PitchWars Wrap-Up

Announcement day for PitchWars has come and gone, and 180 new mentees are on the move to get their manuscripts polished for the agent round. Once again I recognized almost no one on the final picks list, but a few names stood out and I couldn’t be more excited for those folks.

When I started PitchWars this year, I knew my entry would be a long shot. I’d restructured, repurposed and repolished my story from last year as the new one wasn’t anywhere near ready enough. But I knew what I was getting into – that my story would have to shine even more to stand out against all the new entries. Zero requests and a generic form rejection later, I am not daunted. Why, you didn’t ask? Because I didn’t go into PitchWars with one goal… I went in with several.

Goal 1: Help other writers where I could.
In 2016 I was lucky enough to have another writer, Ava Quinn, take me under her wing, and I will forever be grateful for all the help she gave me. This year I worked with my critique partner, A.J. Super, to reach out to other writers and help where we could. We also worked with our other critique partners and workshop buddies by doing chapter swaps, query workshopping, and I even wrote several articles on the blog to help simplify some of the more daunting aspects of the contest. In the end, I came out with five new writer buddies and an amazing second circle of friends.

Goal 2: Make my story query-ready again.
I’ll be honest… when I queried my story in 2016, it wasn’t ready. I’d like to say that today it is, but the truth is I simply don’t know. When all you hear is “love your first chapter” or “thanks, not for me”, you quickly learn there’s not really an answer in there. The mind automatically strays between “yep, I’m ready” and “what the hell am I doing wrong, now?” This is what’s called the lonely road… or at least that’s what I call it. As someone who wants concise answers, or sometimes needs help to figure a puzzle out, this can be extremely frustrating, especially when you’ve become book-blind to your own work. As it turns out, a better answer was waiting…

Goal 3: Find a mentor.
At this goal, I succeeded in a way that was entirely unexpected. I didn’t find a mentor… I found six.

I didn’t get a spot among the mentees, nor did I gain an unofficial mentee spot (apparently this is a thing… who knew?). It was time for me to take the reins of my own career, but how? Inside my new circle of writer friends, we sparked an idea. Don’t wait for someone to love our stories enough to grant us an edit letter… write our own. So we setup a schedule like our own private book club: 7 books, 14 weeks of reading and serious workshopping.

Every two weeks, each of us digs into a different member’s book—reads it, and writes out a serious, hardcore edit letter. What did we love? What could be improved? Which characters or scenes fell flat? And more importantly… did we finish the book? If there was a DNF (do not finish) spot, where is it and why? At the end of each 2-week block, one member gets 6 edit letters and a serious discussion of what’s working and not working in their story, then we jump to the next book.

This… is how I won PitchWars.

How all seven of us won PitchWars. My book is the first on the chopping block, and in my two week layover I’m still hitting the screen hard. I have 2 drafts I’m prepping for edits, reading The Apothecary’s Poison, prepping a series of self-edit and revision articles, and gathering partners for the 2017-2018 season of Winterviews. I’m still busy, still moving forward, and toying with the 100 rejections a year idea. Because, why not?

But I can honestly say, I’m relieved PitchWars is over for me. It’s always an intense two months of hard work and self-doubt. But when the excitement and tension clears out of the air, I always look back with fond memories and forward with newfound enthusiasm. And forward is where I really want to go.


This article originally posted on my main blog: Hàlön Chronicles.

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Is Your Next Project Ready to Go?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on getting the most out of PitchWars by setting personal goals. Having a list of goals and achievements is so important to life outside the contest. Each time you feel the pressure of not there yet, you can look back and see all the amazing things you’ve already accomplished.

But here’s a tiny reality check: in one week PitchWars mentor picks will be announced, and more than two thousand people are going to feel the sting. It hurts, and it feels like a rejection, but it’s not. All it really means is your book doesn’t have the exact ratio of awesome to need fixing elements. Seriously… here’s the math:

a : s = (n : c)m + d

a = awesome | s = suckage | n = need fixin’ | c = can fix | m = mentor love | d = dibs

This contest has zero bearing on the awesome of your book. It’s a crap shoot, but so are most things in life. If you don’t get a professional mentor, then you learn to mentor each other. And that’s where this article comes in.

Moving on. To your next project.

