Wednesday, 30 September 2015

September Update: What I've been up to!

 It's time for my monthly update on all things happening in the Writer's Nest!

What I've been reading

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my all-time favourite authors, and as soon as I saw this collection of essays, I knew I had to buy it. *goes off to reread Howl's Moving Castle again*

Chameleon (The Domino Project, #1)

I've had my eye on K.T. Hanna's debut since the cover reveal! Chameleon is one of the best YA sci-fi novels I've read in a long time. The action starts on page one, and kept me riveted until the final page. The characters are three-dimensional and complex. Sai is a fantastic lead character, strong and kickass but with a vulnerable side. Although she's a believable teen, the writing had a mature feel which will appeal to adult as well as YA readers. The other characters are well-developed and interesting, and there's just enough detail to create a vivid picture of the future-world without slowing the pace. Mostly, I loved how fresh and unique this story felt. I'd thoroughly recommend Chameleon to fans of both YA and sci-fi!
Amazon UK

Demon Road by Derek Landy

I'm a huge fan of Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant series, so I knew I'd love Demon Road. Amber thinks she's an ordinary teen, until she turns into a demon. This could have been cliche and predictable, but as it's Derek Landy, the story is anything but. This is a fast-paced page-turner with snappy dialogue, dark humour and creepy monsters. I'd thoroughly recommend this fun, dark paranormal adventure.

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)

Queen of Shadows is one I've been looking forward to for a long time, and as I predicted, it swept me away from the first page. This series has developed so much from the world shown in Throne of Glass, and I was so invested in the characters, I barely paused while reading this 600-page book. Despite the book's length, the pacing is great, with every character getting their chance in the spotlight. While I predicted early on how the love interest-subplot was going to develop, it's handled maturely and doesn't detract from the thrilling, action-packed plot. There were so many heart-stopping action sequences, badass characters and thrilling twists. My only criticism is that I thought things wrapped up a little too neatly for Book 4 of a 6-book series--but given Maas's exceptional writing skills, I've no doubt she has great plans for the last two books!


The Awesome

The Awesome is a totally unique YA paranormal, one of the most fun books I've read for a while. The narrative voice is witty, and Maggie as a character is a refreshing change from many YA heroines because she's confidently, uniquely herself.
Amazon UK

Twelve Kings (The Song of Shattered Sands, #1)

I picked up this book on a whim because I was in the mood for great fantasy. Luckily, Twelve Kings delivered! The world-building is fantastic, and the intrigue kept me turning the pages.


Otherbound has a seriously cool concept, and I was excited to read it! The story follows Nolan, an ordinary teenager who sees through another person's eyes whenever he blinks or sleeps. Amara lives in another world entirely, and acts as a protector to a cursed princess. This compelling YA fantasy drew me in with its sheer creativity, and has great character development.

This Shattered World (Starbound, #2)

I loved These Broken Stars, and I was so excited to read the sequel. This Shattered World follows two teenagers on opposite sides of a vicious conflict on a terraformed planet--Jubilee, a soldier, and Flynn, one of the rebel group native to the planet. Again, I was completely swept away. This is an action-packed read from the outset, and the character development is fantastic. This series always leaves me with a major book hangover, and with some intriguing threads left open, I'm excited for the third instalment!

What I've been writing

I sent first-round edits on Darkworld 4 back to my publishers.

I did final edits on Books 2 and 3 in my YA post-apocalyptic superhero-fantasy series, which I finally got to announce!

I also did another two major revisions on Collision (Alliance, #3) after CP and beta feedback. It's on track to publish in November!

Total words written in September: 41K (+ 13K added in edits)

What else I've been up to

I celebrated my 24th birthday at the safari park. :)

Plans for October
  • Demon Heart (Darkworld, #3) releases on the 19th. :)
  • Final edits on my YA post-apocalyptic series.
  • Final proofread on Collision (Alliance, #3). Formatting and pre-order upload. Order proof copies.
  • Finish this draft, and start another one (I'm still deciding which project to focus on next!).
And in next month's newsletter: Demon Heart release, Collision pre-order, and more information about the Indestructible trilogy. :)

Plans for the rest of the year

Collision releases in November. :)

Darkworld Book 4 is with my editor, so I should hear back about Round 2 edits at some point. Also, cover art.

