Archive for January, 2017

Just Write It

Posted: January 25, 2017 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

 

The best thing about pitch contest season is how motivational it is.  No kidding, every contest has its own Twitter presence, and while participants and others wait (often for days) for the results, those Twitter feeds fill up with encouragement, cheerleading, pats on the back, and success stories. And these are great. That’s 7/8th of the reason you should enter in the first place.*

The other thing these Twitter feeds fill up with are little motivational games like “Tell us what you listen to when you write,” or “Who do you imagine would play your main character in the movie version of your book?” These are fun, but here’s the thing: sometimes new writers will collect the answers to these questions and all of the success stories and so forth from more experienced entrants, and build little shrines to them. They begin to think things like, she listened to Mozart when she wrote her book and she was a finalist, so I must find a Mozart channel on Spotify.

Just No.

These are very much like when a new writer will earnestly take to heart such “rules” as Never Start A Book With Dialogue, or Always Begin With Action. These are not rules, and even if they were, most rules are meant to be broken when called for. New writers are eager sponges looking for any secrets that might help them corral those untamed words that erupt from their fingers. And in that vein, then often cast these tidbits of advice in stone and pray to them.

This reminds me of a story (possibly an urban legend) of a woman who would always cut then ends off a roast before putting it in the oven, because that’s what her mother did and her grandmother before her. She eventually learned that the reason her grandmother cut the ends off was because her pan was too small to fit the whole thing.  You want to understand the reason these “rules” were voiced in the first place, and judge for yourself if the issue for which this advice was given actually applies to your writing.

All of this to say: just write it. It doesn’t matter if your favorite author only drinks white wine (she may have a low tolerance for sulfur), or that one professor shuns anything written in italics (telepathic dialogue in italics was an overused trend in pulp fantasy about 30 years ago). I only write after 10 pm; it doesn’t make me a better writer, nor is my muse an insomniac. I write after 10 pm because until then my 8yo is awake and greedy for my attention. You do you. Find what works and stick to it. Advice is fantastic, and so is the voice of experience, but you don’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel to succeed.

Also, new writers are often overflowing with reasons to fail. I’m here to tell you, don’t feed that beast by convincing yourself you’ll never be great because you hate white wine and always fall asleep by 9.

Just Write It.


*There’s also winning, but that hardly ever happens. Well, in fact, it happens every time, but hundreds of people enter these things, and there are only so many spots.  But that’s why you keep entering; to increase your odds.

slim-case-laptop

A couple of weeks ago, I gleefully told you about my economical and oh, so convenient solution for writing on-the-go: my iWerkz folding bluetooth keyboard, which lets me write on my phone anywhere and at a moment’s notice.  This is great for getting in some writing during my short breaks at my retail job.

But let me be honest — I still want a laptop.  And I still don’t have the money for one.  And even if I had one, it would not be as portable as a phone.  Well, I found a perfect middle-ground, and I am in writer-geek heaven.

I happen to have a two-year-old iPad Mini.  I hear, you … what happened to “economical”?  Well, you can pick up a brand new iPad Mini 2 direct from Apple for less than $270.  There are better deals and refurbished iPads available all over the place, including deals on eBay for around $150.  Mine had been pretty much claimed by my eight-year-old son.  I bought him a dandy 7″ tablet from Barnes & Nobel for just $50, and now I have my iPad back full-time.

So what’s my killer solution? I found a rocking keybord case for the iPad Mini. It’s made by Zagg, who is known for quality cases for Apple devices, and this one is called the Zagg Slim Book for iPad Mini 2 or 3.  It’s been around for a couple of years, because the iPad Mini 2 came out three years ago. And that’s the best part of this; instead of the original retail price of $119, I paid only $26 for my case on Amazon, with free shipping.

It’s fantastic. As you can see, above, it looks just like a MacBook, with an aluminum keyboard with black, back-lit keys.  The top row of buttons take you to the home screen, turn the iPad on or off, launch Siri, launch search, and control video and audio playback and volume. While smaller than a standard-sized keyboard, this Zagg keyboard is surprisingly easy and enjoyable to use.  It really is as if I turned my iPad into the world’s tiniest MacBook. The keyboard even supports the familiar alt/tab feature that lets you easily switch between apps.

