Contests, Writing

It’s Pitch Wars Time!

The adult/new adult and middle grade Pitch Wars entries are already live, and the young adult entries are scheduled to post tomorrow, although the others have gone up the night before, so it’s very possible my entry for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will go live tonight.

My mentors asked me if I was excited or nervous. Yes, bits of both emotions are swirling around inside me, but I’m actually pretty calm today. Maybe that will change once my entry’s actually up (I’ll update this post with a link once it is), but I doubt it. Because even though my ultimate goal is an agent and I’m pinning all sorts of hope on this manuscript, I’ve been on this querying hamster wheel enough to learn a few things. (If you want the full details, start with my What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying post, and there are links to the five previous years.)

Update: Here’s my post, but if you are not an agent, please don’t comment!

PW #311: Young Adult Humorous Suspense: YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME

So, I have a few words for my fellow mentees, whether you are getting many or few requests. And maybe it’s also a reminder for me :).

1.We did it!

I mean, this is the most important point! We made it through the revisions, and it feels like a sort of graduation. I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer, for the time they devoted to my manuscript, as well as both the public and behind-the-scenes cheerleading. No matter what happens with the agent round, my manuscript is so much stronger and, most importantly, I know it’s READY. I’m excited to send it out into agent-land, much like Elle ready to take on the world :).

2. Don’t let the number of requests you receive discourage you from querying and putting your work before agents.

Some entries will not have many requests, and there could be various reasons for that. Maybe you should’ve gone with a different pitch. Maybe the agents who participated weren’t the right fit, or maybe the agents who are the right fit didn’t get to it. Maybe your first page isn’t the best fit for a blog contest–which doesn’t necessarily mean that your first page isn’t what it should be. Maybe your manuscript will do better when you send a full query and sample. Sometimes a pitch and first page just aren’t the best way to showcase a particular manuscript, and that’s okay. I’ve had agents skip over my entry in a pitch contest before and then request from a full query and sample. It happens! So much of this journey is about timing, and there’s nothing you can do about that :). You might start querying and experience just as much success as that entry with twenty requests.

3. If you have a ton of requests, don’t assume you should blast out queries to your entire list.

Well, that sounds like a downer, so first of all, you should celebrate! Because it’s awesome you got a ton of a requests! But still, I’m a realist. I’ve been in a contest with a previous manuscript where I had agents fighting over my entry. It’s heady. It feels like THIS IS IT! But all it really means it that your pitch and first page are working. You still need to make sure everything that comes after works. And maybe it does. Maybe agents will be scrambling to offer on your manuscript. Based on the history of this particular contest, that will happen for some, which is so awesome! I will so be cheering for all of those success stories! Pitch Wars is unique in that you’ve been working with a mentor (or maybe two) who have helped you whip your manuscript into a fine shine. But publishing is a subjective business, which means the edits don’t end once you start querying. Agents–and later editors–will have more revisions for you. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula to knowing how many agents you should query once you send out to non-Pitch Wars showcase agents. It’s really a matter of how confident you feel. I would say that if PW agents request partials and quickly upgrade to fulls, you are probably in good shape.

Update: Since this is my first time in Pitch Wars, I had no idea thirty or forty requests were even a possibility. If you’re one of those mentees, you can probably send whatever queries you want! This point was more aimed at the ten to twenty request club. But still, congrats!!

4. Cling to your new writer friends.

The very best thing about contests is the connections you make. My first major contest was five years ago. One of those teammates is one of my closest CPs, and I stay in regular contact with several others. I even got to finally meet one of them in person last month when she came through town for her book tour. These writers are your best support system when rejections come through, your sounding board when you need to revise, and your cheerleaders when you have good news. So stay in touch and don’t be afraid to reach out when you need them!

I think that’s it. Remember, you’ve already done all the hard work of revising the manuscript. I know waiting for those agent requests is nerve-wracking, but it’s not the end game. It’s just the next step in the journey. So, I leave you with this:

 

Contests, Revising, Writing

I’m a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentee!!

