Monday, March 30, 2015

APRIL CONTESTS ARE COMING!

Spring has utterly failed to....er.... sprung in the northeast (that sentence would make sense if it were warm and/or not snowing...). The weather outside may still be frightful, but inside - the writing contests are almost here!



#NestPitch submissions open on Wednesday. I'm reading slush for Team OneBasket, headed by the amazing and talented SC Author. This is a great opportunity, because the teams get to read, evaluate, and offer feedback on several pages before making a decision, rather than just the first page.
(Remember: Your ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT should be shined until it sparkles before entering a contest, not just the first page or first chapter.)

On Friday, #PitchSlam is here. The great thing about PitchSlam is that writers have the opportunity to get feedback on their pitches and first page before being chosen for the agent round. Last year, we were completely wowed by the amount of work that went into improving some of the entries, and manuscripts that could've been passed over on first glance made it to the agent round. That's so exciting for me, personally, to see how my feedback has helped.

Anyway, this year's theme is Tinseltown. The fantastically talented Mary Ann Marlowe and I are heading up Team Notorious, casting our thriller with the help of Princess Grace.



Does that mean we're only looking for thrillers? Of course not. We're looking for fresh concepts, interesting characters, and great writing. Personally, I tend to read more adult fiction than YA or MG, but I'm looking to create a well-balanced team that will appeal to the variety of agents we have participating.

Follow both hashtags for more information. Hope to see you in the slush!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Being Awesome, Week 6

So much awesome this week, this could be a very long blog post. And you know what? GOOD! The fact that I have so many great things to talk about that it could take awhile only shows that my rededication to being awesome is working.

  1. My sister had a baby! This is so very exciting. All of the nieces and nephews on my side of the family are teenagers (or were, until last weekend), so it's been a long time since we had a new baby.
  2. I officially transferred from Jen Karsbaek to Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary. This move benefits everyone, and I'm really excited about Michelle's vision for my books and my career overall.
  3. This happened: 
    I am DinoLaura, hear me roar!
    The Indianapolis children's museum has a section where they have fake eggs in a nests. There are dinosaur vests (much cuter than this) and gloves for kids, so they can dress up and hatch the eggs. Alas, adults are only allowed to play dress-up. Two seconds after this picture was taken, a three-year-old stole my bib.
  4. There is a place in Indianapolis called The Flying Cupcake. They have a cupcake with Cadbury mini eggs! If you don't know how amazing this is, you must not be following me on Twitter. Seriously, if you're anywhere near Indy, drop whatever you're doing and go. Go now.
  5. They also have a chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake! (See above re: not following me on Twitter).
  6. Despite all the other amazingness going on, I managed to add 10,000 words to my WIP and have passed 40,000. I'd like to thank the lack of anything to do on airplanes for this unexpected and amazing accomplishment.
Tell me about your awesome week in the comments.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Let's Talk About Voice, Baby

As some of you may be aware (since I've mentioned it roughly 11,000 times), #PitchSlam and #NestPitch are fast approaching (details on Twitter). I'm reading slush for NestPitch and hosting PitchSlam, which means that I'm crazy. I mean... that I'll be reading a LOT of pitches and first pages in April. A lot, a lot, a lot. And while there are many things that I'm looking for, a lot of time, it really comes down to voice.

What's voice? It's the elusive thing that makes agents want to keep reading. Voice is the main character speaking in the reader's head. It's not the same thing as the author's voice (unless you happen to be reading memoir). I've been fortunate to work with a CP who is awesome at nailing voice, and it really does make a huge difference. When I read her manuscript, I see a twelve-year-old boy standing in front of me, talking. It draws me instantly into her pages, every time. If your main character is an eighteenth century prostitute, she probably doesn't use SAT words from the twenty-first century. Your fifteen-year-old narrator shouldn't sound like a forty-year-old proctologist. An astrophysicist probably doesn't say "should of" or "ain't." When voice is right, it's so right. And when it's off, it's difficult and time-consuming to fix (but doable), which is what makes it so important.

One of the biggest mistakes I see with new writers is thinking that they shouldn't use contractions in writing. That's the fastest way to make your main character sound like a robot. If your main character IS a robot, great. Ignore me. But if not, think about it - even though the main character never addresses the reader directly, the internal parts of the story should still sound like he's sitting next to you, telling a story.

