Friday, December 6, 2013

#PitchWars Stats

I know some of y'all are itching to see these, but please read my caveats first!

  • My genres are skewed heavily, based on what I put in my wishlist. These are only the submissions sent directly to me. I *might* be willing to do this for all submissions, if there's a lot of interest and if Brenda will let me. I am a stats nerd and get off on awesome Excel spreadsheets.
  • The genres listed are determined by my interpretations of the queries and pages. Some submissions didn't have a genre listed or had multiple. Some were... maybe not so correct? See further discussion of this below.
  • This post is filled with a lot of opinions. My opinions. Which you are free to disagree with.


Let's start with Category. I asked for both YA and NA and here's where my submissions fell:

The average length for YA entries was 81,200 words. The longest was 120,000 and the lowest was 56,000, with the median at 80,000.

The average length for NA entries was 77,300 words. The longest was 100,000 and the lowest was 50,000, with the median at 83,000.


I'll say it again: these numbers are based on what the genre was as I saw it, not as labeled by the author. Two genres, especially seemed misrepresented. More on that below.

For YA entries:

Note: Dys = Dystopian; F = High or other-world fantasy; SF = Science-Fiction; SFF = Science Fiction Fantasy; UF/pnr = Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Fantasy (anything set in our world.

For NA entries:

Note: Dys = Dystopian; F = High or other-world fantasy; SF = Science-Fiction; UF/pnr = Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Fantasy (anything set in our world; cozy = cozy mystery; C = Contemporary

Of the thirteen Dystopian novels in my inbox, nine of them were labeled Science-Fiction - which isn't incorrect, just maybe not as specific as it could be. All this tells me is: these authors know the market. They know publishers aren't looking for Dystopians anymore and are marketing their book as Sci-Fi, which publishers are looking for.

In my wishlist, I practically begged for magical realism. I received five submissions with this label. Now, magical realism is a tricky genre to peg, so keep that in mind when I say that (in my opinion) only two of these might be magical realism The other three were very plainly urban fantasy, which, like Dystopians, publishers are now wary of.

Other interesting numbers:
  • 9 novels featured the MC discovering special powers or abilities
  • 5 submissions were retellings of some kind
  • 3 submissions mentioned WWIII
  • I only received 3 submissions with LGBT themes, though I did only add this to my wishlist a few days after it was first published.

For me, it's always fun to look at genders in fiction.

NOTE: I went through lengths to confirm the gender identities of both the authors and the characters, confirming it with gendered pronouns used by the author or, in some cases, asking the author directly. If there were any other genders identified, I would have mentioned them, but there weren't.

Note: multiple MCs means there was more than one POV character. In all of these instances, there was at least one male and one female character.

Another note: "author unknown" means I was unable to confirm the author's gender identity before publishing this.

It's interesting to note: I did not receive any NA submissions from male authors or any NA submissions told in more than one viewpoint.


Now let's talk a little bit about the queries themselves. 

I was interested to see how many of my queries were personalized:

I did not consider statements such as "I'm querying you because you like YA fantasy" as being "personalized." Some of the personalizations were very elaborate and some were simple mentions of something specific I said in my wishlist. Some of you may have stalked me on several social media sites ;-). For me, personalization didn't affect how I looked at a submissions except in one instance. The personalization was so good (honest, truly thoughtful, showcasing knowledge of the industry) that I paid extra attention to the pages even though the query didn't really grab me.

Four queries used rhetorical questions. I would advise against this. I know you think yours is super enticing but there's a good chance these are not coming off the way you want them to. "What would you do if you woke up in a world with no chocolate or wine?" Me: hide under the covers and cry. Which would not make an interesting book. (NOTICE: I've just connected, in my mind, your book to "not interesting.")

On a related note: queries in first person from your character...

I'm going to leave it at that because I could write pages on why you shouldn't do this.

I received eight queries that I felt were overly editorial, meaning they insisted on telling me what their book was, rather than letting it speak for itself. As a fictional example, this is something like, "TITLE OF BOOK is a story of what happens when two people step out of the restricting roles society has place on them and discover what true happiness means. In a world of blah blah blah" If that is what your story is about, let me get that from the story. Also, most readers don't appreciate being told what sort of moral lesson they should get from a book before reading it. On a related note, don't tell me a book is "action-packed" or "emotional" or "exciting." Show me how it's those things.

Nine authors mentioned that they had published fiction - whether it was self-published novels, small-press published novels, or short fiction.

Only two submissions had prologues (one labeled as "chapter one" but ...) and four mentioned that they had completed sequels.

Comp Titles

Let's talk about comp titles.

Comp titles aren't necessary in a query, but can be helpful when trying to figure where in the market your book might fit. Good, specific comp titles can be a boon to a query. If done correctly, they can also subtly let the agent know you've read widely in your category and genre.

This is to say, banish any mention of Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, or the The Mortal Instruments.

I had three queries that mentioned HG, three that mentioned Divergent, and one that mentioned those two plus TMI.

These might work as comp titles when you're trying to sell to the general public, but well-read and harried agents might take this to mean that you haven't read anything else. Or that the expectations you have for your book sales are astronomical.

The best books for comps are those that have done well, but the entire world doesn't know about them. And they should actually be comparable to your book. If your book is about a person on a boat, that doesn't automatically mean one of your comp titles is The Old Man and the Sea. A comp title isn't just about genre or setting, it's about the feel of the book, the atmosphere, the themes, the writing style. For example: If you say your book is like Unwind (one of my favorite books on the planet), it better be because it's going to do like Shusterman did and rip my soul from my body and shred it before giving it back to me, not just because it's set in a future where society is kinda messed up.


You've heard it from many mentors and it's not just a line we're feeding you: The submissions this year have been fantastic. I did not read a single query and think it was bad (aside from things mentioned above, which are mostly small things). There are always ones that can use improving, but all-in-all, Pitch Wars competitors know their stuff. 

I hope this helps ease some of the anticipation of waiting for December 11. Let me know if you have any questions.


  1. Very interesting, Sarah. I so appreciate providing this insight. I think in writing, the truth is in the masses...if one or two say something it may or may not have credence, but if a person hears it again and again from a multitude, it's best to pay attention. Truly appreciate your work.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. The stats are interesting, especially since I'm kind of a number/Excel freak. :) Thoughts on query letters are fantastic as well. I'll definitely keep those in mind when making future submissions.

  3. Love reading about your insight into this process, Sarah. Thank you very much for sharing.

  4. Thank you for putting so much work into Pitch Wars! Compiling all this data must have taken a lot of time. I really appreciated reading your results. Thank you!

  5. This was very interesting and illuminating. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit how excited I was to read this. I love stuff like that! :) Thanks Sarah! And if you do compile the stats for all the submissions I may do a little happy dance and send you chocolate!

  7. Thanks, Sarah. Will you be telling the ones who you think were mislabeled? As I'm one of the people stating magical realism, I would really like to know if you think that's not the case. I find my novel hard to classify, so any insight is greatly appreciated. I'm about 99.9% sure you won't pick me, so that makes me extra eager for any feedback :)

    Btw, the captcha to post this is really difficult. I've failed 4 times so far... will keep trying!

  8. This is very interesting. Thanks for sending this on. Glad I was one of the LBGT books sent to you!