I. HAVE ANOTHER PROJECT COCKED AND LOADED
Another writing project. A new one, a plan of attack for your PitchWars submission, or maybe you’re already poking at Query Tracker and agent wish lists. There might even be the few of you who need to shut down the laptop and go do anything else for a few months, and that’s okay too. No matter your next steps, start planning a project now to focus on. Whether it’s the day after announcements or three months after, it’s good to have something ready to dig your typing teeth into.

II. HAVE A NEW BOOK READY TO READ
Everyone has different tastes, but if you like books that take you far away from Earth, I have a few recommendations here. I also have a list of unique books here, or if you’re into more YA or Contemporary tastes, be sure to visit some reviews from Songs Wrote My Story.

III. DO SOMETHING FUN
Anything special you’ve been wanting to do lately? Something that will get you away from your writing space and out into the world? I know… scary peopling. Go do it, and this goes for anyone who does get a mentor spot as well. Spend the day at the zoo, walk the beach, swim with the dolphins, or go hiking in the mountains. Have an adventure and clear some of the cobwebs from your head. While we’re at it… you too mentors. You guys have made your eyes bleed with reading. Once you send off that edit letter, get out of the house and do something fun.

Oh, and don’t any of you forget to treat yourself to a nice meal. Entering a contest is daunting, but hopefully you’ve already come out of it with a new crew of wonderful friends, readers and peers. 🙂


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Original article posted on my blog: Hàlön Chronicles.

Get Ready to Pitch

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called Are You Ready to Pitch for #RevPit. As the submission window for PitchWars is only four days away, I thought it best to revamp the article a little to save confusion.

There are some great resources in here which may help you get through your final milestones before we all start the next leg of our PitchWars Adventure.

Which I’ll lovingly call: Mentee Hunting Season. ^_^

So, for anyone out there who’s about to enter #PitchWars, or any of the other amazing pitch contests:

Are you ready to pitch?

If the answer’s yes, the next question is: how do I prepare for submission?

The following information is more to keep my own thoughts organized, but maybe it will offer some value to others out in the universe. 🙂

1. The Query: Like other writers, I’ve written and written, revised, edited, rewritten, had a shot of whiskey, and banged my head against the keyboard trying to get my query pitch just right. Because that’s what a query is: your first chance to pitch your awesome book. While the internet offers a ton of resources on queries, the best I’ve found is Colleen Halverson’s Crafting the Fantasy Query. She cuts through the bullshit to get you on the right path.

2. The Synopsis: Like the query, I’ve spent far too many hours agonizing over this. Not so much the prettiness of the lines, but making sure I’m including the right plot points: the important ones. The internet has some great resources, but hands down Publishing Crawl’s How Two Write a 1-Page Synopsis is the perfect place to start.

3. The Final Edit: If you haven’t done this already, take one more pass through your manuscript and tackle those last-minute edits. I’d recommend jumping to Step IV if you’ve already destroyed all your fillers and filters. Either way, drop your manuscript into Word, search for anything underlined, and YOU DECIDE if a fix is needed. Word is a tool, not an editor.

4. The Format: This is the easy part, but it is time consuming, so be sure to set aside at least an hour or two to get all your documents ready to go. The site I use is Marly Spearson’s Formatting 101. It’s easy, concise, uses both pictures and words, and helps you get the right format for all your documents ready. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling last-minute if a request comes through.

4. The Documents: So, exactly which documents do you need? Well, that’s going to depend on the editor or agent, mentor or publisher. Since we’re focusing on Mentors with PitchWars, my recommendation is to have one of each document in a private folder ready to send:

  • Query
  • Synopsis
  • First Chapter
  • First 50 Pages (For partial requests)
  • Full Manuscript (For full requests)

Told you… time consuming. Take the time and format each one with precision. 😉

5. The Labels: Last thing you’ll need to do is label your documents. The mentors will have a lot of submissions to read through, and you want to make sure yours doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. I recommend naming your documents this way: LastName_STORY_NAME_TypeofDocument

i.e. Harrowick_MENTEESEASON_Query

Once #5 is complete, sit back, relax, and celebrate with an adult beverage.

Good luck to everyone on submission day, and may the mentor teases be truly evil! 🙂


Original article posted on my main blog site, Hàlön Chronicles.