Based on this title, some of you are probably wondering whether I’ve been drafted into an a cappella group (I was tempted to break into song) or some sort of strange cult. Don’t worry–well, the a cappella group wouldn’t be cause for concern–it’s an amazing, wonderful, exciting opportunity! (I could continue adding on adjectives, but I’ll stop.)

Basically, Pitch Wars is an annual contest to which writers submit a not-quite-there manuscript to mentors for consideration. These mentors are industry professionals (usually agented and/or published authors or editors) who provide detailed feedback on the manuscript and work with you to get it ready for querying. But not only that, there’s an agent showcase at the end of two months, and because of the mentoring aspect of the contest, it holds a lot of weight with agents.

Friends, I am so thrilled to be selected this year with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. I’ve tried before, with three of my previous manuscripts, and I’ve gotten close. I know because I received emails afterward from mentors telling me I was among their top choices. I even had a potential mentor tell me I should probably go ahead and query, and that project ended up getting really close with agents too, but as any of you who follow my blog know, I haven’t yet found the right fit. So I’m absolutely ecstatic to have this opportunity.

Even better, I get to work with TWO fabulous mentors–Kristin Smith (CATALYST and FORGOTTEN) and Beth Ellyn Summer (AT FIRST BLUSH). I can’t wait to see what plans they have for my manuscript, but I know I’m in good hands because I read their books (technically still reading Kristin’s sequel :)), and you should too! Don’t worry, I plan to tell you more about their books later because, of course, that’s what I do :).

I’m sure I’ll end up blogging about the revision process too, because that’s also what I do. For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of my new puppy, Rey, playing with bubbles. Because why not?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Tweeting Tomorrow

Last fall I wrote a popular post featuring two contests that were happening on the same day–On the Block and #PitMad–and I’ve revived it the last couple of times #PitMad popped up, but I decided it was worth updating the post to only cover #PitMad, so here goes.

In case you’re new to the Twitter pitching circuit, #PitMad is a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in the past and received requests. It’s a great opportunity to discover agents who are interested in your premise–since that’s all you have room for in 140 characters :). On the eve of this opportunity, here a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have three solid tweets–or one amazing tweet–prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run these tweets by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure they make sense and will draw interest. You are only allowed to tweet three times. It can be the same tweet, although if you’re only using one, it had better be so spectacular it’s worth not trying out two other variations. Because you never know how a different wording might strike one agent’s fancy and not another’s.
  2. Your opening pages are solid. Rarely does an agent ask for a full from PitMad. It’s likely that if an agent or editor likes your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages first, and as with any querying experience, that first impression is all-important.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. As with the opening pages, agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent likes your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every like you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best opportunity ever. I get how much of a thrill it is to have your pitch liked by tons of agents–or even just one. I think every contest or pitch opportunity that’s coming up seems like the most important, best ever–whether that’s Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, PitMad or the other Twitter pitch fests out there–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Make sure it’s ready. Agents will assume it is if you put it out there.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. Since I’m not in a position to pitch tomorrow, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Contests, Writing

I’m on Team Ravenclaw for Pitch Slam!

For those of you curious about my current project, AS SEEN ON EVIE, I was selected for Team Ravenclaw in the Harry Potter-themed Pitch Slam contest. Over the next few days, agents (or Professors, as the contest has deemed them 🙂 ) will be awarding points to entries within the different houses, which equate to number of pages requested. I’ll find out on Monday afternoon if any agents have been intrigued enough by my entry. No matter what happens, it is a huge honor to have been selected for a team. Here is the link:

http://www.lauraheffernan.com/2015/10/7-pitchslam-as-seen-on-evie.html

I just have to say that although my characters would probably be sorted into Slytherin (the cunning and ambitious Justin) and Hufflepuff (patient and loyal Evie), I definitely belong in Ravenclaw. The online test told me so.

