Pitching a Fit (for Pitch Contests)

Pitch contests seem to be “the new black” for YA writers these days. You can’t read Twitter without scrolling into one. I’ve read many getting the call stories that begin with, “When I entered Pitch-something, I never thought I’d be picked and it would lead to an agent and a deal,” proving that pitch contests can and do launch careers.

Personally I have had some success with contests. I’m not ready to write that “When I entered…” story just yet, though. But now that I have experienced several of these contests with two different manuscripts, I feel like I’ve learned some things that I can share with you about these contests.

  1. They are predominantly filled with YA writers. Yes, you will find Adult, NA, MG and even PB in these contests, but when the age category is open to all, there will be more YA writers enter and more YA manuscripts chosen. I think that’s just because Twitter is where YA readers are, therefore that’s where YA writers are. This doesn’t mean a great adult story can’t win/won’t be picked, it just means that adult/NA/MG/PB writers should expect to compete with a lot of YA.
  2. Take a look at the “winners/chosen” for the contests. THERE is where you’ll find what agents want right now. The current trends and “no-way-not-going-to-even-consider-its” will start to show. Right now, contemporary is the LBD (Little Black Dress) of publishing. EVERYONE needs a LBD in the closet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter your High Fantasy in a contest (unless it’s a paranormal vampire dystopian romance. Might want to think twice about that one). It means that you’re going to have to really stand out among the contemporaries.
  3. I firmly believe that not all manuscripts are Tweet-friendly. Many pitch contests have a Twitter component that includes writers tweeting their MS and agents requesting pages based on those tweets. That gives you 140 characters, minus whatever hashtag the administrator of the contest is using. That’s not a lot of space to hook agents and editors. I have some great success tweeting EVERGREEN but BETWEEN SOUND AND SILENCE is very hard to whittle down because there’s a lot going on that influences the MC. If you’re considering a Twitter contest, the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure to include something unique about your MC and make double sure to include conflict. Otherwise you’ll end up with a generic tweet that won’t grab attention.
  4. The best part of any pitch contest doesn’t have to be the “prize” at the end. Yes, it’s fantastic to receive agent/editor requests that often come at the end of these contests, but sometimes the more valuable “prize” is the feedback you get from mentors or the community that develops around these contests. It’s always great to connect with other writers and make connections that go beyond the contest date.
  5. Too many contests can be a bad thing. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but exposing the same manuscript over and over and over can actually hurt you. There is agent overlap in these types of contests, meaning some of the same agents/editors are participating in several contests. You’re wasting your time if you enter multiple contests with the same agents. Additionally, if your Twitter feed is full of unsuccessful pitch contest tweets, that could turn agents/editors off. It’s best to check the participating agents/editors beforehand and enter only those contests that have agents/editors that you have not already queried or read your material in other places.
  6. Failing to “win/be chosen” doesn’t really mean anything. That’s good news. You can still query in the traditional way. And you should. Your career does not hinge on one contest, or two or three… Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t picked. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep at it.

So, why am I talking about this today? After entering a massive (almost 1000 entries) Twitter-based pitch contest a couple months ago and failing to get picked, I entered another one. Why?  It had a fun theme, outstanding mentors whom I admired and that would be giving detailed feedback on my manuscript, and a super list of participating agents.

The contest was #Nestpitch and I was chosen for #TeamEvilBunny!

I’m thrilled to be working with the amazeballs Sharon Johnston   and her slush bunnies, E.L. Wicker and J.C. Nelson. I’m going to take their notes and suggestions and polish my manuscript for the agents. Even if no requests come from this, I’ll already have come a long way to making my manuscript better.

To read more about Team Evil Bunny and the rest of the Nestpitch teams go here.

LokiBunny

ROAD WORK NEXT 85,000(ish) WORDS

Every time that I sit down to write, I learn more about the process of writing. Of course, there’s no “right way” to do this as long as the words get on the page. There are some things writers can do to make the words they write better.

