A Survivors Guide to Pitch Contests

Hey y’all! I don’t know if you saw, but #pitmad #SFFpit and #PitchMas all happened in the last two weeks! If you don’t know, or have never heard of them, these are all really awesome contests where you pitch your MS in 140 characters or less, and agents/editors stalk the feed and make requests. It might seem like a one in a million chance of anything actually coming out of this, but you’d be amazed how many success stories there are.

This was probably my second or third #SFFpit and my fifth or sixth pitch contest overall. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing. It was bad. But I had fun, and I’ve learned a lot in the times since then, so I wanted to share it with y’all so you don’t have to go through all of the trial and error that I did.

Here’s the top things I’ve learned from pitch contests:

1. Don’t be intimidated. It can seem overwhelming at first, especially with how big #pitmad and #SFFpit have gotten. There are seriously big names scanning the feed, and a lot of competition. But here’s the thing: if it doesn’t work out, nothing happens. You quite literally have nothing to lose. I love pitch contests because it’s another way to throw your hat in the ring, without all the time, effort, and stress of querying. Plus, all that “competition” is actually really awesome, which brings me to my next point.

2. You will meet amazing people. I’ve learned since joining writerly Twitter that really, no one knows what they’re doing either. At first I saw the other writers on #pitmad and #SFFpit as competition, but now I realize we’re all comrades. Every pitch contest, I get new followers and make a bunch of new connections. Plus, everyone is so supportive and friendly and it’s all just amazing. It makes me want to giant squishy hug everybody 🙂

3. It will get better. My first few times, I didn’t get a single bite. I got a couple RTs from supportive writers, but no requests. Which I was happy to even get RTs at the time, but didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I slowly learned that my pitches needed work. I’m very bad with anything pitch-y, from Twitter pitches to synopses to queries, so this was a big struggle for me. But I surprised myself with what I would come up with each contest, sometimes randomly struck with inspiration in the middle of it all. Each round my pitches have gotten better and better, and so have the responses. I went from a couple RTs and no bites, to a dozen RTs on one pitch and three requests overall. And I’m willing to bet it’ll be even better next time!

4. Polish your pitch. That said, the biggest factor affecting responses and your chance of getting a request is having a great pitch, so work on it as much as you can. Play around. Test out different ones, see what kind of response you get. Don’t overstress about it. The ones you think are the best won’t always be the most successful, and vice versa. Usually, the ones I came up with spur-of-the-moment turned out to be the best. I had a really hard time boiling down my complicated multi-POV fantasy into 140 characters, but I learned to be as specific as possible. My first few pitches just focused on the world and grand scheme, but it didn’t resonate. I learned that it’s much better to focus on one character, what they want, and what’s stopping them.

5. No cliches. For the love of God, please don’t use cliches when writing a pitch. In fact, don’t use cliches in anything: query, synopsis, or your manuscript itself. They might sound juicy but really they’re just vague and don’t actually tell anything. Plus, to agents/editors it comes off as lazy writing, or low skill. Every time I see a cliche, I die a little inside.

6. Use all your pitches. You have the opportunity for up to 24 tweets throughout the day (twice per hour in a 12 hour period) in most contests. Take advantage of that. I used some pitches to show the three POV’s overall goal. I used a pitch or two to give a taste of world-building. I used several pitches for each of POVs individually, to show their voice and what was at stake for them. One agent might be intrigued by one character, another by the world, a third by the overall struggle. Try them all!

7. Use your best pitches in the morning. Whether it’s because all the agents and editors are up and freshly caffeinated, or it’s before they’ve dealt with the stress of the work day, for some reason I get way more response on my morning pitches. Usually by two or three in the afternoon the response has slowed down considerably and almost stopped by four or five. This doesn’t mean stop pitching, though! There have been some agents who get on the feed late, so make sure you don’t miss out. But be sure to focus your best pitches in the morning.

8. Schedule your pitches. I know a lot of people use Tweetdeck, but I never have and have no idea how to use it, but from what I hear it’s worth checking out. I just use Twitter’s built in system: if you go to ads.twitter.com and under the Creatives tab, then hit compose tweet, there will be an option to schedule it. This eliminates any stress of having to pitch every 30 min or hour, or if you’re unable to pitch at certain times. Even if you are available, it helps you focus on interacting with other authors, RTing, and enjoying yourself!