Speaking of cover art, I got the designs for the first in my YA post-apocalyptic trilogy!

As I'm launching Indestructible in January, I'll be doing the final proofread, formatting, and making promo plans.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Announcing... new books! :D

I've been looking forward to announcing this one for a while! :D Yes... in 2016, I'm publishing a new series!

If you're following my blog, you've probably heard me mention a certain YA post-apocalyptic fantasy novel called Indestructible. It's had an interesting history--I wrote it in 2013/14, put it through three rounds of critiques and polishing, drafted the sequel... and shelved it for a year, because a) post-apocalyptic wasn't selling, and b) when I decided to try self-publishing, the Alliance series demanded my full attention.

Once I'd finished drafting that series, I pulled out Indestructible again and decided to rewrite the sequel and turn it into a trilogy. I then revised all three books, hired a freelance developmental editor and did another major overhaul, and I've been waiting for the madness of my summer schedule to be over before I announced the news!

So: Indestructible. It's a post-apocalyptic superhero story about invading monsters from another dimension and a group of super-powered warriors who were supposed to defend the Earth, but failed. So we're kind of screwed. ;) The series has a few things in common with the Alliance series, but it's more YA in tone and content. I'm publishing Indestructible early in 2016!

Before Alliance series readers panic, I'm still publishing the rest of the books in the series next year! In fact, I've now confirmed a release date for Collision (Alliance, #3): 17th November 2015. The Alliance series books are much more complicated and need a dozen rounds of editing each (unfortunately, I'm not exaggerating!), and I don't want to overwhelm my CPs, beta readers or cover artist. The Indestructible series is already complete and edited and cover art is in progress, so I can publish those books on a quicker schedule. And the dates for the Darkworld series are set by the publisher.

Want early news? I'll be sharing covers, blurbs and excerpts with my newsletter subscribers first.

I'm also officially opening membership to my Advance Reader Team! The ARC Team is like a mailing list, except I'll only send an email out when I have advance copies of one of my books available. To explain a little: I've published six books in two years (I know! I can't believe it, either. :)), and I haven't been super-organised with keeping track of blogger and reviewer details. I get 30-50 emails a day, and it's easy to lose track... especially when I'm publishing multiple series next year. I don't want anyone to miss out on my future releases! So, you only need to sign up to the team once, and you'll get an email when copies of each book are available to review. There's absolutely no obligation to sign up to review every book, and you can opt out at any time. That way, I'll have all the information on one spreadsheet when I send out e-ARCs of Indestructible in December!

Sign up here!

If you want to help out and get access to behind-the-scenes stuff, there's also my street team, which is always open for members. :)

