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Pop-Up Submissions - 9th June

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
On today's Pop-Ups...
"The Chanteuse from Cape Town" - crime/mystery from John Constable;
"Whispering Winds" - action/romantic drama from Richard Guimond;
"Moptops' Fables" - children's fiction from Robert Haynes;
"Man In The Clubhouse" - historical fiction from Darnell Hart;
"Under the Beautiful Star" - literary fiction from Martin Greenacre.

Emily's book recommendation is "I Know This Much Is True" by Wally Lamb. Buy it here: I Know This Much Is True: A Novel (P.S.) eBook: Wally Lamb: Amazon.co.uk: Amazon.co.uk:

Jessica's book recommendation is "Spinning Silver" by Naomi Novik. Buy it here: Spinning Silver: Amazon.co.uk: Naomi Novik: 9781509899012: Amazon.co.uk:

Apologies... The tech gremlins were out in force today :( We had some issues with both audio and video... sometimes it happens when you’re living on the bleeding edge of technology. Hope it doesn’t spoil your enjoyment of the show too much.

Join us live every Sunday at 5pm UK.
 
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AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Ah, Katie, your cowbell is the most popular thing in the show :)

Yes, a cat rethink is necessary. No more than 5, tho. And no more cats :)

Would like something a bit more creative than Yes / no / maybe.

Not mad about numbers. Thought about it a lot and it creates the wrong vibe. Also, logically speaking, the top grossing submission ought to be the winner, which might not actually happen.

All suggestions gratefully recd.
 
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Rainbird

Patron
I think the problem is more with when the submissions are all a bit "meh" and my beloved cowbell is needed all over the place. We use it everyday here @Katie-Ellen! Infinitely useful.

Maybe do it as a visual thing, like a barometer or hammer bell (those things at a fete where you hit it with a hammer and see if you can ring the bell), the bell ringing if you get called in? Giving a score of 1-5 (and a you-can't-lift-your-arm-to hit-the-bloody-thing-it's-so-awful nothing score).
 

Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
I think it’s very useful to give reasons for our reactions the way we now do. The actual feedback is important. So instead of also having us rate the piece using a scale that may or may not include a category that states what we feel, maybe simply state whether we’d turn the page or disengage, and why.
 
From what I've seen, any time you have an uneven number of options, most people will choose the mid option. Why? They don't want to be rude or put down the work that's seen a lot of time and effort.
But if you have an even number of options, they have no choice but to choose above or below the line, regardless of how the 'levels' are labelled.
Call it in
Close, but no cigar
More cowbell, more choir
Lacks bells and/or whistles
Weak tea, not energising
Not with a bargepole

Try picking a mid-point in there, and it can't be done.
I enjoy the discussion around why each panellist chose the category, and what needs work to move up the scale.
Anyway, that's my opinion.
 
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RK Capps

Benefactor
Would this work? Or something like it, (I'm just thinking what information would best serve an author):

Doesn't fit the genre.
Voice pretentious
Doesn't start with a hook, you're writing yourself in.
Too much telling, not enough showing.
Lack of worldbuilding.
Pacing off.
Voice off.
Needs a stronger voice, you're not not ready yet.
You've got a voice, start querying (if the rest of your book reads the same).

Even though some of these things apply, panelists could pick the one that would be most useful to know. I know there's lots to choose from! Just ideas ...
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
Patron
The actual feedback is important. So instead of also having us rate the piece using a scale that may or may not include a category that states what we feel, maybe simply state whether we’d turn the page or disengage, and why.
I agree with this. The whole rating system – forgive me – is a gimmick. Pop Ups has always been pitched as lifting the lid on the agents' process. You don't rate stuff when faced with a slush pile, do you, @AgentPete? You take a view, sometimes instantly, and move on. I think the real value in Pop Ups is having that view verbalized. Would you turn the page or not? That's key. But what matters most for the authors watching is why.

As for call it in, well, that's your call alone to make, Pete. You're the agent. But I think it's important to distinguish between turn the page and call it in. I'm sure there are a lot of authors watching who dream of you being their agent. It needs to be clear how much this is really an opportunity to find representation as opposed to simply a fancy critique.

