PitchWars · Writing Advice

So. You wanna enter PitchWars, do ya?

(title is best imagined as me with one of those candy sticks as a fake cigarette in my mouth and a Columbo-esque brogue)

Pitch Wars logo

PitchWars is one of the biggest writing contests on Twitter. I first read about it in 2015, since there were so many excited tweets, and I was lucky enough to be a mentee last year, but the contest is only a middle step for many of the writers picked to be mentees–and for those who aren’t.

For those of you gearing up to enter PitchWars 2018 this post will hopefully give you a glimpse into the whole kit and kaboodle and prepare you for what is to come, whether you’re picked or not.

MY PERSONAL PW TIMELINE: 

In 2015 I applied with the Adult Fantasy I’d written and finally completed after 10 years. I didn’t get in (and rightfully so).

2016, I applied with my YA sci-fi. I was picked as an unofficial mentee by M.K. England (her book is coming out in December!) and Jamie Pacton. Their advice was absolutely amazing, and while I got some agent interest with the MS I nevertheless didn’t get an offer. I took their advice on board when writing my next book.

2017, I applied with my third completed MS, a YA fantasy. I WAS PICKED! I was an official mentee, mentored by the wonderful Cat Scully. I was part of a grand community of talented and kind mentees, all going through the same thing. After intense revisions, I entered the agent round full of hope. I got 2 requests, but when querying it turned into rejections. I revised again, and sent out more queries, but it still wasn’t to be.

2018 – I’ve written my 4th MS – a YA speculative – and I’ve noticed how much easier it’s been to tackle this book with the knowledge I gained from the contest and, yes, the rejections I received. I am not planning on entering PitchWars this year (though don’t hold me to that, because it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of it) but I am getting involved with #PWPoePrompts and engaging on the feeds again!

With the recent shake up in the PW community I’ve watched / discussed the new format  which I LOVE. Yes, the contest might have fewer mentors this year, but it will not provide any less knowledge or gravitas when it comes to drawing in writers who want that mentorship. The #menteeshelpingmentees contest drew in over 700 entries — holy crap — for 200 critique places.

When you see it from that scale, the odds may seem stacked against you. But to be honest – that’s publishing. The key to rising out of the slush and getting an agent is hard work, and PitchWars will teach you the merits of that and more. But first–you want to get into the competition, right?

HANDY HINT FOR PITCHWARS PREP –  STEP 1

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The key to surviving the PitchWars experience (not to mention your entire writing career) is the community  you build. One of my dearest CP’s and I met during PW about 2 years ago, and she’s one of my best friends now. Even when I didn’t get in to PW those first few tries, I still managed to find and enjoy talking to a whole bunch of authors who connected on a very spiritual level (read: crying over words).

You MUST reach out to connect with other writers if you want to stay balanced on this journey. As the mentor bloghop comes around, then the windows open, and then the agonising wait happens, and THEN the mentees are picked – it can be exhausting on top of every other emotion you feel.

Writing is an isolating business before, and sometimes even after, you’re agented so it’s always best to get fellow potential PW contestants on the same path to talk to in order to survive the sheer volume of this competition!

HANDY HINT FOR PITCHWARS PREP – STEP 2

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RESEARCH. QUERIES.

Until recently I didn’t think I could write a query to save my life. I could edit one, the same as I could edit others’ stories, but my own novels were not able to be put in query format. All the “How to write a perfect query” posts I read didn’t seem to make sense until last month, when I sat down, wrote out the heart of my story, and had it critiqued by an incredibly-supportive agent who had only one note to give me (not gonna lie I almost fainted).

All of the research I’d done culminated in that one query, so it might have taken a while to sink in but researching WORKS. As I critique queries myself, I notice there’s always a few who omit their bios or word counts (both are important but word counts are essential), or just talk about the themes of the book rather than what it’s actually about or go into so much detail the truth of the story gets lost.

On average, agents can get over 300 queries every week. 300 people, per WEEK, asking an agent to love their book. You need it to be concise, effective and true to you and your story.

Query Shark is a notable source of querying nuggets, CPs should be able to tell you what works, you have various sites and YouTube videos giving tips on how to create an amazing query.

HANDY HINT FOR PITCHWARS PREP STEP 3

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Revise those open pages, darlings.

Your writing is the best way to snare both mentor and agent alike–they want to sip at the glorious cup of your carefully crafted words and enjoy the story you’re about to tell. The first chapter should be the insight into your book–character, tone, hints of themes, plot, motivation, and worldbuilding all have to be in some sort of evidence in that first chapter, if not even the first page.