So, how to nail voice? What I like to do is take a minute before I start writing to get to know the main character. Pull up a visual and pretend you're having a conversation. Imagine the main character speaking, telling the story through your fingers. The better you know your main character, the faster and easier this gets. Let the character's voice shine through. Make sure your character's voice grabs the reader, pulls them into the story, and makes them never want to stop. That's how to get picked for these contests, and it's how to make an agent beg to read more.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Being Awesome, Week 5

Another Wednesday, another week of awesome. Don't forget to take time out to appreciate the good things in life.
  1. Against all odds, I managed to come up with another 10k words for my work in progress last week. I can only imagine that this is because I decided to write all the super fun parts first. I may be in trouble soon.
  2. I had an idea for a sequel to the manuscript I finished last fall, which I'd originally thought would be stand alone. It all came together very quickly, and I'm really excited about the possibilities.
  3. Received some feedback on the manuscript I'm editing that has really strengthened the whole thing overall and saved me from sending a document with some really embarrassing mistakes to my agent. Let's hear it for beta readers! Woo-hoo!
  4. On Saturday, I got to spend an entire day playing board games with friends. No work, no stress, no email refreshing - just fun.
  5. This space was reserved to talk about my newest niece, but... well... she's taking her own sweet time. Ah, well. I'm still excited, and she should arrive soon.
  6. Working out! I've actually managed something fairly close to my old workout regime. It's not perfect -  I still have to go slow and be careful, but it's steady progress.
  7. RuPaul's Drag Race is back!! (I know it's been back for a while, but I'm always way behind on TV, and I'm watching enjoying it as I type this, so it counts.)
  8. Our adopt-a-versary! We celebrated the one year anniversary of acquiring our furry little beasts... well, we didn't actually do anything, because cats don't care about parties. But I snuggled them extra. (Maybe. Hard to measure.) 
What awesome things happened to you last week?

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Feedback Collides

PitchSlam is fast approaching, and one of the things that sets this contest apart is that writers can submit their pitch and first page for feedback before final entries are chosen. Feedback is priceless, and the more the better, but at the end of the day, remember to do what feels right for your manuscript.

Does that mean you should pick what you want to do or what you agree with any ignore everything else? Of course not. That's a no win-scenario for you, your MS, and the people who took their time to give you advice. But weigh the feedback, consider it, and look for common themes. When I was querying, I received a revise and resubmit request from one agent with a lot of really helpful feedback. It was great to finally see what issues were keeping agents from getting past the beginning. I dove in excitedly and started to revise.

Three days later when I was only a few chapters in, I got a rejection from another agent with completely opposite feedback. Literally.
Agent 1: There aren't enough scenes. There are two many parts where the story is retold instead of letting it unfold.
Agent 2: There are too many unnecessary scenes.
She must be querying
Both extremely good, well-respected agents. Both agents I'd have killed to work with at the time. Completely opposite feedback on the same story.

I'm not kidding, and I'm not exaggerating. I copy and pasted the above comments from two emails I still have. So, what to do? First, I threw my hands up in the air and banged my head against the desk. For about 10 minutes. Then I emailed my CPs. I paused the revisions I was doing. Then I stared at the window for two days.

And finally, it hit me: They were both right.

What? you say, How is that possible?

I submitted to Agent 2 first. After I did, I entered a couple of contests. Based on feedback I got from those slush readers, I wound up combining two scenes in my first chapter. When I started the R&R, after moving things around, I deleted another scene. I was wondering whether to kill a third when Agent 2's email arrived (and yes, I deleted that scene, too). But there were other scenes that really needed to be expanded. I found those, I described them in more detail, and the entire MS improved as a result.

Now, sometimes, conflicting feedback is just a matter of taste. When all the feedback you're getting is subjective (and really think about it - don't just dismiss comments out of hand), that usually means that you're on the right track. It's just a matter of getting your MS out in front of the right people. Not every reader can love every manuscript.

So keep going. Write what you love, and keep searching until you find someone else who loves it, too. You can do it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Being Awesome, Week 4

Another week, more opportunities to inject some awesome into the world. Let's take a look at the highlights.

