editor was going to request a partial was tough. The tweet might say something like “request” or “yes” or “love it” or it could just be a heart or flower emoji. Talk about looking for needles in a haystack (different sized needles at that). Having said that though, I still think there are some insights to be gained here.
In this case you’re going to have to rely a bit on my own subjectivity. I pulled the tweets that were requests and read through them, dropping them into broad categories as best I could. I came up with 102 tweets that were clear requests (if it was uncertain that there would be a request I just dropped them out). My tallies are below:
Factors mentioned as reason for editor request: (out of 102 total request tweets)
My thoughts on what this reveals: (again purely my own speculation, so take it for what it’s worth):
Well, for starters our editors clearly know what they like. Almost ¾ of them mentioned the story as a factor in making a request. Acutally it’s a little over ¾ if you add in the times MSWL (ms wish list) was also mentioned. So what’s that mean for us writers? Well, clearly having a good story premise or concept is incredibly important. Many of the tweets that cited the story also include the words “unique twist” or some variation. So the editors were looking for something that stood out from the crowd.
The second big takeaway is “voice”. There it is again, right up at the top of the mentions. Lots of overlap with “story” as well, so you can see how important those two things are. Everything else pales in comparison.
Some things did surprise me though. Hook for instance was mentioned quite a bit during requests. Much more than was mentioned in the general twitter feed. You could argue the “hook” could be counted in with the premise and concept category as well.
Comps showed up in the requests, which I thought was interesting. For some editors they clearly make a difference, but it’s not a clear trend across all of them. Likely a personal preference, but still very much worth noting.
To be sure, every editor has their own unique tastes and reasons for requesting more pages of a manuscript. There are no absolutes. However it’s interesting to see these trends because it gives us a general idea of what’s working. Develop a great story and infuse it with voice…sounds easy, right?
Trend 3: When an editor passed on an entry, what factors were cited?
Ouch. Nobody wants to think about this, but again it’s important. Because if we can figure out why editors were passing on an entry (even if it was our own) then we can learn what not to do. We’ve all got to learn to keep our fingers out of those electric sockets.
This was kind of a fun category. For one thing, the sample size is a bit bigger…obviously more entries get a “pass” than a “request”. Also, as a writer, it’s kind of neat to see other people making the same knuckleheaded mistakes we do. Come on, admit it. It’s cool to see other people out there with their fingers in the electric sockets.
In this case I looked at 225 entries that were marked as a “pass”. This had to be a clear pass. If an editor marked it as a maybe or a possibly, then I left it out of the analysis.
Reason for editor passing on entry: (out of a possible 225 tweets)
My thoughts (again purely my own speculation, so take it for what it’s worth):
Well, nothing surprising about the Story and the Voice showing up as the top reasons being cited for a pass. If the story is confusing or the voice is off, then it doesn’t stand much of a chance. Those are just craft things that we have to go back to the drawing board and get better at.
However, one that should be disturbing for us as writers, is the “Not a genre asked for” category. These weren’t cases where the writer had the genre confused. Rather these are cases where the writer submitted their work to an editor that has no interest in that genre. Why would we do that?
Well….I just don’t know.
The editors have bios and an MSWL posted prior to the contest. As writers, we should be looking at that. From some of the comments I saw, I think the editors were a little surprised by this as well. When submitting to a contest (or an agent) there are so many things that we have no control over. Take advantage of the ones that you do have control over.
Some closing thoughts:
Before doing the analysis I had to strip out all the re-tweets. This was so the numbers didn’t get skewed if one editor re-tweeted something another editor said.
What’s that? You’re surprised the editors were re-tweeting each other’s posts. Well, I knew they did this, but I didn’t realize quite how much. There were 691 re-tweets. These were not re-tweets by contestants or other people. These were specific cases where one editor re-tweeted what another editor said. Ever wonder if editors talk to each other and share a lot of the same concerns about the craft of writing? I think we can put that question to bed.
It’s also interesting that in over 75 cases, an editor re-tweeted when a different editor either “passed” or “requested” a partial. They’re trying to send us a consistent message about what works and what doesn’t. We just need to listen.
Well, that’s about it. Thanks for sticking with me to the end. I know I covered a lot of ground. It was an interesting exercise (and a bit exhausting). Please keep in mind anything I’ve written here is really based on an analysis of some very unstructured data (tweets) so it’s hard to draw conclusions. Every editor and agent is different and it would be a mistake to assume they all follow the patterns I’ve highlighted.
So take all of this for what it’s worth. Add it to your thought process going into your next round of submissions to a contest or an agent. Maybe something in here will help you get that request that we are all looking for.
I’ve also posted about #p2p16 a couple of other times, and someone suggested I consolidate the posts in a single spot. Seemed like a good idea, so….
Past #p2p16 posts:
- Preparing yourself for #p2p16
- #p2p16 – What’s it like once you hit “Send”?
- Interview with #p2p16 editor Lara Willard @laraedits
- Interview with #p2p16 Literary Agent Rebecca Angus
- Bonus: (not one of my post, but it’s a great read) – How @laraedits chose her picks last year!
As always, I welcome any and all comments. Especially from our generous editors.
Wishing all the #p2p16 contestants the best of luck! I can’t wait to see the pairings when they come out.
All the best,