I would say the first line, but that’s sometimes too much like a mountain to climb, so we’ll go safe with the first page.

If you can set the tone for the rest of your novel in that first page, and draw the reader in to want to stay there, you have it. But as before, first chapters can be tough. Share them with CPs, read them aloud to yourself (seriously!) or get a thing like naturalreaders.com to test how it sounds out loud.

HANDY HINT FOR PITCHWARS PREP STEP 4

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BE. KIND.

PitchWars is VERY PUBLIC. If you’re entering and you have Twitter, don’t be one of the hopefuls who complain or moan about how long it takes, or that you haven’t had requests–or, come to think of it, boasting that you HAVE. That shit is to discuss in private with your writer friends, who will understand what you’re going through and support you along the way.

Airing out your dirty laundry on social media isn’t a good look. Help those who need help, show support, be humble, stay calm, and be sure to take breaks to help keep your head in this experience.

You might think you have better writing than someone who you swapped chapters with–fine! Maybe they’re not at the same level as you. That doesn’t give you a reason to gloat about it or feed your ego.

You might think the contest is too unfairly stacked against you, since you must be the only one without requests: I promise you, you’re not, and it’s nothing personal against you. Do what you need to get your head sorted, walk away, and return with more experience when you feel ready.

Ever hear about being nice to people on the way up just in case you meet them on the way down? Yeah. That.

Be kind to yourself and to others. It’ll take you a LONG way.

————-

WITH ALL THAT BEING SAID – Still want to enter? You should!!! It’s an intense time but it gets you out there, connecting, excited about writing and engaging in a community full of heart.

The full list of mentors is live HERE!

If you want to know more about PitchWars, their website with full deets is here – but if you have any questions about my experience, leave them below! I’ll be happy to answer them.

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Preparing your query or just have an MS you need editing? I can help! I have spots open all summer for developmental edits, query critiques and proofreading. Email me – jadewritesbooks@gmail.com – or visit Cover to Cover Edits for more information on how to reserve your place!

 

 

PitchWars · Writing Advice

#PitchWars Homework & Resources

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I’m not going to lie, being a part of PitchWars 2017 is a freaking amazing experience so far. The camaraderie, the unison, the fact it’s a dedicated hub of writers on the same stage as you… it’s incredible for resourcing, vibing off others, and generally making invaluable friends.

PitchWars is definitely *not* just about making a book shiny before you go in front of agents.

PitchWars is about learning another side to writing – refining your craft and increasing your discipline so you can cope with whatever future editors (or agents) throw at you in a short space of time. It hones your skills of timekeeping, organising, and yes – even stressing.

There are plenty of hints and tips passed around the writing community but it all depends on what works for you – here’s a list of things which could be a good start to search for if you’re struggling with revisions, either in or out of PitchWars;

SAVE THE CAT beat sheet (plus various others)

This is a basic layout of story structure – according to your word count, it advises what beats are hit at numerous points the story and an approximate idea of when to time them. The structure of it is detailed and fits many stories out there, but it’s a great start to see how many stages your MS meets and within what context – whether it’s all in the first 25% (bit bad) or whether you leave it all til the last 10% (also bad)

THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Donald Maas

This is a good resource to use if you’re wondering the benefits of showing vs telling and also want some handy examples from literary greats along the way. It poses the opinion that we, as readers, will not care about the characters or feel emotional about them if emotion isn’t evoked during pauses and other devices explained here. Good read!

TIP! – Read the beginning pages of cross-genre category novels

Something I’m doing as part of my homework is to read the first few pages of YA novels, cross-genre so not just Fantasy. See what parts work for me, which ones don’t grab me, and analyse why. It doesn’t have to be fancy but definitely put some thought behind it.

OUTLINE SPREADSHEETS – word counts, chapter-by-chapter, plot points

There’s plenty of resources out there for spreadsheets, and in the mentree group we’re sharing around our own to be of use to various stages. The first stage I’d recommend doing is a play-by-play outline of your novel. You can do it in excel or other, but this is a good tip I found worked for me.

First column, put in your chapter number.

Next column, sum up each chapter in a sentence or two, no need to go into detail.

In the next column write in which POV your chapter is in.

In the next column, write in your word count for that chapter.

This is optional, but effective if you’re using the Save the Cat sheet which calculates your hit-points based on words and chapter. In a fifth column, make a sum (eg =SUM(D5;E4) ) which will total up your word count from all previous chapters.

