Sure, there are a few things that seem to tip the balance in favor of “yes,” like loud events, likeable characters and a plot that pulls readers constantly forward, making those pages turn.
Yet vast numbers of well-written books with all those qualities wind up in the “pass” pile every day, leaving authors to second guess themselves and to feel confused, dejected and downright depressed.
In case it can help anyone climb out of that dark place, I thought I’d share a letter I received last week from the 19th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards committee. Of the many thousands of submissions it receives, the committee selects just 5 finalists and 1 winner. Not having been one of them, I’d long since forgotten about my entry (sent in last April) when this feedback arrived from “Judge # 46:”
On a scale of 1 to 5, which 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” please evaluate the following:
Character development: 5
Production quality and cover design: 4
“This is a strong and solid work of commercial fiction focused on one woman’s struggle to accept the seemingly perfect existence she has while pining for a very different, more personally satisfying life. A conventional storyline has been given a creative and engaging treatment here, with compelling insights into the main character’s motivations and desires. The contrast in settings, veering from Provence to suburban New Jersey, forms an interesting juxtaposition, and enables the author to flesh out some widely differing characters in a sympathetic way. Physically the book is appealing, with a pleasant cover and well-designed interior.”
So why didn’t it make it to the “finalists” pile? Five finalists out of thousands is a tiny number for sure. Probably a similar ratio to those accepted by traditional publishers. But beyond that — like with so much in publishing these days — your guess is as good as mine.
Bottom line: If you find yourself in that “no thank you” pile, don’t waste too much time second-guessing yourself. Onward!