To everyone who entered, kudos to you for putting your work out there! If you got in, fantastic! And if you didn’t, I’ve been there–even recently :). Every contest is subjective, and I always believe there’s a reason for everything, whether it’s the timing or the mentors/agents involved. I received some wonderful feedback from the last contest I didn’t get into that I applied before this one, and I incorporated comments from both feedback rounds of Pitch Slam before submitting my final entry. Onward and upward!

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

So there are a couple of amazing opportunities out there tomorrow for writers who have a manuscript ready to query. One is the incomparable Authoress’ new On the Block contest, a progression from her very popular Baker’s Dozen contest. The other is #PitMad, a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in both of these in the past (well, Baker’s Dozen) and actually received quite a bit of interest on my last manuscript for both. I may even still be waiting on a few agents to respond … ahem. Anyway. On the eve of these opportunities, I thought I’d throw out a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have a solid logline/tweet prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run it by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure it makes sense and will draw interest.
  2. You have a solid first page/first pages. In the case of On the Block, being selected rests on that first page, so it’s very important where that 250-word sample ends. But the first pages are important for PitMad, too, because it’s likely that if an agent or editor favorites your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages before a full.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. This point is more for PitMad as On the Block will end up being a certain number of pages, but agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent favorites your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing. And maybe with On the Block you think you could get away with submitting your logline and first page tomorrow and then tweaking the manuscript before the go-live date. Well, perhaps you could, but what if you get into those tweaks and discover there’s more work to be done than you realized? You shouldn’t be gambling with those agent opportunities that way.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad or On the Block!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner or–since I expect this may be the case for a number of writers out there–are waiting on feedback from a PitchWars mentor who promised it, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. This particular point is more for PitMad than On the Block, which is agent-focused. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every favorite you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Another PitMad comment here and just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best contest ever. I get how much of an honor it is to be selected by Authoress for one of her contests. I was there last year in Baker’s Dozen, and it was an honor–but I also was ready with that manuscript. I’m sure this new contest will be equally prestigious and exciting to see your entry singled out and bid on by more than a dozen agents. I think every contest that’s coming up seems like the most important, best contest ever–whether that’s PitchWars, The Writer’s Voice or this new On the Block–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Authoress (and I assume Jodi Meadows again) only see your logline and first page, so they don’t know if the rest of your manuscript is ready. YOU are the only one who knows that. Don’t submit if you’re only doing it on the strength of your first page and not the entire manuscript.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone submitting to On the Block or pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. When I have this current manuscript ready, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Contests, Critiquing, Querying, Revising, Writing

Revising from Public Critiques: Baker’s Dozen Edition

Hi everyone! I took Monday off from the blog due to Thanksgiving (which also happened to be my birthday), followed by Black Friday shopping and Christmas decorating. It was a crazy but fun-filled weekend. Oh, and I participated in a little contest called Baker’s Dozen. If you’re not familiar with this annual contest, it’s hosted by Authoress and is a frenzied auction in which agents bid on entries for the privilege of a one-week exclusive for the highest bid. I found myself in the exciting position of having agents fight over my entry (!!!!). You can see it here. This was, of course, awesome, but I’m a realist. It doesn’t guarantee an offer of rep is forthcoming. But no matter what happens, I will be holding onto that glow a bit longer :).

As with all of Authoress’s contests, a key component leading up to the agent round was critiques by other writers. You may recall that late this summer I participated in a blog hop–also hosted by Authoress–after which I posted thoughts on revising from public critiques. For Baker’s Dozen, Authoress specifically stated in the rules that entrants could not respond to comments, which I fully support. First of all, the entrant joining the conversation could taint the opinions of future commenters. Second, if it’s not working, trying to explain it could confuse things even further. And finally, agents wouldn’t normally see your explanation, so why should they now?

