Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Look Back at 2014

The past 365 days have absolutely flown by, in large part due to some really amazing things that happened. When January 2013 arrived, I was alone in my publishing journey, with no one but my very closest friends having any idea I'd decided to write a book. I'd never heard of QueryTracker or Critique Partners. I had no idea how very much I had to learn. But let's look at what happened since then.

January: I flew to Mexico to watch my sister get married to someone who suits her in every way. I've never seen her so happy. I also got to spend a couple of days drinking with my family.

February: I discovered for the first time what a critique partner was, and started to make friends in the writing community. I swapped work - and learned so much more.

March: I got my first R&R. I also sent the query that would eventually lead to signing with my agent. I prepared a dance routine I performed in public - ME, a shy little bookworm, doing things I never thought I would be fit or athletic enough to do, actually performing in front of other people. My husband and I also adopted our furry little beasts, and I can't imagine my life without them. Then I spent a lovely weekend in North Carolina, a state I'd never seen before, with friends.

April: Christmas comes in April for me every year, in the form of a board game weekend with my friends. This year, I went to Austin. The airport, shuttle, and hotel were lovely.

May: I received a second R&R that I almost didn't do, but which ultimately was the draft that got picked up by my agent (not the one who requested the R&R). Also was chosen for Query Kombat, where I met my third amazing critique partner and made so many new friends.

June: After many long months of waiting and agonizing, my husband got his green card. This opened up an amazing new world of possibilities for both of us.

July: We spent an amazing week with friends in Boston. When we returned, I got two offers from fantastic agents and signed a contract. Sometimes, I still can't believe it.

August: My husband and I drove to Nova Scotia for a week to see his family. Much of that amazing week found it's way into my current WIP. On top of that, I got to help all three of my critique partners get chosen for PitchWars, and my best friend got married. She and her husband are the most adorable couple in the world.

September: Much of this month was spent deciding where we wanted to live, geographically. It made us take a long look at all the wonderful things around us. I also got to spend a fantastic weekend in Dallas with good friends I don't see nearly often enough. I also started offering editorial services to help other writers who are working to get published.

October: My husband got a new job that he absolutely loves. He's happier every day, and it shows. I'm so excited that he's found something to challenge him.

November: We bought a house, packed, and moved. That more or less overwhelmed the month, but it's ok, because we're so happy where we are now.

December: Still recovering, mostly. Settling into the new house. Learning about wonderful things like how to buy a dishwasher. Also editing my WIP like crazy, because I want to be able to say I wrote two whole books this year (on top of three complete re-writes of the first one).

Whew! A tough year to beat, no question, but there are already some good things on tap for 2015 (Spoiler alert: My sister's having a baby!!) But the most important thing is that I kept working toward my goals, and I didn't give up. I'm dedicated to helping make 2015 even better. I can do it, and so can you.

What was your major accomplishment for 2014?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Said is Boring

There, I've said it. No, I've proclaimed it!
"Using the word said over and over is boring!" She shouted from the rooftops.
"Using said over and over is boring!" She ejaculated. (We should really go back to using this more.)

They say it's OK to break the rules once you know and understand them, and I hope that's true. I think "said" is boring. I hate "said" and frequently avoid using it. I've been told that whatever you want to convey with another verb should be included in the dialogue. Let's look at how that works:
"You went to the store," he said
"You went to the store," he whimpered.
"You went to the store," he accused.
Sure, I suppose I could make the sentences super long and unwieldy. Because, you know, never use a short sentence when you can throw in half a paragraph of backstory.

"You went to the store," he said, "and the store is terrifying. Ever since I was a child and a giant spider attacked me in the dairy case, I've been afraid of the store. Even hearing you mention it will give me nightmares. I am so freaked out right now, but I have to tell you all about why, even though it has little to do with the plot!" can all be summed up in "he whimpered."

"You went to the store," he said, "but you told me you were going to be at work. I can't believe you lied to me! I will never trust you again." works just as well as "he accused." And it's twenty-four words where one would do just fine.

I just want that hypothetical character to stop talking.
Does that mean I'll never use the word said? No. It's in my current MS 146 times. (In case you're wondering, "asked" is in there 36 times.) That's slightly less than once every two pages. Mostly, I avoid dialogue tags entirely - I prefer to just have the dialogue punctuated with the action, or let the conversation flow. But I do not for the life of me understand the war on said (I don't understand the war on adverbs, either, but that's another post for another day.) Is this too much?
"Let's go to the store," he suggested.
"Okay," she agreed. "Then what?"
"We still have to go to the gym," he pointed out. "Maybe we could do that first."
"I don't know," she equivocated. "I'm a bit tired."
"That's okay," he placated. "I can go later."
"No, wait. I'll go change," she declared. 
Yes, absolutely, that's too much.  (It's also bad dialogue - I'm afraid my husband and I don't have the most thrilling conversations on Sunday mornings.) I'm not saying that every word has to be replaced with said. I'm just saying I don't agree that another word can never be used. I understand the rule. I've heard the "said" is white noise argument. I also disagree, and I'm okay with that. I've found a happy medium that works for me.

Next week: I heart adverbs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night

I'm taking a day off from the usual blogging (I might go crazy and take a whole week). I hope you all find some lovely things in store under your tree. May anyone who needs to go to the store on Christmas Eve find parking.

And may you find time to watch the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you have an awesome rest of the week and a good weekend.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Women's Fiction vs. Romance

This is a conversation I’ve had with several people over the last few months, including querying writers and my agent. Some people may look at the title of this post and say “Does it matter? My agent can figure it out.” Now, that may or may not be true (my agent is going to want me to explain the book to her, so I still need to know what it is), but you need to know what genre your book fits into before you start sending it out.

When you’re looking for an agent to love your book, you need to know where it fits. If you’ve written a romance and you only query agents who represent women’s fiction, you’ve set yourself up for a lot of heartache and disappointment. Querying involves enough heartache and disappointment on its own - there’s no need to create more for yourself. If you’re self-publishing, people are going to be disappointed if they’re expecting romance and they get women’s fiction, and vice versa. You need to know where to place your book. Don’t set yourself up for negative reviews based on false expectations.

So, how do you tell the difference? Well, if you have something like Erin Emerson’s What Would Oprah Do?, focused on the main character’s journey to find herself with nary a love interest in sight, it’s pretty easy. So is Brighton Walsh’s Caged in Winter, where the entire plot revolves around Winter and Cade’s relationship. But a lot of women’s fiction includes romantic elements, so it is important to know where your focus in so you know how to pitch the book.

There are a couple of easy indicators, like how romance frequently (but not always) has explicit sex scenes where women’s fiction often (but not always) fades to black. Women’s fiction nearly always is told from the point of view of one or more female characters, where romance will often include male point of view.

Romance requires a happy ending. Your main characters don’t have to ride off into the sunset and get married (especially in YA), but they have to be happy for the foreseeable future. The entire focus of the book is on love as the plot, even if there are other things going on. Romance has some very specific things that readers expect to see. (Here are some of the most common tropes.) The focus on the relationship between main characters starts early. There's heightened sexual tension throughout. Every scene is written with romance in mind. It's the driving force behind the main characters' actions.

Women’s fiction, on the other hand, doesn't need to have a happy ending. A happy ending doesn't need to involve love. Women’s fiction also typically has at least one plot that's not about the relationship. For example, in the Shopaholic series, Becky’s relationship with Luke is important, but the main plot is always about Becky - her shopping addiction, her overwhelming debt, meeting her long-lost sister, etc. Those books would still be enjoyable if Luke didn’t exist, although they’re better with him in them. That’s women’s fiction. The driving force is about the main character's journey: she has things that she's trying to achieve, separate from the romance. Subplots may be more focused on the main character's relationship with other characters, rather than the love interest.

