Critiquing, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying

A few weeks ago one of my writing friends posted a wonderfully inspiring tweet:

And I replied:

Technically, this statement isn’t true. If you’ve seen my posts on tracking my queries, you’ll know that I do keep track of my rejections. However, I’ve never totaled them up for all the manuscripts, and as I thought about this post, I realized it might actually be helpful to share that information. I always figured I’d save these numbers for a dramatic How I Got My Agent post, but since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s do it! But also, as I’m still querying my latest manuscript, I’m not tying any of these numbers to specific manuscripts.

Manuscripts: 6
Queries: 594
Query Rejections: 500
Partial requests: 31
Full requests: 75
R&Rs: 4

So there it is. A nice even 500 rejections. But wait! That’s only query rejections. When you add in the fact that those submissions and R&Rs didn’t turn into offers, I’ve squeaked over 600 (some of those requests were from contests rather than queries). Now, I did include queries and submissions for the manuscript I’m currently querying in these numbers, and I’m still waiting to hear on a number of those. Plus, there are a few agents who haven’t responded on a couple of my older manuscripts. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it in their inbox and still make an offer :). (I am an eternal optimist.) Which brings me to my first and always lesson:

PERSEVERANCE

Basically, I’m not giving up, no matter what. I will keep writing until one of these manuscripts sticks. I mean, this is my What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying Post, and it’s a tradition. I’ve written one for each year, so if you’re new here, that’s already going to tell you something. If you want to go back and read the others, here they are: What I’ve Learned in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six Years of Querying.

But on to the other things I’ve learned this past year.

Being in a major contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t put a magic spell on your manuscript. Now, I want to be clear that I did not assume being in Pitch Wars would result in an agent. It’s more that I thought this manuscript would be more ready than any of the others and I would feel super-confident in my materials. I’d had multiple writing friends participate in the contest before, which is much more than an agent showcase, by the way, and so I understood going in that the main benefit of Pitch Wars was the mentoring. I’d entered Pitch Wars with three other manuscripts in the past and not been selected, with feedback varying from “You should go ahead and query!” to the sort of responses you get from agents: “Not right for me.” So when I was selected by a mentoring team (Hi, Beth and Kristin!), it felt like I’d done something right with this manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready to query yet, and that’s why the timing of Pitch Wars was so perfect. I would work with my mentors to shine up the manuscript and start querying after the agent showcase. I was thrilled with the final product and happy with the requests I received during the agent round (I never expected to be one of the entries with dozens of requests). Where my expectations have stumbled a bit was in the querying afterward. As with every other project, I’ve questioned pretty much every aspect–query, first pages, the overall manuscript. So being in Pitch Wars didn’t magically erase all those doubts. Oh well. Fingers crossed the right agent is still considering it!

Participating in a mentoring contest brings your revision skills to a whole new level. As I started drafting and am now revising another manuscript, I’ve seen the benefits of working in-depth with two mentors. I have amazing critique partners, and they’re very honest with me when they spot issues in my work, but the difference with mentors is that they go even deeper, suggesting cuts and additions that a CP may not. As I started writing my latest project, I felt like I had two extra voices in my head asking me if I was addressing those weaknesses I’d had in my last manuscript. I believe this latest first draft was stronger because I went through the Pitch Wars revision process.

Seeing your name on the Acknowledgements page of a critique partner’s book for the first time is an amazing high. Several years ago I noticed there was a group of writers whose work I love who always thank each other in the acknowledgements page, and I thought, “Someday I will have a group of friends like that!” My group of critique partners and beta readers isn’t so close-knit that they’re all trading with each other, but several of them do chat with each other and share excitement over releases.

In any case, this spring marked the first time my name was in a friend’s book, and I definitely walked around the house making sure my husband and kids saw my name in there. There are two more coming up in the next year that I will get to celebrate as well. I don’t know how long it will be before my name is on the cover of a book, but for now I will cheer on my friends and continue reading the amazing work of the writers around me. There’s so much more to this writing journey than my work. I feel like breaking into a chorus of “We’re all in this together … ”

Find creative outlets with more immediate returns. I actually do a few creative things, but one creative outlet I’d missed recently was playing the violin, so last fall I joined a community orchestra. It was hard work. I hadn’t played classical music in years (I’d been playing only at church), so I had to practice A LOT, but experiencing the payoff of performing challenging music was very rewarding. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not giving it up. I need that opportunity to express myself creatively and see the end result.

