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!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Photo Credits: giphy

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?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Photo Credits: giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Photo credits: giphy

When Your Novel Is Ready For Agents – 6 Tips

As many of you might’ve noticed, my blog has fallen by the wayside the past year. In my defense, there’s been a good reason for my absence: my novel. Last January, I made a New Year’s resolution to finish my manuscript and have it ready for agents by late 2017/early 2018. That meant I had to resist using precious time and mental energy for things like blogging, social media, writing contests, and other enjoyable but, unfortunately, non-novel work.

Despite missing out on all the fun, I’m pleased to say my method of madness has worked. By the end of the year, I’ll have a novel ready for agents!

As exciting as it is to take the next step in the publishing journey, it’s important to know when to take the next step. Many writers tend to rush through the process, while others hesitate and question if they’re really ready.

Here are six tips to help you decide if your novel is ready for agents:

1: You’ve written at least two complete drafts. 

Unless you’re a seasoned pro who knows how to pound out a perfect first draft, then you’ll need to write, revise, and edit at least two drafts before you deem it worthy of an agent’s eyes. Depending on your process, you’ll likely write many, many more. Personally, I’m a pantser and I’m approaching my 20th draft.

Because we all have different processes, there’s no exact number of drafts needed to deem a novel “done.” The best thing to do is to ask questions like these:

  • Is my plot fully developed? Are there any missing scenes? Do I have any scenes that can be chopped to tighten the story?
  • Are my characters believable? Likable? Do I have any unnecessary characters?
  • Do I have plenty of conflict?
  • Does my pacing work well?
  • Is my dialogue organic?
  • Have I proofread? Like, a million times?
  • Have I asked others to critique my work?
  • Does anything about the story bother me?

Whether it takes two or 20 drafts, we need to flesh out our stories and polish them up before we send them to agents.

2: You’ve recruited beta readers.

Some writers will write a chapter and share it with critique partners. Others will write 15 drafts before they feel comfortable sharing a single word with a single soul. There’s no right answer on how we share our work, just as long as we share it before sending it to literary agents. Otherwise, we’ll likely miss glaring plot holes, spelling and grammar blips, underdeveloped characters, and many other problems.

The real question is how many beta readers should we use? Well, once again, it’s an individual choice. There’s no magical number. However, there’s such a thing as too few and too many beta readers.

If we only use one beta reader, we’ll likely miss out on critical feedback. Why? Because every beta reader is different. Some are great at critiquing plots and characters. Some are better at correcting grammar. Some love to focus on pacing and pure entertainment. Some delight in dissecting every. Single. Word.

On the flip side, if we send our manuscript to 15+ beta readers (especially all at once), then we’ll likely regret our decision. Too much feedback, and we’re bound to feel overwhelmed and confused. In fact, we’ll likely experience a small meltdown and question everything we wrote.

Personally, I handled my beta readers like this:

Beta Draft 1: Four readers who were asked for big picture feedback. I simply wanted to know if the plot and characters worked. (And if not, why?)

Beta Draft 2: Five readers who were asked to point out any and all flaws. Plot, grammar, characters, pacing. ANYTHING!

Beta Draft 3: Five readers who were asked to pretend they found my novel in a bookstore and read it for fun. If it wasn’t fun, or if something stopped them dead cold, why?

The strategy has worked very well for me. But, again, every writer is different. Some might only need a couple of betas. Some might need more. The important thing is to recruit at least two, and ask them to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

3: You’ve reached a solid, marketable word count.

No matter what genre we write, we need to know word count expectations. If we send an agent a chick lit novel that’s 115K words, they’ll likely laugh and toss our query into the trash. However, if we send a historical fiction novel that’s 115K words, an agent will probably consider it. All genres have a general range agents expect our story to land in. Only a few get the “okay” for larger word counts (sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy).

When it comes to adult fiction, Writer’s Digest breaks it down like this:

80,000 – 89,999:        Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:        Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:         Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:     Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:            Too short
110,000 or above        Too long

Before we submit our manuscript to agents, we need to research our genre. It’d be a crying shame to realize our MG novels are 40K words too short, or our thrillers are 20K words too long.

