- Song lyrics: You can mention the band or the album, so long as you're not using it a negative context, but the lyrics themselves are copyrighted. In order to use copyright material within your book, the publisher would have to pay for it. If your main characters are in a band, you need to come up with original lyrics for them to sing, not a cover. And while we're on this topic, use of trademarks and brand names can be tricky as well. The blog post Can I Mention Brand Name Products in My Fiction? discusses this in a very clear manner. In addition, while it's from 2003, I also recommend reading the three part Intellectual Property and Its Uses series from Lori L. Lake: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
- Prologues: I'll be honest, as a reader, I never particularly cared if there was a prologue or not. I'd read it if it was there, but I was never like, 'Oh, you know what this book should have had? A prologue.' However, the more experience I get while wielding the Red Pen of Doom, the more I've come to dislike the use of prologues. The only time I feel prologues are kosher is when they are setting up a series (see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight) or necessary to establish an immediate emotional reaction in the reader. Most readers will not be picking up your book blind. They will have read a description or back blurb. If your blurb says, 'After being kidnapped by angels as a child, seventeen year-old Jonathan has resigned himself to life as a prisoner," my first thought is not 'How did they kidnap him?,' but 'Why did they kidnap him? Angels are supposed to be the good guys!' If your prologue focuses on the actual kidnapping, chances are the book is going to feel like it opens slowly because you're not telling me what I want to know. If the prologue is from the angels' POV just before or after the kidnapping and I get that feeling of 'dun dun DUNNN,' that's a different story. When in doubt, ask yourself how many books in your genre have prologues? In the category I'd like to see (*coughCommercialFictionLikeRomancecough*), prologues are not very common.
- RTF files: I hate reading .RTF files. They crash my iPad. So if you're interested in submitting to me, please, for the love of whatever you hold holy, send a .doc file. While we're on the subject, when Brenda announces the agents, check out their submission guidelines. Some may have specific guidelines as to how they want things sent to them and knowing ahead of time will prevent you from scrambling to convert something if you get a request. Oh, and while I'm being picky, I prefer New Times Roman over Courier.
- Ginormous Word Counts: Anything over 100k is suspect and the higher the word count goes, the more I think massive editing will be needed without having read a word. You may be all, 'well, Harry Potter was huge, so it's okay that mine is long too.' No, no, it's not. The Harry Potter books gradually got longer. The page lengths basically corresponded with the skyrocketing sales. Since you are entering Pitch Wars, you are likely a debut author and it's unlikely an editor is going to look at your 150k word count & go 'I'm sure every word is essential to the book.' Even if you think you may self-publish or that your book is perfect for an epub, a huge word count is still problematic. An ebook's pricing is determined by its word count. Higher word count, higher pricing. If you're convinced that nothing can be cut, look for a place where the manuscript can be split in half. A 150k manuscript can be turned into two 75k books and now you have a potential series on your hands. Bree Ogden discusses word count from an agent's perspective here.
- A Genre I Didn't Ask For: While I'm not supposed to tell you my wishlist yet, I can tell you that I don't want to see horror. I am not a horror person so even if you're the next Stephen King, I will probably be too busy hiding under my covers to recognize your brilliance. I will also not be open to certain erotic fetishes, like scatology, incest, golden showers, full-on sadism, or pedophilia. If you are writing a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, book dealing with child sexual abuse, that is one thing, but anything that portrays it as 'okay' is not something that I want to be involved in, ever. Same thing goes for animal abuse. There will be 46 mentors open for applications and you can only choose four of them to submit to. Read the wishlists carefully and make sure you're submitting to someone that you feel will genuinely appreciate your work.
Today's the 20th, so you have forty-three days left to whip your manuscript into shape by the December 2nd submission deadline. Get cracking!
All opinions expressed are mine alone and should not be associated with or attributed to anyone else.