So that’s what I’ve learned this past year, and I’m hard at work revising the next manuscript I plan to query. Because of that lesson I already shared but it doesn’t hurt to mention again …

PERSEVERANCE!

To those of you who are persevering with me, keep at it! I’m cheering for you.

Young Adult Review

Pitch Wars Mentee Giveaway–THUNDERSTRUCK by Brenda Drake!

 

In honor of the conclusion of the Pitch Wars showcase and the upcoming season of gratitude, the 2017 Pitch Wars mentee class would like to thank our mentors and the Pitch Wars staff team for creating this incredible opportunity.

I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer. If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember I featured their books and gave away copies in September. So while these giveaways are no longer live, I encourage you to read about them again and grab a copy of their books!

AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

CATALYST and FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

Now that you’ve seen the fabulousness of Beth and Kristin, I have another giveaway! I don’t think I can express how thankful we all are to Pitch Wars founder Brenda Drake. Others have giveaways to thank Brenda as well. I’m giving away her latest book, THUNDERSTRUCK (paperback or Kindle, whichever the winner prefers).

Thunderstruck by Brenda Drake

Stevie Moon is famous…at least to the subscribers on her comic review vlog. At school, she’s as plain as the gray painted walls in the cafeteria. So when Blake, the hot new guy at school, shows an interest in her, she knows trouble when she sees it. Been there. And never doing it again.

As the son of the god Thor, Blake Foster’s been given an important mission—to recover the Norse god Heimdall’s sacred and powerful horn before someone uses it to herald in the destruction of the entire universe. But while Blake is great in a fight, the battlefield that is a high school’s social scene is another matter.

Blake knows his only choice is to team up with the adorable Stevie, but she’s not willing to give him even the time of day. He’ll need to woo the girl and find the horn if he hopes to win this war. Who better to tackle Stevie’s defenses than the demi-god of thunder?

To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a20/?

And go enter as many of the other giveaways as you’d like. You can find them all at: http://bit.ly/pw17gives There are books, gift cards, and even query critiques up for grabs.

GOOD LUCK!!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Contests, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.

Contests, Writing

It’s Pitch Wars Time!

The adult/new adult and middle grade Pitch Wars entries are already live, and the young adult entries are scheduled to post tomorrow, although the others have gone up the night before, so it’s very possible my entry for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will go live tonight.

My mentors asked me if I was excited or nervous. Yes, bits of both emotions are swirling around inside me, but I’m actually pretty calm today. Maybe that will change once my entry’s actually up (I’ll update this post with a link once it is), but I doubt it. Because even though my ultimate goal is an agent and I’m pinning all sorts of hope on this manuscript, I’ve been on this querying hamster wheel enough to learn a few things. (If you want the full details, start with my What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying post, and there are links to the five previous years.)

Update: Here’s my post, but if you are not an agent, please don’t comment!

PW #311: Young Adult Humorous Suspense: YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME

So, I have a few words for my fellow mentees, whether you are getting many or few requests. And maybe it’s also a reminder for me :).

1.We did it!

I mean, this is the most important point! We made it through the revisions, and it feels like a sort of graduation. I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer, for the time they devoted to my manuscript, as well as both the public and behind-the-scenes cheerleading. No matter what happens with the agent round, my manuscript is so much stronger and, most importantly, I know it’s READY. I’m excited to send it out into agent-land, much like Elle ready to take on the world :).

2. Don’t let the number of requests you receive discourage you from querying and putting your work before agents.

Some entries will not have many requests, and there could be various reasons for that. Maybe you should’ve gone with a different pitch. Maybe the agents who participated weren’t the right fit, or maybe the agents who are the right fit didn’t get to it. Maybe your first page isn’t the best fit for a blog contest–which doesn’t necessarily mean that your first page isn’t what it should be. Maybe your manuscript will do better when you send a full query and sample. Sometimes a pitch and first page just aren’t the best way to showcase a particular manuscript, and that’s okay. I’ve had agents skip over my entry in a pitch contest before and then request from a full query and sample. It happens! So much of this journey is about timing, and there’s nothing you can do about that :). You might start querying and experience just as much success as that entry with twenty requests.