Monday, 21 September 2015

Thoughts from six months of self-publishing

I always meant to blog about things I've learned since starting self-publishing, but for some reason I keep forgetting to. (Okay, it's probably because I'm having too much fun self-publishing to blog about it. :P) But I thought I'd share some thoughts and lessons learned in the six months since Adamant released.
  • This is absolutely the right path for me. I write non-conventional stories that don't subscribe to one sub-genre, and have a knack for completely missing trends. Everything's a hard sell these days, and publishers can't afford to take too many risks (which is why so many established indie authors and people who've done well on sites like Wattpad are landing contracts--they've already proven they have an audience). But at the same time... well, just look under the urban fantasy and dystopian categories on Amazon. Plainly, readers do still want these stories, even if agents and publishers are burned out on them. Also, I write MG, YA, and adult books in all sub-genres of fantasy and sci-fi, and I jump around a lot. I'd hate to be tied into a contract that stopped me exploring all the worlds I want to write about.
  • Related: with indie publishing, there's room to experiment. You can write that time travel werewolf cyberpunk romance without fearing rejection. (No, this is not on my project list. :P) If something doesn't work in marketing, you can stop, research, find a new approach. You can replace book covers, rewrite blurbs, make your own release schedule and decide whether to do pre-orders. If something goes wrong, it's much easier to fix it yourself than sending multiple emails to your publisher hoping they'll put it right (believe me, I know).
  • I'm eternally glad I learned the craft first. I think this is the part that makes some people wary of self-publishing--the lack of quality control. I self-published my fifteenth novel, after I'd already signed contracts for five other books with a small press and spent years working with critique partners, beta readers and editors. I could have gone indie sooner, but I'm glad the first two novels I wrote are on my computer never to be touched again. It can be tempting to rush into publishing, but I definitely don't regret the time spent learning to construct a story (even if my first novel took ten years...).
  • It's always worth getting a professional edit and cover design. I wrote more about this in my post on marketing, but you only get one chance to impress potential readers!
  • People will try to scam you. You'll get marketing companies bombarding your inbox asking for money, and start-up publishers begging you to give their services a try. Be extremely wary of anyone claiming to be "experts" on publishing or asking for your time, money, or partnership. Not everything's a scam, but some "services" are completely unnecessary. I'm not the most tech-savvy person, but I saved $100+ on ebook formatting by learning to do it myself using Scrivener. There are people who'll offer to upload your books to e-retailers for a price, when, well, it's free. Research is absolutely key.
  • But the vast majority of people will welcome you. It's a very odd feeling, because my publishing history has been shaky, to say the least. As a 20-year-old student, I signed a contract with a "small publisher" (read: vanity press) for a middle-grade fantasy book which turned out to be the worst mistake of my writing career. I lost a lot of money, and I watched my book crash and burn as a helpless onlooker. But I think the worst part was feeling like I'd squandered that all-important "debut" opportunity. I wasn't allowed into debut author groups, and I put off re-querying because I dreaded having to explain my potentially career-ruining mistake to agents when I was already getting derisive comments from (luckily only a few) other writers, telling me I wasn't a "real author". But as an indie author, I've had nothing but support.
  • You can be business-focused without compromising your creativity. It's an advantage to have a series and a solid release plan, but ultimately, it's writing more books that will win you readers -- not spending hours chasing new marketing strategies for just one book (I've made this mistake before!). I've also seen people put off self-publishing because of the fear of admin cutting into their writing time, but traditionally published authors also have to register as self-employed, keep expenses records for tax purposes, and deal with resulting admin headaches. And ultimately, it's the author who has to decide which project to work on -- no matter how they publish.
  • This post from Hugh Howey really spoke to me. I admit part of the reason I put off self-publishing even though I'd been researching the process since 2012 (!) was due to the fear of having to do everything myself, with no publisher for backup. There's a learning curve, but the actual process of self-publishing was far less intimidating than I'd been led to believe, and there are whole forums and communities of other indie authors (like KBoards) who are happy to offer advice. Yes, I probably work more hours than I did before, but those hours are invested in my career. And let's face it, I'm a workaholic anyway. ;)
  • I'm much happier indie publishing. Of course, I'm not ruling out querying again, but right now, I'm more inspired, more prolific, and far less frustrated with the few irritating parts of the process (like paperback formatting) than I was with my attempts to break into traditional publishing.
Obviously, this is just my experience. It probably helps that I work freelance anyway, so I'm used to the uneven hours, keeping track of expenses and doing my own tax returns, and never being entirely away from work. I'm fairly prolific, I want this to be my career, and I never want a repeat experience of the helplessness of watching a book taken out of my hands and mishandled by a publisher who knew less about the reality of publishing in this day and age than I did at the time. As I said, I won't rule out querying again, but I can't deny the control over my release schedule and the ability to watch a book go from first draft to finished product is addictive. ;)

Of course there are risks involved, but without a doubt, I'd rather put a book out and risk it not selling than invest months or years in a project which might never see the light of day at all. Maybe I'll never have a breakout success, but as long as I can keep writing and publishing the stories I love, I couldn't be happier.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Cover reveal: Demon Heart (Darkworld, #3)

I'm so excited to finally share the cover for Demon Heart (Darkworld, #3)! No joke, this has been sitting on my computer since June 2014. But it's worth the wait! :D 

*eek* I absolutely love it, and I'm beyond thrilled to share the third book in this series!

