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Writer Resources

The online writing community can be phenomenal, but it can also be overwhelming. Some great resources have been shared on the Pitch Wars hashtag over the past week to help navigate the rules and language of publishing. Here are my favorites:

What is a WC, you ask? (Hint: It’s not a potty in France.) The publishing biz loves abbreviations. A few years ago Dahlia Adler shared a fantastic glossary to help you wade through the alphabet soup of MSs, LIs, and CPs.
Literary agent Janet Reid hosts this must-read resource for querying writers. Though new-comers should read the entire website, in the post linked above, the shark herself boils down the answer to the essential question: What is a query letter?
Literary agent Jennifer Laughran keeps her former blog open for references like these, and Wordcount Dracula is one of the most popular posts. In it she explains the accepted norms for word counts (WC) in children’s books.
Literary agent John Cusick addresses taking measure of yourself as a writer. He also recently posted here about effective queries.

Fall Contest Round-Up

I mentioned in a previous post that I have a thing for contests. It may be time for me to step back and do things the old fashioned way, but as a PSA to all of you out there in the query trenches, here are a few of the amazing contests coming soon to a blog near you!

1. Pitch Slam

This is Leatrice McKinney’s amazing contest that provides feedback in between rounds. This fall’s theme is Agents of Shield, and I can promise she makes every part of the experience amazing. The entry window for 35 word pitches begins October 4, 2014. You must enter the first round to continue, and the first page window begins on October 6. You’ll get feedback on both, with the chance to revise for the final round on October 9. Click here for more information.

2. Nightmare on Query Street

Michelle, Mike, and SC host this fear themed contest. Along with your query and first 250 words, you must include a short paragraph explaining what your main character is most afraid of. The submission window opens on October 19, 2014. Click here for more information.

3. Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction

Miss Snark’s First Victim, Authoress, hosts this event each year. Submissions include a log line and the first 250 words, and there is a $15 entry fee for this one. There will be three rounds available for log line critiques on September 22, October 6, and October 20. Submission dates for the auction are October 28 and October 30 for adult entries and November 4 and November 6 for YA and MG. Click here for more information. 

4. An Agent’s Inbox

Krista Van Dolzer hosts this contest, with submissions of a full query plus the first page. Not for the faint of heart, the agent provides an honest reaction to what works or what doesn’t. September’s agent is Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. The contest opens Monday, September 22, 2014. Click here for more information.

5. Operation Awesome Mystery Agent

Operation Awesome hosts a mystery agent contest most months of the year. The October lottery is open now until September 25, 2014. Fifty entries will be selected. This month’s agent is looking for MG, YA, women’s fiction, historical fiction, and romance. Entries include a twitter length pitch and the first page of your manuscript. Click here for more information!

6. PitchMas

Hosted by Jessa Russo and Tamara Mataya, this is an awesome December contest. Dates have not yet been set, but you can click here for more information.

Please be sure to check on all the submission guidelines before entering, and feel free to mention any contests I missed in the comments!

Music for today: Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse

What Really Makes Contests Worth It

Online pitch events are exciting and addictive when you have a query-ready manuscript. Recently we’ve had WriteOnCon, Operation Awesome’s Secret Agent Contest, Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars, and Adventures in YA Publishing’s Pitch Plus Five. And that was just August!

The primary goal of contests seems to be grabbing an agent’s attention and garnering requests for your work. But these four were fabulous for another reason. Each offered feedback before the judged component, often from many critiquers at once.

The multitude of feedback has been a tad overwhelming for me, but also helpful. In the interest of helping and supporting others, when I landed a spot in Pitch Plus Five, I decided to read every entry and give at least one line of response. If you enjoy entering these contests, I highly suggest you try reading all the entries at least once. Here are a few things I learned:

1. It really is subjective.

You can hear it over and over again, but experiencing it first hand gives you new perspective. There were some amazing, well-written pages in Pitch Plus Five that just weren’t for me. I’m not a huge fan of straight historical, and some jump-off-the-page voices just rub me the wrong way. I get that they’re good. I admire them. But they just don’t fit my personal tastes.

2. Contests take more time than you realize.

When I set out to read all entries, the simple math looked like this:

5 pages X 50 entries = 250 pages

Most books I read have more than 250 pages. I should’ve been able to go through them easily in about two days. But starting at the beginning and trying to immerse yourself in a new story takes more time than reading a book straight through. Then you have to think about what you enjoyed and what questions you had to frame your feedback. I didn’t log my time, but it took much more than I expected. Contest judges volunteer their time on an even larger scale. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback you get, you should always appreciate that someone took the time to try to help you. Time that could’ve been spent on their own writing, reading, or outside lives.

