Author Mentor Match: That’s a Wrap

Keep-calm-and-write-on-e1390258489967What a wild ride that was. When the Author Mentor Match submissions window opened it felt more like a floodgate had broken. There was a wealth of brilliant ideas, kernels of genius, clever characters, and inspirational concepts. There was a lot to work through and a very hard decision to make.

We conferred behind the scenes about how hard it was going to be to actually PICK one when it came to that time. It was the first time I feel like, as a writer, I could put myself in an agent’s shoes for a minute and understand the conflict of weighing out the love of a submission against your knowledge of the industry and the strength of other submissions your pile.

I would have loved to take on more than one, but since I can’t, I do want to offer some feedback (super general) and shed some (hopefully) welcome light on this process.

First, I must remind every writer out there — whether you submitted to Author Mentor Match, are in the querying trenches, or are on submission — reading truly is a subjective experience. It is not line we’re feeding you. What works for one reader (editor, mentor, agent), might not work for another. What makes me fall in love is not always as predictable or as easily explained as I would like. What I fall in love with, you or someone else might loathe.

Query widely. Get a lot of feedback. Make your own choices about who you listen to.

Now to my thoughts.

Query letters/description:

This is the hardest part to get right in a submission. Learning to write a brilliant pitch, and also subtly pitching yourself as the author, is a craft in and of itself. These pitches were not expected to be perfect, but I did read the pages faster for the ones that felt more polished.

  • Length: I believe in 250 words max to talk about your book. It’s clean. It means you have boiled down the concept and understand the story at it’s foundation. As a screenwriter, the logline (which is one single sentence) is the king, and so I am particularly hard on this element. If the description needs too much lead in or meanders in the pitch, then you probably have a problem in the pages.
  • Concept: I am a commercial writer. I look for something I think will sell. I am looking at the story concept. I am looking at the author concept(who you are and why you wrote this story). I know very well how much both must line up to make a project viable.
  • Passion: I am a Gryffindor. Passion is my middle name. (Not really, it’s Faith. But close enough.) If I can feel the author’s heart pulsing in a pitch, I know it will resonate on the page, and that is something I can work with.

First Page:

The most critical moment in the submission process. Does your first page make me (an agent, an editor) want to keep on reading?

  • Starting in the wrong place: By far my most common hang up when reading submissions. There were submissions where I felt the first page was confusing, either because of opaque writing or character’s voice not feeling defined enough to carry me through. I was more inclined to read when it started too late rather than way too early.
  • Prologue: Please take caution when using a prologue as your first chapter. I encountered this a few times, and it was frustrating. Please take caution when writing a prologue at all. It must be deeply vital to the story and just as gripping as your main story pages.
    • Try cutting the prologue and then having a fresh reader take a look at the first chapter on it’s own. If they can read on without the prologue, find a way to integrate the most boiled down, crucial information from the prologue into the first few chapters.
  • Voice: This is so frustrating and I genuinely am sorry to include it! Voice is critical. The voice has to be right, or there has to be proof that it can be revised, and that is a fine line.
  • Hook: The hook needs to be on the first page. This sounds impossible, but I promise it isn’t. No matter your genre — I write fantasy, horror and contemporary— there must be something on page one that makes the reader need to know more. Commonly in my submissions, the hook didn’t come for a many many pages and by then I was starting to lose interest.

Plot/Pacing/Structure:

As a screenwriter, these elements of story rule my world. If I can see there is a plot buried inside, then I am much more inclined to read or want to work on something.

  • If you are in the second act and your story still hasn’t taken off, you have some problems. BE BRUTAL in the first thirty pages.
  • I see story as a series of tiny shifts in the character’s life until BAM the inciting incident throws them into a new reality. Those first twenty or so pages are doing a lot of work, and if they aren’t, then ask yourself why.
  • All stories take on a similar structure. Whether you are telling a non-linear literary character piece or a punchy action adventure, you are working with the same story moments. When too many are missing or misplaced, the plot will not work. Very often I found this with submissions and ended up having to weigh what WAS working against what WAS NOT.

Character:

The part of the story that makes us care.

  • Character is so closely connected to voice that it almost feels like the same thing. When one is lacking, the other can’t shine. I had a lot of submissions where voice oozed but character didn’t grab me, and vice versa. I am going to go with character every time.
  • Secondary characters are VITAL. There were some submissions that I LOVED, that had so much of what I was looking for in the main character and the plot, but the rest of the characters felt flat.
  • Along the same lines, there were some stories where I felt like too many character personalities were at play or that the dynamics were wrong. It made reading the pages harder as I went along.
  • Often, I would love a concept and even like the characters, but then just couldn’t find a personal way in to the story. To work as a mentor, much like it is with an agent or editor, I really need my own way in. I need to see that I can add something to your pages.

I hope this sheds a little light on the submission process — even if you did not submit to me or to Author Mentor Match at all. This will not be the last time you submit your work and receive a pass. That is a hard reality that I am sure you are aware of.

There is a saying the screenwriting (or that’s where I’ve heard it):

Throw work at it. Rejection, feeling blocked, discouragement, fear, whatever. Throw work at it.

Or, as I like to say: Throw writing at it.

Keep writing no matter what.

