Archive for January, 2016

3 Hashtags

Once upon a time, a young princess and her father embarked upon a quest. They wanted to share a tale of adventure and magic and friendship. They spent months of trudging through the jungles full of Wild Ideas and deserts of Empty Thoughts. They set sail on raging seas but were caught in the Doldrums where the Winds of Progress did not blow for weeks. They are on that journey still, looking for a Patron with a bard who will spread their tale all over the world.

But this isn’t about that. The Story of the Three Little Hashtags is a much more humble tale. It is a tale of overcoming modest obstacles and scoring tiny triumphs. Like the Little Engine That Could or Jack Sprat.

Writing the first chapter of a novel is hard. But it is hard over a long period of time; you will work on your first chapter longer than you will work on any other part of your novel. And you will be working on it until the moment it goes to press. However, writing the first chapter of a sequel is much harder (I’ve found). Because who is your audience? Fans of your first book who know all of your characters and how they met and what they did and all of the running jokes? Or people who have never read your first book? With the first book, it’s all about starting in the right place – not too soon and not too late – so you hit the ground running but so you don’t have to fill the reader in on a lot of back story. But with a sequel there HAS to be back story. You CAN’T start in the “right” place, because the “right” place was book one!

I’ve been struggling with the new chapter one for weeks. Months, really. How much back story do I include, how much character introduction do I need to give? Nothing felt right, so the motivation to write was weak. Which meant no progress, which meant no resolution, which meant even less motivation.

Well, last night I finished the draft of chapter one. Actually got to a perfect place to drop a little cliffhanger and close with some tension. And then the magic happened: I typed those three little hashtags that declares to the universe the chapter is complete.

What remains to be seen is whether or not they will live happily ever after.


Cat & Rose

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but one of the reasons my daughter’s and my first book worked was because we introduced a best friend for our main character. When we created Rose, she was really only meant to be in the one chapter, so Cat could ask her for a makeover. We had no plans for Rose for the rest of the book.

In the end, it was Cat’s relationship withRose that provided some of the most emotional aspects of the story.

Also, Rose gave us irresistible opportunities to explore contrasting characters and she gave us a perfect foil for Cat.  Rose could ask questions the reader needed answering, and she gave us someone Cat could confide in and share her secrets with. Rose became one of the most important characters in the book.

But I hadn’t really thought about it before. So when we started planning and plotting the sequel, it never occurred us that we were isolating Cat from Rose for almost the entire book.

To catch you up, in our middle grade fantasy, The Last Princess, we introduce the fae-born, who are the mostly-human descendants of the fae (faeries, elves, goblins, etc.) who vanished because they interbred with humans hundreds of years ago. Cat is chosen to be their princess partly because she has royal blood on her mother’s side, who (it turns out) was the last princess five hundred years ago, but abandoned the crown and eventually used a wish to become human so she could raise a family – all unbeknownst to her husband and children. For the sequel, we plan to have a botched wish send Cat back five hundred years into the body of her 13-yo mother in Ireland, where she has to pretend to be her mother the princess without anyone finding out she’s not (sort of Freaky Friday meets Brave).

For this story, we imagined Cat would be there alone, dealing with a whole new cast of characters on her own. And then one of our beta readers (and one of our moist insightful fans), pointed out that there was something huge missing from our sequel. The vide of the fist book. Cat has a strong rapport with her family members and with her best friend, Rose. All of that would be gone with Cat isolated and along with no means to communicate with any of those people. She suggested that someone else get caught up in the wish with Cat – her little brother or her Dad, or even some kind of psychic connection to the present, so those ties would not be forgotten.

I didn’t cotton to the idea at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I recognized the value of Cat’s relationship with Rose, and how much fun it would be to have both of them stuck together in the past. It will take a fair amount of revising our plot outline to include Rose, but now that I’ve put Rose in the mix I really can’t imagine her not being there.

Rose is a bit like Doctor Who’s companion – that human Everyman who shares the Doctor’s adventures so we can vicariously join in the adventure ourselves. This is another important role the classic sidekick character can play. Also, she will be an important tie to home. Plus, as a side benefit, Cat won’t be spending the entire book thinking to herself.

So for those of you writing your own books, don’t forget the importance of the sidekick.

My Annual Pitch Contest Calendar now has a permanent home!
See the menu at the top of the page.


Okay, kids – get your Twitter pitches, 35-word pitches, queries, and first 250 words shined up and ready.  Here’s a breakdown of the pitch contests coming up in 2016.

