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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.

Writer Recharge (The End)

Thank you so much to Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij for helping me set some goals this February! Writer Recharge was a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter to set goals, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to see how everyone did!





WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



So, this one isn’t exactly a win, but it’s not a total fail either. I did revise the first 10 chapters and managed to cut two full scenes and over 4,000 words. I also saw another plot thread that may end up getting the ax, so that part worked out fine. On the new stuff side I’ve only written a measly 3,000 words. It’s so hard to get all those old scenes out of my mind and start fresh! But I feel like now that I’ve gotten one chapter down, the flow will start to pick up. 

READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



I did finish All the Bright Places, and I’ve got Brown Girl Dreaming bought and ready to read next.

STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



This one is a fail. In my defense, I had my in-laws at my house visiting for a full week, so that cut down on much interaction with strangers. But I have a doctor’s appointment today, so I’ll try to sneak it in this afternoon! 

SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



Well, we’ve managed not to buy any more sugary things, and I guess it’s actually a good thing that we haven’t eaten all the Girl Scout Cookies yet….

CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



I did finish all my crit group comments in time, and I had some great feedback from my group on my own chapter as well. It’s amazing how you can see your work differently when someone else reads it aloud. Like, man, this scene is going on forever! And I am planning to share the opening of my work-in-progress for my other online group, so that’s a big step!

FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Oh, another fail. Maybe soon! 

Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to see how you did!

Writer Recharge 2015

Okay, so I’m super late to the party. But Writer Recharge is just what I need to kick myself into gear. Maybe just getting some goals down and out in public will help me to power through! Hosted by Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij, Writer Recharge is a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter. Set goals for yourself, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to join in!



WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to catch up with all of you!





Finding Good

For my last post, I felt a bit down about the constant ugliness in the world. I didn’t want to link to the specific issues that bugged me because I didn’t want to give them any more coverage. So I challenged myself to find good things happening. People helping people, instead of tearing each other down. Today I want to share two of those Good Things.

One day this week, the person in front of me paid for my latte at Starbucks. It took me by surprise, even though it’s happened to me before, and even though I’ve done the same thing on occasion. Confession: I did not offer to pay for the person behind me. It struck me in that moment that those of us in line at Starbucks, myself included, could afford to pay for our own overpriced coffees. But what about the people who are truly hungry, sleeping on the sidewalks downtown?

My first thought was to take a donation to our local food bank. I came home, researched, and found a partner of our local organization, called Farm Share. Farm Share focuses on distributing fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to agencies like food banks and soup kitchens with no fees. Farm Share is an exciting organization, and just the kind of thing I want to support. So, no, I didn’t pay for the next latte in line at Starbucks. But it did spur me to make a donation to Farm Share when I got home. For every $10 donated, Farm Share distributes 110 pounds of food. That sure sounds like a Good Thing to me. Please click on the link for more information.

In the world of reading and writing, where this blog usually lives, I found my second Good Thing. The We Need Diverse Books Campaign continues to grow. The leap from awareness to action is now providing grants, support, educational kits, and more. Now we can lend our support through the IndieGoGo Fundraising effort here. From swag packs to agent-offered prizes for writers, you can’t go wrong.

I hope you all are out there finding your Good Things, too.

Music for today: Shiny Happy People by R.E.M.

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

Remembering Why

I had this great conversation with a teenager a few weeks ago. He was a stranger to me, and circumstances just happened to have us sitting next to each other. He started by asking me what I was reading. (It was Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.) I gave him a quick summary, and he shared with me how he used to enjoy reading so much, but things were just too busy between high school and his job to read for fun anymore.

He was a non-native English speaker, and it was learning to enjoy reading that brought the language alive for him. Any guess what the book that hooked him was? I wasn’t surprised when he said Harry Potter, because I witnessed that same magic with my students in middle school year after year. My first revelation that day was a sense of regret that our education system hasn’t picked up on this trend. In elementary and middle school, we encourage kids to read whatever they enjoy, to foster a love of books. We are dying for kids to read for fun. But in many high schools, the emphasis shifts. I think we’d do better to support reading as a source of entertainment instead of just work.

Next he asked me if I was a teacher. He said I just had that look, though I think it was more my enthusiasm for talking about Harry Potter, and books in general, that gave me away. So, here’s the thing. I told him I was a teacher, but I didn’t tell him I’m a writer. (I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t relish the follow-up questions that come with that.) He could’ve asked more about teaching, or even stopped talking to this mom-aged lady, but next he asked me what I’d wanted to be when I was his age.

I can’t remember anyone asking me that question in my adult life. So I told him. I told him how I’d always loved reading. Though there were many things I’d wanted to be throughout my childhood, when I was eighteen, I wanted to work in publishing as an editor. It was the only way I could see where reading could be my job. I didn’t think I had the creativity to write, but I’d known I wanted to work with books. Teaching did let me do that, but not in the way I’d imagined.

It’s taken a long and winding road, but I am finally following that dream. I’m really glad we crossed paths that day, because he reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I love writing, and I’m proud of the novels I’ve completed. But whatever the outcome of my own writing career, joining this community, through SCBWI and social media, has allowed me to practice exactly what I wanted to do. Supporting writers. Reading books on the front lines of the industry through CPs, betas, and ARCs. And helping, even in some small way, books come to the shelves that bring our language and our world alive for young readers.

Music for today: Five Seconds by Twin Shadow

  

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!