Category Archives: Pitch

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

An Open Letter to all PitchWars Mentors and Mentees (from a Mentee)

For the past few years Brenda Drake has run a crazy level contest (over 2,700 submissions/675 entrants)  on her blog called PitchWars. Let me just steal some words from her description:

Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first page of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next five weeks. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.

Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it? Well, as someone who was cherry-picked by a ninja-Mentor this year (the AMAZING Renee Ahdieh) with CROW’S BLOOD, I can confirm that it most definitely is. I’m hard at work based on her editorial/critique notes. It’s keeping me quite busy.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen a LOT of Mentors tweeting and commenting that they hope their Mentees don’t hate them for being too harsh or nit-picky with their notes. I have a single word response to that: Impossible!

So, Mentors:

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I say that from the bottom of my heart. Even if you’re not my Mentor and we’re technically competing against each other: Thank you! You’re awesome, amazing, and wonderful people to be doing what you’re doing.

Now, onto the rest of it.

Don’t pull your punches! We understand that they’re thrown with the best intentions (ok, so maybe that’s not the greatest metaphor). Keep giving it to us straight and professional, we can handle it. We’re not made of fine gossamer glass.

You have to trust that we know our work isn’t perfect, or we wouldn’t have entered PitchWars in the first place. Moreover we know that you know our work isn’t perfect. You got a look at it before you picked us. In many cases you saw more than the 5-page sample from the original submission.

You’re giving your time and effort, not to mention expertise and insider knowledge to help us get our work into the best shape possible in a limited window of time. There isn’t time to pussy-foot around playing nice. We need to get the job done.

On the flip-side: Mentees:

First: Congratulations, you were selected by a Mentor as either a primary or an alternate. That means you’ve got some chops. Take a few moments, pat yourself on the back, and inflate your ego.

Done? Good. There’s a lot of work to do.

There’s a certain level of trust every Mentee should be bringing to the table. Trust that we’re in good hands and that every note that comes across that table is an effort by our Mentor to improve our work.

That said, the bulk of the hard work should fall on our shoulders. It’s our book. This is our shot. We can’t afford to miss it. Every last one of us should be taking this opportunity and holding on to it, squeezing it for all it’s worth to get at the soft golden centre.

If your mentor gives you some hard truths that’s a good thing, they’re paying attention. We all have our natural talents, those bits of writing that just flow, those aspects of the work that we could sink ourselves into for days (plotting, dialog, world building, description, etc.). But we all have our weaknesses that we can only compensate for with craft (Shatner Commas, making that character that we know inside and out feel real, punctuation in general >.<).

Craft = Work. In many cases Craft = Hard Work. That hard work is why you’re here. If your writing was perfect you wouldn’t need a Mentor. So if your Mentor shines a light on the rust and broken bits of your story, don’t complain.

Roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get to work.

-Alex

P.S. Renee has been fantastically professional, if the other Mentors are half as good as she is there’s going to be one hell of a fine showing at the Agent round.

P.P.S. I’m aware I could use the word protege, but Mentee is a word, regardless of what my browser, word processor, or operating system say. There are many reputable sources.

P.P.P.S. At some point we need to have a long talk about split infinitives.

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Filed under Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Revision, Validation

Thiiiiiiiis close!

The last five days have been harrowing, dreadful, bone-chilling days. With my latest revision complete and polished, and with my Query Letter and Pitch polished for #PitchMadness, I really only had one thing missing from my arsenal: A Synopsis.

Let me define that little eight-letter-word for you as best I can: 
Synopsis [si-nop-sis] (n):
  1. A brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject.
  2. An evil  creation of agents and editors for the express purpose of torturing writers.
  3. A soul-sucking vampire in word form.