9. Have patience. It probably won’t work your first few times. (If it does, awesome! You probably don’t need to read this then, and I want to know your secret) That doesn’t mean you’re an awful writer, or no one wants your book, or you should give up forever. Agents and editors are human, and can’t possibly look through every pitch. And even if you don’t get requests or many RTs, I promise you will if you keep working on your pitches, and try try again!

10. Have fun. I know it’s cheesy, but I’m serious! Twitter pitches are probably the most casual way you can get out there. Mess around with your pitches. Read what other authors are doing–there’s some seriously amazing stuff. Get feedback, connect with others, laugh at your bad pitches or the stress of querying or nerdy inside jokes. Pitch contests are really what you make of them, and they can be a lot of fun!

I hope that helps! Are you a pitch contest newbie, or a veteran? What have you learned through your trial and error? Let me know in the comments!

 

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TBAS Snapshot

I know I missed last week, but it’s finals and life has been crazy for me. But good news, I’ll be done with the semester after this week and free for an entire month! But here’s the snapshot for this week with an extra long excerpt as promised 🙂

Title: Ember

Current word count: 81,117

Words written this week: about 2,000

Words cut this week: about 2,000

What I’m working on: Polishing. I worked with an editor for the first 10k and used her comments to apply to edits to the rest. I added a couple action scenes, cut down some other ones, and polished the prose and voice. It really made a huge difference, even the small details and changes. I wanted to really perfect it before pitmad, SFFpit, and PitchMas. Also, I just made a couple big submissions, so fingers crossed! 🙂

Favorite lines: 

As I watched, Scar raised it to his lips and drank. He grinned, and his teeth shone red with blood. A wolf tearing into a kill.

“I’m done with her. Drain all of it, even if she’s dead.”

The boy seemed eager to comply.

I grit my teeth against another scream as his ragged knife tore into my flesh, prying skin from muscle. Desperately, I tried to focus my magic as Asa had tried so often to teach me, his chest glowing with energy. Skin and fiber knit together at his touch.

But nothing happened.

Of course it didn’t. It was hopeless. I may have Amaranthine blood, but I was pathetically, hopelessly human.

Scar leaned against the wall, sipping from the bowl as he watched the boy harvest me. I stared at him, and willed all of my rage against him. He was everything in this world I hated. He had hurt the only friends I ever had before I met the pack. He hurt everyone he ever came in contact with, and enjoyed it. He lived off of everyone else’s pain.

And now he was going to kill me.

Scar’s face turned red. He coughed, and it caught at the back of his throat, trapped. Choked. A gurgle slipped out, mangled. The bowl fell from his hands. It shattered as it hit the ground, dashing my blood against the wall.

The boy froze, and cast an anxious look at him. “Are you alright, Scar?”

Scar couldn’t speak.

His hands went to his throat, clawing at his skin and drawing blood. His skin paled to ash. His eyes bulged. His scream came out a strangled gurgle.

Goal for next week: Rock out SFFpit and PitchMas! (After finals, of course)

The Great Indie Quest

So you may have read the post I wrote recently, where I examined the different publishing paths and which one was right for me. Since I didn’t know a lot about indie at the time, and some people had not even heard of it when I posted, I thought I would share some of the resources I found in my search–my Great Indie Quest, a traditional girl’s quest to see what indie publishing can do for me.

Indie publishing has a lot of things to offer potential authors, a lot of things I never realized. Freedom, rights, customization. You get to be part of a more intimate, and very loyal community. Not to mention when published through an indie publisher, there is still a gatekeeper and official stamp, as well as all the resources and services a publisher provides, but you get to forgo the entire stressful querying and finding an agent process.

I wanted to share these with you so hopefully if you haven’t heard of indie publishing, or like many people don’t really know a lot about it, you can learn more, and maybe discover that it is an option, or even the right publishing path for you.

Here are some of the resources I found:

1. This site is a great, straightforward guide, particularly to the business side. This post is helpful,  but her others are definitely worth checking out as well.