You might be looking at the title of this post and wondering why I would bother revising at all when I had agents fighting over my entry. Here are a couple of points to consider:

  • Not every agent bid on my entry. Maybe they just had another favorite and didn’t make it over to mine in time, or maybe they didn’t care for my premise. But maybe it was my first page that put them off, and if there are tweaks I can make to fix that first impression, I should.
  • Sure, I had a great showing in this particular sample of entries. On a different day, with a different set of agents and a different set of entries, mine might not have been as popular. So much of this business is dependent on catching the right agent at the right time in the right frame of mind. As a result, I will never ignore feedback but always consider it carefully.

Now that I have that out of the way, when I posted before, I said there are four questions to consider when deciding whether to revise:

  • Are they questioning something that will be answered within a page or two?
  • Did multiple people mention the same issue?
  • Did people disagree on the same issue?
  • Does the comment resonate with you?

My thoughts on these questions remain the same, but I do have some additional thoughts after this contest.

Are your words accomplishing what you intend them to accomplish?

I mention this because in the case of my entry, almost all of the comments centered on one paragraph. A few people liked it, but most said it distracted them for various reasons. Now, I had a specific reason for including it, and I could explain that, but the point is it wasn’t carrying the weight I intended it to carry. So, that means I need to take another look at it.

Do you agree with other comments a particular commenter has made?

One of Authoress’s requirements for entrants was that we comment on at least five other entries. I always read through the previous comments to make sure I’m adding value with my own comments. As I was doing so, there were some comments I found I disagreed with. If they were people who had also commented on my entry, I made a mental note. It doesn’t mean I will disregard their opinion entirely, just that we see things differently, so their opinion on my work is going to understandably hold less weight than someone who generally had the same taste as me on other entries.

I guess those are the only two additions, but I really wanted to get them out there!

To my fellow Baker’s Dozen participants and everyone else who stopped by: thank you for the critiques! They were valuable, and I am considering them carefully. And thank you, Authoress, for such a thrilling experience. No matter what happens next, I enjoyed being a part of the contest and the new connections I made through it.

Contests

Adventures in Pitch Wars Hashtag Stalking

Normally at this time of year I would be stalking ninjas, but due to the timing of Pitch Wars and WriteOnCon, I didn’t participate as much in the latter this year. I have become an entirely different kind of stalker–a hashtag stalker. Specifically, this one:

#PitchWars

Now, it’s a little overwhelming to watch the whole hashtag. I discovered a handy trick, though. I usually follow Twitter in Tweetdeck on my desktop, but by accident I noticed I could narrow a search on my phone by “People I follow.” And I thought, I wonder if I can do that in the web interface, too? It turns out you can. So I’ve been keeping a tab open in my browser with a search for the hashtag and just the people I follow, which of course includes the mentors I submitted to, along with the organizers and my writing friends. Honestly, watching the full hashtag is just too overwhelming.

But really, this stalking thing can drive you crazy. It’s as bad as stalking agents. I’ve been chatting with some of my writing friends behind the scenes, and here are some of the things we’ve been thinking. Maybe you’ve been thinking these things, too?

“Why isn’t Mentor A tweeting AT ALL? This complete silence is driving me insane!”

“Hints? There are four chosen manuscripts with the word ‘The’ in the title? That’s not mine. Ok, that takes up 4 of the 75 spots, leaving 71. And lots of titles with alliteration. Not mine either. A title longer than 4 words. Also not mine. If at least 3 of those are YA … oh, forget it, I’m not going to try and figure out the math.”