There’s no perfect consensus in the writing world on what exactly a synopsis is but this is what I’ve found to be most often repeated:

  • 1-5 single-spaced pages
  • Block formatted paragraphs (no indents)
  • Double-space between paragraphs (a single blank line)
  • No smaller than 10pt font
  • Outline ONLY the main plot of your book
From what I’ve seen, 2 pages is the standard length for an agent (at least with the agents I intend to query in my first round that require them).
Sounds easy enough right? Just take your ~60,000 – ~115,000 word (240 – 460 page) book and boil it down to ~1,000 words. Oh, and keep it interesting! Remember: You’re selling your idea here!
Simple right?
ARGH!!!
So here’s what I did: 
I went through my manuscript, skimming chapter by chapter, and making notes of the major points of that chapter. I tried to keep it short and ended up with around 2,900 words.
Then I went through and mercilessly cut anything that didn’t directly have anything to do with the main plot. 1,900 words.
I pared, whittled, reworded, and tweaked every sentence, revising from my quickly written notes to the most sparse text I could get while still maintaining clarity and some semblance of flow. 1,300 words.
I did that two more times, ending at just over 1,000 words, which fit nicely within 2 pages at 10pt Arial and 10pt Times New Roman.
Then I called it a day.
Now, that ordeal is done until I’ve had someone other than me, who’s read the last revision, go over it and tell me what I’ve done wrong.
I have to apologize and thank my wife and children for bearing with me and giving me the time to work on this and a sounding board for my complaints, and my friends and followers on Twitter who have had to deal with me exploding/ranting/whining/begging over the past five days. I’m sorry if I’ve gotten on any of your nerves.
– Alex

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Critique, Editor, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Story Elements, Twitter, Word Count

So… Yeah. This writing stuff is work!

See the progress meter down to the right? That’s right: Revision 4 is complete!

It took very near two full months to go through this revision, and that’s with someone else’s notes guiding me and helping me along. A big THANK YOU (again) to my Critique Partners  Colton Hibbs, Clare Mitchell, and Rachel Russell! Rev 4 would have been a whole lot faster, and mostly useless without you. I can only hope I’ve lived up to your notes, direction, and help.

That said, I didn’t cave on everything suggested, and not just because there were conflicted opinions between my CP’s. Rather because I didn’t necessarily agree and writing isn’t a democracy!

I’ve also posted a few things here and there for critique: A 35 word pitch and the first 250 words of the manuscript for #PitchMadness. You have NO idea how hard it is to fit the concept of an entire book into 35 words while keeping it compelling and interesting! NO IDEA!!! (unless you’ve done it with your own).

In undertaking these public critiques I kept getting one piece of feedback over and over. You see, CROW’S BLOOD is a book about…

WAITAMINUTE!! I have a 35 word summary to tell you what it’s about. What am I doing writing it from scratch?

A noblewoman is murdered and Flynn, a talented thief, is being framed. Hunted by monstrous Inquisitors and Royal Guards, Flynn needs to pull one last daring heist to catch the killer and clear his name.
Do you see the problem? I do… now. How could I not.  
Here’s a hint:
ARGH!!!!
So, back to an old problem that I’ve covered before, names! There is no part of writing that induces panic in me faster than coming up with a name for a character. It has to fit! Worse still, this is my Main Character we’re talking about!!! CRISIS!!!!!!
So I’ve wrestled, and whined, and annoyed my friends and loved ones to the point where they want me to go lock myself in a room for hours on end (so I have!).  I’ve come up with a new name for my MC. Everyone, say hello to my new MC, he’s identical to the old MC with a different name: Ren! It’s short, simple, mono-syllabic (which I like for this character). In Old English it means Raven. In Welsh it means Ruler. And in Japanese it means Lily (and is a boy’s name).
.
.
.
F###!
FYI: For those not in the know about the character Flynn in Disney’s Tangled: HIS REAL NAME IS EUGENE!!!

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Contest, Critique, Feedback, Pitch, Query, Revision, Word Count

#PitchMadness

#PitchMadness is a contest run by the fantastic/wonderful/hard-working/must-be-crazy Brenda Drake. You can read a great deal more about it on her blog. The contest submission window opened at 6am this morning and closed at noon. Here’s the thing, a bunch of my favourite people in the Twitter Writing Community are involved, either as Blog Hosts and Slush Zombies, or Agents (4 of my Top 10 list of agents are involved!!!).

