Pitch Wars Pep Talk

Some words to the lovely PitchWars Mentees of 2016:

You are all amazing, you know that? Every single one of you. In two months you’ve revamped an entire manuscript. You’ve listened to your mentor(s), you’ve learned, you’ve fine toned your craft, you’ve made friends.

You’ve won.

There is nothing quite like the thrill of an agent round. I find myself so excited to be able to continue participating from the other side, because it is a thrill. I liken the agent search to falling in love and getting married. Querying authors are searching for love, and when it comes through, it’s the best thing in the world.

And much like love, you are looking for one. Your agent might be out there, looking through the pitches as you read this. Or your agent might not be participating, waiting for your query to arrive in their slush. It’s about luck and timing and the two need to line up.

You have no control over this luck. The only thing you have control over is your craft and how you handle the ups and downs of this business. And if you don’t get any requests? That’s life in publishing. We all face rejection, every single one of us. It’s how we handle this rejection that separates us.

Last year I made it through in my first agent contest! I was thrilled, more so because it was a first chapter mentor contest. I had high hopes for the agent round, and knew there were a few agents participating I couldn’t wait to query.

I got no requests. None. Everyone else on my team got requests, most of the other authors on other teams got requests. I got none.

It sucked. But I took comfort in knowing I had been chosen, in knowing I had a shined up first chapter. I turned around and sent off my first ten queries on the project. And within that first ten included my agent.

But at the time, I didn’t know this. I didn’t know that I was on the right path. I entered more contests, made it to agent rounds, got requests! And still, they turned into rejections. Because I had already found my one. I needed time (and a revision) to know the match had been made.

And many times over this past year, I have looked back to that day where I got that email, had that call. Because it is one of those grand moments in an author’s career.

So take deep breaths, mentees. Some of you will get that call soon. Some of you will need more time for the stars to align. Enjoy the ride. Work on your craft. You are all on a different path. Cheer on your friends, take comfort in them as well. You are in the middle of your story, you just don’t know the ending yet.

And no matter what, keep moving forward.

Final PitchWars Slush Thoughts

A few overall comments on things I saw in my inbox that might help others. The first is the most important part: inciting incident. Make sure your novel starts where it needs to start. That means that whatever the catalyst for the story is, this starts on page one. Not the main character going to work (unless the work day is the turning point). Not the main character waking up. Not hanging with friends, or combing their hair, or whatever. First page, boom, what happens? Why is this a story in the first place? Show the reader.

Because if you don’t, and the reader has to keep reading and searching for whatever the main plot is, they are going to lose interest. They are going to stop reading, put your book down, and not pick it back up. And that’s exactly what you don’t want!

Backstory. Be wary, every so wary of backstory, especially in the beginning. One of the things I loved about my mentee’s novel is that she interwove important facts effortlessly into conversation. It was there because it needed to be there. It wasn’t forced, or a long, drawn out paragraph that made me yawn. It had power. And, yet, I still am suggesting to cut some of this and interweave it in later. Because backstory clogs down a novel. Keep the reader in the present and let them know what they need to know when they need to know it.

Chapter two. I hadn’t realized up until now just how potent chapter two could be. I know I only saw a few, but chapter two gave me a gut reaction in two direction: yes! Mine! Or not for me. It was the difference between pulling the story immediately along, upping the tension and plot and excitement, or continuing at a slow pace to build up to a point where we should already be at.

Now, that may be harsh, but as a new author you have to hook the reader and keep them hooked. You don’t have a track record, you don’t have anyone saying: “Oh, it starts off slow, but Jane Doe really picks up!” No one’s going to know that. You have to put your best foot forward, and that means attacking your novel from all angles until it bleeds.

And, yes, this is a mentor contest. I’m not looking for a completely polished work. But with 50 subs to read, I needed something, anything to hold my interest. In some cases that was all about the illusive voice, the writer’s personal touch that they bring to the page. In other cases it was the plot presented in the query letter.

More honesty: the two that I fell in love with both had large diverse casts. This is my jam, as anyone can tell. This caused me to sit up and be excited. The rest was about the voice. If the writing wasn’t there, even that initial interest would have sagged. But the writing was there, the concept was there, and I literally squealed while reading. I had others high up on my list that had no diverse elements, so this wasn’t an “only diverse entries allowed” thing. I actually found it really interesting to see that these two entries shared something so special to me.

