Conferences, Middle Grade, Pitching, Querying, Writing

Make Your Pitches Specific and Other WriteOnCon Takeaways

Another WriteOnCon is over, and once again I feel energized and ready to get back out there with my manuscript. It’s amazing to me how different the conference is from one year to the next. The organizers do a great job coming up with new topics and presenters. In case you missed it, here is my post from last year as a comparison before I jump into this year.

Live Google Hangouts

I loved the addition of the Live Google Hangouts, during which agents reacted real-time, on-screen, to Twitter pitches. I attended three–Suzie Townsend/Kathleen Ortiz, Danielle Smith, and Tamar Rydzinski.

Here are some of the takeaways:

  1. If your pitch could apply to dozens of stories, i.e., “She must figure it out before it’s too late,” it’s too generic.
  2. Avoid cliches.
  3. If you can, use comp titles. It’s a quick way to give a sense of the story, particularly when you only have 140 characters.
  4. It’s still a matter of taste. The Suzie Townsend/Kathleen Ortiz hangout was particularly great on this point, as one could be totally intrigue by something while the other would shrug and go, “eh.”
  5. Be clear, specific and inject voice.
  6. Make sure the pitch includes a plot in addition to a premise. Agents want to know what’s going to happen, not just the situation.

Danielle Smith also mixed in great info about the market for picture books and middle grade. I admit I was a bit distracted after she talked about my pitch (!!!), but here are a few things I caught:

  1. PBs about princesses are a hard sell
  2. The market is saturated with PBs about farm animals
  3. MG science fiction is a hard sell (:() but can still be done if the voice is fantastic

Whether you plan to query Danielle or not, the info she shared was fantastic, so I recommend you watch the replay.

Middle Grade

As primarily a middle grade writer, I’m always interested in the posts/events that focus on middle grade, and two stood out to me this year: the vlog by Frank Cole and the Q&A with Peggy Eddleman. Here are a few of the points they touched on:

  • Violence–Scary is good, but creepy is better. Although there are exceptions, if you start killing off characters, it’s no longer MG. The more violence you include, the more you narrow your audience, and fewer gatekeepers will buy the book.
  • Romance–Younger MG boys make fun of girls they like, while older MG boys will do things to try to impress them. However, boys are more likely to guard their crushes closely, while girls will tell their friends.
  • Relationships with adults–Most 8 to 12-year-olds have a lot of respect for adults, so if your character doesn’t, it should be noticed as out of the norm by other characters.
  • The market–Middle grade doesn’t generally have the saturation / burnout on genres like YA does. With MG, platform doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does for older age groups, although you will need a website post-deal. There’s less of a market for upper MG for girls because many of them are already reading YA.

Agent/Editor Thoughts

The agent and editor chats are always enlightening as well. Here are a few of the things I tweeted during the conference.

  • On breaking rules in queries: “Is the voice, character, or concept good enough to get away with the rule break?” Victoria Marini
  • Common query problems: “Often a query is soooo vague it could apply to 3-4 books…that have already been published.” Katie Grimm
  • On queries for books with dual POVs: Generally, one character per paragraph. An Inciting incident. Wrap-up. Victoria Marini
  • On how to write a strong query: Grab our attention with a compelling or witty logline then explain the larger conflict. Brooks Sherman
  • On what an editor will take on: “You can fix a plot, but it’s…hard to fix something as subjective and as personal and intrinsic to a writer as voice.” Sarah Dotts Barley
  • On world-building: “You need a hook or a voice that pulls readers in and makes them ask questions without feeling lost in this new world.” Andrew Harwell
  • On pop culture: “If your references are all pulled from the headlines, your book will become dated very quickly.” Andrew Harwell
  • On the same issue, Lindsay Ribar added that it depends on whether the references will be relevant when the book comes out in 2-5 yrs. Disney and Elton John are probably ok, but “Call Me Maybe” not so much.

Everything Else

Obviously I can’t recap the whole conference, so when you have time, I urge you to go through and read the other articles or watch replays of the events. Here’s a link to the full program.

If you attended, what were your biggest takeaways?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Twitter

Contests, Contests Everywhere

The other day I participated in a Q&A for @MissDahlELama, and one of the questions she asked was: What are your feelings on participating in contests, and what are your favorite kinds?