If you’re still not sure, ask yourself: What is the main focus of this story? Does the entire thing collapse if you remove the love interest? If not, you’ve probably written women’s fiction. If so, it might be a romance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How My Furry Little Beasts Found a Home

I never intended for this to be solely a writing blog, and one of my goals for 2015 is to blog more things of interest to non-writers, too. Last week, in a fit of exhaustion, I created a blog that was nothing but pictures of my kitties - and it got more views/comment than most of my other posts.

This is because my cats are really darn cute. I can't believe that they lived in a rescue for over a year before coming home with us, but they did. Why? Hard to say. Cat2 is a black kitty, and prejudice may have played some part in him staying at the shelter. He's also very, very shy (still, but it was worse when we got him). Cat1 is the most outgoing, sweet, loving cat I've ever met  - now. It's hard to remember the scared, shy kitty who hid behind the washing machine for three days when we got them.

Anyway, they are what the rescue called a "bonded pair." Cat2's mother was hit by a car around the same time that some jerk dropped Cat1 off by the side of the road with her newborn kittens (my poor baby). Cat2 was still an itty-bitty kitty, so the rescue gave him to Cat1, and she took care of him. (She still takes care of him. When we brought them home, she climbed into his carrier with him as soon as I opened the doors. Sat there with him for two or three hours.) The shelter wanted to keep them together, despite Cat1's actual kitten still also living at the rescue, so they were offering a deal: Two cats for the price of one.

THAT'S TWICE AS MANY CATS! Obviously, the idea of two cats at once was very exciting to me, because that's way better than just one.

And now, they sleep together in awkward positions that make me a wee bit uncomfortable.

Here, Cat2 is bathing Cat1, who is saying "Do you mind?"

I'm still not really sure what they're doing here, but that lump behind Cat2 is my leg. This is what I woke up to. I told them to get a room next time.
My little yin-yang kitties.

They are the sweetest, funniest little creatures. If they're not playing, they can usually be found sleeping entwined somewhere. And I can't for the life of me figure out why no one was willing to adopt these wonderful kitties - but I'm glad they were there for my husband to find them and help me bring them home.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Love Letter to My CPs*

To my Critique Partners,

I love you ladies. No, really. I love you. You are worth your weight in chocolate.

You make me laugh until my sides hurt. When I'm down, you pick me up. I don't even have to be down about writing-related stuff. When I'm up, you celebrate with me.

You write beautiful stories that make me laugh. You write such compelling stories that I sit and read for hours at a stretch, even when I'm supposed to be working or cleaning (well, especially when I'm supposed to be cleaning).

It took me a long time to find CPs that worked for me. Like most writers, I started this process with no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I dashed off a query letter for a manuscript no one had read but me. I had a friend read for inconsistencies, but said, "I'll proofread - don't worry about the typos."

I was so, so very naive. When I write something, I get close to it. I know what it's supposed to say. And after the fifteenth reading or so, I can't see the typos anymore. Sure, there are tricks to get around that, like changing the font, or reading from the bottom up (this helps only with actual typographical errors—you won't necessarily notice if you meant to say one thing and said another). There are even programs like AutoCrit that analyze your text for you. I use all of those things. But there is no substitute for a pair of actual, human eyes on your work, with another person telling you what works for them and what doesn't. The more the better.

So, to my critique partners: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I never could've gotten where I am without your hard work and support. I love you all.

* CP stands for "critique partner." If you're a writer, you need one of these. If not, just know that it's someone you swap work with so you can each get someone else's perspective and comments before sending it off to agents or editors.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where Laura Cops Out on Blogging...

I'm afraid I didn't have time to write a blog post today, so here are some pictures of my cats. Everyone loves cat pictures, right?

When we first got them, kitties were scared of the new house. All our friends said, "We need pictures!!!" They didn't believe I couldn't get a decent shot. So, here's a cat hiding behind the washer/dryer.

Here she is. Three days before she came out. Cat2 lived under the bed for 2 weeks.
My Little Princess, Cat1
Here, she was angry that I refused to feed her raw cookie dough.

Here, they're intentionally playing in horrible light so I can't get a video. Too bad, because it was hilarious.

The Princess does not appreciate when peasants disturb her slumber.

A rare shot of the elusive second cat. He's shy.
Ok, so I promise a real blog post next week. I've got a couple of things planned. But, look! Kitties!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Dedicated Writing Space

When I was looking for new blog topics, someone suggested I talk about the importance of a writing space. This is a fairly timely and important topic for me right now.

As I may have mentioned roughly 637,000 times on Twitter, my husband and I moved into a new house at the end of November. To make the move easier, we ended up locking the kitties in the spare bedroom - which meant that the space destined to become my office became a sea of spare bedding, bed parts, night tables, and boxes. So many boxes. No space to write.

My office, ladies and gentlemen (and those of you who are neither).
Not even a desk, in fact - when DH and I moved in together, my old, rickety, build-it-yourself desk just couldn't make the trip. Since our apartment had two dining room tables and one kitchen (no dining room), we parked my printer on one of the tables, added a pencil holder, and called it a desk. That table has now been repurposed as my playing board games table, and it's in the basement. It's also still in pieces, because it didn't fit through the door as a table. For now, I've commandeered a corner of the dining room table until we can clear out my office and find a desk I like.

What I've found is that, as long as I have my laptop, I can write anywhere. Much of my writing is done sitting on the couch while my husband plays video games or watches movies that don't interest me. I wrote three chapters sitting on a bed in a hotel room. I've written chapters in a moving car. I write on airline tray tables, in coffee shops, or on my phone hidden under the table at family functions. When I need to write, I write. Some people need dedicated space or a block of time - all I need is my imagination and a way to get the words down.

Now, don't get me wrong: I can't wait to have my office back, so I can close the door when I need to work in peace. But the words will flow wherever I happen to be.

I found this picture somewhere. I like it. Not mine.
What about you? Do you need a dedicated writing space?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December Pitch Parties

December 'tis the season of many wonderful things... including SFFPit, PitMad, and PitchMas. I don't really have much to say about the holidays (Except that I like sugar cookies and fudge. Please send me some), so let's talk about Twitter pitch parties. I love a good party.

They just got requests from their dream agents.
 First, pitch parties are a great way to get in touch with new writers. You can see what other people are writing, follow them, and make some new friends. That's a bonus for everyone, whether your MS is ready to pitch or not. I actually met one of my closest friends and CPs through retweeting each other constantly during a pitch party last year.

But a pitch party is also about giving agents enough information to make them want to read your work. The biggest problem I see with people noting that they didn't get request is pitches that don't tell the reader anything about the book. If the agent doesn't know what you wrote, they don't want to read it.

For example (I made this up):
Being a dwarf can be so dull. But not if you have superpowers! #PitMad #MG
Sure, it's a great tagline for a movie, right before the trailer that tells you what the plot is. But just reading that, do you want to read the book? I don't know. Another thing I saw a lot of (which I also hear agents don't like) is rhetorical questions.
Duncan is the smallest dwarf in his clan. But when the apocalypse comes, can he save the world? #PitMad #MG
I don't know. Can he? Sounds like he probably can't, and I don't really care. Compare:
Duncan lives a ho-hum dwarf life. When dragons attack, he learns that his ability to fart roses may be key to saving the world. #PitMad #MG
Do you want to read that? Probably not - it's a plot I made up in three seconds without the benefit of coffee. But do you at least see the difference? Some pitches are just a quote from the book or a sentence in the voice of the character, but that doesn't tell agents what they want to know. Agents want to know the character, the plot, and the stakes. Yes, that's a tall order for 140 characters. But it can be done.

