My #PitchWars #BoostMyBio 2018

Is it #PitchWars time again?

I’m Jacy and this may be the third time I’m entering Pitch Wars. If I do, it will be with a brand new manuscript. In 2015 and in 2016, I submitted my YA portal fantasy and didn’t get in either year. It was a bummer and I wallowed. But honestly, that manuscript was the best learning experience I’ll never regret. If you want to read about why I shelved that story, check out my post about it here.

During the time I queried that story in 2017 and early 2018, I wrote something totally different.

 

An adult Southern gothic mystery with paranormal elements.

Here are the story highlights:

  • A haunted plantation home.
  • An amateur sleuth.
  • Spooky gardens.
  • Ghostly nightmares.
  • All taking place in a small town in coastal South Carolina.

 

WHY AM I SUBMITTING?: If I submit, I’m hoping to find a mentor or mentors who can help take my mystery story to the next level with whatever it needs. I’ve been through multiple drafts with my CP and several beta readers.

MY WRITING/EDITING STYLE: I used to be a pantser (I still have tendencies), but discovered that when writing a mystery with subplots, clues, and red herrings, you really need to outline. After that, the story flowed out of me. A trusted CP is a necessary part of my process and now I’ve found that beta readers are super valuable. I write a semi-edited draft (I can’t help but edit along the way) and then add more layers and remove the filters. I’m open to new ideas and feedback to strengthen a story without losing its overall soul.

ABOUT ME: I love thrift stores, coffee shops, amusement parks, spooky places, audiobooks, podcasts, and cheese. I also have a love for snarky humor.

I love Deadpool and anything Ryan Reynolds.

I have a full time job as a sustainability program manager. I’m married with two kids and an overly social cat.

Actual footage of me writing.

You can find snapshots of my life on Instagram. Feel free to connect with me on Twitter too and interact, so I follow back! Good luck to all and I look forward to meeting new writer friends!

I shelved a piece of my heart

I recently had to make a tough decision in my writing journey.

After spending four years writing and revising a manuscript, entering almost every writing contest with it (and not getting in), two solid rounds of cold querying, and 55+ form rejections later…I finally shelved a piece of my heart.

This was not easy.

I repeat.

This was not easy.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter for awhile, you probably have seen my pitches or even helped me critique this story along the way. My feedback was always a mixed bag and at some point, I knew where this might be headed.

But. Persistence.

My story, A FEATHER’S FORCE, is a YA portal fantasy about a girl who finds out she’s from another realm and only raised human to stay safe from a grandfather, who wants to steal her powers. Here’s a pitch from the past:

Ember can’t deal with her new siphoning ability let alone glowing tattoos crawling up her arms. But when her other superhuman friend is kidnapped for the king’s next experiment, she must embrace her true self or her friend dies. DARKEST MINDS set in sword & sorcery

I believed in this story so bad and for so long. In the last few years, I also wrote several other YA and MG stories, some of which are only outlines and unfinished.

However, knowing when to shelve a finished manuscript after years of writing, revising, and querying is one of the hardest decisions in a writer’s journey. This manuscript has been through so much and I tried so hard to keep it going. I finally made one final push in querying it December 2017 through February 2018. What did I do during the waiting period? I became a CP for a new friend, offered a book giveaway for new releases, tried to blog more, and wrote a brand new story – one that’s been in my heart and mind for years. And it’s TOTALLY different. It’s an adult mystery and I adore it!

That day I finally decided to shelve my YA portal fantasy was a day I received my 57th form rejection. I wallowed. I drank some wine. I binged television. I read a couple books.

Then I picked myself back up because PERSISTENCE! I also fell madly in love with my brand new story. So, here’s to the next leg of my writing journey and I can’t wait to see what’s around the bend!