4: You start overthinking things.

Many writers are perfectionists. Some of us are so focused on making our stories so perfect that we fail to realize we’ve crossed through the Perfect Zone and entered the Overthinking Zone. We start chopping words unnecessarily, dramatically alter flowing sentences, and tweak characters to the point we ruin what made them so special in the first place.

A few ways to know we’ve reached the Overthinking Zone include:

  • Beta readers tell us, “Stop! You’re ready for the next step.” (Let me emphasize this “green light” needs to come from those who’ve read the manuscript. Don’t let friends, family, and other writing pals pressure you into skipping important steps. They don’t know where you’re at in the process. Your betas do.)
  • Edits become infinitesimal. (i.e. You change the word “stare” to “gape,” and then back to “stare.”)
  • We’ve proofread our story to death (and asked others to proofread it to death for us).

The truth is, many of us will never consider our stories perfect. Ever. Even if it lands on the New York Times Best Seller list, we’ll still find flaws. It’s just who we are. That’s why we need to recognize when it’s time to step back, close our eyes, and take a leap of faith.

5: You’ve prepped all of your submission materials.

If we choose the traditional path of publishing, then we need to be prepared to submit more than our manuscript. Most agents will require a query letter, but from there it varies. A query letter might be all an agent wants. Others might request a three-paragraph synopsis. Some might want a three-page synopsis. And then there’s the dreaded pitch to practice in case we need to present our idea verbally. For example, when I optioned my YA novel to a Hollywood producer, I had to pitch my story dozens of times to various executives (usually via an unexpected phone call (talk about nerve-racking!)).

If we are lucky enough to receive that spectacular, dream-worthy phone call from an agent, we also need to be ready to speak to that agent. In fact, we shouldn’t query an agent until we’ve done homework on them. Remember, these are the people who will determine if our books (and our careers) rise or fall. We need to know what type of agent they are. Are they hands-on? Distant? Better at negotiating deals than developing projects? Are they great at both? For me, I want an agent who cares. The last (and only) agent I had treated me like a chore. I’d get a call once every three to six months with an update on the status of my project. That was it. Granted, this was a Hollywood agent who had bigger fish to fry, but still. I learned my lesson: before committing to an agent, ask questions. We need to know who we’ll be partnering up with.

Bottom line, take the time to properly prepare your submission materials, and research agents. It’ll make life easier and happier if you do.

6: Your novel is presentable at a moment’s notice.

Let’s face it. Writing a quality book is hard, and it takes for-evvver! And it’s really, really tempting to skip to the end of the process and see if an agent would even read what we have.

Resist the urge!

One of the biggest no-no’s a writer can make is querying an agent before a novel is finished. Agents don’t want concepts, first chapters, or half finished manuscripts. They want the whole thing–and they want it on demand. So, before we send our query letters, we must have a polished, 100% COMPLETE manuscript.

“Eh, an agent is probably going to take at least a month to respond to my query, so I may as well send it and continue editing.” Nope, don’t do it! Just because we’re almost done with our book doesn’t mean we’re done. Besides, what happens when an agent asks for our book in less than a week? Maybe even sooner? I’ve had a full request within two days. It happens. Play it safe and polish up the story before hitting the submit button.

Some writers are impatient and want to speed through the writing process. Others drag their feet, despite their eagerness, and want everything perfect before they contact agents. We all need to know when we’re truly ready to take the next step. We can’t rush to the finish line, but we also can’t keep running lap after lap.

Resources: Writer’s DigestTwitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Top 2014 Posts – #1 – The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 blog posts from 2014. I went into my stats page and looked up those articles, stories, and other published pieces that had the most number of views. Some surprised me, others did not.

Drumroll please…

And the number one post of 2014 is: The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

IMG_4106This is probably my favorite article I found for my Twitter Treasure Thursday this year. The advice given in it is beyond helpful. In fact, after reading this, I went ahead and applied many of the tips to the first chapter of my novel. And I’m so glad I did! During Chuck Sambuchino’s writing workshop, I had my first page critiqued by agents during the “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest.” session. Thanks to this article, it wasn’t rejected because I avoided the common mistakes so many writers make.

