Pitch Tips

After judging entries in the fabulous Deana Barnhart‘s Gearing Up to Get an Agent Contest, I came away with some strong ideas on what I think makes a successful pitch. This is not a comprehensive list, just a few things I thought about as I was reading/judging.

Voice: While writing the pitch from your character’s point of view is considered a no-no, I enjoyed the pitches that gave me a sense of the character’s voice. Think word choice and careful descriptive details. Too much voice in the pitch can sound gimmicky and annoying, so write with care.

Stakes: I loved the pitches that included not only the character’s goal, but what might happen if he failed. It didn’t have to be specific, but if it was, all the better. Here’s an example from my own pitch: “…Amalia has one month to restore the powerful twin magic fueled only by their connection. If she fails they will not only lose their powers, but their freedom, and ultimately, their lives.”

Character: The pitches that really stood out gave a strong sense of the character. What is the character like, and how might she change, given the high stakes she faces?

Length: Remember it’s a pitch, not a synopsis. I heard people bandying about the “rule” that a pitch should only cover the first fifty pages. It might be a good guideline, to cover the set up through that first doorway. It often seemed like pitches that tried to cover too much more of the story grew cumbersome and confusing because subplots started getting in the way.

Some things that concerned me: Typos, grammar/spelling errors, and sentence fragments. A pitch, whether it’s going straight to an agent or making stops on blog contests, should be proofread multiple times, preferably by more than one person. While we all fall victim to typos, and I doubt one in a query would kill chances with an agent, I don’t know…I think we should try really really hard to get our pitches as perfect as possible.

Or: You could, you know, skip the querying altogether and enter Miss Snark’s First Victim’s 2012 Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. Authoress just listed the agent line up here! I participated last year. It was a blast, although, yes, there was all kinds of anxiety and nervousness. But I met some great writer friends and got excellent feedback on my log line and first 250 words.

Gearing Up to Get An Agent Blog Hop

This is for the blog hop through Deana Barnhart’s Gearing Up to Get an Agent contest. For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, you can find details on the contest here. If you’re querying or getting ready to query agents, this contest is for YOU.

Hi! I’m Beth, and I’m one of the 1st round judges for the agent contest. I live in northern California with my husband (code name: Homes), two kids (daughter Z, age 4, and son Maverick, age 4 months), and cat. I write YA and am represented by Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media. I like to draw silly pictures with Paint, like the one below. (Okay, I was just looking for an excuse to reuse this drawing. I love it so. The goats!)

Where do you write?
Everywhere. I’ve got a little baby, so usually on the couch. Before he came along, I’d work in the Love Shack, part of our garage that we converted into a guest room/writing studio.
Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
First thing to the left in the Love Shack is the windowed door, looking out to the back yard.
Favorite time to write?
Mornings, afternoons, night…anytime I can find. Ideally I’d do all drafting in the mornings after a quiet half-hour for morning pages, then revise in the afternoons. But in addition to the baby, I have a four-year-old. So that hasn’t happened in about…four years.
Drink of choice while writing?
Water, if anything. Tea when it’s cold outside. But then I get distracted, wanting to drink the tea before it gets tepid, which totally grosses me out, and then I’m worried more about my tea than the crazy-making plot holes.

The tall iced decaf caramel macchiato I was sipping while I checked my email on that fateful day.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Complete silence! I’m talking to YOU, YAPPY DOGS NEXT DOOR.
What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
The one going out on submission soon was inspired by a dream. The last one I wrote was inspired by Karen Russell’s wacky premises in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. It was meant to be a short story (like hers) but kept going.
What’s your most valuable writing tip?
If you love it, never stop. Forget about publication. Seriously. Forget about it. Just write, and love it, love it even when you’re tearing your hair out because that plot hole just won’t fill.

Click here to join in, and find other participants on the linky list at Deana Barnhart’s blog.

8 Ways to Handle Rejection

I’m going to write a bad word. Mom, stop reading.

If you’re a writer, rejection is like shit. It happens, and it always stinks. The variable is what we choose to do with that rejection. I’ve found the options are endless, and some are more constructive than others.*

[*Once again, I realize I am not the most-equipped person to hand out writing advice. However, now that I’m querying agents with my third novel, I feel moderately equipped to hand out this advice on rejection.]

1. Weep. Best done in a private setting, but I won’t judge you here.

2. Trash talk. This is also best done in a private setting, like a TOP SECRET HUSH HUSH Facebook group or something along those lines. I’ve also found that my cat is very trustworthy and never repeats a thing I say.