Every leg of your journey will teach you things. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

  • Timing is everything in publishing
  • Be patient. Seriously!
  • How to be a good Critique Partner for other writers
  • Wrap your arms around your close writing friends
  • The value of CPs and beta readers in your writing journey
  • NEVER GIVE UP! (but it’s okay to take a break)
  • Giving back to the writing community is important – whether you’re giving away books, critiques, or anything that’s encouraging and helping other writers succeed
  • How to craft a Twitter pitch and prepare a submission package
  • Celebrate the small stuff – whether it’s positive feedback or achieving your word count or even a shiny new story idea
  • How to pitch to agents and editors face-to-face, get excellent feedback, and requests for pages
  • How to revise – especially in removing filter words and passive voice
  • How to OUTLINE
  • How to accept rejections and learn from them

 

Story Structure: Utilizing the Hero’s Journey

A little over year ago I queried my second manuscript for the first time. After receiving rejection after rejection after rejection, I decided to reevaluate my submission package and my story itself. It got to a point where I questioned my writing, especially wondering if it was time to shelve this manuscript.

I realized I needed to go deeper in my feedback and the desire for answers drove me to hire a freelance editor for the first time. The editor did a phenomenal critique of my submission package and a full read of my manuscript. I received encouraging yet constructive notes. She pointed out that my major problem was the flow of the story. All the pieces were there, but in the wrong order! 

I spent the next ten months gutting and overhauling my manuscript. Out of her recommendation, I utilized the Hero’s Journey format. Not only did it greatly improve my story, but it boosted my characters’ motives, tension, and goals.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. The 12 stages are listed below and you can find details for each on the website here.

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. The Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

Through this process, I also learned that I wrote my story as a pantser, which means I didn’t plan anything. However, during this process, I developed a simple spreadsheet to help me track my Hero’s Journey. I have it available for your download and use here:

Chapter Plot Outline – Hero’s Journey

After having overhauled this manuscript in 2017, I pitched live for the first time that fall, sent in several requested pages, and participated in Twitter pitches. I still believe in this story and hope one day the stars will align for my publishing journey.

Also, quick shout out and thank you to Lyla Lawless and her incredible editing!

If I can pitch live and survive, so can you!

I wrote thousands of words, edited thousands more, and now you want me to tell you about my book in one or two sentences?

Okay. Would you like to read my query letter?

Oh, that’s not the same thing?

Oops. Okay.

So how do you transform your entire book into one or two snappy sentences?

It takes time, preparation, and practice.

A pitch is a condensed version of your story that you can share in a short amount of time.

What is the pitch’s goal? To intrigue them to ask questions about your story and/or request material.

While the query letter is a vital piece of your submission package, it can be a foundation to condense the story more. However, I do suggest perfecting the query before moving on to the pitch.

Throughout this entire writing journey, I have learned that a pitch is powerful stuff – like superhero level powerful!

And guess what? Once you have mastered your pitch, you can do anything.

Well, you definitely can share it on social media during pitch contests and participate in live pitches with agents and editors.

Last weekend I attended the Author-Preneur Workshop hosted by the Corvisiero Agency in Red Bank, NJ. I also signed up for live pitches. This was new territory for me and I had my fair share of freak-out moments before I even arrived at the workshop.

We all want (and need) to answer that nerve-racking question (in-person).

“So what’s your book about?”

You don’t want to do this…

Or this…

And especially not this…

You want to be concise, confident, and prepared.

Based on my experience and what I learned during this opportunity, I put together a few tips that I hope others will find helpful.