  1. My husband gave me spa gift certificates for Valentine's Day. He is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Basically, I spent many hours relaxing, which is what it means when you have to lie very very still and aren't allowed to check your email constantly. It's way less frustrating than it sounds. (Please note that when you think of hilarious tweets during said relaxation time, you are not allowed to jump up and grab your phone. They frown on that.)
  2. I reached my goal of adding 10,000 more words to my newest work in progress. Actually, I obliterated that goal, thanks to a marathon 5,000+ words on Saturday. That means I started the week nearly halfway to this week's writing goal.
  3. Last night, I went to bed in the middle of writing this. What? Because I am the master of my blog and the world won't end if I don't schedule Wednesday morning's post on Tuesday night. Or, you know, if I posted it on Thursday or even never. My blog, my choice. No need to stress about it.
  4. I received some great feedback on my latest manuscript, and I'm very excited about implementing it. At this point, it looks like I'll easily get it done before my self-imposed deadline of March 31.
  5. Did I mention the spa? Seriously, best husband ever.
  6. Dinner with friends after the spa. Dinner with friends can make everything better.
  7. I bought tickets to go visit my sister and her new baby, once said new baby makes an appearance. I intend to teach it to say "Laura." (Obviously, my sister's baby will be born a talking genius baby.)
  8. THE SNOW IS STARTING TO MELT!!
I never actually got to build a snowman, but I'll settle for temperatures above freezing.
So, that's my week. What are you doing that's awesome?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Accuracy in Writing

A few months ago, I stumbled across an article questioning a historical fiction author's responsibility to write stories that are factually accurate. (I give no opinion on this particular issue, other than to note that, when I was 12, virtually all of my knowledge of the Civil War came from historical romance. In high school, I discovered that most of what I "knew" was untrue.) But what about taking liberties with the world around us?

I'm not talking about fantasy or science fiction, or even magical realism. All of those genres take liberties with the world around us, but you still typically need to be consistent within the world that you've created (unless you're Battlestar Galactica, the spaceship mysteriously stocked with a never-ending supply of Marlboro cigarettes). But when writing fiction, do you make efforts to be accurate?

When I was in college, I worked nights while going to school for a crime. My lunch break typically fell during primetime television. After a few weeks, the other employees politely asked that I take lunch elsewhere when certain cop shows were on television, because I couldn't refrain from pointing out the inaccuracies. Loudly. Over and over.

But now that I've written a few manuscripts, my perspective is changing. My current WIP happens to have a couple of courtroom scenes. These scenes more or less comply with basic American jurisprudence. I am not writing "Civil Procedure: The Novel." Thus, a lawyer reading my book may notice a few inaccuracies in the way evidence is produced to the judge or jury. I know that these things are inaccurate. So why am I doing it?

Because it would be really, really boring otherwise. A 3,000 word chapter could easily become 7,000 words. And the vast majority of my readers wouldn't care. Nothing that occurs is so far beyond standard procedure to send a lawyer throwing a book against the wall (I hope). Heck, standard procedure is different in every state anyway, so even if I went to great lengths to make it 100% accurate based on what I know, the scene would still probably be wrong somewhere. But more importantly, no one wants to read ten pages of lawyers arguing over the admissibility of a piece of evidence, or three pages of a character explaining how they know that a phone bill really is, in fact, a phone bill (Yes, in court, that stuff really needs to be established sometimes.)

Personally, I think it's OK to make certain adjustments in the interests of having a faster paced, more interesting book. Sometimes, people will ask me a question about the law and preface it with "I'm writing a novel..." Then they'll proceed to ask a zillion detailed questions about every little thing that could ever happen inside a courtroom. I'm happy to give an overview, but there's often a point where I'm tempted to say, "Just make it up. It'll be far more interesting."