Here’s an example below!

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These are just a very few, basic things to consider if you’re going through your own revisions and need some guidance to help. I’ll be updating more about PitchWars the more the edits go on!

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PitchWars

Yay! I’m a #PitchWars mentee!

For those of you who remember my PimpMyBio post from a few months ago, I have good news – I’M A PITCHWARS MENTEE!

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The incredible Cat Scully is my mentor and will be guiding this book to the be the best it can be. She has shown so much support and love for my story I can’t wait to get started and get things moving!

I know there were a LOT of talented writers who didn’t get picked this year. It’s sad there can’t be a mentee place for everyone (something like 2,600 applied?!) but I hope those who may be disappointed don’t give up! This is one way to get there, not the ONLY way. Keep going! ❤

Before I get my edit letter, my homework will be to re-read ADSOM and Six of Crows as well as other voice-tastic novels to see how voice drives the story as well as create a beat-sheet with every chapter. Which is fine, cause I’m a total Hermione about these things and I love that I have my work to do! No time for hanging around, basking in the glow of excitement and / or fear of the editing gods.

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The secret Facebook mentee group is wonderful, it’s so nice to connect with others who are going through the same experience. So far it’s a lot of pictures, squeeing, getting to know each other and our stories, finding our fellow peeps… just amazing!

But what is the PitchWars contest about really? Getting an agent, a publishing deal, a BIG WAD OF CASH? <– ( please. no. don’t set your hopes this high.)

As far as I can tell for me and many others, it’s about creating a damn good book. Something you’re proud of, that people want to read. It’s about working hard, getting conditioned to the environment you’ll be thrown into once you get into the real publishing world. PitchWars is like a training ground of deadlines, editing, taking criticism, rejection, being prepared for loss AND good news. All in the space of a few teeny months rather than the course of a year, too.

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You have to get used to waiting and working hard, and PitchWars definitely combines both. But after trying for three years – third time lucky! – to get into this, I’m ready for this experience.

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Random Musings · Writing Advice · writing process

Query Breakfast – A (weird) Analogy

I was making my breakfast this morning when – either out of hunger or sleepiness – I likened queries to cereal.

By the time I sat eating I’d gone off on a completely new train of thought to do with queries, but all about food (I was REALLY hungry).

So here is a (probably weird) post about queries, what’s needed within them, and what you can do to make sure yours stands out.

CEREAL

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As if you don’t know what cereal looks like. I mean.

You don’t want to give someone a cereal query. This is where it’s just the grains of your story and nothing else. Even if it’s something fun with a free toy (ok I might be going a little overboard with this analogy…) the grains of story doesn’t give whoever is reading your query a strong idea of what your book is about. If you just throw in the basics, chances are it won’t be the most interesting cereal query in the world. For example –

“17 year old Jessica Lisa Eisenstein wants to win a talent show. If she wins the talent show, she’ll get a crown and £100. A boy, Marcus Orelio, thinks Jessica is too much competition so he ruins her dress. To get her revenge Jessica thinks up a huge plot to ruin him – publicly – in front of everyone.

We know the characters, but it sounds pretty boring – it doesn’t really GRAB people’s attention and say READ ME (unless you want to read about Jessica’s revenge). WHY is the talent show important to Jessica? Why does Marcus want to win so much and think Jessica is competition? What happens if Jessica fulfils her revenge?

STAKES, PEOPLE.

Ooo, Steak.

TOAST

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This is the play-by-play, read my book, I’m doing this but I don’t think I have a shot query. You can dress it with marmalade or chocolate all you want but it’s still burnt bread – dry and without flavour. If you’re not inspired when writing your query, they won’t be inspired reading it. Where there’s no personal lilt to a query, it can come across as bland as toast.

THE BEST BREAKFAST / QUERY

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In my view, the best thing you can give to me as a query-breakfast is the staple hotel morning welcome;

ORANGE JUICE /  CROISSANT /  CEREAL.

I would have put bacon etc on here but I’ve turned vegetarian so my piggy friends will leave it off this list.

ORANGE JUICE – the refresher

Orange juice is a wonderful, refreshing taste which just zings up your mouth and gives your tongue a little dance. This is what you want your query to do – zing with the tang of your story, your voice and your style to whet the appetite.