Here's the blurb:

Can a demon’s heart of ice be thawed?

Ash may have escaped death several times, but now things are finally looking up. The doppelganger is gone, she’s dating Leo, and the Venantium are staying away from her – for now. But a new threat rises from the Darkworld, and only the fortune-teller knows the true extent of the danger they’re in.

Lucifer, a sorcerer who did the impossible and cheated death through escaping to the Darkworld, is on the move. Now his second-in-command, Mephistopheles the demon, is loose in our world – and will do anything to win Ash over to his side.

The Venantium fear a repeat of the Demon Wars, the demonic invasion that wiped out the Blackstone family. But there’s more to those events than the records reveal. When Ash finds the lost diary of Melivia Blackstone, she starts to dig into the past to find the town’s forgotten history – leading to a revelation that shocks her to the core.

Leo seems to be the only person Ash can rely on, yet can she truly open up to him, knowing what she is? Blackstone’s dark history is rising to the surface, and it seems even memory can lie. The worst betrayal waits around the corner, and Ash has to decide whether to trust Leo with her darkest secret, even when it has the potential to destroy them both…

Add on Goodreads
You can sign up to promote Demon Heart on the 19th October and/or Collision (Alliance, #3) on the 11th November here. :)

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Science Fiction & Fantasy Promo!

Adamant is part of a fantasy & sci-fi sale this weekend!

41 books, all 99c for the weekend of 12-13 September.

There is a great range of books, from science fiction to urban fantasy to young adult and epic fantasy. 

You can find all the titles here.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Marketing: What I've learned!

I've been published for over two and a half years (if you count my first book, which is currently out of print). So I frequently get asked questions by new writers about how to market their books. I'm definitely not an expert, and the first rule of marketing is that nobody knows what works. ;) But I know I've picked up some things, and let's face it, I've made every mistake possible. It's like when people ask me for careers' advice... (Er, "Don't do what I did"? :P) But I thought this'd be helpful to share, so here are some of the things I've learned.

Be professional. 

If you have a shiny professional website and/or blog, you'll look like a professional before you sell a single copy. The same goes for the books themselves--never skimp on editing and cover design. I have zero graphic design skills and like most writers, I never spot all the issues in my own work, so the majority of my publishing budget goes on editing and cover art costs. Meanwhile, tweet and post on social media as if you have a dozen fans eagerly awaiting your release--not the same as spam, which I'll get to in a second...

Please, please don't spam. 

Direct Messages to strangers on Twitter will turn people off buying your book, and some people--like me--will automatically unfollow. I can no longer find genuine messages in my DM folder because of all the "buy my book" auto-DMs. Please don't!

If you're promoting, keep it interesting. 

Okay, that's kind of vague... Some people advise you not to use scheduled promo tweets, for example, but I've actually found them to work--if targeted right. Don't just say, "buy my book", because when everyone's tweeting the same thing, it just turns into white noise. Quote a review, mention the genre/category, or tell me something cool (the "unique selling point"). In the past, I've bought books because the authors' "promotional" tweets are hilarious (see Chuck Wendig's Twitter and blog, for example), or they mention something that catches my attention (anything with dragons, a cool magic system or multiple worlds, for example. But that might just be me. :P). You don't just want to sound like a promo-machine, but a person.

Be generous.

If it's your first time publishing, reach out and fellow writers will be happy to help--with everything from answering questions to promoting. Cross-promoting with other authors is a great way to build relationships. The KBoards forum is great for indie authors, and there are lots of groups like the Waiting on 2016 group (for MG/YA/NA books coming out in 2016) open to new members (indie or traditional).

