Query, revising, writing

What I learned last year from #Pitchwars

If you are on Twitter, you may have noticed the hashtag #PitchWars popping up on your feed. In the words of the amazing Brenda:

Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Mentors also pick two alternates each in case their writer drops out of the contest. A special alternate showcase is held on some of the mentors’ blogs and the mentors will critique the alternates’ pitches. (…)

  • Simple truth: if you don´t try, you most likely won´t succeed

Last year, I hesitated and hesitated and hesitated before entering the contest.  I had started querying and I was getting some positive answers but overall I was not 100% sure of my manuscript – basically I had queried a tad too early. Gathering up some hidden courage, I tweeted what my book was about. And I got some positive answers both from mentors but also from other participants.

I ended up being selected by the truly wonderful Dahlia as an alternate. The very talented Ghenet was her first pick and the lovely Nikki Urang was her other alternate. (by the way Nikki is getting published next year, you should totally add her book to Goodreads).

  • Contests are subjective

Contests are subjective. Not everyone gets chosen. It´s basically like querying, it depends on a lot of factors. Dahlia ended up posting why she chose the people she did (her full post “This is my brain on Pitch Wars” is very enlightening, so yep you should totally read it)

ONE TWO THREE by Elodie Nowodazkij: Something must’ve been in the air the day I made my final selections, because I ended up with not one but two dance-themed manuscripts, which still makes me laugh because I know nothing about dance. However, I’m a big sucker for characters who are really passionate about their hobbies (…) For me, what was actually the biggest hook was a totally personal thing – Elodie’s MC, Natalya, comes from a Russian family, and having minored in Russian Studies in college, I happen to love when Russian culture plays into a story. Every agent and editor is going to have his or her sweet spots, and that’s one of mine!

Social media bonus: Elodie had actually tweeted about her ms at some point before Pitch Wars, and holy cow did her tweet about its premise stick in my brain. When you’re actually staring at your inbox hoping a certain something will pop into it, it’s a very good sign!  (…)

And just like querying, you won´t know unless you take the plunge. The waters may be cold and the waves may be crushing you but they recede after awhile, leaving you ready to start anew.

  • My manuscript got stronger

Dahlia also went the extra mile and polished more than just my pitch. She read pages and gave me very very detailed feedback. Feedback that ended up making my manuscript so much stronger. I also got feedback from a ninja mentor (aka Danielle Ellison) which took the time to tell me what was working and what wasn’t.

  • Meeting new people/reading amazing stories

A team spirit developed. People cheered on the sidelines. Connections were made. I ended up reading some amazing books.

This year, there are more mentors, even more agents participating. I may try to enter DADDY´S LITTLE ANGEL (if I´m ready) but even if I don´t, I know I´ll encourage others and I´ll cheer for them.

If you have a manuscript ready to query but you still feel like an extra pair of eyes will help you out – I say, check it out!

Query, reading, writing, ya

RTW: Quarterly check-ins…

So it’s been FOREVER since I’ve done a Road Trip Wednesday….Happy to be back!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This Week’s Topic:

Quarterly check-ins! We’re already 1/4 of the way through the year–where are you on your reading and writing goals?
In terms of reading I didn’t set myself any specific goals except the Debut Author Challenge. And I need to review the books I’v read because WOW I’ve gotten lost in some amazing stories!
And I’ve been doing a lot of beta-reading and critiquing. Let me tell you: I’m VERY lucky I get to read all those manuscripts and pages! They’re wonderful!!!!
When it comes to my writing?
  • I finished the extensive revision of ONE TWO THREE and it’s back in Query Land (plus, it got two requests via Cupid’s contest, yay! and it’s off to the agents of the Submission mailbox of YAlitchat.org)
  • To get my mind off querying and because my fingers itched to draft again, I started SHINY NEW WIP, i.e. GUILTY…It was supposed to be a YA contemporary romance novel it’s turning into a YA romantic suspense novel. And I’m excited!
One of my goals was to be more appreciative and to find balance. Well…let’s just say I have to work even harder to find this balance I’m longing for. Work has been very very busy, hubby is traveling a lot and let’s just say it can get overwhelming.
I have some coping ways:
  1. The sun is shining again. That ought to help brighten the mood.
  2. We’re moving closer to the train station, which means: YAY project and YAY having some office space and YAY no more waiting for the bus and missing my train because of it.
  3. Writing and reading.
  4. Spending time with my hubby
  5. Enjoying the small things.
  6. Listening to my cat purring (or snoring :-))
Plus, I need to disconnect from times to times, not from Twitter, no but from my blackberry, that should help 🙂
My writing goal is to finish the first draft of GUILTY by the end of April…that gives me about 2 months and I already wrote 10k in the past couple of weeks!
Tell me, how are you doing these days? Did you accomplish some of your goals?

You just need that one….