2. S.M. Boyce has some great advice for writers and indie authors. Here is an overview page of different aspects, and here is a list of recommended vendors and people to assist with all the different aspects you might have to handle if you choose to go indie–editing, design, formatting, etc.

3. Kirkus Reviews is well-known and prestigious within the writing and publishing industries, so I was glad to find that they had a guide on indie publishing. It is more general overview advice, but very helpful for those who are just starting to consider indie publishing, or want to find out more about it.

4. Though the Indie Author Guide is a book, which you can buy herethis companion site has a lot of excellent resources, including outside sources and links, and even worksheets for indie authors such as for tracking sales, production costs, budget, etc.

5. Again, though this is a book by author Susan Kaye Quinn, the site also includes two webinars, 10 Ways to Survive Indie Publishing and Facing Your Fears, plus dozens of links to resources for freelance services and other recommendations.

6. This is an article about an author’s journey to self-publishing, and different aspects of it. The title, Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know, says it all.

That’s all I have for now! I hope these can help you to understand a little more about indie publishing, and maybe even consider it if you haven’t already. Do you have any questions, or more resources about indie publishing you’d like to share? Let me know!

The Magic Number

One thing I have noticed lately is writers who are agented or published have one thing in common: most of them, this is their second, or third, or sixth book–it took them that many tries to get it “right”. This made me curious. Is there an unspoken magic number in the publishing world? Is there a certain number of books it takes to master the art?

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been writing my whole life. What started as picture books progressed to short stories then chapter books, until finally I finished my first complete novel at 12, handwritten in a pink journal. It was a science fiction/dystopian about a girl who discovers government secrets, and then teams up with the rebels to overthrow them. Naturally, now I read it and it’s complete crap, and will live the rest of its life locked away in my files, never to see the light of day.

My second book was an epic fantasy that probably should have been two or three books instead of one, about four kids united by magical powers, saving their land from the Dark Lord. I was probably about 13 when I wrote it, so considering that it’s pretty brilliant, but like the previous will never see the light of day.

My third I wrote when I was about 15 and is 102 pages of teenage angst. It was my first contemporary, about a girl whose boyfriend is killed in a car accident. Again, teenage angst. There are some tiny gems, but most of it is one giant facepalm.

Now my fourth was Ember, which you have probably heard me mention. I started writing it when I was 17, and this was the first one worth reading. Countless rewrites and two years later, I am in the process of querying it. Though I’ve only been at it six months or so, it’s hard not to get discouraged, especially when promising leads end up going nowhere. I started writing its companion, but needed a break from writing in the same world and same story for two years. So to battle the rollercoaster of querying, I started Nightfire.

Ember and Nightfire are my true loves. But one question I have been asking myself a lot lately is–what if Ember isn’t the one? What if it’s just another one in the series before I get it “right”? I absolutely believe in that story; I love the characters, the world, everything. It was the first story that characters became real to me, that I started to get voices in my head. I believe I have developed my writing skills well enough that I could be published now. But what if there’s something wrong in the formula? Something that Nightfire has the chance to get right?

Which led to me wonder–what is the magic number? I wrote three books before Ember, but was that enough? Do the ones I wrote at 12 or 13 count, when I was still so young and had so much to learn?

I believe in Ember, but I wonder if it’s not the one that will get me agented and published. Maybe that is Nightfire, and Ember can come later. But my question remains–is there a number?

What do you think? How many books have you written–if any? Is there a magic number of books a writer has to write, before they have “mastered” it? Is there a magic number of books it takes before one makes an agent fall in love?

 

Pushing the Boundaries

As writers, we constantly ride that line between being creative and just plain crazy. We want to be fresh enough that we stand out on the shelves, but not alienate readers – we want them to think WOW, not WTF. And the gatekeepers say on one hand they’re looking for something different, but then some things are so different they don’t have a market.

It’s easy to get sucked into this. I know, I’m always over-analyzing my writing now that I’m looking at it from an industry/publishing perspective. At first, I only wrote for myself. I wasn’t scared of what people would think, because I was the only one who would read it. Now I find myself constantly second guessing, and cutting lines or scenes that might turn people away. I’m embarrassed before anyone even reads it.

