Query Tips: Pitch It, Pitch It Good

After a sluggish start to my query journey in 2018, I’ve finally gained some traction. During the past month, I’ve had three agents request my full manuscript.

The dramatic shift came after a fellow writer introduced me to various pitching events on Twitter (i.e. #Pitmad and #Pitdark). Basically, during these one-day events, you get to pitch your novel to literary agents in 280 characters or less. If they “favorite” it, you’re invited to query them directly. It’s nerve-racking, but exciting. More than anything, it’s a great learning opportunity.

During my first #Pitmad, I quickly found out how vital it is to have a pitch that stands out from the slush pile; not only during pitch events, but also for query letters, conferences, and any time someone asks, “What’s your story about?”

It’s scary to sum up our stories in just a few words, but we all have to start somewhere. I started working on my pitch last fall, after I signed up for a Writer’s Digest workshop about query letters. Even though I already understood the basic ins and outs of querying, I thought it’d be smart to brush up on the dos and don’ts (I mean, it’s been over five years since I sent my last query letter to agents). More importantly, the webinar included a personal critique from a literary agent. Who better to help with a pitch/synopsis than a real-life literary agent?

To be honest, the feedback I received from the webinar wasn’t as in-depth as I’d hoped for. Mostly just tweaks and fine-tuning. However, at the time, I assumed that meant my query (including its pitch) was solid. So, with the utmost confidence, I sent my first batch of query letters in January.

Chirp-chirp. Chirp-chirp.

Yep, nada. Not even a form rejection letter. Ouch! I shook off the sting and told myself it was okay. Nobody hits a home run their first time at bat. So, I sent a few more queries and waited.

And waited…

I gradually started to suspect something was wrong with my query letter. The pitch, the comparatives, the entire thing–something!

As I began revising the letter (and digging myself out of a creative depression), a friend introduced me to #Pitmad. Initially, I balked at the idea of publicly pitching my novel. What if an agent didn’t favorite my tweet? What if I made an idiot out of myself? What if everyone hated my idea? Yep, the evil doubts so many of us experience came at me swift and hard.

After a full day of hemming and hawing, I decided to throw caution to the wind and participate. The next day, I copied the pitch I used in my query letter and pasted it into Twitter:

Lily Damour, a young woman, is forced to confront her inner demons when she is stalked by an obsessive artist.

I stared and stared at the single sentence. It was okay, but it didn’t POP! Sure, it would work if I only had five seconds to tell someone what my story was about, but I could do better. So, I rolled up my sleeves and brainstormed some new pitches, and shared them on Twitter.

The response wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I only received one favorite, and it came from an editor of a small press (cool, but not my goal).

Participating in my first #PitMad made me realize just how competitive querying/pitching is. Thousands of writers are clamoring for the attention of so few literary agents. (Look at me! Look at me!) It was time to buckle down and revise my query and pitch again. I had to find a way to make both STAND OUT! 

The next pitch event, #PitDark, arrived in May. I posted my first pitch and waited to see if I’d get a better response.

Of the nine favorites I received, two were literary agents and one was a publisher. YES! (Side note, as much as we love supporting each other, writers shouldn’t favorite each other’s pitches during these events. We should only comment and/or retweet to show our support.) Of the two agents who favorited my pitch, both requested my query letter and sample chapter(s). And within 48-hours, both requested my full manuscript.

Suddenly, my confidence shot through the roof. At last, I’d found a way to sell my idea and hook an agent’s attention. So, with hope like I hadn’t felt since I sent my first queries in January, I contacted a few more agents and participated in another pitch event (2018 Hot Summer’s Pitchfest).

During the Pitchfest, an agent requested additional materials (and included the hashtag #ExcitedToRead in her response–ha!). As for the batch of queries I sent out, I received a request for my full manuscript after only two days of waiting (eeks!). Now I just have to wait and see if my full manuscript is good enough to receive an offer of representation. Or, at the very least, an offer to revise and resubmit.