Or:

“My title has ‘The’ in it! And alliteration! And it’s longer than 4 words! I’m in!” 🙂

“Oooh, a chat!” *views chat while eating lunch* “Hmm. Mentor B set some aside because she likes them but doesn’t know how to help them. Will she tell me if I’m one of those? Ugh. What if I picked the totally wrong mentor and they don’t think they can help at all? Oh! How cool would it be to have mentors fighting over my manuscript? Do they have virtual light sabers? What a roller-coaster!” *closes chat*

Mentor C just tweeted that he’s requested from some people but doesn’t need to see more from others to make a decision. Is he TRYING to torture me?” I actually heard one mentor say she was! Evil mentor! 🙂

“Is there a way to hack into this behind-the-scenes place where the mentors talk? Because I really want to know what entries they’re fighting over and what’s already been picked! Not just mine but writer friend A and writer friend B and …”

Mentor D says, ‘I love this sample but I’m not sure I can help it. It’s probably ready to query.’ Is that me? If she didn’t read the whole thing, how does she know it’s ready?” Although, still awesome that she loves the first chapter that much.

On the other hand:

Mentor A says, ‘I rejected this manuscript because I can’t find anything to critique. It’s ready to query.’ Forget Pitch Wars. I’m not waiting until November to send this to agents!” Ha! Kudos to that writer!

Mentor B made all of his requests and I didn’t get one. Bummer.” Let me just say that if this happened to you, shake it off! (Hey, is that a new song or something?) Everyone says this, but it is so true: taste is sooo subjective. No matter how careful you were selecting your mentors, unless you’re, say, Suzanne Collins, you probably wouldn’t appeal to all of them. Or look on the bright side: maybe they think you are Suzanne Collins and you don’t need a mentor!

Mentor C just tweeted that she’s loving all the entries in [genre X]. Argh! Mine’s [genre Y]! She’s not going to pick me!”

Mentor D said a ton of people are mislabeling their submissions. Did I get mine wrong? Am I completely off-base with this manuscript?”

Mentor A is completely in love with this manuscript. Is it mine???”

Mentor B said this first page made her laugh out loud. My CP put an LOL note on my first page. Maybe it’s mine!”

Mentor C is only tweeting about his favorite candy. Who cares about candy? I need to know what he’s reading!”

And the ultimate question:

Mentor D has made her pick! Is it me?”

Well, I guess we’ll find out next week.

Others have said it, but let me repeat it. Agent-judged contests are a great opportunity, and this one in particular has an extra mentoring layer that gives it even more weight, but don’t be discouraged if you aren’t selected. There are a lot of factors that go into being chosen. And some of them might even be positive–like maybe the mentors think you don’t need that mentoring layer. I used it as an example above because I’ve seen mentors tweeting it. I’m hopeful that if that is the reason the mentors will let applicants know. And if it’s another reason–like you need more help than they can give you in the time period necessary–don’t be discouraged by that either. The journey to publication is a long one. I’ve certainly learned that, and I’m not giving up.

Good luck, everyone! I hope the wait over the weekend isn’t too unbearable. I’ll still be hashtag stalking, but I also have a lot going on, so it won’t be all-consuming. Happy Labor Day to those celebrating on Monday!

 

 

Blogging, Critiquing, Pitching, Revising, Writing

Thoughts on Revising from Public Critiques

Two weeks ago I was privileged to participate in #BLOGPITCH, a blog hop hosted by Authoress for the purpose of gathering critiques for my Twitter pitch and first 250 words. First of all, I want to say how much I appreciate everyone who stopped by to comment on my post. I really appreciated the critiques. They were very constructive and supportive!

While critiques are a part of Authoress’s popular Secret Agent contests, this was different because people were visiting my blog and so I wasn’t anonymous. To be honest, that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about those contests. The comments pile up, you collect them, and make your changes afterward without anyone–except your critique partners–knowing who you are. So when this opportunity came up, I debated whether or not I should reply to people as they commented. I tend to feel like if I reply to one person, I should reply to all, and I might just end up with a lot of, “Thanks for stopping by!”

Even in forum situations I tend to err on the side of less is more. I’ve realized it doesn’t do much good to try and explain a short sample–whether that’s a pitch, query, first page, or even first five pages–in a public forum. If something isn’t working, I’m better off fixing it than trying to explain why I did it that way in the first place.