But that’s just the beginning. The “screen” part of the mini laptop (the actual iPad itself) is attached to the hinge mechanism by a series of very strong magnets. Which means you can detach it and use the iPad without the keyboard. This also means you can flip it around and use the keyboard behind the iPad as a convenient stand for viewing videos. And in this configuration, you can fold the keyboard flat behind in what they call “book mode.”

slim-case-book

 

The rechargeable keyboard has a two year battery life.  That’s right, two YEARS. Even if it’s only half that….

Here’s a nice video review.

The best part is that I can carry this around with me. I’m planning to get one of those padded slip cases for a little added protection and to hold a pencil and note pad. I already have apps for Wikipedia, Webster’s Dicionary/Thesaurus, and, of course, Microsoft Word and OneNote — all free. On an iPad, Word works without a 360 subscription, and it is integrated seamlessly with DropBox. I used my new keyboard case to compose this blog, and found it effortless.

If you happen to already have an iPad (Zagg makes this exact same case for the full-sized iPad, too), you can turn it into basically a touch-screen reversible laptop for under $50. The reversible touch-screen Windows laptop I bought my daughter cost ten times that much. If you decide to try this case, I’d love to hear your reviews.

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If you are a querying writer with aspirations of becoming an agented author, pitch contest season is like June for college graduates — polishing their resumé and practicing their interview face. For us writers, it is time to get our bits ready.

The “bits” to which I am referring are your 140-character Twitter pitch and your 35-word longline and your 250 to 300-word synopsis and the first 250 words of your finished manuscript.  Plus, you’ll need to have your genre worked out (pick ONE; fantasy steampunk horror romance is not a thing). Know your age group (pick ONE). Choose a couple of good, contemporary comps (NOT Harry Potter, NOT 50 Shades of Gray, and something you’ve actually read and an agent has actually heard of).

Also, you know, just know your story and your characters, because many of these contests will ask you to come up with a clever “code name” for your book, or answer a “character question” as part of your submission. Sometimes these contests will pop up out of nowhere, and you will discover you have only a day or two to get everything compiled and ready to submit during a small window.

Let’s take Sun vs. Snow, for example. This year the entry window opens on January 23. So, as I write this, there are still almost two weeks to prepare.  On the above-linked website there are very specific instructions for how to format the e-mail you will submit, including spacing, what font to use, where to bold, etc. There is a character question, so even if you have all your bits neatly organized in a folder, you still need to write a pithy (100 words or less) answer to this.  Then when the window opens at 4pm Eastern time, you have less than 5 minutes to hit send, because they only take the first 200 entries. In past years the contest filled up in four minutes.

READ THE CONTEST GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Because this really is a case where judges will be overwhelmed with entries and must whittle down to just a few who can go through. What do you win? That varies from contest to contest, but generally “winners” of dinferential stages earn close, personalized feedback from professional editors, who will help you polish your ms and query and get them ready to present to agents. These contests almost always earn someone a contract with an agent. But don’t enter if you’re not prepared to do a lot of revisions very quickly.

Getting in is hard, because these contests are fiercely competitive, but they are worth it because someone always makes it through, and the odds go up the more you participate. Not to mention you will have an opportunity to receive free, professional feedback — not only on your ms, but you can learn from the feedback others receive. There is almost always a Twitter feed you can follow to read live comments from the judges as they evaluate the (usually) anonymous entries. It’s fun (and terrifying) to imagine they they might be talking about your entry.

You have nothing to lose, so why not give it a try?

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

contest

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 2017.

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 2017 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!

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 2017 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!