3. If you have a ton of requests, don’t assume you should blast out queries to your entire list.

Well, that sounds like a downer, so first of all, you should celebrate! Because it’s awesome you got a ton of a requests! But still, I’m a realist. I’ve been in a contest with a previous manuscript where I had agents fighting over my entry. It’s heady. It feels like THIS IS IT! But all it really means it that your pitch and first page are working. You still need to make sure everything that comes after works. And maybe it does. Maybe agents will be scrambling to offer on your manuscript. Based on the history of this particular contest, that will happen for some, which is so awesome! I will so be cheering for all of those success stories! Pitch Wars is unique in that you’ve been working with a mentor (or maybe two) who have helped you whip your manuscript into a fine shine. But publishing is a subjective business, which means the edits don’t end once you start querying. Agents–and later editors–will have more revisions for you. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula to knowing how many agents you should query once you send out to non-Pitch Wars showcase agents. It’s really a matter of how confident you feel. I would say that if PW agents request partials and quickly upgrade to fulls, you are probably in good shape.

Update: Since this is my first time in Pitch Wars, I had no idea thirty or forty requests were even a possibility. If you’re one of those mentees, you can probably send whatever queries you want! This point was more aimed at the ten to twenty request club. But still, congrats!!

4. Cling to your new writer friends.

The very best thing about contests is the connections you make. My first major contest was five years ago. One of those teammates is one of my closest CPs, and I stay in regular contact with several others. I even got to finally meet one of them in person last month when she came through town for her book tour. These writers are your best support system when rejections come through, your sounding board when you need to revise, and your cheerleaders when you have good news. So stay in touch and don’t be afraid to reach out when you need them!

I think that’s it. Remember, you’ve already done all the hard work of revising the manuscript. I know waiting for those agent requests is nerve-wracking, but it’s not the end game. It’s just the next step in the journey. So, I leave you with this:

 

Contests, Revising, Writing

Tackling a Major Revision, or How I’m Revising for Pitch Wars

In addition to promising to talk about my Pitch Wars mentors’ books (I’ll feature Kristin Smith’s books next week!), I said I’d share my revision process, so here goes.

A week after the Pitch Wars announcement, I received a thirteen-page edit letter from my mentors, as well as an invitation to view a Google Doc with line edits on the full manuscript I submitted for consideration. Neither of these documents were really as overwhelming as they might seem. I have two mentors, so the length of the edit letter had a lot to do with two writers making comments on it, I think. Both mentors wrote an introduction, followed by comments on chapters as they saw issues (some chapters didn’t have comments–yay!), and then there were character notes and miscellaneous thoughts at the end. As for the line edits, they’re super helpful as I’m revising because many of them point out places my mentors love and I should definitely keep, not just areas I need to fix.

So how have I approached this?

1. A huge sigh of relief. My mentors are amazing! I knew this manuscript wasn’t there yet. It’s why I entered Pitch Wars. Kristin and Beth’s recommendations for enhancing my manuscript and taking it to the next level were fantastic. We emailed back and forth on a couple of suggestions where I had reservations and brainstormed alternate solutions. But the thing was, I wouldn’t have come up with alternate solutions if they hadn’t pointed out they had an issue with the way things currently stood.

2. Create an outline listing how I proposed implementing the suggested changes in the manuscript. The nice thing here is that I already had all of the outline information in my Scrivener file. I set it up before I drafted the novel, so all I had to do was export my outline and update it according to the changes I planned to make.

In addition, I included extensive revision notes. For the few new chapters, the revision notes were pretty much a step-by-step guide through the chapter. This outline took me about four or five days to complete. Here’s an example from an early chapter, since I don’t want to give too much away :).

3. Send the outline to my mentors for approval. Even though my outline addressed all of my mentors’ suggestions, either incorporating them or explaining why I felt another solution worked better, sending in the outline had me biting my nails. Was I suggesting enough? Would I need to go back to the drawing board and come up with different solutions? But it turned out I had nothing to worry about. My super-supportive mentors loved my outline, and while they had a few tweaks and additional suggestions, they gave me the go-ahead to start revising.

