EDITED ON 1/16/13 to include a revised version of the pitch (you’re allowed to update your submission if your genre isn’t full) and a new lesson.
Last night, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest opened for submissions. At great personal sacrifice (Despite having been released almost a week ago, my copy of A Memory of Light lays mostly unread.), I have submitted my entry.
A quick aside – Let’s say you’re a major company trying to get authors to self publish through you. Let’s pick say, Createspace, as an example. Let’s further say that your parent company is a major bookseller, in fact the biggest player in the marketplace. Let’s call that company, just for grins, Amazon. I think having the parent company sponsor a contest that will draw in a load of wannabe authors and force them to create accounts with the self publishing company is a brilliant idea. What’s not so completely brilliant is to have a lot of author’s first experience with your company be a technical glitch that prevents anyone using IE from actually being able to make a submission. What a major screwup!
Back to the post: I have no great confidence that I have any shot of winning. Don’t get me wrong; I think Power of the Mages is a good story and well-written, definitely worthy of publication. Here are the problems with my contest submission:
• 80% of contestants will be knocked out based on the pitch alone. Selling my novel in less than 300 words is not my strong point.
• I’m not yet finished with even my 3rd draft of Power.
As far as the 2nd draft goes, here’s my evaluation:
• Chapters 1 through 6 are weak. The style needed to be tweaked, the writing tightened, scenes rethought, and, most of all, emotion added.
• Chapters 7 and 8 are horrendous and embarrassingly bloated.
• Chapters 9 through 14 need style tweaking, clarification, and more emotion but are, overall, readable.
• Chapters 15 through the end aren’t bad. Parts need major rewriting, but, overall, the last of the book is better written and contains more emotion. It still needs to be gone through, but I’m not embarrassed to have a wide audience look at it (with the understanding that it’s not finished).
When I made the decision to enter the contest, I wasn’t even finished with the 2nd draft. In a short time, I completed that task and made it through a whopping 10 chapters of the 3rd, including the time-consuming 7th and 8th ones. I fixed the worst part of my book, but there are numerous problems with the rest. Besides the revisions noted above, I’ve made subtle character and plot changes in the first third that are not yet reflected in the unrevised sections.
Like I wrote above, I just don’t think this is a recipe for success. I do think that the experience was a net positive for me though. It forced me to get much further on my editing and made me study how to summarize my story.
Though I by no means consider myself an expert or even competent, here’s what I learned about pitches:
• They are not just your back of the book blurb. At first, I was reluctant to include anything that might be considered a spoiler, which left my pitch sounding incomplete. The purpose is to tell publishers what the book is about, not to try to get a reader to buy it. The publisher needs to know more information about your story than the average reader.
• Focus on the character. No one cares about your backstory and your setting; they care about characters. I knew this going in, but it was really reinforced in the comments that I got. In my first few versions (there were many), I had a paragraph that addressed the overall conflict between the mages and the nobles but didn’t mention the protagonist. I got a much better response when I made that conflict personal to the main character.
• Apparently, it’s also a bad, bad idea to include questions in your pitch. A beta reader who has knowledge of such things informs me that many editor blogs advise strenuously against it. Note that this applies to pitches solely, not to blurbs.
Below is the final version that I submitted. If you want to make me feel better, please comment below on how much it makes you want to become a publisher just so you can produce this book.
Xan, a journeyman apothecary, struggles with the realization that he’s falling in love with Ashley. She’s everything he ever wanted and beautiful to match. If only she existed outside his dreams.
Catchers comb the land accusing people of magic use. Xan loathes the practice in the abstract, instead believing birthright alone should not determine which man is put to death, which is allowed to flourish, which rules, and which toils in obscurity. He’s just never had the motivation, or ability, to do anything about it. Things change when a catcher targets him.
Xan must embrace the reality that he is a mage and that Ashley is both real and in desperate need of his help. What began as a quest to save her and keep her father’s duchy from being overrun by the forces of a rival duke becomes a life or death struggle. To live, Xan must usher in a new age of magic tolerance, but, first, he must resist the temptation to become exactly what the world fears — a mage willing to perform the type of mass destruction last seen in the Wizard’s War. If the nobles don’t betray Xan and his friends first, that is.
Power of the Mages is a character-driven epic fantasy that explores power — both its nature and its abuses. The evil done by nobles to maintain their dominion is eclipsed only by the ruthlessness of their would-be usurpers. Through it all, Xan must transition from medieval lab geek to hero and become a man worthy of leadership.