My two cents, blunt as always. (I wince when I write this stuff, you know?) :)
 
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AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
You don't rate stuff when faced with a slush pile, do you, @AgentPete?
Absolutely right :)

Unsol submissions (won’t use the s-pile word) often / normally receive shockingly little time and attention. It can be mere seconds. This can be heartbreaking when you consider how much time the author may have put into the ms. Obviously, we’re giving each submission on Pop-Ups a lot more time than that. And we’re focusing on the reader’s initial reaction to just 700 words plus blurb - which for an unpublished writer is really where they need to be making their mark.

It’s not strictly necessary to take a Judgement, and you’re right, that’s one difference between Pop-Ups and the usual submission procedure. However, it adds spice, and it does force the panellists to take a summary view.

I think it’s pretty interesting how, about 80% of the time, everyone more or less agrees. My two panellists are not in the business (unless we have a special guest). But this does in fact imitate the way the normal submission process operates... lots of people will usually be involved in forming a view, and the consensus often (but not always!) wins the day.

And yes, if I see something I like, I will definitely call it in!
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
Patron
It does add spice, there's no denying that!

In which case, you could make sure the spice is a chilli, a Carolina Reaper (borrowing from @CageSage's excellent idea):

Call it in >>>>>> CALL IT IN!
Close, but no cigar >>>>>> GREAT BUT COULDN'T SELL IT
More cowbell, more choir >>>>>> A WAVELET ON THE SEA OF MEDIOCRITY
Lacks bells and/or whistles >>>>>> LIKE SO MUCH THAT'S GONE BEFORE
Weak tea, not energising >>>>>> SLOGGING THROUGH THIS ONE
Not with a bargepole >>>>>> WHAT A TERRIBLE WASTE (of my time)

Just thinking out loud. :)
 

Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
Still struggling to understand what we’re looking for here. It appears you’d still like a rating system so the panelists can take a summary view, but not any of the current or past systems. Then instead of simply renaming the current categories, perhaps add additional tiers so panelists have more to choose from?

I know from my own experience I’m usually torn between near miss and more cowbell, but had to choose one, even when neither expressed my overall feelings on the submission.

Perhaps additional tiers could be along the lines of: “Loved the premise but the weak writing mechanics pulled me out of the story” or “Liked the story but I was bogged down in the description.”

Those are too wordy, but they are two of the main reasons I don’t get grabbed by a submission.
 
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Hehehe...love these ideas.

Turn The Page or Disengage? Is the challenge to the writers. The hard truth is, if I am going to disengage, I probably will disengage after page 1, and disengage is not too brutal for softy-boots non-agents to say on air, but it is the bottom line. I could make myself say it and give my reason.

More suggestions for Sub-headings (using visual/sound effect) +comment)

1812 Overture You got me. I'm turning the page. Deffo. At least one more anyway.
La Cucuracha Near Miss. It's got something. I might well turn the page, depending what else is going on.
TwilightZone Weird but interesting/ WTF?
Cowbell Mid point. Maybe. If you can up the game.
Whoopee cushion Wild card. Possibly funny/ WTF?
The Dead March Terminal/borderline terminally dull
Fart noise Not only am I not turning the page, sir or madam, I'm hurling it across the room
 
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Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
Hehehe...love these ideas.

Turn The Page or Disengage? Is the challenge to the writers. The hard truth is, if I am going to disengage, I probably will disengage after page 1, and disengage is not too brutal for softy-boots non-agents to say on air, but it is the bottom line. I could make myself say it and give my reason.