The best way to build reviews is to contact book bloggers in your genre asking for a review in exchange for an advance e-copy of your book. Be sure to research their genre preferences and write a personalised request. Book bloggers are some of the hardest-working people out there, and might well become your biggest fans!

Be ruthless when it comes to protecting your time--and money! 

Marketing can not only be a time-suck, it can lure you into paying for things you don't need. You can actually do most things yourself, without paying someone else to do it for you.

Okay, it's time for some honesty here. I was not sensible with this when I first published. With Darkness Watching, as an example, I:
  • Booked three release blitzes with different tour companies.
  • Booked a cover reveal, review tour and review feature with Xpresso Tours.
  • Spent an unknown number of hours emailing over 300 bloggers asking for reviews.
  • Took part in over a dozen giveaways and Facebook events and gave away 200+ free copies.
  • Paid for various other services (e.g. Goodreads advertising)
None of this was reflected in sales. (Ouch.)

Let's compare with Adamant...
  • Lola's Blog Tours organised a cover reveal/pre-order promotion six weeks before release.
  • I organised the release day book blitz and sent out review copies myself. (Note: I already had a small group of interested readers from my other series, but I was still starting from scratch in a new genre.) I emailed a select number of bloggers, as well as people who'd enjoyed my first book.
  • I put the second book in the series up for pre-order the day before the first book released.
  • I took part in a multi-author book promotion a month after the release, dropping the price to 99 cents.
  • I also dropped Adamant's price the week Nemesis (Alliance, #2) released.
I spent much less time and money promoting Adamant, yet sold a lot more copies. Part of that was luck, and having a slightly bigger following than I did with DW. I'd also used trial and error with my first book to figure out what doesn't work. For instance, blog tours are great exposure, but cost at least $60-200. Personally, I've never sold enough copies during a tour to justify the expense, and writing interviews and guest posts cuts into my novel-writing time. Now I'm mostly indie publishing, I've had to cut my marketing budget down in order to cover editing and cover design costs.

Money management isn't my strongest point, admittedly, but there are so many publishing costs that sneak up on you, like web hosting, ordering proofs and paperbacks, posting giveaway prizes, swag, and the main one: advertising.

Here's my general rule: if the time and/or money isn't worth it, I don't do it.

Time is just as important as money, especially if you work freelance, like me. For instance, I rarely write short stories and novellas, because they take me just as long as novels do, but don't sell well/at all. I've written a couple of short stories for my newsletter subscribers, and I'd love to be able to do more--but I just haven't had enough response to justify spending time on that when I could be working on novel-length fiction. I'm a freelancer with a busy schedule. If something isn't working, I have to reshuffle my priorities.

Unfortunately, that also applies to releases, which is where Creativity and Business sometimes go head to head. For instance, I mentioned I cancelled my first MG series because of poor sales. I literally couldn't afford to publish sequels, even though I got the rights back from my ex-publisher. I have another MG fantasy I absolutely love, but given my past sales in the category, I just can't justify the costs of publishing it.

With DW, on the other hand, I had a publisher and a planned series. I wouldn't advise quitting a series over disappointing initial sales, though I was extremely lucky to have a publisher to shoulder the costs of the Darkworld series. My advice would be: publish Books 2 and 3, market the hell out of the first book (maybe setting the price to 99c or free), and if sales still aren't picking up and you have a 10-book epic planned... well, if it were me, I'd have to put it aside. Because of this, I'm only planning trilogies for now, except for the Darkworld and Alliance series (and they're subject to reshuffling, too).

Now, as I plan next year's release schedule, guess which projects get priority? The ones readers want. If readers ask for something, it goes straight to the top of the list--literally. I track book sales on spreadsheets, and I have a Scrivener document for marketing, where I'll plan future promotions and make notes on what worked and what didn't. And I schedule my releases based on two things: time and reader enthusiasm. For instance, my next series is pre-drafted and has received an enthusiastic response from readers so far. For this reason, I'm launching the first book early next year with a big promo push.