After some prodding from my friends in the community I made the jump and entered. The time of my submission? 6:05am. No, I didn’t get up that early just to submit (there was no cut-off, and after 11am is more my style), I was up for a hockey tournament.

Even if I don’t make it to round 2, this is an experience, and I’m meeting a fair number of new people at a similar stage in their writing aspirations. So it’s a win no matter what happens.

The submission requirements were: A pitch of no more than 35 words (which is a LOT harder than you think, YOU try summarizing your favourite book in 35 words or less while sounding original AND grabbing attention), and an excerpt of the first 250 words.

Here’s my submission:

Title: CROW’S BLOOD
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 100,000
Pitch:
Flynn, a talented young thief, is the prime suspect in a series of grisly ritual murders. He’s also the kingdom’s best chance to find the real killer. He’ll just need to pull one last heist.
Excerpt: 
A sharp crack broke the silence of the cavernous Inner Sanctum of the Praetorian Order, echoing off the vaulted ceiling and the stained glass dome at its centre. A small segment disappeared from the scene depicting the Goddess, her four Scions, and her Adversary. Pale moonlight, mostly from the Other, the brighter of the two moons at that hour, struck downwards to light a small circle on the mosaic near the centre of the floor in the great library. The larger moon, Ambrosia, having just crested the horizon, wasn’t bright enough to lend its pink hue.
The black rope uncoiled down the shaft of moonlight with a soft whisper. Flynn vaulted into the gap, and dropped along the rope’s length, matching the speed of its fall. He grabbed on to slow himself only at the last instant, and touched down soundlessly.
Looking back up at the hole in the stained glass, he could make out the silhouette of his mentor, Martin, framed against the glowing white spectre of the Other. He couldn’t make out any of Martin’s features, backlit as he was. Flynn knew there would be a scowl set deep in the older man’s lined face. Martin worried too much.
Crouched in the centre of the great library, Flynn turned in a slow circle to get his bearings. He mentally compared the layout with the map he’d memorized in the days before. Spotting one of his landmarks, he set off into the concentric rows of heavily laden bookshelves. 
Long years of practice meant the only sound Flynn made was the faint ripple of the air past his close fitting, mottled-grey outfit. 

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Contest, Ego, Id, Pitch, Query, Real Life™

M.m.m.m.madness!

I’ve been neglecting my blog. That’s bad. That’s one of the things I said I wouldn’t do as a New Year’s Resolution.

I could give all sorts of excuses: work stress, spending every free moment revising, I don’t know what to say. All very valid and true, but still just excuses. I’m supposed to be some sort of creative beast aren’t I? Just make it up!

Well, I’ll work on that. In fact, I’m working on a topic list for myself so I can cover them any time I don’t have something else to blog about. It means you’re going to hear my opinions on some writing stuff, and they could be way off base.

I’ve been revising my butt off, and I accidentally entered an awesome after-contest by the lovely Brenda Drake (#PitMad on Twitter), where I had to fit my pitch into a tweet, minus some characters for tags etc. Call it a fit of ego, I had to see if I could pull it off. I was a bit confused when the first person favourited one of my tweets. Wait! What? They want a Query letter and pages?!?!?!

Needless to say, my MS was/is SO NOT READY! I haven’t done my “out loud” pass, and I didn’t even have a query letter! In a fit of madness I did a few passes on the pages and wrote a query letter. Then I let it all sit over night so I could look at it again in the morning.

I slept horribly. Took another look at it, cleaned some stuff up, and sent it off. In the 4 days since I’ve found all sorts of ways to clean up those pages and make them even better, all while working on later parts of the book too.

I can only hope the literary gods and those fine upstanding Agents will still talk to me in a month or so when I’m all set to send it to them again, all nice and clean.

Until then, um, sorry…

Of course, I’ve been pretty unbearable on the home front because of it. Last night I packed it in early with a big dose of I SUCK and went to bed.