Loïc Corbasson [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
So, for those of you who may not have heard…I am deep in the query trenches. This process is like a roller coaster, you go from one rejection to a request within hours or days.

Not everyone will like our work. And while it´s tough, it´s also a reminder for later, you know when we´re all published and getting reviews. Some flattering, some -hmmm-less.

As always, the YA community is really helpful during those crazy times, as well as my hubby (thanks hubby for believing in me). The support through email, blog and twitter is wonderful, and I wish I could just hang out with you all in real life, over a drink or two!

I haven´t sent a lot of queries. Yet. I´m taking my first steps, but I already had my heart in my throat and butterflies in my stomach. There are some stories out there about writers getting an agent within days, and really I´m happy for them. They help me dream. But there are also those that had to wait months, years before getting represented. And you know what? Those stories also help me dream.

It all comes down to one. We just need that one agent who believes in our work, in our book, and in our career. Of course, we have lists of preferred agents, when we start querying because most of us do our research. We read agents´ blogs, and agency guidelines, their recent sales, also making sure that they are taking on new clients. But we never know how everything will develop. Sarah LaPolla said it much better than me in her blog in October: “Writing is hard enough, let alone querying. Take one solace where you can and know that your dream agent is out there, but it’s not up to you to decide who that is until he or she reads your work. They will come to you.

Many writers have shared their query success over the past years…here are just a few, in case you want stories to make you smile, while you´re waiting. And don´t forget to KEEP WRITING 😀

So, tell me – how is your writing going? Have you already sent queries in the big wild world? 

Query, writing

Query writing (part 2) – Webinar with Sara Megibow

In August I took the query webinar offered by Sara Megibow, called “Ten Queries In Ten Tweets ” which aimed to show the “behind-the-scenes” on the way agents look at queries.

If you follow Sara on Twitter, she does this exercise every week, providing a glimpse of the reasoning behind accepting and rejecting queries. But through this webinar, participants got to ask questions, and she also explained what she means when she tweets for example: “the writing isn´t strong enough”…

One of the main points of the webinar?

Behind the scenesSara gets a lot of queries. A lot. She devotes about one minute to each query, and needs to decide very fast. She mentioned that the majority of her time is spent working for her clients. That makes a lot of sense and her dedication/enthusiasm for her clients is clear. She mentioned at some point that she receives about 150 queries a day. Last year, she signed 9 clients. So it looks the odds are not in our favor. But most of her clients come from the slush pile, so it IS possible! And….she also pointed out that the queries looked at during the webinar were good. There are many times when the queries she receives are not a fit for agency, for genres they don´t represent or the writer makes mistakes that are easily avoidable.

If you see “The writing isn´t strong enough”  in Sara´s tweets, it could mean the following: too wordy (pitch is too long, not focused enough on the plot, not tightened enough), some sentences are a bit unclear, no variety in the sentences, the sentences don´t flow (the transitions between the parts of the plot are not smooth enough)…

Always remember: the query is a mirror of the manuscript in the eye of the agent.

What she wants to see in a query:

  • Clear and concise: She mentioned several time that the pitch needed to be concise. It needs to have the who, why, where, and why but that if it becomes too wordy, there´s a risk that the manuscript is too wordy itself. We should basically see the pitch as a way for the agent to “sell” the book afterwards, to pitch it to editors…
  • Not too much focus on background story: Where does the book move forward to? For example: a dad announces that the family moves to a new place. This is not the incident, it´s the announcement to the incident. What happens then? This should be the focus!
  • Internal and external conflict: There needs to be a balance. Even though there can be an emphasis on internal conflict, there still needs to be something moving the plot forward.
  • Organic world-building: If you´re querying a fantasy, sci-fi….the world-building needs to be an inherent part of the query and the link between the world and the plot needs to be smooth.

How to polish the pitch/query?

    • Talk about your book to your plants, kids, significant others, computer…Talk about your book. A. Lot.
    • Think about being an elevator with a film producer and you have to tell him/her what your book´s about.
    • Read back covers of books.
    • Go back to your manuscript and list the plot points.
Smile cookies
I know it´s a LONG post…here have a cookie!
Photo courtesy of kbowenwriter (WANA Commons)

I got a pass but she was spot on (really, it´s scary!)

Disclaimer: of course, I dreamed that Sara would love my query, send me an email requesting pages, the full and then offer me representation…Didn´t happen but it could in the future since a pass during the webinar isn´t a “pass, pass”.

The query I sent Sara for this webinar received this feedback:  Pass. Contemporary young adult. Solid story, but writing isn’t as strong as I’d like and the heroine has a prickly attitude which might make her hard to connect with.

  • My query was too wordy and too long = writing isn´t as strong
  • It focused too much on backstory = writing isn´t as strong.
  • It focused too much on the attitude of my MC

And you know what? This query was written before two of my major revisions for my manuscript. Sara emphasized several times during the webinar that the query is usually a reflection of the manuscript. Not always and she did pass on projects which ended up being very successful but she looks for books to sell, not books to work on.