I didn’t always have this philosophy. It’s something I’ve learned over the last few years. I quickly realized that by trying to explain my reasoning, I usually just went deeper down a rabbit hole that made things even more confusing for the people I was trying to explain it all to.

Ok, so that was all a lot of background on why I didn’t respond individually to the critiques I received during the blog hop. But the real purpose of this post are my thoughts on how I applied the critiques to revising my pitch and first page. Once again, thank you all!

The Pitch

This particular opportunity focused on a Twitter pitch, which meant there was a character limit. In the past, I’ve found the best success juxtaposing two comparison titles and then specifying how my story diverges. Doing so maximizes the limited space because it immediately gives the audience an idea of the story by drawing on an already familiar premise. It was interesting to me that several of the critiques I received said they didn’t recognize the comp titles, and that’s a fair point. However, when it really comes down to it, other writers are not my audience for a pitch, and I think the odds are agents would recognize them. Even if they don’t, the positive thing about most Twitter pitch opportunities are that you get to use more than one pitch! So, I’ll keep my comp title pitch but also create a separate pitch without them. Comments noted and filed :).

The First Page

Overall, the comments I received on my first page were very complimentary, so thank you! I really appreciated the specific details commenters left telling me what worked for them. Here are a few questions I asked to determine what I needed to tweak:

Are they questioning something that will be answered within a page or two?

Something to remember about a first page is it’s only one page! Sounds obvious, right? And yet I think sometimes we get hung up on trying to cram too much into it, particularly for the purpose of shining in contests and forums where we’re trying to catch the eye of an agent. Yes, these can be great opportunities to get a foot in the door with an agent, but the pages that follow have to widen that opening. So, what’s my point with that? You don’t have to answer every question commenters ask about that first 250 words. There’s a reason you’re writing a novel. There are things readers can wait to find out. It’s called tension :). Now, I’m not talking about something that’s downright confusing. Anything like that you should fix. But if the person’s just asking something out of curiosity, you don’t have to work that into your first page to appease them. If that information shouldn’t be revealed until page three–or page fifty, for that matter–save it for the right moment. If an agent is intrigued enough by your writing and voice, they’ll stick with the story to get those answers when the time is right.

Did multiple people mention the same issue?

Did anyone hear a doorbell ring? If you didn’t read my sample, this won’t make any sense. Suffice it to say, I heard you! I had a similar issue with my pitch and the name Gid (short for Gideon) confusing several people. If it’s a stumbling block for more than one person, it needs to be fixed.

Did people disagree on the same issue?

Here’s where things get tricky. If you receive differing opinions, you have to determine whether you really have an issue. Maybe one person loves it and another hates it. If you’re ambivalent, you should probably nix it. Either way, take a closer look because it’s a point of contention.

Does the comment resonate with you?

Sometimes, even if only one person says it, a comment will hit you in such a way where you say, “Yes, you’re right!” But even if you feel the complete opposite, don’t reject it out of hand. Every comment has merit. If one person thinks it, chances are there’s another person out there who will, too. Maybe you don’t care about that person :), but keep it in mind and reject it with caution.

What’s your philosophy on public critiques? Do you try to hash it out with critiquers? Are there other questions you ask yourself before revising?

Thanks again to Authoress for hosting this blog hop and to everyone who commented! It was a great experience. If you commented and you had a question about my pitch or sample you really wanted answered, ask it in the comments on this post and I will answer.

Contests, Reading, Revising, Writing

Practice Makes Perfect–Or At Least Closer to Perfect

It’s been more than a month since my cupcake celebration for finishing my latest first draft. It took great self-control to let the draft sit for that long, but I filled the time with critiques for other writers, a major contest, and a revision to DUET. But finally, this week it was time to start revising.