I have a couple irons in the fire right now and I’m letting my latest Sci-Fi manuscript simmer before I take another pass at it, so I thought, why not get this idea I have in my head for a fantasy down on (virtual) paper?  And that’s what I did.

In this blog, I’ll share how my latest WIP has developed. My “Writing Trip,” If you will.

roadtripmuppets

Unfolding the Road Map

Before I wrote a single word, I had a good working premise of the story I want to tell. (Based on a really weird dream I had) Since my natural process is to let the story develop organically, I find the best way to that is have the major plot points lined out and then let the characters tell me how they want to get there.  With my inciting event, turning point, mid-point, setback, and climax in mind, I had a road map. Now I just needed to know who was driving the car.

CARPOOL LANE ONLY

This MS has a dual POV. It took me a few false starts to get the voice of each character right and more importantly, different from the other, but once I got a good grip on that, it became easier. This story has an astrological theme within it, so it was very easy for me to give the MCs a birthdate then make their personalities mirror traits from their astrological signs. I recommend doing that if you’re stuck for character personalities, even if you don’t have an astrological theme. It’s a great jumping off point when you are just discovering who you’re writing about.

Then I used their back-stories and let the culture they live in inform a lot of their personalities. We’re all products of our upbringings. I instilled a very specific set of beliefs in both of them which helps me when I have to decide how they will react to an event.

Now these two characters come from very different worlds and they each start in their own space, so in a sense, I made it harder on myself because I had to invent not one, but two worlds for them to live in.

GOOGLE 4 MI —>

Research. Boy, did I research. Every day I’m still researching. And every day I find some new juicy tidbit that sparks an idea that I can use in my MS. Frequently I will set out to research some particular fact and find myself closing the browser with some other nugget of information that I didn’t expect or even know existed. I love it when that happens.

For instance, did you know that the ancient Olmec Mayans were the first to process cacao beans and turn them into chocolate? Yep. They also put jalapeno peppers with their chocolate so you can thank them for the frosty nontraditional shake served at Sonic today!

I certainly didn’t set out to find out about Mayan chocolate, but when researching, I discovered this little nugget which will become a hilarious fish-out-of-water scene for one of my characters. How this person reacts to spicy chocolate is going to say quite a bit about the way he/she approaches new things, which shows character development.

So now I’m rocking along at almost halfway through the MS and I know where I need to end up and I know who is driving and I even have a pretty good sense of what snacks they brought for the road.  The next thing for me to determine is what their flat tire is going to be.

CAUTION SPEED BUMPS AHEAD

Conflict is the key to writing a compelling story. My MCs are each seeking different goals. They have different desires and different flaws that are inhibiting them getting what they want.  I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that their paths will cross and then they will begin to affect each other. I’m enjoying playing with the differences between them, but picking out common threads to weave them together. One of my MC needs external gratification, the other internal, but both of these have to do with their families.  One character is bolder therefore gets into some sticky situations sometimes, the other is more reserved and misses a lot because of the fear of acting.  The potholes that I choose to throw in their roads are what will determine how they grow and where they end up. I’m using things from my extensive research as the smoking engines that slow them down and force them to make tough decisions.

The things I’ve uncovered in my research have made me excited about this MS. It’s a departure from what I normally write but I think that’s what’s keeping me motivated and writing well over the speed limit.

Spring (Gimme A) Break

Because my day job happens at a college, I am blessed to have a Spring Break. I love Spring Break. I look forward to it like I’m a beer-guzzling hard body in search of beach bunnies in Florida. (Okay, admittedly my head *may* be stuck in a bad 80’s movie because I have never been beer-guzzler, hard body OR beach bunny.)

Anyway, this week I have five glorious days in which to do anything I’d like to do. Oh the possibilities! So what did I decide to do? I’ll give you three guesses.

I just finished what I hope is the final draft of my MS set on board a space station, so I decided the one thing I want most to do is start a new manuscript! Because if I don’t release the plethora of ideas swarming in my head, it may actually explode, which will make it quite difficult to perform my day job next week.