Another good tip, for anyone who has been in multiple pitch contests, is to see which tweets were favorited before. Work from those. There's no need to recreate the wheel entirely. And if you didn't get any hits before, ask a friend or CP to review them and help you figure out why. It might be because the stakes weren't clear or the plot didn't shine through. With that said, the same agents tend to stop in at the parties. If you've pitched the same MS at five or more contests, you might not be getting hits because the requesting agents have already seen it.

If you need help with your pitches, I do offer help for $5 with any first page or query critique.

Good luck, everyone! May the favorites be ever in your favor.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Day of Rest

November was a crazy month. I bought a house, finished edits on a MS, sent it to my agent, prayed she wouldn't hate it, finished a first draft of something new, cheered my friends and CPs on during PitchWars, moved, worked about 75 hours a week, discovered Gilmore Girls on Netflix, negotiated concessions and contracts, learned more than I ever needed to know about washer/dryer shopping, and.... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Please don't ask me to move for at least three months.
So, December? At least for a couple of days, I'm taking a break (other than unpacking).
  • I'm not editing my finished first draft. I prefer to let it sit anyway, and it's only been about a week. It can sit longer - a month is best. I rarely make it that long.
  • I'm not pushing myself to start writing something new. The well is dry. Exhaustion saps creativity. Don't expect me to write anything more taxing than a blog post anytime soon.
  • I'm not decorating for Christmas (yet). It's not that important.
  • I'm not buying Christmas presents or making plans for the holidays (yet). It can wait a day or two while I collect myself.
  • I'm not obsessively checking my email for news.
What am I doing? Giving myself a break. Maybe I'll read a book, watch more Gilmore Girls, or do a puzzle. I like puzzles. And I've earned some time off. So you have. What do you do to relax? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day of Giving Thanks

I realize that Thanksgiving isn't until tomorrow, but at some point I started posting every Monday and Wednesday, and I might as well just go with it. Besides, I think it's important to stop and reflect on the good things in life more than just once a year. Give recognition and thanks whenever you can.

The past year has been absolutely amazing for me. I've written two complete novels, watched my sister get married to someone who is absolutely perfect for her, traveled to two foreign-ish countries (does Canada still count for me?), spent a week just enjoying life with my friends, signed with an amazing agent, adopted the most lovable, weirdest cats I've ever met, and bought a house (Almost. We're so close).

Sometimes, life gets away from me, so I want to stop and take a few minutes to remember some of the wonderful things in life that I'm so lucky to have.
  1. My darling husband. Always number 1. He is everything I ever wanted in a husband. He's my best friend, an amazing partner, and the most loving, generous person I know (also, totally hot and completely hilarious).
  2. I am surrounded by creative, giving people. Friends, family members, internet friends - everywhere I go, there are people I can talk to and be myself around, who accept me for who I am. That's huge.
  3. Those adorable, furry little beasts. They run around like elephants in the middle of the night, but they're sweet, lovable, and ridiculously entertaining.
  4. My critique partners. I know they're included in #2, but Carey O'Connor, Kristin Wright, and Mary Ann Nicholson deserve a special mention. I'd be lost without them. And a special thank you to Kara Reynolds for agreeing to beta read my newest MS and pointing out my ridiculous typos even at the very end of her pregnancy (and with a newborn!).
  5. I am thankful that I am reasonably fit and healthy. No, I probably won't be running any marathons or winning any fitness awards. Yes, I eat a lot of stuff I probably shouldn't. But I work out 4-5 days a week, I'm strong, and I'm fairly confident I can last long enough in a zombie apocalypse not to bring shame to my family once I'm gone. That's something.
  6. At this writing (about a week before posting) I am EXTREMELY THANKFUL that the closing on my house should be done before Thanksgiving. This is both a wish and an expression of gratitude, but there you go. I can't wait to move into my new home, and I'm excited to be able to do it at a time that lets me get settled before the insanity of Christmas.
  7. Bonus: It will be cold enough when we move that I won't have to worry about the frozen food or stuff in the refrigerator going bad. I could leave it in the trunk of my car all day if I wanted, and it'll be... probably colder than the inside of the freezer, actually. Frozen milk will melt. Yay for one less thing to worry about on moving day!
  8. The ability to earn a living. I may not have the most exciting or fulfilling day job, but I have a means of paying the bills, and that's worth a lot. Many people don't have that. I don't have to worry that the electric bill won't get paid or whether I can afford to eat, and I'm so grateful.
  9. Clean drinking water. There are many countries where this basic human right is not taken for granted, and I need to remember that and be grateful. Indoor plumbing is a luxury, and I'm so glad to have it.
  10. My amazing agent. She is worth her weight in chocolate, and I'm so glad I managed to connect with someone who loves my book as much as I do.
For these things and so many more, I am very grateful. Life is good. Now, go hug your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why the Ferguson Grand Jury Proceeding Was Wrong

First, I want to clarify a few things. This post is not about whether Michael Brown attacked Darren Wilson or whether Darren Wilson was justified in shooting him. Those are questions for a criminal jury at trial. This is a post about our legal system, and how it's supposed to function. Second, I am a licensed attorney who has worked in prosecution on both the state and federal level. Third, I do not blame the members of the grand jury for this egregious miscarriage of justice, because it is apparent to me that no one explained to them what they were supposed to be doing in the grand jury room.

The function of a grand jury is to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the person they are investigating.

  • The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence. 
  • Probable cause is a significantly lower standard than "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the standard at a criminal trial. It's almost the opposite. The grand jury is being asked to determine if there is any reason at all to believe that a crime was committed.
  • The prosecutor provides evidence to the grand jury that tends to show that a crime occurred.
  • The person being investigated has no right to appear at a grand jury proceeding, no right to have an attorney present, and no right to produce evidence.
  • The grand jury does not determine whether the person being investigated might have had a valid defense to their action. That is because the grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence.
  • If the evidence presented establishes probable cause to believe that a crime may have been committed, the grand jury returns an indictment, which is a document that notifies the person of the charges against them. At that point, the person being investigated becomes a defendant and is entitled to all the rights and guarantees promised by our Constitution.
  • An indictment is not a finding that the person is guilty. The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence. 
  • Because of the extremely low burden of proof required at the grand jury level, and because the grand jury is not supposed to be presented with exculpatory evidence or defenses, grand juries vote to indict in the vast majority of cases not involving a black person shot and killed by a white police officer.

    When a grand jury can hear evidence that a police officer shot an unarmed man repeatedly and find that there is not enough evidence to have a trial, the prosecutor has been derelict in his duties. The prosecutor's job is not to present a balanced view of facts to the grand jury, and it is not to educate the grand jury on defenses. The grand jury should never have been given a copy of the self-defense statute or photographs of Darren Wilson's injuries. They weren't there to decide whether Michael Brown did anything wrong. The prosecutor should be fired, because he did not do his job. 

    And that is why, no matter what you think of Michael Brown or what happened, the grand jury's decision yesterday was a horrible blow to our justice system. What's next? Should white frat boys be able to avoid indictment for raping women because the grand jury heard evidence that she was asking for it? 

    A person's right to access the justice system should not be dependent on whether he was fortunate enough to be born as a white male. Everyone in America lost yesterday.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    Dealing with Rejection

    Here's something that's no secret: Rejection sucks. We've all been there. Unless you were born under a lucky star, chances are that at some point you've been passed over for a promotion you wanted, were turned down for a date, didn't get the job, lost a proposal... or had a literary agent or publisher tell you no. I was rejected about sixty times before I found my agent. And while she's good, I expect more rejection in the future. It happens.