So, what have I learned about pitching/querying? Here are my tips:

  1. Keep it short and sweet. Some writers try and cram as many details as they can into their pitch. My suggestion? Don’t. Get to the heart of the story and leave it at that. I recommend you focus on introducing two characters MAX (ex: protagonist/antagonist, lovers, best friends, etc.), the conflict, and/or what’s at stake. Remember, this is an elevator pitch. If you only had 30 seconds to sell your idea, what would you say? And how can you say it so the only question your audience has is, “When can I read your book?”
  2. Use comparatives. What books, movies, and/or authors can you compare your story and style to? This will give an agent a snapshot of your novel’s concept/voice. It’ll also show them you understand both the market and your audience. Just make sure your comparatives are relevant, honest, and enticing.
  3. Avoid spoilers. This is your hook, not your full synopsis. You want to dangle a carrot in front of an agent’s eyes, not feed them the entire salad with extra dressing.
  4. Be willing to revise. Nailing your pitch and/or query letter on the first try might not happen. That’s okay. If you don’t get any bites after 5-10 queries, consider changing things up: revise your pitch, rewrite your query letter, search for different comparatives, seek input from beta readers. I also suggest you look for advice from industry professionals. There are so many resources available nowadays with blogs, Twitter (#querytip, #amquerying, #pubtip, #askanagent, and other writing hashtags), Writer’s Digest, YouTube, and more.
  5. Participate in online pitch events. They’re scary, but they’re terrific avenues to practice your pitch and see if it captures an agent’s attention. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to consider revising both it and your query letter. If your story doesn’t stand out on Twitter, it probably won’t stand out in an agent’s slush pile.
  6. Don’t give up: If you believe in your story, and you know you’ve done everything you can to polish and prepare your manuscript for agents (i.e. fully developed, revised, beta’d, and edited it to oblivion), then don’t quit querying after a handful of rejections. Adapt, adjust, and keep fighting for your dreams. Remember, landing a deal is part talent, part luck, part perseverance. And a lot of hard work.

What are some of your tips for pitching your novel? Do you have any pitching events to share with the rest of us?

To all those who are currently querying or are planning to query in the future, good luck!

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Love Is A Battlefield – Overcoming Creative Depressions

For the past two years, I’ve put the majority of my creative energy into writing a novel. Yeah, yeah. I know. My attention has clearly been aimed elsewhere, far from my blog.

Rather than talk about my sporadic posting, let’s talk about something else today: creative depressions. Many of us experience miserable lulls with our writing every now and then. These lulls can last as little as a day, while others can last as long as a year–er, years. Personally, I’ve experienced two significant lulls in my writing career thus far: The first knocked me down–hard–after my YA option contract expired. For six whole months, I refused to pick up a pen. I even considered giving up writing all together. It was a dark, dark time.

The second lull struck more recently, in January. Right after I rang in the New Year, I sent out my first query letters for the psychological thriller I’d bled, sweat, and cried over for two years. I was so excited to embark on this part of the publishing journey, and I felt so confident with my material. My manuscript had been put through the beta reader ringer, and my query letter had been put through the Writer’s Digest gauntlet (which included an agent critique). I was ready! To add to my confidence, I knew the querying drill. I’d done it before (and semi-successfully). I just forgot one thing:

Querying is one of the most depressing things on the planet!

Despite telling myself there’d be lots of waiting and lots (and lots) of rejection, I forgot how hard the process is. I forgot how much tenacity and patience it takes. I forgot how it feels to hit the “send” button on a query email: like dropping your beloved baby into the gaping jaws of the industry.

Snap! Chomp! Gulp! Dreams get chewed up and spit back out (or, more often, swallowed for good).

On top of enduring the harsh querying process, I also received three rejections for short stories and failed to advance to the finals of a cinematic prose contest…all within the same week. To add insult to injury, my day job was insanely busy AND my dentist informed me I had to get my wisdom teeth yanked.

Put all of these unfortunate pieces together, and–kaboom! I toppled into a creative depression. For about three weeks, I wallowed in self-pity, ate lots of chocolate, punched a few pillows, and wallowed some more. I ignored my laptop, cursed everything I had ever written, and mentally abandoned my beloved novel, still out there fighting for its life in the wilds. Honestly, I couldn’t even pick up a book without having a flare of panic, followed by an existential crisis of some kind.

I finally had to–firmly–remind myself that love is a battlefield. And if you love writing enough, you’ll find a way to fight through a creative depression, however low it drops you.