So, if you haven’t checked out these important tips below, I strongly encourage you to do so!


Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Today’s gem comes from the ever helpful Chuck Sambuchino. He offers a wide range of amazing tips from industry experts on how to make your first chapter shine. No matter what genre you write, these tips are sure to help you improve your work and avoid the pitfalls so many writers stumble into.

Female executive and banana skinThe Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines, sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter One approaches are overused and cliché, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter!

Previous Top 10 2014 Posts:

#2 – How Do You Share Backstory Information

#3 – Chasing Monsters

#4 – Inevitable

#5 – Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

#6 – How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

#7: Into Paradise

#8: Music Monday – Love The Way You Lie

#9: Operation Disney

#10: Over The Edge

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Top 2014 Posts – #6 – How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 blog posts from 2014. I went into my stats page and looked up those articles, stories, and other published pieces that had the most number of views. Some surprised me, others did not.

Today, we’re up to #6: How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

IMG_4159After attending Chuck Sambuchino’s Colorado Writing Workshop last month, I can smile and nod at this post. Because everything in it is exactly what he taught me during that conference. So, be sure to read it if you haven’t and take to heart its important lessons.


 Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Although I’m still a few months away from finishing my manuscript, I’m always on the lookout for useful tips, dos and don’ts, and lessons about the querying process.

writing_humour_synopsis-scaled500Today’s gem, courtesy of Writer’s Digest and the ever helpful Chuck Sambuchino, focuses on the dreaded synopsis…Oh, come on. Don’t deny it. You’re as “ugh” about this step in the querying process as I am. Thankfully this article makes it a little easier by giving us five tips to use as basic guidelines. So, before you sit down to write yours, check it out!

How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips

1. Reveal everything major that happens in your book, including the ending. Heck, revealing the story’s ending is a synopsis’s defining unique characteristic. You shouldn’t find a story’s ending in a query or in-person pitch, but it does leak out in a synopsis. On this note, know that a synopsis is designed to explain everything major that happens, not to tease — so avoid language such as “Krista walks around a corner into a big surprise.” Don’t say “surprise,” but rather just tell us what happens.

To read the entire article, click here!

For more useful advice, follow Writer’s Digest and Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter!

Previous Top 10 2014 Posts:

#7: Into Paradise

#8: Music Monday – Love The Way You Lie

#9: Operation Disney

#10: Over The Edge

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Photo credit: 

http://writerswrite1.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/how-to-write-a-one-page-synopsis/

My First Writing Conference – Top 10 Things I Learned

On November 15th, I attended the Colorado Writing Workshop in Denver with presenter and instructor Chuck Sambuchino. To say I learned a lot would be an understatement. In fact, I learned so much, there’s no possible way for me to tell you everything. So, I’m going to do a Top 10 list!

top-10-schools

 Before I get started, here’s a list of the sessions I attended during the conference. I’ll admit, I got more out of some than others, but each one taught me something, and that’s what I’d hoped for.

  • “Your Publishing Options Today.”
  • “Everything You Need to Know About Agents, Queries & Pitching.”
  • “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest.”
  • “How to Market Yourself and Your Books: Author Platform & Social Media Explained.”
  • “How to Get Published: 10 Professional Writing Practices That You Need to Know NOW to Find Success as a Writer.”

So, without further ado, here we go!

1: Be Bold, Brave, and Outgoing!

One of the main reasons I attended the Colorado Writing Workshop was to meet and befriend local writers. I only know a few here in Denver, so I figured it’d be a great opportunity to make new connections. So, I printed up some business cards, gave myself a social pep talk, and marched into the conference room, ready to mix and mingle…

I stepped into the room and my heart dropped. Sitting before me was a group of fidgeting, throat clearing, eye darting writers. Silent writers.

Oh. Dear. God.

Up until that moment, I’d forgotten one important fact: most writers are introverts.

With knots in my stomach, I sat down and fiddled with my notebook for a solid ten minutes before I mustered up the nerve and turned to the woman across the aisle from me. I slapped on a smile, stuck out my hand, and introduced myself…Ironically, she was from Rhode Island and didn’t fit into my “meet local writers” plan, but whatever. She was super sweet and I was proud of myself for being brave and approaching someone, rather than waiting for someone to approach me.