My Live Pitch Tips

  1. Before you sign up to pitch, make sure you have the following ready: query letter, synopsis, and, of course, your book.
  2. Know the main elements of your book.
    1. Name of your book
    2. Age/Genre
    3. Protagonist
    4. Climax/Conflict
    5. Something Unique
  3. Craft your draft pitch using a simple formula.
    1. [BOOK TITLE] is a [age/genre] about [main character + description] who [conflict/climax]. And try to weave in that unique factor too.
    2. Here’s my first draft: A FEATHER’S FORCE is a YA fantasy about a hybrid girl who must save her best friend before she ends up as the king’s next fatal science experiment.
    3. Comps are good. If you have a couple of those, have them in your back pocket.
  4. Use a SCRIPT to practice from – not memorize. Seriously. Write down what you think you want to say, then practice it out loud. Ask yourself: Does this make sense? What’s missing? How can I transform this into a conversation? You don’t need to memorize this and read it like a robot. A script is a useful tool to get the words flowing.
  5. Revise your pitch and time yourself. Live pitches are timed, so be focused on what you want to say right away. Push aside any unrelated questions or conversation. I participated in 10-minute pitches, which flew by. There are some out there that are only 3-minutes. This is speed networking and you must be prepared to sell yourself and your book in a short amount of time.
  6. Keep practicing out loud to yourself AND others. I really stress this. The whole week leading up to the workshop, I pitched my book to almost everyone. My co-workers, my family, my friends, and even a couple random people in the elevator. It is an elevator pitch, right? This practice will smooth out your pitch and help you figure out how it can be more natural to discuss.
  7. Know your audience. Once you decide you want to pitch, select your agent/editor audience with purpose. Seek out a potential match for you AND your book. Take time to learn about their wish lists, what they represent, and anything else that would be professionally helpful.
  8. Anticipate questions and prepare your own questions. Remember, you’re the expert on your story. Questions may be anything. Examples: What is the world like? How did you get this idea? What else are you working on? You also should have a couple of questions ready for them, if there’s time.
  9. Expect evolution and criticism. Your pitch may vary depending on who you’re talking with and how the conversation goes. Stick to your main points and you will be fine. You also may not find a match. While it’s tough to receive rejections via email, I think it’s tougher to receive rejections in person. Stay composed and be professional. How many times have you heard that this industry is subjective? One person may not think it’s the book for them, but the next may be the perfect fit. Don’t get disheartened. Above all, enjoy sharing more about your story – that’s the best part of the process.
  10. Stay positive! Believe in your writing. Stop comparing yourself to others. Always remember that every writer’s journey is different for a reason.

Now just go for it. Once you have crafted your pitch, you will feel like you have a secret weapon and/or a superpower. The next time you’re asked, So what’s your book about? You will be more than ready!

Craft that pitch and good luck in your journey!

BTW – Ava Jae has a great vlog How to Write an Elevator Pitch on this subject, which truly helped me.

And you must check out upcoming Author-Preneur Workshops from the Corvisiero Agency. So many incredible connections!

PS – Oh yeah. Wondering how it went for me? I did get requests for materials from 3 out of the 4 agents/editors I pitched. It was a terrific experience to help me get out of my shell and it helped that everyone was super nice, too.

Here’s a version of the final pitch (of course, since the pitch is more like a conversation, this changed in real life):

THE FEATHERS FORCE is a young adult fantasy about a girl who must gain control over her six superhuman abilities in order to save her best friend from the experiments of a mad scientist king. Comps include THE DARKEST MINDS and X-MEN.

For more about pitches, check out Brenda Drake’s post. “The 35-word and Twitter Pitch…simplified”  If you’re thinking about participating in a pitch contest, please do your research on agents and publishers before sending in your material. Here’s a post by Claribel Ortega on this subject.

There are several opportunities for Twitter Pitch Parties, such as:

If you know of other contests, opportunities, or events, post in the comments below!

We all need heartbreaking critiques

Writing is a tough journey. The path in a real writing to publishing journey must be long, treacherous and challenging. If it’s none of those things, you are on the wrong path.

walking-sad

After a bazillion revisions on my query, I needed critiques. And did I get some incredible feedback from other writers. They served me something raw, honest and organic. They pointed out the good and the bad. In fact, I needed the type of critiques that broke my heart.

heartbreak

I wallowed from their words and the idea of yet another revision. After a couple of days, I went back to soak in their thoughts, comments and suggestions. They spent so much time on me and I valued their feedback. Apparently, I had focused too much on plot (it read like a synopsis) and less on voice. So I got back to editing, it actually was easier.

writing

We all need heartbreak because we get so wrapped up in our own work that we fail to see it anymore. Just like those agents and publishers looking for stories subjectively, we as writers are also subjective about our own stories. We need someone else to help us down the path and point out the beautiful things we failed to see before.

water

Heartbreak makes us wiser and stronger. And we must continue down our path no matter how long, treacherous and challenging it seems. Never give up!

strong-gif

Some random tips:

  • Take advantage of feedback from others, but don’t oversaturate yourself.
  • Learn what you can from the feedback, but always stick to your voice and your story.
  • Seek out query critique giveaways or opportunities.
  • Visit the Successful Queries page for examples.
  • Check out the archives in Query Shark.
  • Search Twitter hashtags for tips: #tenqueries | #10queries | #querytip

Feel free to comment with your links, tips and opportunities!