Overall, it took me about three months to battle through my creative depression. To overcome my doubts and insecurities, anger and bitterness, and utter lack of motivation to put pen to paper, I enlisted various war tactics. Some of these included:

  • Getting support from my writing group: The first time I went through a creative depression, I only had one writing friend (and he wasn’t the supportive type; at least, not in the way I needed him to be). The second time, I had a strong, tight-knit writing group that caught me as I plummeted into a deep, black pit. Their rock solid support raised me back up and set me on firm ground again. Well, the ground continued to tremble and shake for a while, but every time I threatened to fall over, they steadied me. (If you don’t have a supportive network of writers, find one! It will change your life.)
  • Listening to new music: Music is a big inspiration for me. While I can’t listen to it during my writing sessions, I like to listen to it as I drive, work, exercise, read, clean the house, etc. Basically, all the time. Around the middle of March, it hit me I’d been listening to the same playlist since January (about 100 songs on repeat, over and over). I realized the repetitive music likely contributed to my lull, almost like I was stuck on replay. So, I clicked on a random music video on YouTube, and then let fate choose which songs popped up next. Ta-da! A spark. An idea! With a low groan and a rusty creak, my imagination started running again.
  • Reading: As I mentioned before, reading can be such a turnoff when you’re stuck in a creative depression. It reminds you that you’re not writing, you’re not published, and you might never achieve your lifelong dreams of being a New York Times bestseller (or whatever your ultimate writing goal might be). But, whether you like it or not, reading is a key ingredient for writers. It’s like fertilizer for our imaginations. A couple of weeks ago, I finally admitted this fact to myself and began reading a highly recommended book many agents mention in their bios (“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll). Surprise, surprise, it’s helped. A lot!
  • Participating in writing contests: Around Easter, I found out that I took first place (in the first round) of a writing contest. Receiving that news gave me a much needed jolt of confidence. It also literally forced me to sit down and write for the second round of the contest. To be honest, it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. However, the story I churned out was…decent. Not great, but decent. Better yet, it spurred me to participate in two more contests, one of which led to an idea for a new novel. Yay! Suddenly, I was excited to write again.

Writing is hard. No doubt about it. It’s even harder when you’re hungry to succeed, but can’t seem to get your foot in the door. It’s harder yet when you get knocked down–again and again–and eventually lose the strength to stand back up. But, remember: you can stand back up. It might take days, it might take years, but we all have it in us to overcome a creative depression. We all have the power to shake off a knockout punch, crack our knuckles, and charge back into battle!

What are some of your strategies to snap out of a creative depression?

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2018 – The Year to Dream, Write, and Read

My number one goal in 2017 was to buckle down and finish my novel…and have it ready for literary agents by year’s end. Thanks to avoiding writing contests and cutting back on blogging (er, sorry guys!), I achieved my goal.

Now it’s time to create some new goals for 2018. Just like 2017, I plan to keep my goals simple. I’ve discovered the simpler the goals, the more likely I’ll succeed. So, without further ado, here we go:

#1 goal: Find a literary agent. YIKES! I’ve been on this journey before and it isn’t easy. There’s lots of work, waiting, and rejection. Oh, the rejection! No matter how great I feel about my novel, and no matter how confident I feel about its commercial appeal, rejection is inevitable. It’s just how the industry works. An agent might not be looking for the type of project I’m selling (even if they represent the genre). Or they might be having a rotten day and dislike everything set in front of them. Or they just might not like it (ouch).

I can only hope I’ll find an agent who loves my novel as much as I do. It might take all of 2018–or even longer–but I’m determined to find someone who’ll give me a chance to finally achieve my lofty dream of being a New York Times Best Seller.

#2 goal: Start a new novel. The last time I queried a novel, I refused to think of any other stories. I kept my focus on that novel for almost three years. Granted, I spent a lot of that time revising and editing for the agent/Hollywood producer who had optioned it. But, still. There would be months where I’d twiddle my thumbs and wait for news and/or requests for additional revisions. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…

Waiting and waiting and waiting. Not once daring to think of starting a new book.

Talk about wasting both my time and creative juices! I also had no net to catch me for when my option contract expired and my entire world seemed to collapse. It took me six months to pick myself back up and start writing again. It took me another year to find an idea that inspired a new novel. It took me another two years to actually write it. GAH!