    There's only so much that can be done to avoid rejection, especially in a subjective industry like publishing. There are as many reasons to reject a work as there are agents or editors working (probably more). You really can't control the fact that your work will likely be rejected at some point, unless your best friend/mom is the owner of a major publishing house. What you can control is how you react to it. So, let's talk about handling query rejection for a bit (much of the same advice can be applied to not getting into contest or getting rejected by an editor).

    If I go ahead and assume that your query was addressed to the right person, talked about a completed work within acceptable word count limits, and demonstrated a reasonable grasp of the language in which you'd like to publish it, the rejection probably is not a reflection of you personally (even if you made a mistake and addressed it to the wrong agent - which I've also done - it doesn't make you a bad human being).

     I've been very surprised at some of the things I've seen:
    1. Trashing the agent in online forums. (Especially with your name or identifying information!)
    2. Posting on Twitter about how rude a rejection letter is. (Honestly, unless it said "You suck," it probably wasn't actually rude. It just may not have been what we all want to get.)
    3. Responding to call the agent an idiot.
    4. Attacking the agent on the street (Yes, this happened, and it's horrible. Don't be that person.)
    These are all really bad ideas. I get it. Being rejected sucks. It feels insulting to get a rejection letter addressed to "Dear Author," since I took the time to write my query to the agent personally. (I actually think I'd have preferred a letter that started with "Thank you for your submission" to "Dear Author.") We all know that the rejections we get are form letters, so there's no need to add insult to injury by calling it a "form rejection letter" IN the letter. I can read. I see what it is.

    But vent about it privately, to friends or relatives. Don't post it online. You don't want to find an agent who loves your work - but passes because of something you posted out of anger or frustration. Better ways to deal with rejection:
    1. Cry.
    2. Take a bubble bath.
    3. Go for a run/walk/swim/Zumba... whatever works for you.
    4. Eat some ice cream.
    5. Binge watch Dawson's Creek.
    6. All of the above.
    And when you're done, see what you can take from the experience. Try to figure out why the work was rejected. Is it 12,000 words? Is it 250,000 words? Did you send it to an agent that doesn't represent your genre? Or do you need to revise your opening? As much as the rejections suck, you can use them to make your work better. I did, and it was after all that rejection, self-reflection, and revisions that I was able to submit a shiny, polished manuscript to my agent. She loved it, and you'll find someone who loves yours.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2014

    Listen to Your Inner Critique Partner (CP)

    If you're a writer, you probably spent a lot of time and energy trying to connect with a Critique Partner who understands you and your work, and who writes things you want to read and can critique. When you find that person - listen to him/her.

    I had a couple of CP misfires at first. One person invited me into a CP group that never really took off. Most of the people who expressed interest didn't write my genre, which is fine, but it made the group less useful for me. Another person sent back my chapter with a "This is boring." I'm a grown adult, I can handle that, but I got no suggestions on fixing it, and never heard from that person again. So, we'll call that "Strike 2."

    Then, with the third one, I hit the CP lottery. She's funny. She's quirky. She's one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's incredibly talented and writes books I love to read. She makes a lot of really good suggestions on things that have improved my work a thousandfold. Implementing her suggestions took me from "Oh, god, I have to revise this again!" to "I absolutely love this work." That's huge. She is a big part of the reason my work was ready for my agent when it landed in her lap, and I can never thank her again.

    Back in February, my CP was well into MS2 when I received a R&R request on MS1.  I dove into the revisions on my own before asking for advice. But, it was like I could hear my CP reading over my shoulder and making suggestions. (She argues with me far more in my head than in reality.)
    "This scene would really work better as dialogue..."
    Maybe, but it's OK the way it is, and that would be so much work.

    And for the most part, I tried to listen. The revision on that manuscript wound up much better than what it was. I was about ready to send it to the agent when my CP offered to look at it for me (because she's a freaking rock star). Before sending it to her, I read the whole thing again, with Imaginary Carey sitting on my shoulder.
    "That scene really needs to be dialogue."
    It's not really an important scene. It's okay to tell real quick what happened.
    "It shows a lot about the characters and their relationship. Or it would, if you wrote it out."
    But it would take forever! (Yes, I'm whining to myself, in my own head)
    "The scene will work better."
    I'll look at it again later. Happy?
    "I'll be happy when you rewrite it."

    So, then, in a huff, after an imaginary argument with my CP, I walked away from the MS for about seven hours. And I came back to it.
    "No, really, show what happened instead of summarizing."

    Finally, I did it. And the scene works much better. And Imaginary Carey was absolutely right, even though real Carey doesn't even know about the conversation (well, she didn't).

    Side note: Do not base revision choices on the amount of work involved. Base them on how to make the work better.

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    The Liebster Award: 10 Question Blog Hop

    So, just as I was sitting here, wracking my brain for something to write about, the amazing and talented Mary Ann Nicholson tagged me in the Liebster Award blog hop. Yes! Inspiration! (No, I don't know what the Liebster Award is, but that's OK). She asks some tough questions, though. I'm not even sure how to answer most of them. But I will prevail.

    1) When did you decide to become an actual for real, sweat-pants-wearing, coffee-drinking, dirty-kitchen-inhabiting writer?

    Just over a year ago, I was on my honeymoon when we went to a spa for his and her relaxation. No electronics, not allowed to speak, an entire day of thinking and relaxing. It was amazing. Sitting there, listening to my surroundings and just thinking helped me realize that if I kept saying "I'll write a book when I have more time," it would never happened. I needed to just do it. So I did.

    2) What genre(s) do you write and why are you drawn to that?

    Women's fiction. It's my favorite thing to read, although I read most genres. And I want to show that you can have light, fun books for women that aren't all about finding love and getting married. There's some of that in my books, but love isn't the only thing that matters, or even the most important thing.

    3) In fifty words or less, what is your current project about?

    I can't even. The last time I tried to explain it to someone, she started backing away and muttering about padded rooms and white coats. Ask me again when I get to the third draft. 

    4) On an average day, what’s your writing routine?

    I'm starting to think I'm much too fly-by-night to be a writer. I don't really have a set routine. Usually,  I try to make myself write 500 words per day when I'm working on something, because that almost always turns into more. I just need something to get started. But sometimes I write before lunch, sometimes in the evenings, and I'm a sucker for writing sprints on Twitter if I have time when I see someone starting them.

    5) Are you a plotter or a pantster?

    I am 99% a pantster, although I make notes about what I want to happen when something comes to me. I do have a couple of sequels plotted out for my finished manuscript, so we'll see how well plotting works for me once I get started on them.

    6) Who is your favorite character you’ve ever written and how would you describe them?

    Right now, it's probably Gabby Rodriguez, from my work in progress. She's a tiny bundle of awesome, and I just want to hang out with her all the time. But she's based on a friend, so that might be cheating. My writing didn't improve on the original. If you want a character I completely made up, it's Birdie from Reality Summer. She's funny, warm, smart, and totally addicted to Twitter.

    7) What’s the most egregious writing cliche you’re guilty of committing?

    What? I don't commit writing clich├ęs!! *averts eyes*

    8) What’s the greatest word in the English language?

    Antidisestablishmentarianism. I spent a lot of time learning how to spell it, so I'm going to use it, darn it! (Note: My books typically do not use the word "it" three times in one sentence. I'm pre-coffee.)

    9) What do you do on days when you just. can’t. write.