So as you already guessed, yesterday I began a new fantasy MS based on the ancient Mayan culture. I can already tell that I will fall way short of my projected Spring Break goal, but I am starting to love these characters already. This is a sign that I will carry this thing out to the end instead of abandoning it for something else.

When I began this project, I was determined to try some of that plotting thing people are always talking about. I have already designed a pretty good story arc for both main characters, but there were some things plaguing about the story itself, so I set about to do some research.  I came across this article on K.M Weiland’s site.

Helping Writers Become Authors

I am in no way affiliated with Ms. Weiland, and I have not yet purchased her book, but I was dumbfounded by the advice she lists in the article. She made it very easy and understandable. I found it helpful in honing in on the Inciting Event in my new manuscript. I am considering it my big (Spring) breakthrough. (See what I did there?)

Give it a read if you’re just starting out. It may help you define your story and save you from some harrowing rewrites in the future.

Until next time, enjoy whatever break you have and if you don’t have one, make one for yourself!

Nineteen Signs That You Love YA

  1. You know the difference between Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi.
  2. When you meet a guy, you size him up by his ability to pick a hot best friend that’s full of snark. (Your friends think you should end up with HIM.)
  3. When you declare your team, you don’t mean the Cowboys or Yankees.
  4. When you’re asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, you always say Four.
  5. You can pronounce Tahereh without any help.
  6. Tuesday is your favorite day of the week.
  7. You ask for B&N gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.
  8. If your life were a movie, you’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elsgort would portray your boyfriend. Or brother.
  9. You think aliens are hot and that Daemon is a perfectly acceptable name for a guy.
  10. You’re not afraid of the zombie apocalypse because you know you could survive.
  11. You couldn’t care less who wore what designer at the Oscars, but are up early on cover reveal days.
  12. Tahereh + Ransom = OTP
  13. You can’t cite a classic work of literature without comparing it to the contemporary retelling of it.
  14. You can find the heart of gold in every bad boy you meet.
  15. You believe everything should come in trilogies.
  16. When you meet someone, you automatically sort them into Houses, Factions, and Districts.
  17. You have a color-coded spread sheet of upcoming release dates (Or is that just me?)
  18. You know how to book shimmy and do so frequently.
  19. You never forget to be awesome.

Happy reading everyone!

GWH 1

How Do You LikeThem Apples, or Michelle Gushes About Good Will Hunting

Today I will be waxing poetic about one of my favorite movies of all time, Good Will Hunting. Please don’t look for a purpose in this. I’m just…in the kind of mood where I have to talk about something that moved me and continues to move me.

My love for Good Will Hunting didn’t start in 1997 when the movie was released. My love for Good Will Hunting stemmed from watching it after Robin Williams’ tragic passing. Because it was then when I saw the movie through a writer’s eyes.

Yesterday on Darcy Pattison’s blog she spoke about the skeleton of a scene being structured to include a beginning, middle, turning point, and end. To illustrate, she used one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies of all time, Good Will Hunting.  See what Darcy has to say here.

Of course, I watched the scene. A few times.  As usual when GWH is involved, I tend to get sucked into with no hope of coming out the same.

GWH 1

This movie, for me, is pure brilliance through dialogue, emotional connections, character development, and of course, performance. Robin Williams won an Oscar for his portrayal of Sean. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won Oscars for screenplay. Almost twenty years later and this movie is still as gripping as it was when it released. It just gives me…all the feels.

Some facts you may not know because maybe you’re not a slightly obsessive fangirl type.

