Getting Organized Before the AMM Submission Window.

Hi again,

So JD here, back with some more advice on entering AMM.

Here are links to my other posts on this topic.

  1. Time to get serious about AMM (well sort of serious) !!
  2. Getting organized before the AMM submission window.
  3. The Query (a.k.a. the bane of our existence).
  4. What’s it like working with an AMM mentor. 
  5. Author Mentor Match main page.

In this post I’ll talk a little about getting organized before the contest window opens. Yes, that’s right you need to prep BEFORE the contest.

But JD, I’m a devoted pantser. Organization is mine sworn enemy, planning my deadly nemesis, and preparation the kryptonite elixir from which I dare not drink.

Ok, I get it and I’m not here to change anybody. You do you.

But here’s the thing about AMM. When the submission window hits, it’s like riding a roller coaster in the dark while chugging a six pack of red bull. You’ll be looking at that submit button and you’re going to feel excited, nervous, and anxious all at once. If that’s when you do you your best writing, then I bow down to your super-human writerly powers. However for the rest of us, having things lined up early is probably a good idea.

But JD, why should we prepare everything in advance? Isn’t the submission window open for 72 hours or something like that?

Yes and No. I’m not sure how long the submission window will be open, but for our purposes it doesn’t really matter. We want to get our application in as soon as possible.

Why?

Because we only get to pick four potential mentors. Some of those mentors may be insanely popular. If they get rushed with a bunch of submissions in the first 10 or 12 hours they may hit their limit – meaning one or more of our “dream mentors” may not be available if we wait too long to submit.

I don’t have any official numbers, but I seem to remember like 700 or 800 total submissions in Round 7 last year . . . and it grows every year. So you can see how specific mentors could get flooded with applications.

But don’t hyperventilate just yet. Take deep breaths. The picture is not as dark as I’m painting. In reality, chances are very good that our “dream mentor” will still be open when we submit. Some of the mentors will even go beyond a set limit of entries just because they are super nice people. But regardless, the possibility of our dream mentor being closed to further submissions is a compelling reason for getting ourselves ready ahead of time and submitting early.

But JD, what can we have ready?

Funny you should ask. I have a list.

1) Your polished query of course. This is an absolute must and I think everyone knows that. With this many submissions the mentors will be reading those queries just like a slush pile. We want our query to stand out. I talk more about queries, and how they can be slightly different for AMM in a later post.

2) Your polished manuscript pages. I believe the guideline is first 3 chapters or 50 pages, whichever is longer. They should be error free and as spotlessly shiny as you can get them. Think of it as practice for submitting to an agent. Work especially hard on those first few pages. Because if you manage to get passed the slush pile with your query, then those pages are going to either make or break your chances of catching a mentor’s eye.

3) A one to two page synopsis.

Wait! A synopsis!?

No no no no no no no no no no! My guess is about half of you just reached for the wine glass, and the other half said screw it and started chugging straight from the bottle. Look, I get it. Everybody hates synopsis. Just do your best. If you butcher it, the mentors will take mercy on you – I hope.

I’ve got a few useful links here if you need help getting started with a synopsis. Like I said, do your best. Just my opinion, but if the synopsis is a bit dry and a little scattered it’s not the kiss of death. I would focus more attention on the query and making sure those sample pages are as shiny as possible. If those are good, then my guess is a mentor will be willing to overlook a sub-par synopsis.

A few links to help with writing a synopsis:

4) Two or three comp titles. The good news is these don’t have to be book comps (they can be movies or other media). This is one area where I feel submitting to AMM and submitting to an agent is different. For agents, having a book comp is important because it helps them judge where our story might fit in the market. Agents will still take non-book comps, but they really like to have a book comp so they can judge the market.

But in AMM you have a bit more freedom. The potential mentor isn’t looking to see where your book fits in the market, they are really using the comp to get a better picture of what your story is about.

So feel free to go with a movie or TV show if that really helps give a picture of what your book is about.

5) A well researched list of mentors you will be applying to. This is really, really important. Start by looking at their profile pages on the AMM website. There is a treasure trove of information there to guide you.

Bonus tip: The MSWL/anti-MSWL is an obvious place to start. However don’t overlook the tab entitled “Mentoring Genres”. You might think it’s just a list of genres and gloss over it, but remember the mentors are writers too, and they sometimes just can’t help themselves – so they write stuff on those tabs too. Many of them add in extra details about the specific type of story they are looking for (maybe your story.) So don’t pass that up. Also, look at the type of Mentee they are interested in. This isn’t like a rom-com where opposites attract. You need to be compatible with the mentor if you get selected.

Bonus Bonus tip: AMM is having “Ask the Mentors” twitter sessions (One on December 30th and another on January 7th). Here’s the Ask the Mentors announcement. Even if you don’t ask a specific question, it’s a good idea to sit in and learn a bit about the mentors. I believe they will be using the #AskAMM hashtag. Who knows, maybe someone will ask a question you didn’t even know you had.

6) A document with the answers to the canned questions. Wait! What canned questions? Well, as we just said the mentor/mentee relationship needs to be one between compatible writers. So the mentors need to know a little about you as well. The submission form will have a series of questions you’ll have to answer. But don’t panic, you have a chance to see the questions ahead of time, so you can prepare (like right now for instance).

A sampling of the questions are posted now on the AMM site (Author Mentor Match.). Just like last year, they are a mixed bag. Some are fairly harmless, for instance “Provide an overview of your story”. Pffffttt . . . you want me to talk about my story. How much time do you have?

Others are downright dangerous: “Describe specific issues in your manuscript you think a mentor could help with.”

Wow, what could possibly go wrong asking a writer a question like that? **eye roll**

As writers we can be ridiculously critical of our own work. Don’t go overboard here. I mean honestly, I once described my own writing skill as somewhere between that of a well-educated rock and a poorly-educated lamppost.

Not flattering.

For that type of question, we want to have an honest (but preferably lamppost free) answer ready. A well thought out response tells the potential mentor a couple of things. First, they know we can be objective about our own work. Second they will get some insight into where we think help is most needed.

Put some thought into answering this question and come up with specifics. For example, maybe we struggle with dialogue in scenes involving multiple characters. Or maybe we have the occasional plot hole that needs sewn up. Remember the mentors are looking for someone they can work with to take their story to the next level. Some of the mentors may be especially strong working with dialogue (or plot holes) and if they see that’s where you struggle then it could be a perfect fit.

Avoid vagueness and over-generalizations. I’m all for self-deprecating humility, but be careful you don’t take it too far. Don’t say things like “My writing is horrendously boring, lacks creativity, and the dialogue sounds as if a three year old wrote it.”  The mentors can work wonders, but they can’t work miracles. As writers we have a tendency to run ourselves down. This should not be one of those times.

So have a document listing each of the canned questions, and your well thought out answers. That way when you are creating your submission packet, you won’t be rushed and accidentally compare yourself to a lamppost. Instead, you just do a simple cut and paste from your document. Easy as pie.

Ok, that’s it for this post. I promised another post on queries and that will be up soon.

But before I go, I need to end with this one huge tip (same as last post). If you take nothing else away from my ramblings, please remember this – AMM is a community of people just like yourself. Above all else, remain polite and courteous. I said go into this thing with a commitment to win, and I meant it . . . but this isn’t Thunderdome folks. Even if you don’t get selected, you’re still going to get valuable insight into yourself and your writing. You may even get some new writerly friends on twitter. That’s a win in my book (no pun intended).

In the meantime, comments always welcome, and keep on writing.
Best regards,
JD Burns.
AMM R7 Mentee.

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