3. Every agent and editor says something along the lines of “this is a subjective business, and I’m sure someone else will feel differently about your horrible story.” Test that theory, I say, and query again! One writer told me that for every rejection she received, she sent out two more queries.

4. Comfort yourself in the bosoms of addictive substances, such as alcohol, chocolate, or computer solitaire.

5. Do textual analysis on the rejections. Compare them to one another, or compare multiple rejections from the same agent (for different – or drastically revised – books, I hope). I find myself obsessing over word choice and placement like I haven’t done since the first “Will you go out with me” note I received in seventh grade. (My response was yes in 4th period and then, by 6th period, no. I pray agents and editors will be kinder and less fickle than I once was.)

6a. If the agent or editor gives you feedback, thank them. And then consider their suggestions. Seriously.

6b. If the agent or editor compliments your work, take it and RUN with it. Quote it on your bathroom mirror in red lipstick. Copy and paste it into a Self-Esteem Booster document that you keep in your writing files.

7. Trust your friends and family. If they say you’re fabulous, believe them. If they offer words of comfort, accept that comfort. It’s difficult to hear NO from agents and editors, so be kind to yourself by accepting compliments and praise from everyone else.

8. Best piece of advice I’ve ever heard on rejection and querying is to immerse yourself in a new project immediately. It’ll keep you from obsessing quite so much over the project you’re querying/submitting. And will hopefully keep you from Twitter-stalking agents and editors (confession: I tried this for a couple weeks. Biggest. Waste. Of. Time).

On the bright side, it’s not (or won’t always be) all about rejection. Not for me, not for you, not for anyone. There are positives in it, too. And even if you’re getting rejection after rejection after rejection, keep plugging away at the next project. Find your passion there, not in your email inbox.

Does anyone else have ideas and tips on how to handle rejection? What works, what doesn’t?

Baker’s Dozen Auction…again

This is not a Momming Around post. It was a toss-up: either write about what happened yesterday with the Baker’s Dozen Auction, or give a list of reasons why I should move into our bathroom (it’s actually a compelling list – you may see it posted in the future).

Yesterday, I was all set up to do multiple page refreshes and comment-feed checks. Like, for hours. I had no idea how the auction would play out, and frankly, not a lot of faith in myself or my writing at that point.

That’s not entirely true. I vacillated between, “I am the QUEEN WRITER and no one can eff me up!” and “Woe is me, my writing is horrible, and why did I ever listen to Kristen about entering this silly, silly contest where the agents will ridicule me in the comments section and tell me to get a job raising goats in a remote, cold country that has no computers or typewriters or notebooks.” Sadly, I was mostly in the second, insecure frame of mind.

So yesterday morning, I left home at 8 to drop Z off at school. When we arrived at school, I received a text message. It was Melissa, telling me I had a bid!

By the time I got home, I’d received numerous extra text messages from Melissa, each one spazzier than the last, culminating with the Big News: a full manuscript request. In all this time, I was trying to turn my laptop on and actually SEE the bids, because I was convinced that some jerk out there was pretending to be agents and making bids even though he was a jerk and not an agent, so that suckers like me would get all excited and squeal and dance and then find out, the lottery ticket was a total fake (see: joke my high schoolers played on me for my birthday) (I haven’t actually written about that and I never will, because it was a cruel, cruel trick and besides you get the idea anyway).

To my non-writing friends in the studio audience: no, this does not mean the book is being published, and no, it doesn’t even mean I have an agent. It means that the winning agent who has excellent taste (especially based on the other entries she bid on), will read my manuscript. That’s all. She will read it, and do one of (I think) three things: 1) offer representation, 2) suggest revisions and invite me to resubmit the manuscript, or 3) decide the project isn’t for her (boo) but hopefully give me a clue why (yay!).

The bids were exciting, and it was fun to watch the bidding on the other entries, as well. But I think the truly beautiful thing about the whole experience was being a part of that group, that community of writers who were cheering for each other and encouraging each other and giving just the best critique and feedback they had to offer.

Miss Snarks’ First Victim has secret agent contests on a nearly-monthly basis, and in-house critique sessions, in addition to the annual Baker’s Dozen Auction. If you write fiction, I strongly recommend joining in the fun, because you won’t be disappointed in the talented, warm-hearted people who frequent her blog.

ETA: the auction from an agent’s perspective: click here for Josh Getzler’s blog post.