And then I think,  what am I doing?

It is our job to be crazy. It is our job to push the boundaries and try new things and turn the world inside out just to see what shape it will take. I love that about writing. Sometimes I worry so much about stepping too far outside the lines into crazy-land, that I forget. Writing doesn’t have boundaries. With only 26 letters, somehow the possibilities are limitless.

Exhibit A: from DFWCON. In the query gong show (which is basically a roast of people’s queries) there was a query so outlandish that everyone, including the agents, laughed through the whole thing. Like 80-year-old grandma and aliens in her backyard crazy. But guess what? It was one of only two queries that made it, and got requests. The crazy characters are the ones we remember. Donald Maas said in his character workshop, “Don’t be afraid to push your protagonist over the edge.” I love that.

And that’s something I’d really struggled with. I’d tried to reign in the really dark and twisted bits of my story to keep it marketable to a wide audience. But that’s the problem: it is dark and twisted. One of my main characters, Crow, is really dark and twisted. But he’s an assassin for the most ruthless drug lord in the city, with a background of torture and abuse. In other words, he has some serious issues. Watering his character and his scenes down to make it a pill easier to swallow just didn’t work. He ended up feeling flat.

Now, I’ve opened the cage door, taken the chains off, and explored where he can go. It’s taken me by surprise how much he’s come to life. It’s messed up, it’s dark, it’s disturbed, but it’s raw and emotional and powerful. I got chills while writing some parts, and cried while writing others. It’s real, and it’s him. He’s become my most vivid and dynamic character. It wasn’t fair to him, or my readers, to lock him away just because he might be a little too much crazy for some people. You know what? Those people are just dumb and boring. 😉

We’re self-conscious creatures, writers. Especially when we open up our writing to the world, with the possibility of it being picked apart. But don’t be scared of that, don’t even think about it. Write what is genuine. Write for yourself, and for your story, and for your characters.

It is ten thousand times better to be too much, than not enough. Don’t tiptoe up to the edge of crazy, dive off of it. Even if you don’t keep the crazy, you’ll find a whole new world of depth to your story in the process. Your characters and your readers will thank you.

 

 

Query Critique, Pitch Slam, DFWCON, Oh My!

So I just got back from DFWCON! Which explains why I have been a little MIA. It was my first conference ever, and was a complete whirlwind. I am so exhausted (dead) I really don’t even know how I am functioning right now (I’m not)…and I’ll probably pay for it by taking a week to recover. So worth it though.

First, I will talk a little about Pitch Slam, which I participated in a week or so ago. Mainly, I learned not to listen to feedback. What? Let me rephrase that. Especially being new to the whole publishing process, I think I know nothing and that anything other people say (especially credible “experts”) is gold. It’s not. Feedback is great. You need it. You need to get out of your bubble and get fresh eyes and have someone tell you all the parts that don’t make sense or could be better or just plain suck (hopefully they don’t say suck). But I learned not to take it too seriously. It is still just someone’s opinion.

The best example of this is that prior to the contest, I got a free critique by an author. She told me she thought my pitch was perfect, and nitpicked some things about my first 250 but they were very constructive and helpful. I felt pretty confident going into the contest. Then I got my official Pitch Slam feedback. They called my pitch “disorienting” and “hard to imagine.” And then in the second Pitch Slam round they were much more positive about my first 250 (I think it was another person).

I also entered my query into an online query critique workshop, and had feedback ranging from “I love it” to more or less “throw it out”. I literally had someone tell me I’d never be able to get an agent (seriously?). And, by the way, if anyone ever gives you feedback like that, really don’t listen to them. I’ll be honest, that one hurt (and I’m not sensitive about critique), but I don’t think that ever needs to be said, or is ever true! Everyone has a chance, a lot of it is just luck and timing.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a dozen times, but it’s really all subjective. There are rules, but they’re not laws. And besides, rules are meant to be broken 😉

DFWCON. Wow. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect with my first conference. It was overwhelming but so eye-opening and educational and fun! I think the first day I was overstressed and overthinking it, and wasn’t able to enjoy it as much. Now I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, because I really just loved it. I could probably talk about this for days, but here’s the highlights.