Today I’m dropping that and digging back in. I’ll re-submit to those 3 Agents with an apology when I get things cleaned up. No hard feelings if they don’t read it a second time, the fault is mine.

I have 12 chapters left to brush up on this pass, then a round with CPs for plot and character consistency while I go over the dialog etc. out loud. Depending on how long that process takes (it’s my first time so it may be rough) I should be ready to go on submission in March/April.

Lessons learned.

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Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Contest, Ego, Learning, Mobile Blogging, Pitch, Revision

Happy New Year 2013

For so many of us today is the first day of a new year, and a time for new beginnings and the putting away of old things. For some, it’s just Tuesday, and in some cases, it’s a Tuesday with a wicked headache and a desire to watch the world burn.

Every year many people make no resolution or plans for the coming year. I used to be one of those people, but I realized that there was no harm in making plans for the future and planning to have a future gives its own sort of hope and drive.

We do these things on January 1st, but it doesn’t have to be done on any particular day. You can make a resolution any hour of any day as long as you have the drive to stick to a commitment.

2 years ago at the end of February I resolved to get myself in better shape by going to the gym. I’d hit a plateau in getting healthier that changing my eating habits wouldn’t get past and I needed to kick things up a bit. 2 years into that resolution I’m still going to the gym at least 4 days a week and still improving (albeit slower than I would like). It wasn’t a New Years resolution, but it was a new ME resolution.

I started making resolutions after a long hiatus last January 1st. Succeeding in the gym and changing from the 104kg (230lb) blob that I was to the 69kg (152lb) man that I see in the mirror convinced me that I could do things when I set my mind to it.

January 1st 2012 I resolved to write a novel from start to finish. I’ve wanted to be a writer (or a master thief) since I was a child and it certainly seemed like an attainable goal. I did it. Crow’s Blood is currently in revision at 103,000 words and it’s been a blast.

This year I’m getting a little more detailed in my resolutions, but I will still strive to meet every one.

First and foremost, the writerly side of things.

I do not resolve to get an agent or get published in 2013. That will happen when it happens and I won’t let its lack stop me from writing and working my hardest to improve my craft.

I resolve to:

  • Write good stories. Be they short or long, I will write them to the best of my ability.
  • Work out how to get the humour and wit into my stories that I find so effortless in conversation. For some reason it disappears when I’m following a plot.
  • Get better at revision, because right now it’s kicking my ass and making me feel that my writing is all manner of suck.
  • Revise Crow’s Blood (BookB) enough to get it out to some Critique Partners, who’s advice I will use to better my craft.
  • Work better with my Alpha Readers. They’re doing this for me and getting little more than gratitude in return. Make it easier for them.
  • Refine my Pitch, Synopsis and Queries and the processes that generate them.
  • Submit Queries to Agents and learn from each rejection.
  • Write at least two more Zero-Draft books in 2013.
  • Read more. I’ve broadened the genres and catagories that I read in 2012, I’m going to do MORE of that in 2013.

Now on the personal side of things.
I resolve to:

  • Continue trying to be the best Husband and Father that I can be. I’m far from perfect and I’ll never be perfect, but I can always try to be better.
  • Continue to advance and put out the best work I can at my day job. Something has to pay the bills until I have a few best-sellers under my belt 😉
  • Be a good friend. I know this writing thing I’m doing has isolated me a bit from the people I used to hang out with and talk to every day. I want to keep those connections alive and some of them are in pretty bad shape.
  • Eat even better than I did in 2012. It helps that every time I’ve gotten into junk food over the holidays I’ve felt truly dreadful afterwards.
  • Push myself even further in the gym. Not only do I want to work harder, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can and doing it right.
  • Face at least one fear and overcome it. I don’t know what this is yet, whether it will be writing related or otherwise, but I will overcome at least one fear I have in 2013.
  • Watch lots of movies!
  • Have fun!
That’s about it. It’s an extensive list in a public place. 2013? Bring it on.

P.S. I’ve updated the Movie List with last night’s movies.

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Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Ego, family, Genre, Id, Learning, Motivation, Pitch, Real Life™