Another thing: queries. I actually didn’t pay too much attention to them, I used them to get a feel of the novel and focused my energy on the pages. But I saw a trend that I asked the other mentors about, and they noticed it, too. Some people are writing two paragraph queries, where both paragraphs sum up the novel. So the second paragraph may give different details, but doesn’t further along the story. As far as we can tell, this is not something being requested by agents. Use your query to tell a story. You can use a log line, but one line, and then expand on it in the rest of the query. You have 250 words, don’t waste words repeating what has already been introduced.

If your goal is to find an agent, query agents, not editors. Agents prefer you don’t send your ms to editors because that’s their job. There are exceptions, where an author lands a publisher and then an agent. Ultimately you don’t want to spoil your chances.

Find critique partners. I’m blown away by some of the subs I’ve read, where I was one of the first to see these words. I’m so happy these authors are stepping out and sharing their words, ready and willing to grow and learn. And I really hope they now are searching for critique partners (CPs). A writer needs them. My agent expects me to use my CPs before sending her work, so I can send her the best I’ve got. My CPs are my friends, they hold my hand through the ups and downs of this business, and work hard at adding and removing commas in my novels.

I want to take a moment and thank all my subs, for sharing their words with me, and all the cool people hanging out on the #PitchWars feed. You all are amazing and talented, and I can’t wait to cheer on your successes!

Tips on Strong Endings

Endings can make or break a novel. A lot of attention is placed on openings in novels, especially for those entering contests like Pitch Wars. This results is many novels having kick ass openings that lose something along the way.

Namely the ending.

I’m going to focus on romance novels here, because that is what I know. A romance novel ending has two important features, sometimes interwoven, sometimes separate: climax and black moment.

A novel’s climax is the most intense point, where everything the plot has been working towards unfolds in one way or another.

A novel’s black moment is the instance where all is lost between the romantic couple, and HEA (Happy Every After) appears unattainable.

Getting these two points right is no easy task. It’s an area I’ve worked at and reworked at over and over as my craft has grown. An area I will continue to work at.

In order to get them right, there are a few things to be mindful of. The first of which is lag. Often times, a climax/black moment happens too soon, before the ultimate resolution of all plot points. So the story continues as loose ends are tied up, and the reader slowly loses interest. Conversely, if the build up to the climax/black moment doesn’t have the right impact, the ending will hum along, without the urgency to get to the end, and the HEA.

So the climax/black moment has to be intense, and lead to a satisfying resolution. I know some authors that I love their voice, but the endings always leave me not quite satisfied. In this case I think things are wrapped up too quickly, without enough time to truly appreciate the couple coming together and everything they’ve overcome.

Which leads into personal preferences, of course, but what I might see as too quick for me, might be really too quick for all if not executed correctly.

So be mindful of your beats, of where certain events are occurring in the novel. Use beta readers and critique partners. Listen if they tell you the ending isn’t quite right. Think of your ending as the LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. The entire book, he “thinks he’s can” get up that hill, all the toys help him in that pursuit, until, finally, he’s over the hill and all the boys and girls get their toys. Your story is climbing a hill. Make sure there’s that peak, and drop off the reader just on the other side, not all the way back to the base.

Black moment. Ahh, black moment, it needs to be kick ass. My editor pushed me to do better in my novel, which involved torturing my characters. Oh, yes, torturing characters is a real thing! A romance thrives on that ultimate conflict that rips the characters apart, and the more intense this moment is, the more satisfying the eventual resolution becomes. A black moment needs to be believable, based on the characters situations and personalities. But not too harsh that the reader doesn’t wonder why s/he forgave him/her!

There can be some lag after the black moment, but only if the momentum holds. At this point a reader wants them together, desperately so, each scene needs to be of outmost importance—but, hey, what scene doesn’t?—and plot strung out just enough to get whichever character needs to get their head on straight fixed. Then, make up, kiss, HEA!

It’s the darkest part of the novel, when the reader wants to hug the characters and mush them together. This can be a second peak from the climax. In this case the reader has made it over that initial hump, thinks they are climbing down the hill, but, bam, nope, there’s the incline again! The rollercoaster is not over yet!

And, it really should be a rollercoaster at the end. Full of ups and down, speed and adrenalin. I love a HEA, love seeing characters together and living their lives. That’s not for the ending.

When you work on your novels, don’t just pay attention to the beginning. Yes, those first few words are super important. But so is chapter two, and the middle, and the ending. Once that first chapter sings, take that magic and sprinkle it throughout the rest. Create something that a reader can’t put down.

Oh, and give your characters hell. They won’t thank you, but your readers will.

Writing a Synopsis with Voice

If you are here as a potential Pitch Wars mentee, don’t freak out! I’m not expecting voice if I ask for a synopsis! Take a deep breath and enjoy, maybe try this one out next time!