Tackling Last-Minute Edits for the Strongest Impact

The PitchWars submission window is looming. Like hundreds of other writers, you’re might be feeling that deadline weighing heavy on your shoulders. But not to worry! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

DON’T PANIC

As the PitchWars submission window draws closer, it’s time to start prioritizing your edits to have the strongest impact with your work. In 2016, I kept stumbling upon newer and newer craft ideas and working like a madwoman to get my chapters tightened up. This year I have a bigger tool belt, so much of the work has been done already, though I still like to peruse through and tinker with bits here and there because even I have some major habits I’m trying to break. Up/down anyone?

Today, I’m going to share a bit of my arsenal to help PitchWars hopefuls pack a bigger punch in those first chapters. These tools are ones you can carry with you until you find better ones that suit your toolbox. Are you ready?

I. UNPACK YOUR WORDS
I’m talking about those nasty thinking, feeling words that tell readers a label instead of showing the them what’s going on. This is also a great way to punch up your word count if you need to add some bulk to your manuscript. Chuck Palahniuk writes a great article on how to punch up those words into beautiful detail and strengthen your prose.

II. HEAD HOPPING & DETAILED DETAIL
Two equal enemies on opposite ends of the spectrum. Does your scene have large chunks with loads of dialogue and not much else, or perhaps you just Robert Jordan’d the last two pages with details about the one acorn buried deep inside the twisted oak. Maybe it’s necessary for your story, but probably not. Pass over your chapters and search for scenes that are too heavy in one or the other. With dialogue, paint some brush strokes in there to add emotion or setting. A line here, a couple lines there and you’ll make the scene richer and more engaging. If there’s too many details, trim. Or weave in some action, emotion or dialogue to keep the reader engaged with the story and moving forward.

III. FILLER & FILTER WORDS
Diana Urban writes a great article about filler words and how to destroy them. And here’s an article by Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris about filtering actions through characters, why this shouldn’t happen, and how to keep your readers connected.

Filler and filter words both have the same function: to drag down your story. Don’t let them win. Find them. Destroy them. Don’t make your readers see your story through a camera lens – let them experience the story.

IV. COPY EDIT YOUR WORK
If you’re like me, there comes a point in your editing process where you become blind to your own words. You read over everything and think: yep, it’s perfect, let’s do this.

Not so fast.

Drop your manuscript into a Word document. First… Word is not an editor. You are. But Word is fantastic for highlighting things it doesn’t understand – i.e blue and red squiggly lines. Don’t read, look for the squiggly lines. Think about each one: is this correct and Word’s confused, or did I make a spelling, grammar mistake? You’re the editor, but the robot sometimes has good eyes and spots things you missed (like an extra space between words). Use it to find all the fiddly bits you missed and correct the ones that need correcting.

Once that’s done, head over to editMinion and do a second pass. What I love about editMinion is it shows me where I may have been using too many adverbs, weak words, or lines that might need some adjusting. Again, you be the editor. Fix what needs fixing.

Truth: I usually go through this process each time I do a major editing pass. But as the PitchWars submission window gets closer, these little handy tools will help you level up your work and be ready to stand out above the others. If you want a simple trick to do steps I, II, and III all at once, here’s how:

  • Open Word.
  • Open find/replace dialogue box.
  • Type in one of the words you want to kill/unpack. i.e. ‘just’ in the find box.
  • Type the exact same word in the replace box.
  • While your cursor’s still in the replace box, go down to the bottom-left of the dialogue box and click on Format > Font. Change the text color to red. Click ‘replace all’.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat for every word you want to tackle.
  • When you’re done, that word document should look like an army just ran through. Red. Blood. Everywhere.

Fix. Fix. Fix. 🙂

If you have any other tools in your arsenal you think should be listed here, leave me a note in the comments. I love learning new things, and I may just add your link into my toolbox here.

Cheers!


Original article posted on my main blog site, Hàlön Chronicles.

Navigating Imposter Syndrome

So… starting to feel like that black sheep over there?

Yeah, right now is about the time where hundreds of people gearing up for #PitchWars are starting to feel the same way. Mentee hopefuls and mentors alike. Even me… glancing at my growing pile of edits and prioritizing which ones need to be done first, which are necessary, and which will and won’t effect submission day.