    It really bothers me when people say you have to write every day to be a writer. When I have something to say, I write it down. When I don't, I do all the normal stuff: work, do dishes, go to the gym, go shopping, spend time with my husband, nap, read, play board games, watch TV, hang out with friends. I refuse to beat myself up for taking a day off because some guy on the internet says I have to write every day. If that works for other people, great. It's not my thing.

    10) Which book do you wish you’d written and why?

    50 Shades of Grey, because I would be a freaking bajillionaire and I could just lie around and sleep for like a month if I wanted. And then I could travel. The rest of my time would be spent working for charities and counting my money.

    And now I get to tag some writers for their own, blog hop experience. To my fellow Query Kombatents, Max Wirestone and Wade Albert White, and to Bethany Hyde, because she needs to blog more.
    1. What prompted you to finally sit down and write a book?
    2. Be honest - how do you really feel about wearing pants?
    3. What is your favorite genre to read and write? 
    4. When writing, what is your #1 go-to junk food of choice?
    5. What is your preferred caffeine-injection method?
    6. What crutch words do you need to seek out and obliterate when you're done?
    7. How many query letters did you send before you found your agent?
    8. What's being on submission really like?
    9. What is the weirdest response you've gotten to telling someone you write books?
    10. What is your least favorite bit of writing advice that seems to be all over the internet?

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Picking a Path

    Now, I talk about traditional publishing, because that's the path I'm following for my manuscript, but let's take a step back for a minute. How do you decide whether to go with traditional publishing, self-publishing, or some hybrid? (I happily lucked into an agency that does work with authors to do hybrid publishing, which is good for me if I want to go that route.)

    Once upon a time, there weren't a lot of options for those who wanted to publish. Now? Thanks to the internet, the possibilities are nearly endless. I could:
    1. Find an agent.
    2. Find a fake scam artist agent online and pay them lots of money to do nothing.
    3. Submit directly to traditional publishers (those that allow this).
    4. Submit directly to e-Publishers.
    5. Self-publish e-books.
    6. Self-publish hardcopies.

    Let's assume you decide to bypass #2 (Thanks to sites like Predators and Editors, the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and the Association of Author's Representatives). But, still: traditional vs. self-publishing?

    I did a significant amount of research on this, including talking to people that do self-publishing and reading about 1,000 blogs on both. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of each.

    Traditional Publishing:
    • I get a professional who can help guide me through the process.
    • I have someone on my side, working with me to make this happen.
    • I do not pay anything up-front.
    • Once published, more exposure.
    • With the right marketing, I'm likely to sell more copies than self-published book.
    • Paying someone else to promote me, despite still having to do significant amounts of work myself.
    • Less control: editors have final say over things like title and cover.
    • Royalties paid only twice yearly by many publishers.
    • It's impossible to find an agent/editor. (It's not, but I understand that it sometimes feels that way, especially before you start.)

    • I get complete control over the creative process.
    • It takes significantly less time. Book can be published within a couple of weeks of completion.
    • It's guaranteed. No rejection.
    • Payments received monthly from some e-publishers.
    • Fewer eyes on the book and less revisions could mean a less polished finished product.
    • I have zero marketing experience, no editorial contacts, and do not have the slightest idea what I'm doing.
    • I have to pay all upfront fees/costs. When I first started looking, that would have been about $5,000. Depending on what you're looking for an how long your book is, hiring an editor alone can cost nearly that much.
    There are some valid reasons here to choose either traditional or self-publishing (some are more valid than others). Ultimately, I decided that I wanted a professional's help. Yes, I could self-publish. I could also cut my own hair, but I have no idea what I'm doing, so I go to a salon. For me, this is the same idea. My goal is to surround myself with people who will help me succeed. I don't need to do everything myself. Other people may prefer to maintain that level of control over their work, and that's okay, to.

    Do what works for you, and don't let anyone tell you that one option is more "valid" or better than the other. It's your path, your career, and you have to be comfortable with it. And no matter what you choose: Good luck! 

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    (Don't) Choose Your Own Genre

    The past couple of months, I've helped with a couple of contests. All three of my critique partners were featured in PitchWars, so I also read a lot of contest entries as an observer/spectator. My guess is that I read probably about 400 entries between all the contests. Why do I mention this? Just to help people understand that I see the same issues over and over and some of them are real problems.

    One of the biggest issues I saw was actually a surprise to me, because it seems so intuitive.

    You have to pick a genre.

    Do not make up your own genre.

    Do not mix a bunch of genres together. You did not write an "erotica fantasy paranormal romance upmarket women's fiction with magical realism." You just didn't. Because that's not a thing.

    Harry Potter is fantasy. It's not a fantastical romantic suspenseful life and death thriller.
    Now, okay, genre blending is one thing. But I'm also seeing people flat-out making up genres. "Turtle fantasy" is not a genre. "Contemporary colored-themed upmarket romance" is not a genre. "Snowboarding mystery?" Nope. (Okay, I made those up, but I saw some things that gave me the same reaction.)

    Would your book collapse if you removed the love interest? If not, it's not a romance. Would the plot cease to make any sense if you removed the robots/fairies/dwarves/outer space? If so, it's probably either sci-fi or fantasy (hopefully you can take it from there). Boil it down to the main, crucial elements. That should give you a starting point.

    If that doesn't work, there is one thing you need to ask yourself: Where would you book sit on a shelf in the bookstore? That's ultimately the goal of entering contests, right? To sell the book in a bookstore someday? 

    Close your eyes. Think of a book similar to yours, or an author who writes books that are similar to the things you write. Picture that book in your bookstore. What shelf is it on? That's your genre. It's that simple.

    Friday, November 7, 2014

    First Page Blog Hop

    The amazing Michelle Hauck is doing something awesome - for querying and agented writers. It's a first page blog hop! So, go ahead and review Michelle's blog for instructions, post the first 250 words, and post a link on your blog. Then start critiquing!

    Here's mine:

    Genre: Women's Fiction

    First 250
    When I was eight years old and still believed in happily ever afters, I swore I’d grow up and marry Tommy Devereaux, the cutest boy in third grade. I painstakingly stared at the class photo, tracing the letters of his name and repeating them to myself until I could spell it without thinking. I wrote “Brittany Devereaux” over and over, covering the insides of my notebooks, journals, any scrap of paper I found.

    Fourteen years later, I met Colin Devereaux. No relation.

    “Is this seat taken?” A guy about my age stood across the table. Hello, green eyes. One hand rested on the top rung of the empty wooden chair in front of him. Between the din of the coffee shop and my music, I barely heard his question.

    I nodded. He let go of the chair. I pulled out an earbud and realized what he’d said. “Wait, sorry. No, it’s not taken. Yes, you can sit.”

    “Thanks. I’m Colin Devereaux.”

    A response tumbled from my mouth automatically, like when I was eight. “D-e-v-e-r-e-a-u-x.”

    Smooth, Britt.

    I wasn’t the most suave at talking to members of the opposite sex. That's probably why I could count the number of dates I’d had in the past four years on my right hand, not including hookups. 

    What? I said I wasn’t suave, not that I’m a nun.

    Colin laughed as if impromptu spelling were a perfectly normal reaction to introducing himself.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    How to Tame a Manuscript

    Some writing projects come easily. My first manuscript poured out of me. There were a few plot points I had to mull over for a few hours, or sometimes overnight, but I always knew what to write next until I hit somewhere around 65k words. Plot issues never stumped me for more than a day or two. When I got an idea for a revision or notes from my CPs, I was excited to dive right back in. I loved the manuscript and had a lot of fun writing/tinkering with it. When my agent made a few suggestions during the Call, I eagerly implemented them.