3. Your opening pages need to match the tone of your pitch.

In the first round of Pitch Plus Five, you only see the pages. The pitches don’t come in until the second round. For all of my favorites, I got a clear sense of the genre, tone, and the main character without the pitch. For so many others, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed many of those pages. But the ones with the clearer tones stood out.

4. Seeing what works and what doesn’t can help you improve as much as a specific crit on your own work.

My top five submissions were in different age groups or genres, but they all had certain things in common. Each pulled me in from the opening paragraph. They gave just a bit of exposition before jumping into the action. None fell into opening chapter cliches, and I didn’t have to go back and re-read sentences for clarity. As I revise this time, I’m trying to check off these items on the list.

If you’re out there in the contest trenches, I wish you luck and throw my support in your corner. I also encourage you to get the most out of the experience, from finding new writer friends to improving your craft.
There are so many ways to win.

Music for today: All the Rage Back Home by Interpol

Pens for Paws 2014

Visit Pens for Paws here

This year’s Pens for Paws Auction is right around the corner!

This online auction, hosted by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat (and dog!) sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California. She has fabulous items for writers and others in the publishing community.

The auction starts next Monday, July 14, with new items added each day through Friday, July 19. Be sure to check it out! Items up for bid include:

Signed copy and poster of Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Crit of 25 pages + package of books chosen by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary

Signed copy of Snow Dog, Sand Dog by Linda Joy Singleton

Autographed first editions of Finn Finnegan and Gideon’s Spear by Darby Karchut

Crit of query+10 pages, & ebook collection by Kelley York

Crit of query (5 separate queries) by agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

Critique of 40 pages by agent Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

 

Critique of query + 1st chapter by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency

 

Package of books chosen by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary, including:

Longing for Home by Sarah Eden

Never Too Late by Rhonda Helms

Prophecy Girl by Cecily White

Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes

Free Agent by J.C. Nelson

 

Spencer Hill Press Package, with books, swag, and critiques!

Entangled Books package!

Critique of query + 1st 15 pages from Jessica Watterson of Dijkstra Literary Agency

Operation Awesome package, including critiques, books, ebooks, swag, and more!

First-print copies of The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Be one of the first in (the virtual) line to get a signed copy of Lark Rising by Sandra Waugh!

Signed books from the Otherkin series by Nina Berry!

Advanced Readers Copy of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer!

Please join in to help the kitties!

On any given day in the writing community, you can find a new batch of query contests, pitch competitions, and giveaways. I love that part of the blog-o-sphere, but over the past year or so, I’ve been truly struck by the added dimension of generosity in our industry. So many agents, editors, and authors donate their time to raise money for worthy causes, like Crits for Water, Publishing for Vision and Hearing, and Kid Lit Cares, for Superstorm Sandy Relief.

And today I’m excited to share that the annual Pens for Paws Auction is only one week away!

2013P4Pbadge

Headed by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, writer, blogger, and all-around extraordinary person, the event raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California, that also rescues dogs (as foster homes allow).  Click here for more information about Fat Kitty City.

The auction begins on March 12 and runs through March 16 at Pens for Paws.

What’s up for grabs?

  • Signed copy of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, with a drawing especially for Pens for Paws
  • Signed copy of Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, with bonus Steampunk Swag
  • Picture book and query critique by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Query, synopsis, and first chapter (up to 15 pages) critique from Pam van Hylckema Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents
  • Query and first 10 pages critique from Sara D’Emic of Talcott Notch Literary
  • Critique of 50 pages by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency
  • 5 chances at a query critique by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary
  • Signed copies of the 1st three books in the Elemental Series by Brigid Kemmerer (yes, that includes an ARC of Spirit!)
  • E-copy of To Trust a Thief by Michelle McLean, plus bonus swag
  • Signed copy of Interred by Marilyn Almodovar
  • Signed copy of The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
  • Books by Kelley York, plus a 20-page critique
  • Query plus first chapter critique by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd
  • 2 (!) signed copies each of Jeff Somers’s Trickster and Sean Ferrell’s Man in the Empty Suit

Please hop over to Pens for Paws to check it out, and also be sure to follow Angelica in all these places:

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Group Blog: Operation Awesome

Happy Monday!

Music for today: Breathing Underwater by Metric