More suggestions for Sub-headings (using visual/sound effect) +comment)

1812 Overture You got me. I'm turning the page. Deffo. At least one more anyway.
La Cucuracha Near Miss. It's got something. I might well turn the page, depending what else is going on.
TwilightZone Weird but interesting/ WTF?
Cowbell Mid point. Maybe. If you can up the game.
Whoopee cushion Wild card. Possibly funny/ WTF?
The Dead March Terminal/borderline terminally dull
Fart noise Not only am I not turning the page, sir or madam, I'm hurling it across the room
These. Are. Perfect. :) :)
 
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KateESal

Benefactor
1812 Overture You got me. I'm turning the page. Deffo. At least one more anyway.
La Cucuracha Near Miss. It's got something. I might well turn the page, depending what else is going on.
TwilightZone Weird but interesting/ WTF?
Cowbell Mid point. Maybe. If you can up the game.
Whoopee cushion Wild card. Possibly funny/ WTF?
The Dead March Terminal/borderline terminally dull
Fart noise Not only am I not turning the page, sir or madam, I'm hurling it across the room
Priceless!

I think "Not With A Bargepole" is unnecessarily negative and that's why panellists are reluctant to award it (excepting Jessica!,) because even if we think the submission is a pile of old tosh, it seems too brutal to crap all over someone's hard work and cherished dreams.

How about "Back To The Drawing Board" as the bottom submission?
 
Just an idea, approach it as one would in a bookstore?

1--Cant recommend
2. I might buy the revised edition if the author updates it.
3-Almost had me, cover, blurb and opening, but just needed a bit more cowbell.
4-Ive got a fever and this book might just be the prescription I need.
5-Sign me up, I'm your new number one fan.
 

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Hehehe...love these ideas.

Turn The Page or Disengage? Is the challenge to the writers.
Yes, it is. Peg gave me that line, and I’ve often used it (and messed it up several times!). So continuing with that metaphor, what would be a good spread of options? Bearing in mind the @CageSage dictum that we need an even number of options (e.g. 4)...
 
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Turn the page

Cooking with gas. I'm reading on. (Because)
Close/ish call. I'm seeing potential but I'm not quite on board (Because)
Cowbell. Do something, Muttley...I'm-a- drifting-away you useless hound (Because)
Clunker/Clanger. Cookie shortage. You've taken me to Cold Comfort Farm. Where's my cookie? I'm practically comatose. I've crashed out here (Because)

Disengage
 
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Malaika

Laureate
I've been thinking a lot about this. Perhaps too much. In the real world, when you query you are pitching both an idea and (in many but not all cases) a few pages of writing. I think perhaps @AgentPete you should slightly relax the word count requirement for the blurb (it's really tight right now...isn't it like fifty words? I can't remember). And then you could even pare back the submission length to 500 words. And my reason for thinking this is that right now the way we judge submissions doesn't really support the premise of 'is this book a good idea?' I think the angle of; 'does xyz story have a market? And does the writer appear to have the chops?' ----those are both interesting questions and no one else is doing it.

If we emphasized that the submissions are more of a book pitch than a place for judging an entire book based on the first two pages, maybe the responses to submissions and the judging criteria would be more coherent.

I could read you the first 700 words of bestselling novels and I think there's many who would be ripped apart on popupsubmissions. I still haven't met a book I can't disengage from in the first few pages, but give me two chapters and some characters I care about and you can't tear me away. On a personal level, my submission was basically called Harry Potter fan fiction. I risk digressing into a full on rant but I personally didn't get any benefit from the judging of my submission (unless you count the burning fire to prove you all WRONG WRONG WRONG!) And after the 3 month wait, my WIP had evolved so much, the submission really didn't even matter any more.

Pop Up Sumissions are fun. I don't even know if it matters if we are "helping" anyone with the judging. It can simply be a fun challenge. Winning can be its own prize. But I think we should stress what it is exactly that we are judging----a book or a pitch? If it's the pitch, submitters should be encouraged to spend more time on the blurb and put equal emphasis with the excerpt submitted.

And as another point of personal opinion, I've come to feel 700 words is just too long. As a viewer, I'd like to see less of the excerpt and more discussion about the concept being pitched. When my submission was being judged, I would have liked the judges to pay closer attention to the idea I had. Sometimes Pete does that (esp when it's a detective story or something he's into) but if it's spec fic, forget about it.
 

KateESal

Benefactor
Personally, (speaking before my own submission goes under the spotlight...) I feel like I've already learned a lot from Pop-up Subs about sharpening up my pitch in order to catch an agent's eye and what an agent looks for when they dive into those first crucial paragraphs.