I refuse to repeat history. A new novel is a must. Right now! Before the waiting games begin, the ominous silence sets in, and the rejections pop into my email. I want my safety net. More importantly, I want to keep writing. I love writing, so why wouldn’t I start a new project? The one I’ve chosen is actually from an exercise my writing group does every month called “Don’t Think Just Write.” We get a prompt and have exactly one hour to write a 1K word story. I decided to participate in December and the story I came up with triggered an idea for a plot for an entire novel. As with my last novel, I won’t go into detail about it, but it’ll be in the same genre as the novel I’m currently shopping around.

(See what I did there?)

#3 goal: Read, read, read! For the past two years, I’ve struggled to read more than 20 books/year. To some this might sound like a lot. To others, pitifully low. For me, it’s on the pitiful side. I use to read between 60-80 books every year. But ever since I joined a writing group, entered more interactive writing contests, and started a freelance editing service, my reading habits have dramatically changed. I spend more time reading unpublished work than I do reading published work. I’ve also been working on my own novel, and that involves a lot–A LOT–of reading. I think I re-read my manuscript at least 15 times as I edited and revised (thrilling, I know).

However, I’d like to find a better balance between the unpublished and published stories I read. So, in 2018, my goal will be to read 30-40 books.

That’s it! Those are my top three goals for 2018. What are some of yours?

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3 Tips on How To Improve Your Writing

When I first started writing years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Like, NO idea. I just sat down in front of my laptop and started writing a story. In theory, that’s what writers should do. Sit down and write. Period! However, in order to become the best writers we can be, we need to broaden our practices beyond the obvious.

Many of us have read or heard the Stephen King quote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Yes, King is right. To become a better writer, we need to read–a lot. But, what are some other ways to improve our writing? Well here are three of my favorite practices to consider:

1. Writing Contests/Challenges 

Writing contests and challenges are terrific for many reasons:

  • They push us out of our comfort zones. Are you a novelist who’s never written anything under 80K words? Have you only ever written romance? Or only horror? Contests push you to explore, experiment, and challenge yourself in new (sometimes terrifying) ways.
  • They introduce us to new genres and categories we’ve never considered. For example, I always thought I’d be a YA author (I even optioned a YA novel to a Hollywood producer). After a few writing contests, I realized I’d missed my calling. I have a stronger knack for adult fiction, namely suspense, thriller, and/or horror.
  • They teach us to tell tighter, fuller stories. When we only have 1K words at our disposal (maybe even less), we learn the art of brevity. We also learn the importance of developing every aspect of a story (plot, characters, descriptions, etc.). If we miss one, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • They lead to new stories. One of the biggest benefits of participating in writing contests and challenges is walking away with a new story that can be developed into something bigger. For example, the novel I’m about to query is the byproduct of a short story I wrote in 2015 during a contest; and I have about ten more I could develop if I wanted to (and probably will at some point).

If you’re looking for some excellent writing challenges to participate in, here are some I recommend:

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges (Check out his blog every Friday to see if a new challenge has been posted).

NYC Midnight (Let me emphasize, I recommend this as a challenge, and I highly recommend you participate on their forum. The contest aspect is a bit laughable.)

Fiction War (A newer contest that’s still working out its kinks, but I’ve heard decent things. Definitely worth the challenge, if nothing more.)

#WritingContest on Twitter. (You’re bound to find the perfect challenge for you!)

2. Beta Reading

Whether we’re a self-taught writer, or we’ve received an MFA from a prestigious institution, we can benefit from critiquing other people’s stories. When we beta read, we:

  • Learn through others’ mistakes. Slow pace? Cliche characters? Too much exposition? As we point out these flaws in other people’s work, we notice them in our own.
  • Become more analytical. It’s difficult to be objective with our own work, but the more we evaluate other people’s stories, the more we evaluate our own. Naturally. Yes, our stories remain our precious babies, but we learn how to “parent” properly. We no longer turn a blind eye to problem areas. We face them head on and address accordingly.
  • Grow thicker skins. Sharing our work with readers can be a scary experience. We’re basically displaying our souls to the world and opening ourselves up to criticism. Well, the more we participate in beta reading (both as betas and as those being beta’d for), we overcome a lot of our fears. We gain confidence by seeing other writers struggle too, and we learn how to accept positive and negative comments.