If you’re new to the concept, these are contests for authors with complete, polished manuscripts who are seeking representation by an agent and/or an editor.  These contests are fierce and popular, and the competition is strong and numerous.  But there are several advantages to entering:

1) Putting yourself out there. If you’re new to querying and not sure how to begin, or nervous about exposing your work to strangers, this is a good way to dip your toe in the raging whitewaters of the publishing world.

2) Getting feedback on your presentation.  Theses contests are all about those fiddly bits you use as bait to lure an agent or editor.  It is assumed your book is already finished, edited, beta’d, revised, and polished. You know – what you thought was the hard part. What you may not have as thoroughly vetted and sparkly are your query (including your all-important 35-word pitch) and the first 250 words (roughly the first page) of your manuscript.  These will make or break your first impression.  Even the perfect agent who was born to fall in love with your manuscript will never read it if you don’t hook her with your query and the first page of your manuscript.  Most of these contests have built-in feedback rounds or swarms of freelance editors offering free advice to contestants.

3) Networking with other writers, agents and editors in your genre.  Even if you don’t “win” (I’ve been doing this for a year, and I never have – and neither have most published authors), you will meet other contestants and judges, as well as participating editors and agents.  Most of these contests exist in the Twittersphere (or at least have a corresponding hashtag where those who have enetered can commiserate while they wait for the results).  Follow these hastags and be part of the running conversations.  You will meet other writers with books similar to yours, querying in the same genres.  You will meet agents looking for books like yours in your genre.  You will meet the judges, who are often fellow writers and past contest winners.  You are bound to make new friends and valuable contacts.

One last thing before I get to the list: In case you don’t know what a Twitter Pitch Party is, it is an event – usually lasting 12 hours – where you are invited to pitch your manuscript right on Twitter using a specific hashtag plus one for your book’s genre. Agents are well aware of these contests, and follow them eagerly. If they like a pitch they will favorite it, and that is your invitation to send them a query.  #PitMad is the most well-known and popular of these (and it happens four times a year).  So, to be clear, you must pitch your book using only a total of 140 characters INCLUDING “#PitMad” (or whatever) and one or more category/genre tags:

#PB = Picture Book

#CB = Chapter Book

#ER = Early Reader

#MG = Middle Grade

#YA = Young Adult

#NA = New Adult

#A = Adult

#SFF = Science Fiction / Fantasy

#UF = Urban Fantasy

#CF = Contemporary Fantasy

#HistFic/#HistFan = Historical Fiction / Historical Fantasy

#R = Romance

#Myst = Mystery

#WF = Women’s Fiction

#NF = Non-fiction

#Mem = Memoir

#LF = Literary Fiction

It is important that you read and follow the rules for these, and practice good contest etiquette: Usually only pitch twice per hour, never favorite another writer’s pitch (that is how agents request queries!), etc.

So, without further ado, here is the 2016 calendar of pitch contests.  Some of these have not been officially announced as of this posting, but I will update this post as more information (and more contests) are announced.  Good luck!

February 1: Sun vs. Snow
Character question + query + first 250 words of your manuscript. Open to the first 200 entries received. 15 entries chosen for each team (Sun and Snow). Teams work with authors to polish their entries before posting for the Agent Round.

February 3: #Pit2Pub
Twitter Pitch Party

February 11: #PitMatch
Twitter Pitch Party WITH A TWIST!  #PitMad + #MSWL = #PitMatch.  Between 1pm and 4pm EST, three teams will scour the #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) feed and the #PitMatch twitter pitch party, and make matches between what agents want and what writers pitch.  The teams compete for points to see which team gets the most agent requests. Only ONE pitch per manuscript.

February 11: #PBPitch
Twitter Pitch Party – Picture Books only

February 15 – March 7: #SonofAPitch
Query + first 250 words of your manuscript. Three rounds of comments, ending with 50 being chosen for the Agent/Editor/Publisher round the week of February 29.

February 26 – March 11: Pitch Madness
35-word pitch + first 250 words of your manuscript. Team chooses 60 to move on to the Agent Round, March 9-11.

Early March (TBD): Post-it-Forward
35-word pitch workshop

March 5 – April 22: #P2P16 (Pitch to Publication)
Multiple rounds, beginning with authors sending query + first 5 pages to 4 editors (out of 15 participating). Editors will each pick one author to work with on a full manuscript edit, to get their query and ms ready for the agent round, on April 18.

March 7: #SonofAPitch
Twitter Pitch Party

March 17: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party

April 1: #AdPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Adult books only

April 1: #KidPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Children’s books only (Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult)

April 1: #NestPitch Not this year; returning in 2017
35-word pitch + Easter character question + first 300 words of your manuscript. Winners posted for agent review.