But there’s a bigger problem with Imposter Syndrome. It’s that sudden feeling of: shit, I’m not nearly good enough for this. I suck at contests, mentors are going to laugh, my story is dumpster fire, I should never have written this tripe.

STOP!

Right there.

I. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH
You wrote a book, worked your ass off getting it whipped into shape. Edited. Edited some more. Had it critiqued, edited it again. You. Are. Good. Enough. Period.

II. MENTORS LOVE WHAT THEY LOVE
None of our stories are perfect. Over the last two weeks, I’ve read more than a dozen first chapters and none are perfect, but all of them are strong and engaging and fantastic. The level of talent in these chapters is staggering. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the strong voice and concept of each one. Yes, two stood out (no, I’m not telling), but it was only because of one thing: my subjective opinion. I identified with these two stories in different ways, and both took me utterly by surprise. It had nothing to do with the writing, editing, author, etc.

It’s because I connected to the story.

What I’m saying is, don’t self reject. Your story may not be where you want it to be yet, but it COULD be the one a mentor falls head-over-heels in love with. Why not give it a shot?

And here’s a secret: white sheep or black sheep doesn’t matter. We’re ALL barnyard animals. Every writer ever feels imposter syndrome. Want Proof?
Chuck Wendig
Neil Gaiman
Colleen Halverson
Lindsey Stirling

Do I really need to go on?

III. BE BRAVE
Find your inner courage. Scoring a PitchWars mentor may happen or it may not, but that doesn’t mean your story isn’t fantastic. You love your story. Your CPs probably love your story. An agent somewhere out there might be waiting eagerly to get grabby hands on your story. A mentor might clutch your story in one hand, a club in the other and beat off other mentors.

You don’t know… so don’t count yourself out without giving your story a real shot.

Oh, and if I still haven’t convinced you, try this: go dig up your very first draft of the story. Compare.

Yeah, that’s right. Look at how much your story kicks ass today.

Now go set some goals.
Do some more editing.
And get ready to pitch.

🙂


Original article posted on my main blog – Hàlön Chronicles.

Navigating the #PitchWars Mentor Blog Hop – Are You Ready?

Last year when the PitchWars Mentor Blog Hop went live, two things happened: the party on the hashtag got a little crazier, and my stress level shot up. It was tons of fun to read through all the posts, wish lists, and get a solid eye on personalities and approaches to mentoring. But as I started to narrow down the mentor list, it became so tough to make solid picks.

For anyone who’s new to PitchWars, and already stressing about choosing mentors, here’s a quick navigation guide for you:

I. DON’T PANIC
I can not stress this enough. Breathe. Eat. Relax. Cuddle your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You’ve got almost two weeks to finalize your picks, so don’t be afraid to go back to your list several times and rethink options.

II. MAKE A LIST
I use a spreadsheet, but do whatever works for you. List all the names of possible mentors. Write down your thoughts – what you like and what concerns you (in regards to your manuscript + their wish list = gray area). Having a list is so important, because you will go back to it again and again and second guess yourself. True story: last year I came down to 3 mentors for my last 2 slots, and pandered for days. Each one had a quirky thing they didn’t like that made a brief appearance in my MS. In the end, I had to cut one. It was the right call last year, and this year that mentor (or dynamic duo) may be on my final picks. Who knows?

III. RESEARCH. EVERY. MENTOR.
Do

Not

Waste a submission on someone who doesn’t want your genre. Give yourself every chance to score a mentee slot.

The mentors are AMAZING. All of them. I’ve chatted with YA mentors, romance mentors, etc, and you are not choosing your new BFFs. Or your roommates. You are choosing someone who could LOVE YOUR STORY as much as you do and help you make that amazing story better.

Breathe. Take extra care to ensure every single pick wants your genre, your age group, and doesn’t have hard no-no rules on large plot lines in your story.

IV. ASK QUESTIONS
Mentor A may love high fantasy but doesn’t like romantic elements.
Mentor B may love only low fantasy but loves romantic elements.

As you narrow down and everything starts to look gray, ask questions on the #PitchWars hashtag. Let them know you’ve read their wish lists and you’re unsure if they’re the best fit. A quick and simple conversation may help you clear up any doubts.