3. TV Shows, Movies, and Live Theater

Okay, this may seem like a weird one, but there are a lot of benefits to critiquing the TV shows, movies, and live theater we watch:

  • Be an active audience member. Who are the characters? What are their motives? What subtle clues are being dropped that will come into the story later? Do all the dots connect? Was the pacing well done? When we breakdown a production as we’re watching it, we learn how to rapidly evaluate our own stories. We ask more questions and critique every sentence to decide if it’s contributing to the story as a whole.
  • Cinematography lessons. Whether we’re writing a character-driven, literary piece, or a sweeping commercial blockbuster, films and stage productions teach us how to bring our stories to life. They spark our imaginations so there’s more color, more movement, and more oomph! They teach us how to show rather than tell.
  • Reactions, actions, and more. Let’s face it, we don’t always have firsthand experience with the types of theatrical events depicted on screen or stage (thankfully for some things): violent riots, spectacular romantic gestures, devastating betrayals, flying into space, etc. As we watch TV shows and movies, our brains naturally archive various facial expressions actors make; or dramatic action sequences we’d never see in real life (ex: bombs dropping on Dunkirk); or chilling atmospheres that leave us cold to the bone. Film and stage productions are emotional, heart-pounding, beautiful buffets for writers. We may not even realize we’ve memorized little details (like an actors subtle grin or sultry voice; or hazy sunlight glinting off a decrepit skyscraper in the far future)–but our imaginations do!

How about you? What are some of your off-the-wall methods that have improved your writing?

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2017 – The Year of the Novel

In the late winter of 2013, I came to a screeching halt with my writing. After failing to secure a publishing deal during a two-year option contract, I lost more than my confidence. I lost a piece of my heart.

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After my dreams crumbled before my eyes, I spent the better part of six months drifting around, unsure what to do next. Write? Don’t write? Every time I thought about picking up a pen, I cringed and threw myself into a different activity or hobby. The gym became my favorite place in the world. I signed up for all sorts of fitness classes (even Zumba, which shows you just how desperate I was to keep myself occupied).

As time trickled by, I grew more and more certain I’d never write again. Then, out of the blue, a co-worker suggested I sign up for a writing contest. At first I balked at the idea (and probably ran off to the gym for another Zumba class). But, after I danced away my crippling doubts, I decided to give it a whirl. That whirl transformed into a whirlwind of revived passion. I started a blog, began working on a new novel, and participated in more writing contests.

Write, write, write! I couldn’t get enough.

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Ever since, my writing whirlwind has continued. For the past three years, I’ve split my focus into multiple projects: Two novels, 20 short stories, 365 blog posts, seven writing contests, and dozens of editing jobs. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I needed every single project to learn and grow, and to become a better writer.

But now it’s time to narrow my focus. Dramatically. I can’t keep up the pace I’ve set for myself and expect to achieve my dreams. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my goal for 2017 sweet and simple: finish my novel and send it to agents. Period.

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Sounds easy, I know. And, theoretically, it should be achievable. If I maintain my current pace, I should have a beta-worthy draft to send to my first readers by the end of January. Depending on their reactions, I should have my next draft (or two) done by late spring/early summer. From there I should be able to spend the summer revising and sending subsequent drafts to readers for feedback. And, by fall, I should have a polished manuscript and my first batch of query letters ready for agents (ahh!).

Yes, I should be able to get all of that done. But, I’ve had the same plan the past two years and failed miserably. Hence the reason I’m making my novel my main priority this year. Besides blogging and accepting the occasional editing job (because, hello, money!), I won’t work on any other projects. Enough’s enough!

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To be honest, the toughest part of this will be giving up writing contests. I absolutely adore the adrenaline, ideas, and friendships I get from them. Unfortunately, the contests I like to participate in eat up TONS of time. Not only do I write a story, but I also get sucked into a forum where I critique hundreds of other people’s stories. During the past three years, I’ve critiqued at least 1,500. That’s roughly 750-1,500 hours of work!

Or, rather, 750-1,500 hours I could’ve dedicated to my novel.

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No. More! As much as I love competing, I need to put a hold on it until I finish my novel. I need to put a hold on a lot of things until it’s done.