 

 

 

 

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Author Mentor Match: Seeking Unicorns

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In the YA and MG (that’s Young Adult and Middle Grade, for those accidentally wandering onto this blog) community, helping other writers find their voice and reach their potential is a common, time-honored tradition. This community is one built by readers, and many writers working to be a part of the published YA or MG world, believe that the more strong, beautiful voices, the better.

Author Mentor Match is not a competition. It is a space to link a more seasoned or further along in the journey author with one getting ready to dive into deep waters. I am excited to be a part. To find a writer to mentor and help flourish on their way to greatness. (Just like Slytherin House could have helped Harry embrace his dark Horcrux.)

Below is the link to my personal mentor page, where you can find more about what kind of manuscript I am looking for. I am also linking the main page, because you may not want to submit to me. There are AMAZING mentors all around and so much opportunity, peruse and find your perfect fit. Plus, all the rules and details can be found on the website.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) as they come to me.

My Mentor Profile || Author Mentor Match Main Page || Twitter || Instagram

The Modern Author Life

Things Writers like JK Rowling and Anne Rice and Stephen King didn’t have to worry about when launching their careers:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

Things authors need to worry about when launching their careers now:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Immediate Human Contact

And, oh, GIVEAWAYS.

After the giveaway drama of yesterday I wrote my friend and told her I would never do it again. I didn’t like the pressure. I felt powerless and unsafe and nauseous and my fingernail polish was all chipped off from panic. And if it’s like that on a small scale, how will it be when people actually care later on?

She suggested that giveaway’s were essential to our chosen career path. That they are expected of authors, especially Young Adult authors, and never say never. She encouraged me not to worry.

And there’s the rub: I worry a lot.

Writers as a species are over-thinkers. We humans created to write stories tend to have over-active, vivid, and often, dark imaginations. We are good at thinking up elaborate scenarios for failure and malady. We are designed to do this so we can get our characters into circumstances that require heroism. You need us to be this way so you get stories that make you feel things.

Take a person like that and throw them into any situation where the outcome is unknown and they will start to devise schemes for failure or triumph. We’re not always dark, sometimes those imaginations that create detailed worlds and intricate plots also dream up wild success stories. We can sort of be like the mirror of Erised. Like, look at me with the House Cup and being a glorious Head Girl and my mom is crying tears of joy…

I’m veering off topic.

The changing landscape of the publishing world means we as authors have to become more comfortable with a whole heap of things outside our control. We have to roll with punches and we have to guard our words and we may need to drink at night or take up a spin class to deal with that anxiety of ALL THE UNKNOWN and HOW WE CAN FAIL and IT’S ALL SO PUBLIC NOW.

We also need to be honest. We need to let people in on our not okay all the time-ness. We need to be allowed to say we don’t know what we’re doing and we are making it up as we go along and we do yes please need a well-timed gif of a kitten in a coffee cup tweeted at us.

As difficult as

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Actual human contact

Can be

It can be so very wonderful,too. Super rewarding. But not if it feels unsafe. Not if we think we HAVE to. Not if we aren’t authentic.

Giveaways will happen. But not because I think it’s my responsibility as an author. I can be an author without that. I am very clever. I could find my way around it.

But my responsibility to future fans (Hey, you guys are so fancy and bad ass and I love you. ❤ Future Me) is to make the internet as it relates to my books and my chosen path of Young Adult Book Pusher accessible and fun and shiny. That is something of value, and I like adding value to lives.

I agree with my friend: Giveaways are useful. Readers and writers alike enjoy them, but they are scary and stressful for me.

So is publishing my stories. It’s scares me, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to do the things JK and Anne and Stephen didn’t have to if it means I’m doing the best for my fans and my book.

I will always worry. I will never be cool. My brain will inevitably veer into dangerous territory any time I face a situation outside my control. I think it’s better to deal with all that, and also do something I love, than to be sitting alone in my office writing into a vacuum and never trying anything that scares me.

Fear means you’re alive. Fear means you’re doing something right.

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Recharge: I sucked this week, but I’m on YouTube

WriterRecharge 2015

It’s February, which means it’s time for Writer Recharge!

Once again hosted by Katy UppermanAlison MillerLiz ParkerElodie Nowodazkij, and Sara Biren, Writer Recharge is your chance for 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.

Here’s how I did on my goals last week!

Write/Revise —

This week I sucked it up on my writing goals. I was out of town until Friday assisting Lindsay Cummings on a book tour and making a YouTube video with her about it. I did manage a little over 1000 words, but that is all.

Read —

I read another 50 pages on my CPs MS. That is my focus this week. That is my primary focus.

Self —

I walked by a gym at the hotel we were staying in. Everyday. Everyday I asked Lindsay if she wanted to work out. She did not. Neither did I. We did watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban twice while planning our Harry Potter Tag video. I drank a lot of tea, for my health.

Connect —

I would say that my entire week was connecting. I met readers and aspiring young writers. I learned about the author life in a very real and sometimes emotional way. I was super impressed by my friend for the time and effort she gives (freely) to these kids.

Fun —

  • My sister-in-law and I got badges to one day of San Diego Comic Con. We then had to follow through with our commitment to begin a YouTube channel should we succeed. Check out our blog Books, Booze & Bitches for more info and stay tuned for our first video — airing Wednesday!
  • While you wait, you can watch Lindsay and I discuss Harry Potter in a very ridiculous way:

Good luck this week on meeting goals!