    My second manuscript was not like that. Not at all. The idea came easily, and much of the basic plot, but I hit a point where I was fighting to put every word on the page. When I finished it, it was really easy to put it aside and not think about it before I started revising - because I wasn't really that excited about it. In my mind, the whole thing was a 59,000 word mess.

    This is pretty much how I looked.
    So, what to do? I read a couple of books in different genres. I read a manuscript for my CP to get me excited generally about writing and editing. At one point, I almost decided not to try to fix it - to delete the whole thing and write something else. But I talked to my CPs and they convinced me to edit it first. Finally, I broke the manuscript down into small pieces. When I said to myself, "You need to fix this beastly manuscript and make it awesome," that is a really daunting task. But when I said, "Just read the first chapter," it was much easier.

    The first chapter wasn't as bad as I expected either. I did it in one day. I read and edited the second chapter the next day, and the third the day after that. After I got into a rhythm, I managed to do more than one chapter at a time. I figured out what didn't work, cutting huge chunks and adding more. In one week, I deleted 8,000 words and added 15,000 more. The draft currently in front of me is just shy of 80,000 words. And I love it. That never would have happened if I hadn't forced myself to take the first step and dive in.

    No, I didn't finish as soon as I wanted. (I had this arbitrary idea that, since my CPs were hustling to finish their MSs by August to enter PitchWars, I needed be on the same deadline. That makes no sense.) But it's been read by three CPs (one especially brave CP read it twice), and I have a beta reader reviewing it for typos. In another week or two, it'll be ready to go to my agent. Fixing problems in a manuscript may seem daunting, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. Like any journey, you just have to take that first step and you're on your way.

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Rock the Vote!

    No, this post isn't about writing. It's okay, you can read it anyway.

    As you may or may not be aware (but should be), there is an election coming up tomorrow. No, it's not a Presidential election. No, that doesn't mean it's not important. If you are over the age of 18, eligible to vote in the United States, and capable of voting, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the ballot, find your polling place, and go vote tomorrow.

    Yes, you'll have to stand in line for a long time. Go with a friend or bring a book. You'll live.

    It's also okay to encourage other people to vote. But what's not okay? To berate, confront, or antagonize people who don't vote. Here's why.
    1. When I was eighteen, with my bright, shiny new voter registration, I took it upon myself to become the voting police. I told EVERYONE to vote. And if they said they didn't want to, I immediately embarked on a lecture of the joy of voting and why everyone needs to do it. After far longer that I'd have given me, the poor man I was inundating with the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen looked me in the eye and said quietly, "Convicted felons aren't allowed to vote."

    He probably didn't want me to know that.

    2. My husband was not born in America. Everyone knows this. Everyone remembers when he got his green card a few very short months ago. No one apparently can connect the dots. He gets a lot of flak for not voting in a country where he is not a citizen and is not allowed to vote. And it's annoying to remind 1,200 of your closet Facebook friends of something they already know. All day.

    So, in short: Vote, encourage others to vote, but don't be a douche about it. There are actually valid reasons for not voting.

    Friday, October 31, 2014

    NaNooooh....crap, it's November?

    If you're a writer who knows how to use the internet (and odds are you are), you've probably heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I like to call it "Holy shit, it's November already?"

    For anyone who doesn't know, basically, the point of NaNo is to put down 50,000 words on the page in one month. Thirty days. It averages out to 1,667 words per day. The idea is, when you're done, you'll have a finish first draft to flesh out and edit later.*

    This is NaNoWriMo
    This year has freaking flown by. Last year flew by, too. So did the one before.

    So, I realize that if I'm waiting for free time to do NaNo, I may be waiting forever. (But seriously, November is the worst month. It's not my fault.) Last year, I said "Okay, we always travel in November, there's no time - if only there was a NaNo in a different month, I could do it!" And then someone told me there's also CampNaNo in July, which, if my understanding is correct, is the exact same thing with less snow on the ground. I made no effort whatsoever to write 50k words in July this year. For some reason, I always feel bad about this. I happened to mention on Twitter that I was thinking about doing NaNo this year but might be too busy. Let's just say the responses I got were less supportive than I've come to expect from the Twitter writing community.

    I actually do tend to fast draft. My normal writing style is to get everything out on paper and edit it later. It's not really about needing to do fifty thousand words in thirty days. I can do that. It's about the amount of sleep I want to get and the quality of life I want to have and making choices. My books will get written. They don't need to be written in November.

    You may have seen my post two days ago about how there's no one correct way to write. I wasn't think of NaNo when I wrote it, but it's a good reminder. I don't have to want to do NaNo. I don't have to cancel all my social engagements for the month. It's okay that I have boxes to pack and a house to move. And I don't have to make excuses. I'm a writer. I love to write. And I don't want to do NaNo. If you do, that's great. We can still be friends.

    But neither of us should have to apologize for our choices. And there's no reason to make people feel bad for wanting to do NaNo, not wanting to do it, or trying but not hitting 50k. We're all in this together.

    * Unless you write children's books, no one expects you to have a full-length novel completed in a month, although some people like to really challenge themselves. My CP wrote 120k words last year.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    How to Write

    Step One: Grab a computer/laptop/tablet/cell phone/pen and paper/stone and chisel/stick and patch of sand. Whatever you like.

    Step Two: Find a position that allows you to use your chosen writing implement(s)/device(s) comfortably. Sit, stand, lie flat, hang upside-down, it doesn't matter.

    Step Thee: Write.

    That's it.

    There is no one way to write correctly. Some people may tell you otherwise, but they're wrong. If you write, you're a writer. Some people write every day, some people don't. Writers can write novels, short stories, poems, blogs, articles, haikus, obituaries, limericks, or shopping lists. As long as you're writing, it doesn't matter. Some people make outlines, some wing it. Some start with "Once upon a time" and keep going straight until "The End." Others write out of order. Most people rewrite their opening at some point. Some people listen to music, some prefer television, and some need absolute silence. All of those things are okay.

    Find your process, and do what works for you. Don't let anyone tell you their way is better. Just write.

    Monday, October 27, 2014

    A Special NoQS Shout-out!

    The NoQS entries went up early! Go take a sneak peek!

    Before the agent round starts, take a minute to check out my amazing mentees' awesome entries: 

    And then stop and check out Team #SCSpooks, which I helped create. (It's OK to check out the other entries on the first two blogs. They're all awesome.)

    In any contest, there are more entries we want to pick than entries we can pick. Sometimes, things are chosen that aren't my personal taste. That's OK, we all have different tastes. Some people think it's weird that I like to dip french fries in milkshakes (they're wrong). I typically prefer to read adult contemporary fiction. There are some entries that I would absolutely pick up and read in a bookstore or library that weren't chosen, and that's OK, too. It's subjective. Not everyone will love your book - but if you keep going, you'll find someone that loves it as much as you do.

    I'd also like to spend a special shout-out to my co-slush readers, who helped me work through some excruciating decisions. Together, Max Wirestone, Nicole Tone, and I fought the good fight. We managed to get some of our favorites through. We didn't get them all.

    The agent round starts tomorrow!