  • The plot originally revolved around the FBI trying to get it’s hooks into Will and force him to work for them. It had the boys running all over Boston trying to allude them, ala Jason Bourne style. I’m so glad Matt Damon saved that for another movie. The beauty of this story is that is so quiet and so huge at the same time. The characters are real and struggling and the language they use, the words that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck chose speak lyrical volumes. There is just so much packed into each and every monologue.
  • When Kevin Smith was approached to direct the film, he said, “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.” Kevin went in personally to Harvey Weinstein’s office at Miramax and handed him the script, and basically said, “Drop everything you’re doing right now and read this.
  • The scene where Sean (Robin Williams) tells Will (Matt Damon) that his wife used to fart in her sleep was completely adlibbed by Williams. So this face is the face of a writer and actor being completely taken off-guard and still managing to keep it together.

GWH 2

  • The original screenplay was a project Matt Damon wrote for one of his last classes at Harvard. (See, he’s wicked smaht too!) The production company wanted Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to play Will and Chuckie.  Man, where they wrong about that. I can’t imagine Will Hunting being played by anyone but Matt Damon.  *sigh*
  • The scene where Will meets Sean for the first time is one of the very few original scenes left intact from the original screenplay.  Williams also added a bit of the adlibbing flare he was known for at the end of the scene when he threatens Will and throws him into the wall, practically choking him. Matt Damon had no idea he was going to get physical at that point and was completely surprised. So were the set designers who said they almost knocked the entire wall down because they weren’t prepared for the outburst of violence.
  • The last scene in the movie Sean goes outside and reads a note that Will has left for him. The scene was filmed it multiple times with Williams adlibbing a different line each time. When he walked out and said, “Son of a *****, he stole my line,” everyone on the set knew the take was over.

GWH 4

Below is my favorite monologue to demonstrate the honesty and lyricism of the film. In this scene Sean is giving Will a choice. It’s such an iconic scene that when Robin Williams died, fans went to the bench in the Boston Public Gardens and left memorials for him. I’ve read there’s a petition to have a bronze statue of Williams placed on the bench.

So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right: ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends.’ But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on Earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of Hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sittin’ up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes that the terms ‘visiting hours’ don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause that only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you. I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared s–tless kid. But you’re a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine. You ripped my —-in’ life apart. You’re an orphan, right? (nodding) Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, ’cause I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a s–t about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some —-in’ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t wanna do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief.

Feels, I tell you. FEELS.

GWH 3

Word Flow

Earlier today I told my daughter that I had no idea what I was going to blog about today.

This is the way I approach writing manuscripts as well. I know I’ve mentioned being a “pantser” on this blog numerous times. I’ve tried doing detailed plot outlines, using index cards, making pretty charts on my white board. None of it works for me. For me, the thrill of discovery as I write is the most rewarding part of writing. It’s how I work best and what makes my voice, mine.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments like this when I sit down to write.

freak out

I have those moments before, during and after I write. My Crit partner can testify to that.

Oftentimes meandering down the unknown path yields the best result. But working with only a loose outline when when writing can be frightening. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re going to say.

Here are some things that I’ve discovered that help me with Writer’s Block or as I like to call it, Writer’s Slow Drain.