Synopsis, a four-letter word for writers. Many hate even the thought of writing up a synopsis. How does one boil down their 50-100k manuscript to one to three pages?

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard!

But it’s also a vital skill to have. At some point in a writer’s career, someone is going to ask for a synopsis on a novel that doesn’t already have one. Oh, and they’re going to want that synopsis yesterday. The more of them you write, the more they will be easier to spit out.

My go to guide has always been this post from Publishing Crawl. It helps me figure out that bird’s eye view. In an ideal world, I love to write one up after I’ve finished editing and the novel is ingrained in my mind.

But life isn’t an ideal world. And this pantser has run into another problem: writing up synopses on unwritten novels. Which was scary as hell, so I started with a novel I had already finished a first draft on. Shined it up, focused on the key points.

It didn’t work.

So I did what I do best, I pantsed a synopsis. I had an opening in mind, that’s it. Nothing else fleshed out. I wasn’t bogged down by plot points I had already written or in mind, nothing but the barest hints of characters and plots.

I started it like a blurb and kept going instead of stopping before the ending reveal. And when I finished, I sat back and thought, “OMG! VOICE!”

That’s right, the synopsis had voice.

Up until this point, I’d always focused so much on the plot that I forgot to focus on the feel of the novel. Furthermore, I write romance, and romance is all about the feels. I promptly turned around and rewrote a synopsis with a blurby feel, once again getting the voice on the page.

I lost plot points, but I gained feeling. Which is almost as important as those plot points. Romance without feeling isn’t romance.

Now, is this always the right answer? Nope. Different types of synopses will be needed for different situations. But when you need to convey the feel of the story, or are just tired of writing another boring synopsis, try writing it like a blurb. Let your voice come out and see what happens on the page.

Why Pitch Wars?

If you follow me on twitter at all, or saw last week’s blog post, you’ll know that I’m a mentor in this year’s Pitch Wars. Don’t know Pitch Wars? It’s a contest where mentors pick a mentee and help them revise their manuscript.

In reality, it’s much more than this.

I see Pitch Wars as kind of the holy grail of writing contests. At the outset, there are about 130 writers/writer teams involved. These are authors who are agented, published, and/or editors. These are authors who have been through the trenches. We have knowledge and experience to pass on.

And we do.

Just take a look at the hashtag and you’ll see any number of mentors offering up advice. Check out all the bios, each mentor will have some tidbit to share.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, and I’ll mention it again: I’ve learned most of what I know about writing from contests.

Through contests I’ve gained valuable information. Through contests I’ve met my CPs. Almost all my writer friends I can trace back to a contest, directly or indirectly. Here’s a way to strengthen your writing and fine tune your skills.

Even if you don’t get in.

In 2014 I entered Pitch Wars for the first time. I didn’t get any requests. I wasn’t chosen. But I learned and made connections. In 2015 I entered again. I had a recently revised manuscript and I felt like something major was still wrong, but I had no clue what to do with it. Last year we could sub to five mentors, and I did. I got requests from four that totally made my day.

I didn’t get in.

I did, however, receive some very encouraging feedback. A few weeks later I landed my agent through the slush. Which means one big thing: I didn’t get in because I didn’t need it.

Now, I’m not patting myself on the back here. If I hadn’t done my revision yet? I might have needed that mentoring. But after the revision it was ready to go.

Keep this in mind, potential mentees. Some of you won’t get in simply because you are ready. Your story is ready. And a mentor can’t see how to take your amazing story to the next level, because it doesn’t need to be brought there.

Others will not get in for a variety of reasons, the main one being: we can each only pick one. I’m going to want a novel I can read over, and over, and over again. I’m going to want something that while I read, a little lightbulb goes off and I see how to bring that magic up a notch. I’m also going to want a writer who is ready to roll up his or her sleeves and do the work.

If you participate on the hashtag feed, if you listen to the mentors and make friends, you’ve already won. There’s so much information out there, but if you are not open minded enough to check yourself and learn how to change, you won’t get anywhere.

Writing is hard. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve killed parts of my story that I love, I’ve put a beloved project aside to collect dust. I’m also very willing to change and alter or remove parts. The first thing I always ask myself: does this change affect the overall plot? If the answer is no, bye-bye.

So take from this contest whatever you can. Last year I did. Last year I had no clue my writing life was about to change. I know there are potential mentees in the same boat. Be it through getting picked or not, many of you will look back a year from now and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Need it spelled out more? Last year at this time I had one R&R I was working on, no other requests out. I had been collecting rejection after rejection. This year I have an agent and a publisher—not only a publisher, but a traditionally published book.