Hopefully my narrowed focus will keep me on track this year. And, hopefully, by next January I’ll be able to hold up my manuscript and say, “There! It’s done!” Or, better yet, “I have an agent, and I’m on the road to publication!”

Let’s do this 2017!

How about you? What are some of your goals for the new year?

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5 Steps to Take Before Writing a Novel

There are so many tips about how to write a novel. And there are even more tips on what to do with that novel once you’ve finished it. But, what about the things you should do before you start writing a novel?

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Okay, I can already hear some of you out there saying, “Sometimes you can’t think about what you’re doing. You just need to jump in and go. Write, write, write!” Yes, I agree. However, if you’re serious about doing something with your novel after you finish it, then there are some important steps to take before you go full throttle.

5 Steps to Take Before Writing A Novel

1: Fall in love

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It’s not always easy to know if you’re in love with a story until you begin developing it. However, you should be in love with the idea. Novels are no picnic. They take months (or, more often, years) to write, invite criticism, and get rejected–again and again. If you don’t love yours from the very beginning, then you’re probably not going to make it past the first obstacle (which could come as early as the first draft; heck, maybe even the first chapter).

So, before you begin writing a story, ask yourself, “Do I love this idea?” If the answer’s, “No, not really,” then you might want to consider another idea.

2: Sell it!

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You came up with an idea that you love. Excellent! But, wait. Don’t start writing yet. Just because you love an idea doesn’t mean the rest of the world will. To others, it might sound dull, or confusing, or similar to a story they’ve read before. So, swallow your nerves (and pride) and go talk to your most trusted–and honest–friends/family/writing pals. See what they think of the idea. Note their facial expressions, read their body language, and listen to their words. It’s hard for many of us to accept criticism, but if someone finds a flaw with our work, even in its earliest stages, we need to consider it.

Now, if your idea gets a lackluster reaction, don’t automatically throw it in the trash (if you do, you probably didn’t love it as much as you thought you did). Talk to your critics first. Ask them why they don’t like it. Is it because it sounds like another story they’ve read? Is it because they’re not a fan of horror (or whatever genre your story is)? Is it because they started daydreaming in the middle of your pitch? Remember, your friends and family are human. Therefore, they’re subjective.

My best advice: pitch your idea to at least three people (preferably those who will, without a doubt, give you their most honest opinion). Then gauge their reaction before you fully commit yourself to a project that could consume years of your life.

3: Research the market

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Say you have a dream about a world where love is outlawed. You wake up and think, “Hmm, that was weird, but it could be a cool book.” So, you mull it over and decide you love the idea. But, instead of outlawing love, you decide to make love a disease that needs to be cured, and your main character needs to prove to the world it isn’t. It’s a gift!

Ooh, that’s good. Really good.

So, you roll up your sleeves and begin writing your story. You mention the concept to a friend, but they’re not a big reader, so they think it’s great, too. Encouraged by their positive reaction, you write and write and write. Finally, you have a presentable draft to send to your beta readers. Three of the four tell you, “I’d be careful. This story is really similar to Lauren Oliver’s, ‘Delirium.'” You frown and Google “Delirium.” Your jaw drops. The plot is nearly identical to yours.

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Don’t let this scenario happen to you! Before you dive into an idea you love, find out if it’s been done before. Ask Google, talk to your bookworm friends, get input from your trustworthy writing pals, chat with a librarian, etc. If your idea is popular enough, someone is bound to give you a head’s up. And then you can decide to either alter it, drop it, or continue to write it knowing it’s already been done before.

4: Pinpoint your target audience

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You have a cute idea for a romance that you really like, so you pitch it to your friends. They think it’s cute too (yay!). You sit down and begin writing. You don’t really think about what type of romance you’re creating (you don’t really know there are different types of romances out there, each for a specific audience). So, you write in happy bliss until you finish and send the novel off to a handful of beta readers. Their feedback trickles in. Most are positive and think it just needs some tweaking. One, however, is confused. They can’t figure out if your novel fits in rom-com, erotica, or women’s fiction. It has a little of everything. But, you decide to ignore them because they’re the only one who complained, and polish the manuscript up. You send it off to agents, nervous and excited, confident you’ll have a request for your full manuscript within weeks.