@AgentPete reckons the majority of agents have made up their minds on whether they're going to ask for more after reading no more than 700 words, hence that number.

On the Pop-up Subs I've watched, some have started well, then faded after a strong opening, which suggests the writing needs more work generally. So 700 words can be a useful indicator as to whether the writer can sustain quality prose (or verse!) through an entire manuscript. There's no doubt a great idea is a selling point, but it's not enough on its own. That's probably why "more cowbell" is such a popular option from panellists - our interest has been piqued by an intriguing blurb, but it's clear from the writing that the MS isn't yet a marketable proposition. Redrafts are often required and Pete and the panellists will usually say if they think the author's got something, but it needs further development.

The biggest clue Pete gives us on Pop-up Subs about how to snag an agent is if, on the strength of the submission, they can answer YES to the question, "can I make money out of this?"

So...is the pitch/blurb something that would propel a reader from the teaser on the back cover/website to open the first page?
Are the first couple of pages enough to keep the reader hooked, so they're willing to spend some of their hard-earned cash on the book?
From the author's bio, do I think they're someone I could work with?

So...possible categories:

1. Commercial potential: I want to read more.
2. Could be a go-er, but needs MORE COWBELL
3. Not my cuppa (but could be someone else's)
4. Back to the drawing board / Chalk it up to experience
 
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What I read in most agents' guidelines is that in the query letter they want a hook/blurb, no more than one or two short sentences. They don't want to know the story, still less the concept. What's more, the agents specify they want the blurb right up front, if possible even straight after the salutation.

Janet Reid is a great advocate of this when she does her critiques of query letters. Here's the link if anyone cares to see some of those critiques: Janet Reid, Literary Agent

I also think 700 words is a good measure to find out the kind of writing is offered, anything less would make any assessment difficult because we know we try to grab the reader within the first page or paragraph if not the first sentence. Without saying, but I do, I believe this is somewhat a gimmick, it is important to see beyond that paragraph to see if the writing is what it promises to be in the blurb.

I would go with:

1. Good selling point. See more
2. Commercially attractive but writing needs to be more exciting/tighter/less descriptive/less rambling/clearer/ characters need to be highlighted ecc...
3. Difficult to sell. Author needs to know more about the publishing industry. Usually the writing does not stimulate the reader's imagination- since good writing can sell even snow to the Eskimos.
4. Needs to invest in a good course of creative writing.
 
In the real world, when you query you are pitching both an idea and (in many but not all cases) a few pages of writing.
As a reader, I look to the genre listings first, then the cover/title, and if my interest is still there, I read the blurb. If I read the preview, it's because all the other things kept my interest moving forward. However, if the preview of the story doesn't seem to gel with the blurb or title, I'm left wondering if I'm reading the right story.

What I've noticed with Pop-Ups are the times when the blurb (or title) and the story don't match. And they need to match. It's not the idea that keeps a reader going, it's the way the story connects to them, and if the blurb and the intro are at odds, it's an indication of the idea in the blurb being pushed too far back from the opening.

Yes, I know the story doesn't have to open on a big bang, but if the interest from the blurb doesn't match the opening of the story in some way, I, as a reader, don't go further.

So, short story long, as always, it's not the idea that counts, but how a reader (and agent/publisher) invests in the first part/s of the story (Title, cover (if there is one), blurb, opening pages). Many of the slush-pile readers are given instructions to the effect of:
If nothing happens by page 5, shoot it (that's from a few years ago, but I don't see why it should be any different now - time is valuable).

Titles get mentioned because they matter. Genre gets mentioned because it matters. Blurbs get mentioned because they matter, but the big deal is the opening connection between story and reader.

I don't know who said it, but 'a good idea does not a story make', which aligns closely with 'good grammar does not a good story make', however, if either of these things isn't done well in a story, the risk is never finding a reader. A good idea and good grammar are expected. A great story, with an intriguing blurb, does more than anything else to get a reader - but only After the introductory bits attract their attention.

Pop-Ups focuses on the area that matters most to a reader (yes, that means going through the gate-keeper of agent/publisher), and that's the few words that introduce the story to a casual looker (the buyer), and the opening to a new world.