January 23: Sun vs. Snow
Character question + query + first 250 words of your manuscript. Open to the first 200 entries received (in 2016 this took 4 minutes!). 16 entries chosen for each team (Sun and Snow). Teams work with authors to polish their entries before posting for the Agent Round. Open to MG, YA, NA and A (including erotica).
Details: https://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/2017-sun-vs-snow-details/

February 13: Son of a Pitch
Query + first 250 words of your manuscript. First week open to all for feedback. Then the top 50 entries go on to week 2, to be whittled down to the final 20. Agents and editors will make requests from the finalists.Open to YA, NA and A of all genres.
Details: http://kjhstories.blogspot.com/2017/01/say-what-son-of-pitch-is-back.html

February 23: #PBPitch
Twitter Pitch Party – Picture Books only
Details: www.pbpitch.com

February 24: Pitch Madness
Pitch Madness is a contest held every March, where writers enter for a chance to win requests from the participating agents. Writers submit a 35-word (max) pitch and the first 250 words of their completed manuscript on submission day. Then a team of readers choose the top sixty (60) entries to go onto the agent round. Though Pitch Madness has a game theme, the next contest will transition to more of a critique based contest with agents simply requesting in the comments of the entries’ posts instead of having the agents play for requests. Also, hosts will coach our team members, helping them polish their entries and first pages.
Details: www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-madness/

March 6: #SonofaPitch
Twitter pitch party. Include #SonofsPitch, genre and age category; 1 tweet per hour.
Details: http://kjhstories.blogspot.com/2017/01/say-what-son-of-pitch-is-back.html

March 23: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party. 8am to 8pm EST; only 3 tweets allowed per project.
Details (not yet updated for 2017): www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/   also: http://www.brenda-drake.com/contest-schedule/

April 5: #AdPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Adult books only
Details: https://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/adpit-and-kidpit/

April 5: #KidPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Children’s books only (Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult)
Details: https://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/kidpit/

April 7 (TBD): Pitch to Publication (#P2P17)
“Pitch to Publication is for writers with FULLY COMPLETED manuscripts, who are ready to achieve the next level of literary wholeness. Authors will submit a query and 5 pages of their draft manuscript to one of our highly sought-after freelance editors. Each editor will select one (and sometimes two!) authors to work with for 5 weeks of intensive manuscript development. Your editor will help prepare you and your work for our agent round on May 22nd!” Editors will be announced March 13-20. This contest has been postponed; new dates not yet announced. Possibly cancelled permanently; the site has been taken down

April 7: Revise & Resub (#RevPit)
“In this contest, authors will be eligible to receive feedback and full edits on their manuscript from professional editors, ensuring their works are polished and ready for those agent inboxes. Writers will submit their query and first five pages to their top three editors and one alternate, who will then go through submissions and select one (or two!) winners. These matches will go through an intense, month-long editing process before reposting their submissions from finalized projects.” Details: http://www.reviseresubmit.com

May 17: #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.
Details: http://www.michelle4laughs.com/p/writer-contests.html

June 7: #70Pit17 
1 page contest based on McLuhan Test, which says the sixty-ninth page is far enough into a novel that things should really be happening, and it can be a better snapshot of the entire book’s style than the first page. 70pit takes this idea but removes the connotations with the number 69.  Entrants submit 257 words from either their 69th or 70th page. Agent round July 7. Details: https://larawillard.com/70pit/

June 8: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party. 8am to 8pm EST; only 3 tweets allowed per project.
Details: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/

June 22: #SFFPit
Twitter Pitch Party for Si-Fi and Fantasy books ONLY, for all age groups.
Details: http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

July 21: #AdPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Adult books only
Details: https://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/adpit-and-kidpit/

July 21: #KidPit
Twitter Pitch Party – Children’s books only (Picture Books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult)
Details: https://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/kidpit/

August 2-6: 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.
Details: www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars

September 7: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party. 8am to 8pm EST; only 3 tweets allowed per project.
Details: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/

November (TBD): Nightmare on Query Street (#NoQS)
Halloween-themes contest. Around 40 entries are chosen and paired with expert mentors. The shined and poished query letter and first 250 words go before agents for requests. Contestants must answer a Halloween-themes question in their submission. For MG, YA, NA, & A.
Details: http://www.michelle4laughs.com/p/writer-contests.html

December 7: #PitMad
Twitter Pitch Party. 8am to 8pm EST; only 3 tweets allowed per project.
Details: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/

THIS IS BY NO MEANS A COMPLETE LIST. MANY CONTEST HOSTS HAVE NOT YET COMMITTED TO OR ANNOUNCED THEIR 2017 SCHEDULES. CHECK BACK OFTEN!