4. Input the outline changes and revision notes into Scrivener. It may seem like extra work to output the outline and then put it back into Scrivener, but it took maybe an hour of cutting and pasting, and I like to have everything in my Scrivener file as I’m working. So as I’m revising, that same chapter you saw above looks like this in Scrivener. (When I’m tackling a revision on my own, I skip straight to this step and put all my revision notes into Scrivener, except with this particular manuscript I did go through this outline-with-revision-notes process on an earlier draft with two of my critique partners. That’s how I knew it was such an easy way to approach explaining what I planned to change.)

5. Start revising! Once I had my Scrivener file all ready to go, I started revising chapter by chapter. My system is:

a. Tackle chapter revision notes.

b. Incorporate line edits from my mentors.

c. Complete a repeated word search for the chapter. Yes, this slows down my revisions a bit. However, everyone who’s read this manuscript has commented on pacing as a strength, and I think one factor is that I weeded out repeated words chapter-by-chapter early in the revision process. Since I’ve done it before, I’m not doing it as detailed during this revision, particularly on the chapters that don’t have a ton of changes. But for the brand-new chapters (I’ve already written two), you bet! Because I still tend to use the same words over and over, and searching for those repeated words ensures each character sounds unique and that I’m using the best word in each instance. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now, but you can refer to my post on why you might want to change a word, even if you only use it twice in a chapter.

So where am I now?

Making great progress and excited about how the changes I’ve already made are positively impacting the manuscript. This process is fantastic, and no matter how the agent round pans out, I’m confident YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will be a much stronger manuscript. I’m so thankful for Kristin and Beth’s insight and support, as well as all of my CPs who got me here in the first place.

While I’m applying this process to Pitch Wars revisions, it could be used to tackle any major revision. As I mentioned above, I used it with my CPs when working through some issues on an earlier draft. Also, if you have a revise & resubmit with an agent or editor and they’re open to seeing what you plan to do with the revisions before you start on them, you could use this sort of system. It just depends on how much detail they want.

Now I’d better get back to revising!!

Contests, Revising, Writing

I’m a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentee!!

Based on this title, some of you are probably wondering whether I’ve been drafted into an a cappella group (I was tempted to break into song) or some sort of strange cult. Don’t worry–well, the a cappella group wouldn’t be cause for concern–it’s an amazing, wonderful, exciting opportunity! (I could continue adding on adjectives, but I’ll stop.)

Basically, Pitch Wars is an annual contest to which writers submit a not-quite-there manuscript to mentors for consideration. These mentors are industry professionals (usually agented and/or published authors or editors) who provide detailed feedback on the manuscript and work with you to get it ready for querying. But not only that, there’s an agent showcase at the end of two months, and because of the mentoring aspect of the contest, it holds a lot of weight with agents.

Friends, I am so thrilled to be selected this year with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. I’ve tried before, with three of my previous manuscripts, and I’ve gotten close. I know because I received emails afterward from mentors telling me I was among their top choices. I even had a potential mentor tell me I should probably go ahead and query, and that project ended up getting really close with agents too, but as any of you who follow my blog know, I haven’t yet found the right fit. So I’m absolutely ecstatic to have this opportunity.

Even better, I get to work with TWO fabulous mentors–Kristin Smith (CATALYST and FORGOTTEN) and Beth Ellyn Summer (AT FIRST BLUSH). I can’t wait to see what plans they have for my manuscript, but I know I’m in good hands because I read their books (technically still reading Kristin’s sequel :)), and you should too! Don’t worry, I plan to tell you more about their books later because, of course, that’s what I do :).

I’m sure I’ll end up blogging about the revision process too, because that’s also what I do. For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of my new puppy, Rey, playing with bubbles. Because why not?

Contests

Adventures in Pitch Wars Hashtag Stalking

Normally at this time of year I would be stalking ninjas, but due to the timing of Pitch Wars and WriteOnCon, I didn’t participate as much in the latter this year. I have become an entirely different kind of stalker–a hashtag stalker. Specifically, this one:

#PitchWars

Now, it’s a little overwhelming to watch the whole hashtag. I discovered a handy trick, though. I usually follow Twitter in Tweetdeck on my desktop, but by accident I noticed I could narrow a search on my phone by “People I follow.” And I thought, I wonder if I can do that in the web interface, too? It turns out you can. So I’ve been keeping a tab open in my browser with a search for the hashtag and just the people I follow, which of course includes the mentors I submitted to, along with the organizers and my writing friends. Honestly, watching the full hashtag is just too overwhelming.