So, what marketing works for me? 99c sales, freebies, newsletters, some advertising and cross-promotion.

Currently, DW sells better than Adamant... because of a BookBub ad in May that catapulted it to the top of the Amazon charts. So DW actually has a much wider appeal, despite its initial low sales: it just took that extra push. BookBub is incredible, but is also extremely competitive and expensive for certain genres. DW took eighteen months and 50+ reviews to get in! (Another reason why reviews are so important.)

Here's what I do to promote:
  • I keep my website updated, and stick to a limited number of social media accounts--my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. I also use Tumblr and Pinterest, but more casually. I don't actually do a lot of direct promotion, but posting semi-regularly helps. Even if it's about my stubborn manuscript. :P
  • Personally, I feel a little tacky using scheduled tweets, but they do actually work sometimes, especially during sales or promotions. (I recommend Buffer App because you can see which tweets got the most clicks, but Tweetdeck scheduling works, too.)
  • I run a street team for my most dedicated fans, who get first look at everything from covers to blurbs.
  • I send out a newsletter if I have something to share. For example, this year:
January - Adamant’s cover and blurb, and an early chance to sign up for e-ARCs.
February - Sneak peek at the first chapter of Adamant.
March - Adamant release day, and early cover reveal for Nemesis, subscriber-only giveaway.
April - Adamant 99c promotion, Blogoversary giveaway.
May - Free short story, which I now offer to all new subscribers for free. DW 99c sale.
June - Nemesis published, Adamant reduced to 99c.
July - Early cover reveal for Delinquent: An Alliance Novella, early review opportunity.
August - Delinquent published. Early news about my next series.
September - Cover reveals for Demon Heart and Collision. Subscriber-only giveaway.
  • With new releases, I offer the chance to sign up for advance copies-first my street team, then my newsletter, then I'll post about it on my blog and social media. I keep a list of reviewers who've enjoyed my books and reliably post reviews, so I can contact them again about future releases. 
  • I don't do much advance promotion. Big publishers promote their books up to six months in advance, because they get longer pre-orders. The only reason I did a cover reveal for Adamant was because it was up for pre-order on all platforms, so there was a chance of making sales (which I did). However, I'm doing Twitter chats and cross-promotion with the #WO2016 group this year, which should help build buzz for my next series in 2016.
  • I do pre-orders, but I'm still experimenting with this. I find 2-4 weeks in advance is better than the full 3 months (the maximum allowed by Amazon), unless there's a huge audience waiting to buy the book.
  • If I'm doing a blog promotion, I'll organise it myself. I only do this for the first book in a series, and I send a HTML blog post to participants. along with review copies to anyone who signed up for one. I've worked with some wonderful blog tour organisers over the past two years, but I have a very limited marketing budget, which almost exclusively goes on advertising now.
  • Each time I plan a 99c sale on the first in one of my series, I'll sign up to as many free promotion sites as I can, then pick a limited number of paid ones. Aside from Bookbub, sites I can recommend are: Ereader News Today, Book Barbarian (for fantasy and SF), Fussy Librarian, BuckBooks. (These are all sites I've used and actually made back the money spent on promotion--not always a guarantee, unfortunately!)

So here's my final tip... research.

Hear about a new site? A new opportunity? Research. Anyone can call themselves an "expert" or set up a tour or publicity company and charge for anything from promotions to reviews (please, please don't pay for any reviews. It's against Amazon's Terms of Service, for one thing, and there are hundreds of bloggers who'll happily review for free). I get multiple emails a day from people offering me the "secret" to marketing, or begging me to submit to their site. I'm automatically sceptical, because I've been burned by so-called-professionals in the past. Be extremely wary, especially for anything that charges money. I say the same thing about editing services, but most professional editors and proofreaders, like me, provide a sample edit first. For marketers and tour companies, look for testimonials from other authors to prove their services actually led to sales. To quote Mad-Eye Moody, constant vigilance.