CROISSANT – the thing which makes your book UNIQUE

If you think of a croissant chances are you will associate it with France. It’s one of the most uniquely identifying things of France around the world bar the Eiffel Tower. That’s what you want for your book – something which will identify your premise as UNIQUE, what makes it new?! Exciting, bold? Is it the characters, is it the layering of plots? SHOW US YOUR CROISSANT.

…. there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

CEREAL – GRAINS ARE STILL NEEDED, PEOPLE

You can dress up your query with Croissants and OJ but you need to also have the basis of your story, except in this case – with the help of the above – your cereal is like little bits of bread, creating a little trail for query-readers to follow while you ensnare us with your writerly-wiles.

So there you have it – my thoughts on how to write a query based on breakfast foods.

 

 

PitchWars · Uncategorized

#PitchWars Advice

I ended up copying and pasting my tweet feed here! For all of you entering PitchWars this year, GOOD LUCK but also take a moment to review information on self care, and taking a step back when you need to –

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Ok so I kinda wanna tweet advice for #PitchWars since I’ve entered twice now, and this year will be my third

AND last year I was lucky enough to be an unofficial mentee with the lovely @mkengland and @jamiepacton #PitchWars

Since it’s almost time for the blog hops and the competitions and the sheer joy of it, I wanted to point out something

A major thing about #PitchWars is that it can overtake your life. NGL. It’s very easy to obsess about the PW milestones / events

In my case, I’d stay up til the early hours watching the mentor talks which were SUPER helpful #PitchWars

I’d watch the feed all the time, engage with the community (I love you, PW community) and anxiously prepare my MS

BUT – and this is a big but (heh) – *anxiously* slipped over into actual anxiety for me. Because #PitchWars meant so much

Now my advice is to SELF CARE at every opportunity. #PitchWars is an incredible asset, it’s true, but it’s not the end OR beginning of your writing journey.

It can seem that way for some people. Especially if you’re passionate about writing and getting your work out there, PW can seem like a life line

But you will not enjoy #PitchWars if particular aspects of your health are exasperated by what’s supposed to be a wonderful & unifying experience.

Be sure to take time out and see this for what it is – an opportunity, on the long road to publication, to give you a helping hand.

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#PitchWars is a competition, yes. But I doubt ANYONE in the community would want you to burn yourself out just to be a part of it.

If you feel like you’re too nervous, take a step back. Engage with your writer friends, privately if you like, and voice concerns.

Nobody will judge you, nobody will think you’re not up to it. It’s perfectly natural to worry about your writing cause let’s face it

Even bestselling authors still wonder about their ability and have crisis of confidence. It’s not wrong to experience that.

But don’t compare yourself to the other hopefuls. Especially if #pimpmybio comes back, don’t compare yours to others. It’s just graphics.

Some people can pitch better than others, what matters is that you’re a) writing something you love and b) not an asshole

I guess my ultimate advice is – be excited, be happy, be engaging in #PitchWars but draw the line if you start feeling overwhelmed.

#PitchWars is ultimately a place of love, encouragement and help. Get to know other writers, bond with CPs. That could be your focus 🙂

Alright, I think I’m done. That was waaaay longer than I intended! GROUP HUG!

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Book Things · Friends · PitchWars · Random Musings · Writing Advice

On Community & Writer Friends

Let me begin by saying we should all have friends outside of our writing group. It’s healthy to have people from different walks of life and people who know nothing about the struggle you went through when deciding what to call your main character.

But it helps – dear Lord it helps – to have someone on your side who knows precisely what it takes to sit your butt in that chair for hours on end, screaming with joy or rage (sometimes both) at the computer screen, loving and despairing of your work in progress. That the times you are not writing, you’re still working. You’re still thinking about what scene goes where, the progression of your characters, and whether you should put a comma there after all.

Continue reading “On Community & Writer Friends”

books · editing · writing

Words for the Aspiring Novelist In Me

When you say “I’m a writer” the image most people probably imagine is you, sitting in front of a computer with a cup of coffee tapping away, or sitting at a cafe table with a cup of coffee scribbling in your notebook, both scenarios with a happy smile on your face as you finally decide on the name “Catherine”.

Continue reading “Words for the Aspiring Novelist In Me”

jade hemming · jadewritesbooks · writing process

Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)

Unfortunately, there comes a time in a writer’s journey where a piece of writing close to their heart has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Sometimes it’s for the word count, other times it’s simply because it doesn’t fit any more and no matter how much you put smoke and mirrors around it – it’s still there, a bump in the rhythm of your prose, distracting the reader.

You just didn’t want to cut it.

Continue reading “Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)”