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    From the Contest Slush - Query Dos and Don'ts

    I spent most of last week reading through slush for Nightmare on Query Street, and I'm also acting as a mentor. While reading about 200 queries, I noticed a few common issues. So, I've compiled some query DOs and DON'Ts.
    1. DO write your query in the third person, present tense. It doesn't matter if the book is first person, past tense.
    2. DON'T get too creative. A query is a business letter. It's not a poem. It's not a haiku (which is sad, really, because I adore haiku). A query should have two or three paragraphs and include the information an agent wants to see. Don't try to be so fancy with it that no one knows what your book is about.
    3. DO instill voice in the query, but
    4. DON'T write it from the main character's point of view. It should be a third party telling about the book.
    5. DO tell us what happens. If the query is so vague that the reader has no idea what's going on, that won't inspire us to want to read more. However,
    6. DON'T tell us how it ends. That's what the synopsis is for. You want to entice your reader to keep going. Why would I buy the book if I know the ending?
    7. DO limit the number of characters in a query. Your main protagonist, the antagonist, and any love interest are usually enough. It sounds impossible, but if you boil everything down to the essential plot and avoid naming anyone who doesn't play a key role through the book, it helps. The query is almost always easier to read after you remove unnecessary names.
      Quick! Find the main character. (I do not own this image)
    8. DON'T editorialize about the book. We don't want you to tell us you think your book is hilarious and fantastic. We want you to show funny things that are going to happen. 
    9. DO know acceptable word counts. An agent is almost never going to request a debut novel of over 100,000 words. An agent will never request an adult novel at 30k words. I've been told the cutoff for adult novels is 65,000. For children's literature, check out this extremely helpful blog post by children's agent Jennifer Laughran (I've referred to it about six hundred thousand times).
    10. DON'T quote the book directly. A query is your one chance to sell the book. Be direct. 
    For more information on successful queries, check out Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query series

    Monday, October 20, 2014



     We are excited that today we get to share with you the beautiful cover from Colette Ballard's upcoming release, "Temporary High".

      Temporary High  


    by Colette Ballard
    • Release Date: May 2015
    • Publisher: Tulip Romance
    • Genre: Young Adult/Romance/Suspense
    • Temporary High on GOODREADS
      The side of his mouth quirked up as he studied me. “I think I might be fallin’ in love.” I picked up his keys off the bedside table and tossed them to him. “That makes one of us.” He clutched at his heart in mock pain. Then his perfect red lips formed the word, “Liar.”
    Seventeen year-old Kat Chandler has been called worse, but she’s worked hard to make amends for past mistakes and gain control of her life. So she isn’t about to be thrown off her game by some Harley-driving bad boy who’s just moved to town.
    Luca is mysterious. Aloof. Frustrating. Kat can’t stand him; she can’t seem to stay away from him either. But she's forced to reassess the company she keeps when she finds herself being blackmailed by her mom’s con artist ex-boyfriend.
    Fresh out of prison, Cross has reappeared to collect a debt—Kat’s debt. His demand? Three grand in three weeks or else his stay won’t be temporary. He even offers a suggestion on how to get the cash—and it involves Luca.
    Desperate to keep Cross out of her life and the people she cares about safe, Kat devises a plan that will cost her more than just money. She will have to give up control, her hard-won integrity, and possibly the only guy she’s ever fallen for.

    Colette Ballard

    IMG_3145 (1)

    Colette grew up on a dairy farm in rural Kentucky. She survived the high school experience back in the day when Aqua Net was bought in bulk and mullets were cool. After high school she went through a stage she calls ‘the wander years’, collecting a variety of job skills—some useful, some not so much. She even moved a few times in her quest for the meaning of life, eventually landing in the one red-light town she started in where she continues to live today with her husband and three children.
     Find Collette Online:

          Love of reading

    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

    PitchSlam Wrap-Up

    Now that PitchSlam is over, I have some overall observations on contests.
    1. If an agent doesn't request to see more, that is not a rejection. Many agents will say that it's OK to query them after a contest. For one thing, the submission guidelines may be different. If the agent read a pitch, and you have a full query letter that tells more about the story, they might be more interested. If you write in the type of quiet genre that doesn't always start with action on the first page and the agent requests 10 pages with a query, maybe the agent will connect more with entire opening.
    2. Do not compare yourself to other writers. In every contest, there is one entry that gets more requests than the others or requests for more pages. You're on your own journey. Don't worry about anyone else. 
    3. There are always some entries that don't get any requests. This is not a reflection on you as a writer. Sometimes it means your opening page could use more work. Sometimes it means that you wrote in a genre the agents weren't looking for. If your word count is outside the norm for your genre, that could be reflected in a lack of requests. Sometimes it means you've already queried every agent in the contest who represents your genre.
    4. Keep Things in Perspective. The contest organizers and slush readers read more than 125 entries. If you were picked, someone liked your entry better than 100 other entries. That's a huge accomplishment. Requests or no, you should be proud of yourself. You're on the right track.
      Go you! Party! Celebrate! You're awesome!
    5. Keep Going. Don't give up because you didn't get a specific request you wanted, or as many requests as you wanted. As always, review the first page, solicit feedback, and keep going. I know I've said this about 100 times, but contests aren't the only way to get an agent.
    6. If you've made friends and/or gotten some useful feedback, you've already won. Seriously. The friends, the critique partners, the distraction from waiting on outstanding queries, any feedback you receive - that's what contests are about. Agent requests are just the icing on the cake.
    Querying is a numbers game. Once the manuscript is ready, it becomes about getting it in front of the right agent at the right time. And the only way to do that is to keep sending it out. You can do it.

    And now.... get ready for Nightmare on Query Street! Submissions open today at noon. Good luck!

    Monday, October 13, 2014

    Conflicting Feedback

    Last week, I talked about responding to negative feedback, but now I want to talk about when you get conflicting feedback.

    My first 250 words and query were posted on a few different websites for critique and feedback. Let me stress: I appreciate every comment, and all of it helped me. I am very grateful for the comments I've gotten, because they helped me get to where I am now. But that doesn't mean it was any less frustrating to try to figure out what to do.

    Here is real feedback I'd got on variations of my first page:
    1. Too much exposition at the beginning. Make it a conversation.
    2. I don't like opening with a conversation.
    3. There's too much action at the beginning. Back up and tell us some of the backstory.
    4. This is boring because it's all set up: nothing happens.
    5. I like that you added dialogue, but I don't like this dialogue.

    See the problem? It's 100% impossible to incorporate all of these comments. Trying leads to madness. Just find someone to commiserate (OFF-line or away from public view), ask a couple of friends for their opinions (preferably those who've read more than one page), and do the best you can.

    Good luck. 

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    Responding to Feedback

    Every writer is going to get negative feedback. It's inevitable. Not everyone can love your work. I didn't finish The Fault in Our Stars (please don't stop reading). I have a friend who won't even read The Hunger Games because she finds the subject matter so appalling. The Ender's Game series has gotten criticism for the author's political views. I've even heard rumors that there are people who don't like Harry Potter (nasty lies, I'm sure - that's just not possible).

    You can't make everyone happy, and trying will make you crazy. That's beyond your control.

    Why am I saying this? Because there's one thing you can control, and that's how you respond to negative feedback. I am an avid Yelp user. It's extremely helpful to me, especially when traveling. I won't automatically decide against a restaurant or store when I see a negative review. However, if I read the owner's response and it's nothing but incoherent ranting or insults aimed at the reviewer, I will. If that's how you treat honest criticism, that doesn't make me want to eat at your restaurant.

    It's the same thing with authors. There's no need to respond to negative reviews. Unless it's something like "Pages 2-50 were missing from my book" and "I'm so sorry! I'll send you a fresh copy.," resist the urge. If someone posts on Twitter they don't like your book, ignore them, block them, thank them for a fresh viewpoint. With in-person feedback, obviously, it's rude to just walk away without responding. But you don't need to engage. If someone offers an opinion you don't agree with, the only appropriate response is, "Thank you for the feedback." Then you're free to add, "Oh, look, a squirrel!" and escape to talk to someone else.