There are sites where the sub is 17 lines long (the equivalent to the opening page of a pb), and mostly, this is enough to get an idea of what's happening, if there's interest there. It's definitely enough to demonstrate if it doesn't have chops. Readers make snap decisions, and probably faster than an agent/publisher.

In the end, I don't think it would matter if the sub was 500 words or 700 (that's 2 and 3 pages of a pb, respectively), but the title and blurb are only a lead-in, not the main play. I like the focus on story, interest, style, relevance, and potential.
But, as always, that's just my opinion
 

Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
Personally, (speaking before my own submission goes under the spotlight...) I feel like I've already learned a lot from Pop-up Subs about sharpening up my pitch in order to catch an agent's eye and what an agent looks for when they dive into those first crucial paragraphs.

@AgentPete reckons the majority of agents have made up their minds on whether they're going to ask for more after reading no more than 700 words, hence that number.

On the Pop-up Subs I've watched, some have started well, then faded after a strong opening, which suggests the writing needs more work generally. So 700 words can be a useful indicator as to whether the writer can sustain quality prose (or verse!) through an entire manuscript. There's no doubt a great idea is a selling point, but it's not enough on its own. That's probably why "more cowbell" is such a popular option from panellists - our interest has been piqued by an intriguing blurb, but it's clear from the writing that the MS isn't yet a marketable proposition. Redrafts are often required and Pete and the panellists will usually say if they think the author's got something, but it needs further development.

The biggest clue Pete gives us on Pop-up Subs about how to snag an agent is if, on the strength of the submission, they can answer YES to the question, "can I make money out of this?"

So...is the pitch/blurb something that would propel a reader from the teaser on the back cover/website to open the first page?
Are the first couple of pages enough to keep the reader hooked, so they're willing to spend some of their hard-earned cash on the book?
From the author's bio, do I think they're someone I could work with?

So...possible categories:

1. Commercial potential: I want to read more.
2. Could be a go-er, but needs MORE COWBELL
3. Not my cuppa (but could be someone else's)
4. Back to the drawing board / Chalk it up to experience
I like these :)
 
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Malaika

Laureate
Personally, (speaking before my own submission goes under the spotlight...) I feel like I've already learned a lot from Pop-up Subs about sharpening up my pitch in order to catch an agent's eye and what an agent looks for when they dive into those first crucial paragraphs.

@AgentPete reckons the majority of agents have made up their minds on whether they're going to ask for more after reading no more than 700 words, hence that number.

On the Pop-up Subs I've watched, some have started well, then faded after a strong opening, which suggests the writing needs more work generally. So 700 words can be a useful indicator as to whether the writer can sustain quality prose (or verse!) through an entire manuscript. There's no doubt a great idea is a selling point, but it's not enough on its own. That's probably why "more cowbell" is such a popular option from panellists - our interest has been piqued by an intriguing blurb, but it's clear from the writing that the MS isn't yet a marketable proposition. Redrafts are often required and Pete and the panellists will usually say if they think the author's got something, but it needs further development.

The biggest clue Pete gives us on Pop-up Subs about how to snag an agent is if, on the strength of the submission, they can answer YES to the question, "can I make money out of this?"

So...is the pitch/blurb something that would propel a reader from the teaser on the back cover/website to open the first page?
Are the first couple of pages enough to keep the reader hooked, so they're willing to spend some of their hard-earned cash on the book?
From the author's bio, do I think they're someone I could work with?