I thought this was a particularly interesting question, especially with the crazy amount of contests going on at the moment. You’ll probably be able to figure out which anonymous answer was mine from the following, but I thought it was worth expanding further.

So, I love contests of all kinds. I’m going to break down some of the contests I’ve participated in and what I think the benefits are.

The contest where you’re vetted before you’re in. These are the contests like The Writers Voice, Pitch Madness, Baker’s Dozen, or Surprise Agent Invasion, where you submit your entry and the host–and sometimes others–choose their favorites to post for agent votes. What I like about these is that if you get in, you get validation that your concept and writing stand out from the pack. (Of course it’s still subjective, so not getting in doesn’t mean your story isn’t agent-ready. I’ve had CPs whose novels are amazing not get selected because their concept just didn’t interest the judges.)

There are a ton of contests like these out there. I like it best when they ask for your query/pitch and first 250 words because the judging agents get a taste for both where the story’s going and your voice. It’s also a better representation of what most agents receive in their inbox.

The query/first page contest where the first xx people make it in. These are the contests like An Agent’s Inbox or Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent. You submit your entry, and a certain number get in. What I like about these is that it’s a better representation of what an agent will see in his/her slushpile. Some of them will be excellent. Some of them will need a lot more work. Although the sample is probably still a bit higher quality than what the agent sees, you do get a feel for what else is out there.

In the two contests I mentioned, you also get critiques, and this is invaluable to those of us querying. These people haven’t read your whole manuscript and aren’t predisposed to like your work. For Miss Snark’s First Victim, it’s only your first 250 words, so the opinion is entirely about your writing and voice, independent of the concept. Those critiques can be brutal, but they’re so helpful in telling whether your writing can stand on its own.

The contest with a one-line or Twitter pitch. One line? 140 characters? These requirements might seem impossible, but it’s so helpful to boil your story down to this short description. A number of blogs host these contests on a regular basis (Operation Awesome comes immediately to mind), and it’s become a thing for the bigger contests to hold a Twitter pitch afterward.

What I like about one-line/Twitter pitches is that it forces me to think about the central hook of my story. I’ve received requests based on both of these. On the downside, it’s such a short sample that it doesn’t allow you to show much voice, so often an agent will like the concept and then not connect with the character. If you want to try one out, though, there’s one happening today :).

Should you enter contests? Well, my answer to this is obviously yes, but it’s up to you. I enter when the agents participating seem like a potential fit or when I think I can learn something new about the effectiveness of my pitch/query/first 250. Based on contests, I’ve tweaked my query letter and first 250 in ways I know make them better. So even if I don’t get an agent request, I’ve gained something from the experience.

So now that I’ve given you the longer answer to the contest question, here are a few blogs that host contests regularly:

Miss Snark’s First Victim

Mother.Write.(Repeat.)

Brenda Drake Writes

Cupid’s Literary Connection

Operation Awesome (first of every month)

Deana Barnhart (pitch contest tomorrow)

YATopia

I know there are many more. These are the ones that are top of mind for me as I’ve participated in them. If you have another contest to add, please include them in the comments. And I’d also love to hear your thoughts on contests!

Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

Twitter Pitch Party, Anyone?

Now that the agent round of “The Writers Voice” is over, I’m turning my attention to Thursday’s “The Writers Voice” Twitter Pitch Party. Basically, you post your pitch between 12-6 p.m. EDT on Thursday, and agents will request from it. If more than one agent requests, you have to pick one. Click here for more info, but I think it’s now up to five agents participating.

If you didn’t see Becca C.’s post about Building Your Twitter Pitch, go read it now! She compiled excellent advice from multiple agents and writing experts. I couldn’t have said it any better, so I won’t try.

It’s so hard to convey plot, character, stakes and voice in just 140 characters–134 with the required hashtag (#WVTP). It’s different than a one-sentence pitch. You can be creative with the format and punctuation to an extent. The point is to make the best use of the character limit. Most of all, the pitch needs to make someone want to read it.

I’d love to get your feedback on my Twitter pitch, but I’m also opening up the comments to anyone else who wants feedback. I’ll post mine first. Let’s polish those Twitter pitches!