What about you? Do you strive to make your work as accurate as possible? Or do you take artistic license?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Being Awesome, Week 3

Well, it's March, and it's still effing snowing every day, so I can definitely use a weekly reminder of all the awesome in my life. Here's a look at the past seven days:

  1. Friday: A networking-type event that included free dinner with most of our good friends. Bonus trivia as the entertainment portion of the evening, and my table got a perfect score. (I am proud to say that I contributed at least one answer, which may or may not have been the name of my hometown.) (State capitals trivia gets easier when you've only ever lived in state capitols.)
  2. Saturday: We got the cat into the carrier for his annual check-up on the first try, and if you knew this cat, you'd understand why that's a win. (And he's fine - yay!) Then we went out to sushi with a group of friends, followed by board games.
  3. Saturday Bonus: Everyone loved my cookie-dough filled cupcakes. Because they're delicious.
  4. Sunday: I got to see a writer friend give a reading from his new book, coming out soon. The first two chapters were fantastic, and I can't wait until I can buy the book. 
  5. My WIP is now over 10,000 words, and I wrote at least one scene that doesn't include making terrible things happen to the main character (just to break up the monotony). Every word is a win right now, and it's progress. The plot is starting to come together in my head, which makes it much easier to get it on paper.
So, that's five awesome things from my week. Give me at least one awesome thing from yours, in the comments.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What I'm Looking for in the Slush

With a few pitch contests coming up in the next couple of months, I thought I'd share what it is I'm looking for when I read the slush. I can hear the collective groan now. "We know, we know: You like women's fiction. Dogs like bones. Fish like water. We get it."

And okay, yes, that's true, but did you know that I re-read the Harry Potter series every year? And ALL of Tamora Pierce's Tortall/Circle of Magic books. (That's 27 books, at last count. A year.) The one of the highlights of last year was getting to hear a lecture from Kathy Reichs? That one of my beloved CPs and the most talented author I know writes middle grade? I don't only read women's fiction. I don't want people to think, if they have a WF or contemporary adult entry, they'll absolutely be chosen. And I don't want people who write something else to think they have no chance. Last October, 10 of my favorite 13 choices were MG/YA SF/F. That's only part of it.

So, here's what I'm looking for (Note that I do not speak for all slush readers in all contests. This is personal to me.):

  1. The first thing I look for is the first thing I see. Grammar, spelling, punctuation. Did you send me a wall of text? I don't want to read that. If the first page is full of mistakes, I'll assume the rest of the MS is, too - and so will the agents. It's not ready.
  2. How well you respond to feedback. This should go without saying, but some of these contests include a feedback round. If we go to all the time and trouble to send feedback for this contest, and you reply with "You're an idiot, my MS is perfect".... you should not be surprised when your entry is not chosen for the agent round. You should also not be shocked to discover that the contest hosts, who tweet constantly about the contest, are on Twitter and reading your tweets. If you bash the hosts, bash the feedback, talk about how stupid the whole thing is.... well, see above. And some of us are in some of the Facebook writer groups. If you want to complain privately to friends, make sure your communication is actually private. Meanwhile, I could name two entries that made the finals last year because of how well they rose to the challenge of the revisions we sent them (but I won't).
  3. Whether you incorporated the feedback we sent. Thhe feedback round is not required in PitchSlam this year. You don't have to do it. But if we send you a letter that it's completely perfect except for one misspelled word... and you don't fix it? That could make me hesitate. I'm not talking about subjective changes. That's fine - you have to do what feels right for your manuscript. But if we take the time to point out obvious typos, you should take the time to fix them.
  4. Genre. Maybe this is a special pet peeve of mine. But I want to see actual genres. Don't tel me that your book is post-apocalyptic because you're hoping I'm too stupid to realize that means it's dystopian.
  5. Word Count. Make sure your book is within acceptable ranges for a debut author. For many agents, 100,000 is a HARD STOP for a first time author, even with sci-fi and fantasy. No exceptions. For most adult novels, an agent isn't going to take on something that's less than 65,000 words. For children's books, check this post. (If I'm unsure, that's where I'll be going to look.) I might take something amazing that's a little bit over - but if you're going to break the 100,000 word barrier, there better not be a SINGLE unnecessary word in your first 250. No very really just that only, etc. No "was walking". It has to be TIGHT. More likely, if I'm picking between two entries and I only have space for one, the entry that's within the generally accepted word counts wins. Is that harsh? Maybe. But we sometimes have to make tough decisions.
Also, check out this post on how many contests to enter and when enough is enough. If you have time, look at the other posts under the "contests" tag to see my thoughts and impressions reading the slush during the last round. You may find something helpful.

Also, GOOD LUCK!