My revisions took care of the points she mentioned (which my CP and my beta readers also pointed out…). My novel is much stronger now than then.

Basically, she was spot on. At least in my case 🙂

Some additional information:

  • Sara doesn´t mind queries written in first person. She signed Miranda Kenneally based on her query for CATCHING JORDAN which was written from Jordan´s perspective (you can read the query on YA Highway).
  • How soon does she want to see the enticing incident in the book? Within the first 5 to 10 pages.
  • Do you send the prologue in the sample pages? If Sara asks for pages, yes the prologue needs to be included.
  • Comparable titles in the query? It´s helpful but not something Sara concentrates on. She focuses on STRONG writing.
  • In the first 30 pages (and in the entire book): create a balance of all tools aka internal conflict, external conflict, dialogue, back-story…
  • Someone asked about “dead” genres and she emphasized that she can still sell stories. Mermaid (or others) stories may be over-represented but if your concept is unique enough and the query shows strong writing, that wouldn´t prevent her from requesting pages.

And the final words of advice:

Sara repeated this several times: KEEP READING AND KEEP WRITING!

I know this post was SUPER long but hope it was useful/helpful!

Thanks again to Sara for doing this webinar 🙂

Query, writing

Query writing (part 1) – My book is like a Taylor Swift song and it´s okay

I suck at writing queries.

Big time.

I thought I was good when I wrote my first attempt. Nope. The kind people over at AbsoluteWrite told me why I needed to change almost every word of it. I did do some research before but clearly not enough…

This was last year. For a book I I ended up not querying.

Fast forward this summer – I wrote a query, corrected it based on Taryn´s suggestions and it even won her contest. (yay! And if you don´t follow Taryn´s blog, you totally should)

I post said query for feedback on several sites and got again very constructive suggestions/comments. I plugged at it again and posted back for critiquing…

One poster let me know that at some point during the query, my book sounded like a Taylor Swift song (and it wasn´t a compliment :P)

And I thought about it…for a long time. I came to the conclusion that it´s okay, for the following reasons:

  • My novel contemporary is character-driven , just like many of her songs. Plenty of things happen..Natalja has to deal with a lot of things, grow, get to know herself, open up...There are both external and internal conflicts in my novel, and emotions run high.
  •  I can feel the emotions when Taylor Swift sings (the soundtrack from Hunger Games anyone?) And I´m pretty sure I´m not the only one…

The query version that got that remark is an older one, and thanks to all the comments I received, Sara´s webinar, Christa, Ian, I have a much much stronger one right now. Well, I have two versions but both of them are better than all the previous ones.

It may still sound like a Taylor Swift song, but if I can bring out the same enthusiasm about my story than she does with her songs. I say: Yay!

Next Monday, I´ll tell you more about queries in: Query writing (part 2) – What I learned in Sara Megibow´s webinar…I´m definitely not a pro but I learned a thing or two thanks to Sara 😀

So tell me, how long does it take you to write a query?

personal, Query, writing

Happy Dance Monday

I simply cannot wait until my Happy Friday post to share some of my weekend smiles…

First there was this:

Evening with friends – bringing them some French wine 😀

Then this:

A little bit of sport. Hubby and I are not that good but we have fun!

 But especially there was this:

Yay! I was one of the lucky three winners of the query contest of Taryn (Queroine extraordinaire as I now like to call her or as she puts on her blog: writer, reader, lit agency intern, and freelance editor). Her comments as I mentioned on Friday were spot on. The winners get to send her 10 pages for her to give feedback on.

I sent those pages to her on Saturday morning and have already had two dreams about her answer to them…Yes I may be a tad nervous.

AND! (yes there is an AND :D) I also edited/revised my novel this weekend based on Jaime aka Amazing CP’s suggestions and comments. I added several scenes and changed the ending a little bit. I am currently reading it on my Kindle and I think, I really think that it will soon be ready for beta-readers!!!

So tell me, how was your weekend?

Editing, personal, Query, writing

Don´t be scared…

That would be me hiding away on Friday after posting my draft query to be reviewed. I thought “hmm sounds good…let’s get this baby rolling”…After receiving some very constructive feedback, I realized “hmmm that sucked

The wonderful thing about feedback is that it helps to make us better and stronger. Plus, I realized there was something positive in my very crappy-I´m-even-wondering-if-I-should-not-delete-the-message-on-forum-first-query (somebody liked my voice in that mess :-))

I also appreciated something else which for somebody a tad perfectionist can be difficult: I will not be perfect at my first-go. This will take time and it’s ok. I am swimming in unknown waters. Finishing the first draft is just the first step in a looong process. On a brighter note, I started editing and even though it is kicking my butt, I can see my story getting to a better place 🙂

Now, tell me 🙂

What do you do when you just want to put your paws (huh I mean hands) in front of your face?