But really, this stalking thing can drive you crazy. It’s as bad as stalking agents. I’ve been chatting with some of my writing friends behind the scenes, and here are some of the things we’ve been thinking. Maybe you’ve been thinking these things, too?

“Why isn’t Mentor A tweeting AT ALL? This complete silence is driving me insane!”

“Hints? There are four chosen manuscripts with the word ‘The’ in the title? That’s not mine. Ok, that takes up 4 of the 75 spots, leaving 71. And lots of titles with alliteration. Not mine either. A title longer than 4 words. Also not mine. If at least 3 of those are YA … oh, forget it, I’m not going to try and figure out the math.”

Or:

“My title has ‘The’ in it! And alliteration! And it’s longer than 4 words! I’m in!” 🙂

“Oooh, a chat!” *views chat while eating lunch* “Hmm. Mentor B set some aside because she likes them but doesn’t know how to help them. Will she tell me if I’m one of those? Ugh. What if I picked the totally wrong mentor and they don’t think they can help at all? Oh! How cool would it be to have mentors fighting over my manuscript? Do they have virtual light sabers? What a roller-coaster!” *closes chat*

Mentor C just tweeted that he’s requested from some people but doesn’t need to see more from others to make a decision. Is he TRYING to torture me?” I actually heard one mentor say she was! Evil mentor! 🙂

“Is there a way to hack into this behind-the-scenes place where the mentors talk? Because I really want to know what entries they’re fighting over and what’s already been picked! Not just mine but writer friend A and writer friend B and …”

Mentor D says, ‘I love this sample but I’m not sure I can help it. It’s probably ready to query.’ Is that me? If she didn’t read the whole thing, how does she know it’s ready?” Although, still awesome that she loves the first chapter that much.

On the other hand:

Mentor A says, ‘I rejected this manuscript because I can’t find anything to critique. It’s ready to query.’ Forget Pitch Wars. I’m not waiting until November to send this to agents!” Ha! Kudos to that writer!

Mentor B made all of his requests and I didn’t get one. Bummer.” Let me just say that if this happened to you, shake it off! (Hey, is that a new song or something?) Everyone says this, but it is so true: taste is sooo subjective. No matter how careful you were selecting your mentors, unless you’re, say, Suzanne Collins, you probably wouldn’t appeal to all of them. Or look on the bright side: maybe they think you are Suzanne Collins and you don’t need a mentor!

Mentor C just tweeted that she’s loving all the entries in [genre X]. Argh! Mine’s [genre Y]! She’s not going to pick me!”

Mentor D said a ton of people are mislabeling their submissions. Did I get mine wrong? Am I completely off-base with this manuscript?”

Mentor A is completely in love with this manuscript. Is it mine???”

Mentor B said this first page made her laugh out loud. My CP put an LOL note on my first page. Maybe it’s mine!”

Mentor C is only tweeting about his favorite candy. Who cares about candy? I need to know what he’s reading!”

And the ultimate question:

Mentor D has made her pick! Is it me?”

Well, I guess we’ll find out next week.

Others have said it, but let me repeat it. Agent-judged contests are a great opportunity, and this one in particular has an extra mentoring layer that gives it even more weight, but don’t be discouraged if you aren’t selected. There are a lot of factors that go into being chosen. And some of them might even be positive–like maybe the mentors think you don’t need that mentoring layer. I used it as an example above because I’ve seen mentors tweeting it. I’m hopeful that if that is the reason the mentors will let applicants know. And if it’s another reason–like you need more help than they can give you in the time period necessary–don’t be discouraged by that either. The journey to publication is a long one. I’ve certainly learned that, and I’m not giving up.

Good luck, everyone! I hope the wait over the weekend isn’t too unbearable. I’ll still be hashtag stalking, but I also have a lot going on, so it won’t be all-consuming. Happy Labor Day to those celebrating on Monday!