V. IF IN DOUBT… LOOK BEYOND THE WISHLIST
What is their mentoring style? Is their personality a good mesh with yours? Unfortunately, sometimes you have to dig deeper and really nit-pick (especially you poor YA authors with 5000 mentors).

The mentors understand that you’re not nit-picking their lives, or who they are as people. You’re searching for a home your story can be loved in. So don’t be afraid to look at everything and give your beautiful words the best shot they can have.

Choosing the right mentor is hard because you want to love them all. When the magical day finally comes and you click ‘submit’, don’t second guess yourself. You’ll have enough stress during the submission weeks, so do your research. Make sure your picks are one less thing you have to worry about.

Most of all… have fun!

Encourage other writers. Make friends. One writer I connected with last year is an agent this year. Another started a small press. Two CPs I met during last year’s competition have already sold books.

You never know what’s waiting for you right around the corner. 🙂


Original article posted on my main blog – Hàlön Chronicles.

A Writer’s Workshop Group

Good Morning! 🙂

I’ve been dying to write this post for some time, and with the #PitchWars hashtag party in full swing, now is as good a time as any.

Near the end of 2016, one of my amazing critique partners, A. J. Super, formed a workshop group. The idea was a group of people who all write in the same age category and genre to tackle queries together. Since queries are murderous to write, of course I was 5000% on board. This was hands down one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only is my workshop group AMAZING, I’ve learned so much from them that my query skills have gone to a whole new level. What used to be a pile of ‘save the world’ generalizations has turned into somewhat concise queries. Not perfect, but leaps and bounds ahead of where they were.

Here’s some things I learned along the way:

I. AGE CATEGORY AND GENRE MATTER
No matter what you write, your workshop group should be as close to the age category and genre you write in. If you write in multiple areas, form multiple groups. A YA Historical writer’s query is going to look quite different from an Adult Science Fiction query, and likely formatted just a tiny bit different.

II. LIMIT YOUR GROUP SIZE
The group I work with has 7 people, but I recommend anywhere between 3 and 8. Large enough to get multiple perspectives, but small enough to get cozy and familiar with one another and your writing habits.

III. NOT EVERYONE AGREES WITH EVERY LINE
That goes without saying. The beautiful part here is seeing one person love a line while another stumbles over it. Multiple perspectives give you a chance to see what’s working, what’s not, and how to dig deep into your words and make that query the best it can be. When everyone in your group loves it, you know it’s pretty damn good.

IV. DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO JUST QUERIES
Queries are a fantastic starting point as you get to know each other’s stories. However, only sticking to queries can be limiting. My group leapt from queries to pitches, and now we work together on submission packages. Not always the pages, but we do try to tackle at least the first 250 if we can. Here’s some good areas to tackle with your group:

  • Query
  • Synopsis
  • Twitter Pitches
  • First 250
  • 35-Word Pitches

V. BE READY TO LEARN
I can’t stress this enough. You are going to learn tons in a workshop group. When I started a year ago, I had a general feel for how to hit a query. But after a year of workshopping, learning to hone concepts, find words, cut the fluff, and draw out unique elements instead of generalizations, I’m an entirely different query writer. My badass workshop group made me a better writer, and a better critiquer.

PitchWars is still looming, and as submission time draws near, query swaps are going to get to critical levels. I think I swapped with no less than 15-20 people last year, though Ava Quinn was the one who really helped me level up, and I’ll be forever grateful for her awesomeness.

This year, PitchWars has something new and unique, thanks to an idea by Scott Rhoades: age and genre subtags. Here’s a few I know of:

  • #PitchWarsMG (Middle Grade)
  • #PitchWarsYASFF (Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy)
  • #PitchWarsASFF (Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy)
  • #PitchWarsAR (Adult Romance)

Make use of the subtags. Find other writers and form a workshop group. When you submit to #PitchWars, you want your submission package to be the best it can be. Because, who knows? I have no doubt some of you first year PitchWars hopefuls will kick some PW-Veteran asses and score eight weeks with one of the amazing mentors.

If anyone knows of more subtags, don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments and I’ll add them in. Fingers crossed they’re a fun way for mentors to stalk their hopefuls.

Find your tribe. Your peers. Once PitchWars is long over, you guys will still be hanging out, working on pitches, and celebrating one another’s successes.

Good luck to everyone! 🙂


Original article posted on my man blog, Hàlön Chronicles.

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