So...possible categories:

1. Commercial potential: I want to read more.
2. Could be a go-er, but needs MORE COWBELL
3. Not my cuppa (but could be someone else's)
4. Back to the drawing board / Chalk it up to experience
I understand that this is the intention behind pop ups, but I don't feel that the current model actually accomplishes these things. In reality, agents don't qualify their responses to submissions, they give a 10 second yes/no answer. So pop ups does not actually replicate that situation in any way. In fact, an agent won't typically read a single word of an MS if the blurb or "query" doesn't offer an idea with commercial potential. Now as for the quality of writing; my submission was nearly verbatim to what I submitted for assessment in my creative writing course and I got great feedback of almost entirely praise from my tutor and no criticisms of the first 700 words and I am confident that those words are "well written" but what was the response on pop ups? "What's all this about a tree?" (well the first scene is about a tree that has apparently fallen out of the sky thus there's a tree central to that scene though I promise the entire book is not about a tree) "I liked the blurb but what's that got to do with a tree?" (My blurb said plot point, plot point, strange things are happening and it might be the end of the world, I open with one of those strange events. Forgive me for feeling like that wasn't too much of a stretch). So purely objectively, if the blurb was interesting (according to the popups panel), and the writing was decent enough to earn me a first from my absolute dragon of a writing tutor, then why did it get completely panned? I haven't looked at pop ups the same way since.

I always try to comment on the story when I judge pop ups. I want the writer to know I was paying attention and I want them to know what really grabbed me or what turned me off. That's all I ever want to hear when I put my own writing up for crtique. But it does go very fast and it's hard to really give as much as I'd like in such a short time. That's why I suggested 500 and not 700 words. That would be an almost 30% difference in the time it would take to read the submission and I doubt it would make any qualitative difference in getting a sense of the work. But it would give the panel more time to actually verbalize their response to the writing. Also it would make the show more entertaining I think.
 

RK Capps

Benefactor
What I've noticed with Pop-Ups are the times when the blurb (or title) and the story don't match. And they need to match.
This is so true! There's definitely a domino effect.

The skill is in crafting a blurb in which the first few lines of the book hint at a merger of the two (sorry, can't help the legalese-speak).

My blurb said plot point, plot point, strange things are happening and it might be the end of the world, I open with one of those strange events.
To me, this is an example of things merging.

This is such an interesting discussion, I feel like I'm understanding the technique needed to clear the query hurdle. Thanks (everyone) for giving me food for thought.

When my pop up appears, after this discussion, I feel my blurb and words do match (a fluke, call it intuition). It'll be interesting to see if you agree.
 
From this discussion I have learnt something vital: my blurb doesn't match the opening of my book, basically it refers to what goes on in chapter three. In my opening pages I just don't give agents what they are expecting to see. No wonder I get rejections all the time... :oops:
 
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If we treat the sub as a pitch...the blurb and the sample as one 'proposition' (I did think that was the existing premise.) It is not the book being judged. How could it be? It is the sensing of the promise, the likelihood of the given panellists to want to continue based on the material available, to feel they might 'buy' that book, minus the clues of a beautifully designed cover, reviews or publicity. It is highly subjective, just as some agents handle this and not that, and that was how the panel first came about, to try and mitigate that. Peter used to do them all on his own with Litopians listening in and able to comment, like the chat room does now. Yours sounds like a cracking story idea @Malaika. Eco-horror/thriller? I'd be...OMG what the hell is going on with this tree....I'd be terrified, or I should be, and that's the next thing, the execution. What the hell is going on with the jet stream? We know it can do freaky things. But everyone has different tastes in reading, and only one of the panel (unless we have special guests) is an industry insider.

Turn the Page

Pitch Perfect

Power Pitch

Pitch Promising

Pitch Problematic/Pickle/Not sufficiently prepared

Disengage
 
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Malaika

Laureate
I'm mobile atm and my life is in chaos but I just want to clarify that I'm not sore about how my submission went. I just remember it so well it makes a good example for me to use. It made me look at the submissions in a new way. And I wish I had been more careful when I created my submission (on an whim) about crafting my blurb. I think submitters should be encouraged to put more into the blurbs.
 
The blurb is the very devil. I sometimes pitch on PitMad precisely to force myself to focus on that. If it doesn't get an agent bite, well, either the market you are writing for isn't rep'd there (more #YA agents there than any other), or the blurb needs to be stronger, or both. But it's an exercise opportunity. Testing out a micro-blurb in 280 characters. Maybe we could do it as a fun thread here. Fun, yeah, like having teeth pulled :) Well, all word play, innit.

No waiting list for the Submission surgeries at the mo, I don't think......
 
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