I decided to take a different approach to revision with this manuscript. Instead of jumping right in with changes from the first page, I read through the whole thing and made notes on the side. It’s so easy to do with Scrivener, a program that has made my writing so much easier, but that’s a topic for another day.

It took me two and a half days to read through approximately 45,000 words, and the last half I did in one. I didn’t want to stop reading! Since I let it sit, I didn’t remember exactly how I’d executed everything, and I was surprised it was in such good shape in first draft form. Of course it’s by no means ready even for beta readers, but it’s decent. Here are the factors that contributed to a much more polished first draft.

Practice. This WIP is my fourth novel. The first shelved manuscript really only got to a third draft or so, and I never had anyone else read it before I queried 20 or so agents–a rookie mistake I can’t say I skipped. The second (CAVEBOY) and third (DUET) I’ve talked about here before. CAVEBOY took forever to draft because I kept revising as I went. I completed DUET during NaNoWriMo last year. My planning for DUET consisted of laying out the alternate realities, so when I wrote the first draft, it was only 29,000 words that consisted mainly of her trips into the music. Fortunately that was only two weeks into NaNoWriMo, so I went back and filled in the character’s emotional journey. Not the best way to draft, but I did end up with a complete draft by the end of the month. As I explained here, for this WIP I took a similar approach with daily word goals, aiming to complete it in a month. The actual drafting wasn’t any easier–I just hate that part–but I knew what I was doing. I knew how to structure the story, how to develop the characters, etc., from the beginning instead of getting those notes from critique partners.

Critiquing. Many new writers think of the benefits of critiquing in the sense of what they receive from another critiquer, not what they learn from critiquing someone else’s work. I’ve come to see it both ways. I had an amazing CP for CAVEBOY who taught me a lot about my weaknesses as a writer, and I’m super-aware of those issues as I write now. At the same time, I’ve learned so much from reading other writers’ work. Often I’ll see something consistently in someone else’s work and then think, I need to fix that in mine. That translates into the initial draft, too, as I’m aware of not only my own weaknesses, but the things I’ve seen when I critique.

Contests. I’ve talked about contests before, here and here, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but whether you enter them or not, reading through a batch of entries gives great insight into what to do with your own work.

Reading. I started reading middle grade later than I should have, but once I made an effort to read it regularly, it made a huge impact on my writing. Now I have even more incentive to read MG since I started participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. It forces me to have an MG ready to review every week. I think this is particularly important when you’re writing for an age group that isn’t your own. Especially for middle grade, agents say it’s hard to master the voice. Through reading, I’ve honed my middle grade voice and also been reassured that it wasn’t too off to start with. The other thing is that often in contest/conference critiques, people focus on things that they think MG readers won’t know (in mine, Bugs Bunny or Psycho). I’ve read books that have characters fixated on everything from a ’70s game show to an ’80s movie to a classic book. The key is to make sure it’s clear why the character knows about those things. As long as they have a base of reference for it, they can be an expert in anything. Maybe you just don’t mention it in the query or first page :).

So where is everyone else on this first draft issue? Do you notice each first draft is better, or is that just me?

Querying, Revising, Writing

When Is It Time to Revise?

There’s a time to query.

There’s a time to wait.

There’s a time to … revise?

I started querying DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN in April, entered a little contest called The Writers Voice in May, queried a bit more for the first two weeks in June, then decided to wait. You see, I had quite a few submissions out at that point, and honestly I was afraid to keep sending out queries without knowing if my manuscript was really ready. I thought it was, or I wouldn’t have been sending queries out in the first place, but after the mistakes I’d made querying my earlier novel–too many too soon–I’d much rather err on the side of caution with this one and give it the best possible chance.

Over the next two months, a bit of feedback trickled in, but none of it lined up. And that’s when I came to the question of whether to revise or not. The agents didn’t mention the same issues, so were their comments just a matter of taste or something I needed to fix? I decided not to do anything for the moment.