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Crickets! Why? Because you had no defined audience. Instead of narrowing your focus, you tried to appeal to three different markets: Women who wanted a lighthearted, funny story. Women who wanted hot, steamy sex. And women who wanted an emotional, soul-searching journey. As tempting as it is to reach far and wide with your story, you have to zero in on a specific group. Not only will that help an agent sell it (or yourself if you’re self-publishing), but it’ll help you put together a stronger, more cohesive story.

Now, I understand figuring out your target audience might be difficult before you start writing a novel. However, you should have a decent idea of who you’re writing for before you type the first word. Children? Young adults? Women? Men? Both men and women? As you write subsequent drafts, narrow your focus to a specific group.

5: Set goals

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“I guess I’ll write today.”

“I’m not really sure what I want to do with this book.”

“I’ll just go with the flow and see where things lead.” 

If you enter a project feeling aimless, then chances are you’ll never finish it. Or you’ll stop and go, stop and go, and it’ll take years to reach the final chapter. Trust me, I’d know. That’s why I strongly urge you to create goals. They become the backbone of our success. Personally, I like to set three before I begin a novel.

  1. An ultimate goal. AKA, what to do with a story once it’s finished. Get published by one of the Big Five? Self-publish? Or write purely to write? There is no wrong answer.
  2. A deadline goal to help reach the finish line in a timely manner. Circle a date on your calendar and aim to finish your first draft by it. Or present a copy to your beta readers. Or send your first batch of query letters. Or hire an editor to evaluate the story. Whatever! The type of deadline is up to you. Just try and be as specific about it as possible.
  3. A daily goal to keep you on track to meet your deadline. This should be a quantifiable objective, like word count, timed hours, or completed chapters.

Sometimes when we sit down to write, all we want to do is write. No plan, no concept, no long-term commitment. Just write! And that’s great. However, once we make the decision to commit to a novel, finish it, and do something with it, we need to consider each of these steps. You might not come up with an exact answer for each, but you should at least consider each before embarking on your writing journey.

Good luck with your project!

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Top 2015 Posts – Can You Write a Story in 150 Words

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 favorite blog posts from 2015. Each of these made a special impact on me and readers, so I hope you enjoy them (again or for the first time). Today, I present to you my 9th favorite post from the past year:

Can You Write A Story In 150 Words

#9_1Writing stories under 1,500 words is tough. Writing stories under 150 words is insane! That’s why I liked this post. It offered a tough, but terrific challenge to writers (including myself). It also offered a lot of fun.

So, check out the details below and, if you haven’t already, consider entering one of Ad Hoc Fiction’s free contests!


A few weeks ago, my online writer’s group introduced me to a weekly flash fiction contest hosted by Ad Hoc Fiction. Basically, writers are given a prompt word (ex: feather, bark, note) and must incorporate it into a 150-worded story…Yep! That’s it. Just 150 words to address all the vital components of a story and satisfy readers.

*gulp*

Once the deadline passes, the submissions are posted on Ad Hoc’s website and the public votes for a winner. It’s free (yes, FREE), it’s fun, and it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So give it a shot! Whether you want to learn, warm up, or win, you’re sure to have a blast with Ad Hoc Fiction.

Below is a story I submitted a few weeks ago. The prompt word I had to include was “plaster.” Enjoy!

“Crumb Layer”

by Jenna Willett

When I was little, my mom would let me help her frost cakes. “Remember, Annie,” she’d say, “the first layer is the crumb layer. You frost, wait, frost again, and—voila! See?” She’d point at a finished cake. No crumbs, no blemishes. The decorating method worked beautifully.

It still does.

I hum to myself as I spread a second layer of white goo over the crumbly surface. I dip, swirl, smear, and wipe my metal spatula down and up, left to right. Over and over. I work carefully, but quickly. I have to. Even with the heater on, the house is cold and the cold makes things set faster.

I give one final swipe and stand back to study my handiwork.

I smile.

The plastered wall looks great. With a layer of paint, it’ll look perfect.

Nobody will ever suspect I hid a dead body behind it.


To learn more about the contest and Ad Hoc Fiction, click here.

Top 10 2015 Posts

10. Are You a Positive or Negative Writer

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