My pitch went well! Got a request for a partial from the agent, so I am frantically trying to perfect my first pages and query. I was also able to talk with her more during lunch and around the conference, and feel like I made an impression. She remembered my name, so I’m hoping that will help when I query her! I made some great connections. Which, really, is what conferences are about. The workshops/panels were great (They had some fantastic authors/editors/speakers. Donald Maass is unbelievable) but I feel like you can kind of learn a lot of that stuff elsewhere. Conferences are really one of the only opportunities writers have to connect face-to-face. And I think becoming a part of the writing community is so important, no matter what stage of the process you’re at.

These are some of my favorite quotes I jotted down from various speakers:

“It took me one month to write it. It took me a year to make it a novel.” Bob Stewart

“Let yourself off the hook. Write a crappy first draft. That’s genuine.” Jonathan Maberry

“Send your protagonist over the edge.” Donald Maass

“What stops a lot of people writing is the belief that everything has to be perfect.” Jonathan Maberry

There were a ton of super memorable moments and wisdom nuggets, but my favorite was Donald Maass’ closing remarks (his character workshop was also fantastic, I wrote five pages of notes). I actually teared up it was that good. He talked about something I firmly believe in–that the best books have something to say. There are endless tips and tricks and techniques for being successful as a writer, but that’s what it boils down to. Write a great book first. Books are so, so, so powerful. A lot of times we underestimate ourselves as writers, and the impact we can have. We have the power to change the world, literally.

To sum it up, I’ll leave you with this from his closing remarks:

“Quit just trying to be published. Let’s change the world.”

When Did Dystopian Become a Dirty Word?

Dystopian.

It used to be a genre, a category, a trend. It still is a trend among readers and the media. But in the publishing and agent world, it has become a negative, an insult. A dirty word.

Labeling a manuscript dystopian is like slapping it with a big red rejected stamp. Signing its death warrant. Condemning it a pariah that no one would touch with a 10-foot-pole.

In order to have any chance of being considered by an agent or publisher, a dystopian cannot be called as such. Instead of calling a pig a pig, there needs to be a spin–it’s a blood-soaked thriller, a story of futuristic war, an epic love story of star-crossed lovers. Which, I am not necessarily blaming the agents and publishers. It is a business for them. And right now, dystopians seem like bad investments (which I blame trendchasers for, and talk more about in this post)

Why am I so riled up about this? Big deal, dystopians are over. Get over it.

I am frustrated that because of the connotations dystopian brings with it, manuscripts are killed before they have a chance. Who cares about the characters, or the world, or the storytelling? If there’s anything that even remotely stinks like dystopian, it’s done.

This is especially frustrating to me because (surprise) I have dystopian elements in my book. There a thousand other elements to it, but because there is a rebellion against power, it is often labeled a dystopian. But as I talked about in my Hipster Dystopia post, it didn’t come from wanting to be a part of the cool dystopian club, it came from having something to say about society and power. I saw these characters, and this world, and this conflict, this struggle. I saw the story in it, and I explored it.

We live in an era of conflict, unrest, and change. A recent post on Distractify brought this sharply into view (check it out here) and summed it up well by ending with: “When students in the future look back, they will see us as one unified generation who overcame incredible obstacles and made swift social progress, despite little certainty of what lies ahead.”

If you don’t feel like scrolling through 100 of the “100 Iconic Photos That Forever Define the 21st Century So Far” (but it’s really worth the time) here are some particularly powerful photos:

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Especially this last one (Kiev, Ukraine before and after the revolution). All of these were photos taken during events that happened in the last decade. This is real. And this is powerful. There are stories here. Thousands, millions of stories that have the power to change things, change people. This is what I was writing for. A world in conflict, on the cusp of change. With thousands and millions of people rising up and crying out for justice, for a better world. People putting their lives in danger, sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

We live in dystopia. Arguably, we always will be. It is part of human flaws, and human nature. There will always be  corruption, abuse of power, greed, violence, casualties, war.

This is the story I am writing. About a world on the brink. About the catalyst, the snap, the break. About that ember turning into a spark and spreading like wildfire.

I am tired of dystopian being a dirty word. I am writing the world I see, in a pill easier to swallow.