  • THE RENAME GAME: I wish I could credit the source of this, but I truly don’t remember. It works though. When I’m stumped for a plot idea, scene, or even brief description, I clear my mind then close my eyes. When I open them, I look around the room (or desk, or Starbucks) and stop on the first item I see, then name it something else. For example, I just called my Yoda figure “apple,” the lightswitch, “cow,” and then the box of thumbtacks, “swing.” I don’t really know the science behind it, but it works. After I perform this exercise a few minutes, I always come up with the next thing to type in the MS.
  • PAPA’S ADVICE: I find that Ernest Hemingway’s advice works for me too. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” — Ernest Hemingway
  • DANGLING CARROT: I’ve been envisioning a scene for a while now and once I started getting close to it, I had a hard time stopping my writing sessions. I was so anxious to get to that (kissing!) scene that it dangled in front of me like a carrot. Knowing it was there waiting for me to write it made the words come so much faster. Scenes like this are like rewards—a treat to write once I put in the effort to get to them.
  • HEADLINES: Stuck for ideas? Look around you. Grab a paper (or click on a link to a paper), browse social media, flip the channel. There are a plethora of ideas for your choosing. For example, the scene (aforementioned kissing scene) I just wrote for my WIP was inspired by a photo my daughter posted to Facebook after she participated in The Color Run. No, she wasn’t kissing anyone and no, The Color Run has nothing to do with a space station, but yet that photo sparked an idea for a beautiful scenario that I could put my characters in.
  • MUSIC SOOTHES THE SAVAGE BEAST: I’m not a writer who can play music during writing sessions (I sing along and get distracted!) but I am one that is inspired by music. For EVERGREEN, I listened to a lot of Imagine Dragons, Fallout Boy, AWOLNation and Skillet. It set a dark edgy tone that matched my MS. Now I turn on the Ed Sheeran station all the time, which is coming out directly in my love interest. There’s a sweet flirty thing he’s got going, but it’s a little spicy too. Ed Sheeran is perfect to set that tone.
  • NAME GAME: When my daughter graduated college recently we ended up with multiple copies of the program. I tucked one of those copies on my desk next to my craft books. Now when I’m stuck for a name, I whip out the program. I find it very helpful with names from other nationalities. Those are real people with real names, so I know they work. (I do try to flip some first and last names in order not to copy directly.)

If you’re writing, hopefully these tips will help you dislodge those ideas and get more words on the page.  If all else fails, listen to Daryl Dixon.

Daryl drinkwater

On the days it’s hard to write are the days it’s most important to write.

That’s how you know who you really are.

That’s how you know this is what you’re meant to do.

Wake up.

Get up.

Write.

–Chuck Wendig

 

Looking Back and Looking Forward

My surgery-induced work vacation ends on 1/5/15. It feels a little bit like the end of an era. I look forward to getting back into the day job, but a little part of my writer heart is going to weep that day when it begins to miss sitting down to write whenever it wants.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps like things unresolved. But since it’s that time o’ year, I’ll do another obligatory New Year’s tradition: the wrap up.

My surgery was October 2. Since that day I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Written roughly 60,000 words for 2 different manuscripts.
  • Read 12 books.
  • Binge-watched three tv shows on Netflix. One of which landed high on my list of all-time faves.*
  • Completely freaked out on my Crit Partner about my WIP and doubted that I could actually write a book.
  • Finished current seasons of five shows I’d DVR’d.
  • Organized my cabinets and pantry.
  • Visited the physical therapist around twenty times.
  • Went back to my WIP and decided maybe I can make a go of this.
  • Watched two movies in the theatre. Loved them both.
  • Got really good at driving the motorized carts at the grocery store.
  • Graduated one kid from college. (Okay, she did that herself, but I helped!)
  • Fell “fictional head-over-heels” for a hot alien.**

Not bad considering a lot of that was done while I was flat on my back. (Or rather slanted at the physican-approved 30 degree angle.)

In preparation for my return to work, I’m heading into the writing cave today. I plan to double the word count in my WIP by the time I go back, so it’s head down, fingers flying, don’t look up until I get there. I will not be deterred. You can tempt me with Walking Dead marathons, Twinkies or hot aliens**, I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.

My best wishes for a safe and happy 2015! See you on the flip side.

*The 100 is the best show you’re not watching. Seriously, it’s ground-breaking, daring, and emotional. I can’t recommend it enough. The writing is great, the actors are perfectly-cast and talented. And whatever you think’s going to happen…yeah, you’re wrong. So many, “Did not see that comings,” I can’t count them.

** My friend and aforementioned crit partner Mandy recommended that I finally make a point to read Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux series. She knows me so well.  I’ve devoured 2 ½ books in less than a week. (And that’s reading only at night after hubs goes to sleep.) I absolutely love it. The MC is great. The love interest is smokin’. It’s got everything I want in a story—emotional romance, gripping drama, plot twists, action, did I mention the romance? If you like those things, get on it.