April 19: #DVpit
Twitter Pitch Party – created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.

April 24: #FicFest (Check for details starting March 20)
FicFest is open to all finished manuscripts and all genres for Children’s Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. In this contest, each category will have three teams. Teams will be made up of a Team Lead and two team members, who will pick three finalists and one alternate per team. This ensures that forty-five manuscripts will move on to the agent round, with fifteen manuscripts being held as alternates in case one of the finalists drops out of the contest. Once the finalists are chosen, they will work with their teams on revisions for 8 weeks before the agent round. During the agent round, participating agents will be able to request partial/fulls from the manuscripts they want to see. There is no bidding, and no competition for agents. They can request whatever intrigues them, giving everyone a huge opportunity to get requests and hopefully an agent for their manuscript. More rules, regulations, and details will be posted via the host and team lead blogs as the contest begins!

Mid-May (TBD): QueryKombat
64 kombatants in a single-elimination tournament style query-off. Entries will go head-to-head in six rounds until only one entry remains. Agents look at winners of each elimination.

June 9: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party

June 16: #PBPitch
Twitter Pitch Party for Picture Books ONLY.

June 23: #SFFPit
Twitter Pitch Party for Si-Fi and Fantasy books ONLY, for all age groups.

July 1-3: #70Pit16
Submit the 70th (or 69th) page of your manuscript ONLY.

August 1: #AdPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Adult books only

August 3: Pitch Wars
Published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents over a 2-month period.

September 7: #PitchSlam
Round One – Entrants submit their 35 word pitch to receive feedback.
Round Two – Entrants submit their first pages (first 250 words) to receive feedback.
Round Three – Entrants submit both their pitches and first pages together. These entries provide the pool for team selections.
Round Four – The selected entries are posted for agents to request materials.

September 8: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party

October 22: #P2P16 (Pitch to Publication)
Multiple rounds, beginning with authors sending query + first 5 pages to 4 editors (out of 15-20 participating). Editors will each pick one author to work with on a full manuscript edit, to get their query and ms ready for the agent round.

December 1: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party

Early December (TBD): St. Nicholas Day 1st 150 Workshop
Open to Picture Books and Middle Grade

December (TBD): #PitchMAS
Pitch workshop and Twitter Pitch Party

Check out the 2017 Pitch Contest Calendar, now live (this is a link).


Alas, I am stuck in the doldrums, with regard to querying. You may be too, and not even know it.

To be clear, I’m using “doldrums” here in the original nautical sense, rather than the more modern usage. I am not depressed, listless, or down-in-the-dumps – although I certainly feel the pull of those conditions. No, in fact I am stuck waiting for the wind to pick up again.

The traditional meaning of being stuck in the doldrums goes back to the 18th century, when cross-Equatorial sailing voyages became common. The doldrums are low-pressure areas around the equator where prevailing winds are calm, and sometimes disappear altogether, trapping sailing ships for days or even weeks. No wind, no movement. And there was nothing you could do about it unless you happened to bring along a rowing crew and a ship equipped with oars. Many long-distance voyages got stopped in the becalmed waters of the doldrums and were trapped and helpless until the winds returned in their own good time.

So it is with querying in December and January. Agents typically go dark during December, closing to submissions and shutting down their slush piles. Not all, but many or most. And January is almost as bad, because that is when they tackle their month’s worth of unread e-mails and start to chip away at the unread manuscripts they requested before putting out their “Closed for the holidays” signs. So it is generally not a good idea to send out query letters – particularly blind, unsolicited queries in December and January.

So our efforts to find representation are temporarily stalled because the industry is becalmed. No movement forwards, but no movement backwards, either. The wind has just gone out of our sails, even though we are just as eager to get where we’re headed as ever.

You can see where “stuck in the doldrums” got its modern meaning. It is mildly depressing to be unable to make progress. To be forced to sit around and wait for time to pass. To be stagnant. And this feeling has begun to affect my writing, too. I had momentum, and now I have stalled, unable to make much headway because nothing is sweeping me away. Nothing is tugging at me to see what is over the horizon. My writing is becalmed, too, and I’m waiting for the wind to pick up again.

Of course I could try to force myself to write … despite all good advice to the contrary. But no good writing has ever come from forcing it, for me at least. Despite what happens in the cartoon, aiming a big fan at your sails will not make your boat go. I think I’m just going to have to wait for the querying to open back up again and the excitement I derive from that to put the wind back in my writing sails again. I have absolutely no doubt that will happen.

But like sailors stuck in becalmed seas, waiting for the prevailing winds to pick up, I too sit and wander when I’ll finally be able to move forward again.