Enter WriteOnCon. I came away with the basic idea that if an agent loves your work enough, it’s ok if it isn’t perfect. They’ll work with you to get it where it needs to be. So I started querying again. I also had a couple more people read DUET, and reader feedback confirmed for me again that it was ready for agents.

But. A couple of comments I’d gotten in the forums at WriteOnCon kept niggling in the back of my mind, so I revised my first page–of course after I’d already sent out some queries. The comments weren’t necessarily new, but it was the right time for me to hear them and figure out what to do with them.

I think that’s a big part of knowing when to revise. Sometimes a valid comment doesn’t make any sense to you, but when it’s said in the right way at the right time, boom! You know what to do. This really came into focus for me a couple of weeks ago. I entered #GUTGAA and received three votes to go on to the agent round. However, one of the judges said she’d had reservations about voting for me because DUET sounded too old and because of a Bugs Bunny mention in the first 150 words. I’d heard both of these comments before, but two months ago I wouldn’t have known what to do about it or even if I should do anything about it.

From the beginning, my query worked. I received a number of requests off of it. But just because it was good didn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Thanks to WriteOnCon, I now had this idea that friendship has to be a major focus of MG. One agent even said he wouldn’t consider an MG if friendship wasn’t mentioned in the query. Well, friendship is a huge part of DUET, but I’d never figured out how to put it into the query. But now, because someone in a position of power told me it gave them pause, I figured it out, and the query has much more of an MG feel than it did before. I know it’s stronger as a result.

The same goes for the Bugs Bunny mention. There’s a scene in my novel where the main character goes into an old Looney Tunes cartoon. I’m confident I’ve handled it well in the actual manuscript as none of my readers have had an issue with it. However, this judge brought it home to me that it was an issue in the first page. All the times someone said before that MG readers wouldn’t know Bugs Bunny and I ignored it because I knew it was fine in the manuscript, it didn’t occur to me that the first page was the problem. It was a simple enough solution to take out that reference and leave it for later. I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner. I guess we writers have hard heads.

But wait, I have an even better example. The first day of the #GUTGAA agent round, I received a rejection from an agent who’d been considering my full. Her reason was exactly the same as the very first agent who rejected DUET. Now, I have to back up a bit to say that this first rejection completely baffled me. Her issue with the manuscript was what I thought was the very best part of it. We’re not talking about a single chapter here but a major chunk that makes up the premise. I dismissed it pretty much out of hand because I just didn’t get it. But when this most recent agent said it, I’d had four months with that other one swirling around in my head, and suddenly a light bulb went off.

All this time I’d assumed the section she mentioned was the best part and worried about the rest living up to it. But that was just me being blind. Those parts had come so easily to me I didn’t work very hard on them when I revised, instead focusing on the other subplots. Looking back at my first draft, those sections didn’t change much. While I ignored those easy parts and felt insecure about the rest, the opposite actually happened. And when I looked at it that way, yet another agent’s comment came into focus. So I now had three agent comments in line.

Well, you can guess that this is when I figured out I did need to revise. I spent the week of #GUTGAA going through those parts of the novel and beefing them up. I know the manuscript as a whole is the better for it. It would have been nice if I’d figured this out when that first agent mentioned it, but I wasn’t ready to apply it then. And I truly believe that if any of the agents who read that version had loved my writing and premise enough, they would have worked with me on it. Instead, I’m grateful they gave me feedback that has helped me get the manuscript to the next level.

I received an agent request the last day of #GUTGAA, and that agent has the shiny new version. I also followed up with an agent from that first contest and got the opportunity to send her a revised version, so I’m feeling pretty good about it right now.

So am I done revising? Probably not. If I do get an agent with this version, I’m sure they’ll have changes. If I don’t, I’ll probably get feedback as to why not. It might not make sense to me at first, but I’ll keep chugging along until it clicks.

So where are you in the journey? What has made you decide to revise?