Recommended resources - the Writer's Cafe is one of the best places to find answers to almost every question. - Susan's blog is another great resource, as is her Indie Author Survival Guide. For more experienced writers, her new book, For Love or Money, is invaluable! - Lindsay Buroker's blog is also packed with useful information.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pitch to Publication: An Editor's Thoughts!

For the past couple of months, I've been taking part in the Pitch to Publication contest as an editor. I was invited as one of 25 editors, all of whom received over 100 queries from writers. We each had to choose one writer to work with, preparing their manuscript to showcase to literary agents. It's been fun and challenging to be on the other side of the fence. Fun, because I got to read some truly awesome material from writers who I'm sure will be agented and on the shelves soon! And challenging, because there were so many great entries, it was incredibly hard to narrow 110 queries down to 10 to request partials from, and then to 3 for my final picks. I have infinite admiration for agents and acquisitions editors who do this every day!

I wanted to take more notes and I wish I'd had time to give more detailed feedback to all the entries, but I had 70+ emails on the first day, plus regular client emails and author stuff, and I was playing catch-up from that point on! Still, I did keep a tally of why I passed on some entries, so I thought it might be helpful to share some stats.

15 entries: too high/low word count for the category. (Rough guide: 30K-60K for MG; 55K-90K for YA; 70-100K for adult, with 100K being the maximum limit for a debut novel. There are exceptions, and fantasy can be a little higher, but it's best to stay within those boundaries.)

3 entries: query was too confusing, and pages didn't redeem it. (Tip: get someone to read your query who hasn't read the manuscript.)

17 entries: plot not sufficiently original, and voice/character/writing not strong enough to make up for it. A strong voice can save an overdone premise, but some plots have been done so many times that it takes something truly unique to breathe fresh life into it. (I'm planning a post on tropes at some point in the next few months!)

3 entries: voice undeveloped. This overlaps with some of the other things on my list, but usually, it's a sign of inexperience. It takes time, and sometimes more than one manuscript, to really bring out your own unique voice. (Personal anecdote: my first novel was rejected for this reason, and it took an outside opinion from an editorial professional for me to realise I needed to work on developing my own unique narrative voice.)

31 entries: writing quality not quite strong enough. This is a difficult one, because it ranges from "promising" to "almost there". As we only have a month to prepare the entries for the agent round, I had to focus on entries close to being agent-ready. All the entries showed a lot of promise!

18 entries: just not for me. And this is where subjectivity comes in! These were entries that just didn't mesh with me as a reader, and I felt another editor would be a better fit. For instance, romance-centric plots aren't usually in my wheelhouse. As a reader and editor, I'm not completely averse to storylines that are all about the romance, especially as I used to edit and evaluate romance manuscripts for Entangled. But I could only pick one project, so I wanted it to be something I loved enough to work on for a month in addition to regular client work.

5 entries: really, really close. These entries were high-quality, but I only had the time to request materials from 10 participants. This falls into the category of rejections that say "I just didn't love it enough". (I know. :( I've been there. I have an entire email folder of similar rejections. But the time constraints made it impossible to request everything I wanted to!) So I requested materials from 10 entrants. I'm going to be intentionally vague here, since there was a smaller number, but I chose a mix of MG, YA and adult.

Overall, the quality of the entries was extremely high. I specified in my editor post on Samantha's blog that I wanted speculative fiction in all categories, and almost all the entries I received were the right genre for me and formatted correctly. That meant I had to be super-picky, particularly about things like voice and originality. Some of the entries I rejected were requested by other editors, which proves subjectivity really matters in contests when the judges have a limited number of choices. It's certainly not a reflection on the quality of your work! (The same goes for other contests, like Pitch Wars.) I've been on the other side of the fence as a querying writer, so it was really interesting to get this perspective. I'm sure we'll be seeing loads of success stories, and remember that contests are just one way to landing an agent. :)