    Don't tell people who offer you an opinion that they're wrong. If you get an email with suggestions you're not sure about, don't post on public media that some idiot just emailed you a lot of nonsense about your book. Reply or not, but keep your opinions private. Arguing with someone over whether they liked your book will never make them change their mind. Posting on social media that everyone who offers feedback can't possibly understand your book isn't going to get those people who change their minds. But it could make a lot of people who were thinking about buying your book decide to spend their money elsewhere.

    This is even more important for unpublished authors. Don't like the feedback? Fine. Don't incorporate it. It floors me how often I see agents post that a querying author responded to a rejection by arguing with them. That's never going to help. The writing community is small. Don't burn your bridges. Agents who are thinking about signing you will google you and check your Twitter feeds first. So will editors. And prospective readers who are turned off by your online persona won't care how good your books are.

    Don't argue. Don't rant on your blog or on Twitter or Facebook. No author can win that battle, and it's a lot easier to avoid losing face than to try to fix the damage later. Read the feedback, cry about it if it really hurts, rant and rave to your friends on the phone or in person if you must. But keep it off the internet. The internet is forever.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    First 250 Insights

    Now that the feedback for the second round of PitchSlam entries has gone out, I thought I'd share some feedback about things that worked and didn't work for me.*

    Common Issues I Spotted:

    1. Starting in the Wrong Place: There are many ways that this pops up. I truly think that finding the right place to start your novel is the hardest part, but it's so important.
      1. Starting Too Early: We don't need to know everything that ever happened to your main character before the story begins. Something happens to incite a story. Try to pinpoint that moment.
      2. Dropping the Reader Into the Middle of the Action: If your story starts with a person fighting for his life, and I have never met that person, I have no reason to root for him. Maybe he just murdered someone. This about providing context, not backstory. If your story opens with a guy named Bill standing next to a zebra, I don't care how about Bill's childhood. I don't need to know when and where the zebra was born. I do need to know if Bill is at the zoo, on a safari, or standing in his house, because those will all change how I react to find him standing next to a zebra.
      3. Common Openings Agents Prefer to Avoid: These are all over the internet. My first MS started with most of them at one point. But, in short: a character waking up, character dreaming, main character death, opening with weather, and prologues are all on the list. Open elsewhere.
    2. Introducing Too Many Characters on the First Page: As the writer, you know all your characters intimately. As the reader, if I meet seven people at once, I'm going to be confused. Look for ways to trickle in a couple at a time. Let us meet the narrator/main character before getting to know all of his friends and family members. Otherwise, it's confusing.
    3. Head Hopping: Multiple POV is fine, but if you're inside one character's head, you need a scene break before moving into someone else's. 
    4. Passive Voice: There is a place for to be verbs. That place is not in every sentence. Use them sparingly and only with good reason.
    5. Grammar Mistakes: Probably the most common one I saw was two complete sentences connected with and that didn't use a comma (second only to two INcompete sentences that aren't connected with and but have a comma, anyway). A couple of typos usually aren't a big deal, but if an agent sees too many mistakes, it can turn a yes to a maybe or a maybe to a no. If you're not good with grammar, find a critique partner who is or hire an editor.
    6. Sentences All the Same Length: This really impacts flow. If you only have long sentences, my eyes will glaze over and slide down the page, and I will never see the genius of your writing. If you only have short sentences, it can be choppy and confusing. Mix it up for the best results.
    7. Present Participles: Sometimes, they are the best way to say something. Most of the time, they just add to your word count. When you only have 250 words to show us something special, don't waste a bunch of them on "was" and "were." 
    8. Extra Words: You almost never need could. Don't say "I could see," say, "I saw." Better yet, just show us what the main character is looking at us. We assume your main character isn't walking around with eyes closed, so "I saw" and "I heard" are almost never needed.
    9. Distant/Passive Narrators: If your main character isn't invested in the action, why should I be? This issue commonly arises with passive voice and telling. Look for active words to punch up the language.
    10. Complaining about the Feedback online: Not an issue with the beginning, per se, but the writer's community is small. Agents and editors are everywhere. You don't have to listen to our suggestions. The feedback is an opportunity to make adjustments, not a requirement. But be professional. If you need to vent, do it privately.

    Things I loved:

    1. VOICE! This is really my #1 thing. If I love the main character's voice, I will follow him or her anywhere. Some of my favorite entries are genres I don't usually read, because the main character pulled me in.
    2. Descriptions that Jump Off the Page: No need to overwrite, but if I can see myself standing next to your character, I'll keep reading for a bit. This can be accomplished in a few words - it doesn't have to be the entire first 250 (and shouldn't be).
    3. New Spins on Common Situations: Show me what it is about this character, this story, that makes it unique. That's what I'm looking for. Don't show me something I've already read.
    4. Entries without spelling/grammar Mistakes: For me, personally, if I see a lot of misplaced commas or typos, I don't want to keep reading. So finding a story I like with a good voice that has clearly been polished and proofread? It's my Holy Grail. Guaranteed to make my knees weak and get me salivating for more.
    5. And did I mention... Voice? That's what it's all about. Making a personal connection with the main character. 

    * Note: These are my insights and my opinions about common issues and do not reflect any particular entry or writer.

    Monday, October 6, 2014

    Pitch Insights

    With the first round of PitchSlam behind us, I thought I'd share some things I noticed going through the pitches. Hopefully, some of the contestants can use this information when revising their pitches before the next round.
    1. A Round of Applause for the Entrants. You should be proud of yourselves. Some amazing pitches were submitted.
    2. A Lot of Pitches Suffer from Vagueness. We know nothing about the MS before opening the pitch. A pitch should tell us enough about your story to make us want to read more. 
    3. Trying to fit the entire plot into 35 words. As someone said, "Give us the hook, not the book." A pitch is a teaser, not a synopsis. Take a look at my post from last week regarding what a pitch should contain.
    4. Rhetorical questions. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Leave them out. No matter how good the pitch sounds with that question in it, I promise you can make it stronger by taking the question out.
    5. Not Naming the Main Character. This isn’t a Twitter pitch where a character with a long name can destroy your character count. It’s the same number of words to type “An epileptic robot with Mommy-issues” as it for “Epileptic Robot with Mommy Issues XYZ62….” You want to give us something to root for.
    6. Wrong Genre - or worse, made up genres. Your book is not a MG/YA urban fantasy science fiction erotic paranormal romantic mystery. It's. Just. Not. If your book were on a shelf in the bookstore (which is the ultimate goal, right?) where would the bookseller put it? An agent isn't going to try to figure out which genre your book is. It's up to you to write a pitch that conveys this information.
    7. Word counts. There were some issues with word counts that were both too long and too short. It's really hard to sell a debut novel of over 100,000 words. If it's MG, it's not gonna happen. It's also really hard to sell a YA or adult novel of 40,000 words. It's always good to familiarize yourself with what is considered an appropriate word count for your genre.
    8. Too Much Voice. Voice is important in a pitch. But if you focus too much on injecting the main character's personality, sometimes you end up sacrificing information about the plot. We have to know what your story is about to want to read it.
    9. Leaving words out. It's hard to fit the essence of your novel into 35 words. But don't skip words in order to do it. Articles and prepositions shouldn't be left out as a way of saving space.
    10. Not using all 35 words. There are reasons we give people 35 words in a pitch. This is a pretty common number. Don't turn in a pitch that's 21 words or 29. Thirty-four words is fine, but if you think you've got a complete pitch with lots of words left over, it's probably missing something.
    I hope that helps. Happy pitching, and good luck!