Where are you going to be next year?

PitchWars Mentor Bio

PitchWars logo 2016

I am SO excited to be a PitchWars Mentor this year! It has been a dream to be part of a contest that has helped so many and I can’t wait to create some magic!

flames(Note, this is NOT your ms, I promise!)

First, a little about me: If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a bit of a contest junkie. I’ve participated in quite a few as a hopeful, and always walk away with new knowledge, new friends, or both! Two years ago I entered with only a honorable mention and making the semifinals in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write. Last year I made it through to the agent round in three contests: NestPitch, Writer’s Voice, and Write Inclusively. This year I’ve been a reader for PitchMadness, a judge for QueryKombat, and a mentor for FicFest. So I know contests inside and out, and even wrote an article on it for #RWChat!

I’m a NA/A Contemporary Romance writer represented by Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency. For how I landed my agent (I’m a slush success) check out this post. My debut NA came out in June with Avon books, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION. I’m Hard of Hearing and I write about hearing loss. I also have a degree in Deaf Studies from Boston University, which I used in my former career as a social worker, before burning out and turning to the family business (need window treatments? I’m your gal!). I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic: I married my high school sweetheart and we live with our son and three cats.

And if this doesn’t give you a hint about what I’m looking for…I want all the romance!

penelope-kiss-scene-o

Okay, not all, I can’t have them all. Specifically I’m mentoring NA/A and what I’m looking for is pretty universal across the two categories. Here are a few things high on my wish list:

  • Diversity. Whatever that means to you: race, sexuality, gender, religion, disability, etc. I especially would love some own voices as I’m super sensitive to authentic portrayals. Note that I’m white/cis/straight, so I’m counting on you to bring a respectful and accurate diverse element across. Also note that I want diversity to be an is, part of the make up of the character not a plot point (own voice issue books the exception). If a disabled character is “cured,” I’m not your mentor.
  • I’m a sucker for a second chance romance, or friends to lovers. Show me either of these and you’ll have my attention. Secret babies also strike a cord, but must stand out from the crowd.
  • I like a story with meat to the plot, that is more than the romance. A story that knows the rules and breaks them just enough to be unique.
  • I like characters who are real. Sure, we all love the tattooed bad boy, but the hot guy who reads a book at the coffee shop is just as hero worthy!
  • While I tend to fall in love with a little of everything, I’m a best match for contemporary stories.
  • For Adult I prefer deep third person, for New Adult I prefer first. In both cases I love dual. There are exceptions to this preference, and it boils down to voice.
  • I want amazing chemistry between the two main characters. That can be off the charts or a slow burn.
  • In regards to chemistry…I prefer my sex on page, please. You may able to tease me with no sex but good build up, however full on BDSM makes me blush far too much!
  • Ultimately, it’s voice that will seal the deal for me. And that’s not something I can explain beyond: I’ll know it when I see it.
  • Give me a ms that makes me go: gceg85qcd(Psst, scavenger hunters, here’s your letter!)

So why should you choose me? I intern for a publisher and have learned a lot from this experience. I’m a plot hunter. I love nothing more than to find plot issues and point them out. And I will go back and forth happily over issues until they shine! I love seeing how things can be made better and stronger. I’m a revision nut. Some of my best work has come from revisions and I’m not afraid to rip things apart and put them back together. And, thanks to my editor, I have a soft spot for kick-ass romance black moments. I may have also developed a fondness for torturing characters.

tumblr_lokx5omtjt1qbdzeqo1_500

As for grammar: if I had a time machine I would go back and re-assign my English teachers, as I got the easy one every year. It took until middle school Spanish for me to understand verbs enough to play MadLibs (hangs head in shame). I’ve come a long way, but after having commas added, removed, added, removed by my agent, editor, and copy editor, I’m not your gal if you need help placing them! That being said, I will hunt down all instances of tell, search for passive language, and absolutely mark up what I’m confident in.

I communicate mostly via email or messaging due to my hearing loss. However, I’m happy to work with what form is best for you!

I love to watch romantic comedies (::cough, cough:: points above ::cough, cough::) and a romantic plot or subplot has addicted me to more than one sitcom (Frasier, How I Met Your Mother). In books, I range from sweet to angsty. On the sweet side: I love me some steam. On the angsty side: too much can be too much, I like my happy moments! My favorite author list is seriously lacking in diversity, and I’ve been branching out over the last few years. But my tried and true authors include: Jennifer Crusie, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Briggs, and Colleen Hoover.

Any questions? Tweet me! @AuthorLBrown or comment below!