Later, as the group broke for lunch, another woman walked up and said, “I love your bag. I keep staring at it.” After I thanked her and cracked a joke (yes, I use humor as a self-defense mechanism), I swallowed my pride and anxiety and asked her if I could tag along with her to lunch. “Of course!” she said. “A few of us are going out.” And, before I knew it, I was sitting in a restaurant befriending a handful of writers.

Mission accomplished!

So, if you ever attend a conference, try going into it with a brave, bold, and outgoing attitude. Don’t wait for people to approach you. Be willing to approach them and put yourself out there.

2: Content Is King

king-clip-art-king-solo-hiChuck Sambuchino spent the entire workshop discussing a writer’s publishing options, as well as the various strategies for success. Yet, at the end of the day, he made this important point:

“So much is out of your control.”

No matter how “right” you do things, there’s still a hundred things that could go “wrong”. That’s why you need to remember: Content is king! You should always strive to write the best story you can. Focus on content. Take your time. Think and be considerate. Because, bottom line: good, solid stories are more likely to lead you “right” rather than “wrong”.

3: Your First Page Matters! 

It-Was-A-Dark-and-Stormy-Night-from-Snoopy-e1375218659590-chicago-nowcomHands down, my favorite session of the day was “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest.”

Basically, attendees were invited to anonymously submit the first page of the their manuscript to be critiqued by a panel of literary agents. At random, Chuck Sambuchino chose an entry from the submission pile and read it out loud. The literary agents–AKA, “judges”–read along with him. The moment they lost interest, they raised their hand. If two of the four judges’ hands went up, Chuck would stop reading.

Think of it like the TV show, America’s Got Talent. Too many buzzes and you’re out!

It. Was. So. Scary!

First there was the waiting to see if my page got randomly chosen. Then there was the hearing of it read aloud. And then there was the praying to God none of the agents raised their hands…My heart was pounding so hard!

To my relief, not a single hand went up. In fact, one of the agent’s grinned and nodded at one point.

To be honest, I had a gut feeling my page would make it all the way through without getting “buzzed”. Not because I’m arrogant, but because mine was one of the last ones chosen, and by that point, I’d heard enough to know what rubbed an agent the wrong way. Those things included:

  • Info Dumping. By far, this was the biggest first page no-no. If there was an extensive section describing the world, character, situation, etc., all of the agents’ hands shot up. Then they’d make comments like these:

“Get into the story faster!”

“Trust the reader. They’re smart.”

“Organically weave your information in.”

“Questions are good.”

“Less information is always better. More can be added.”

  • Avoid using dreams. If a character wakes up from a dream on the first page, it’s an instant deal breaker for many agents.
  • Show, don’t tell. Every time a first page told a story, the agents “buzzed them off the stage”. So work hard to show your story, rather than tell it.
  • Characters describing themselves. Don’t say, “I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My blonde hair was matted in blood.” Seriously, who thinks to themselves “my blonde hair”? It’s unnatural and lazy, and agents don’t like it.
  • Stiff dialogue. Too often, despite an interesting story, an agent’s hand went up because the dialogue was stiff and forced. So take care to develop yours and make it as real as possible. Personally, I recommend reading your work out loud. Or, better yet, have someone else read it. You’ll be amazed how easily you catch weak spots.

The bottom line is your first page is vital. It’s what hooks both an agent and a reader and keeps them reading. So be sure to start your story off with a bang! Not a stiff, unnatural, info-filled whimper.

4: Avoid Prologues

To prologue or not to prologue, that always seems to be the question. Well, according to the agents at the conference, there’s no question about it. Writers should avoid using them. In their eyes, prologues are passive tools and weak attempts to hook a reader. “Why not hook a reader in chapter one?”

Picture-8One of the agents put it the best way I’ve ever heard: “Personally, I don’t mind prologues. But over 50 percent of the agents out there do, so why risk it? Play it safe and leave it out.”

I don’t know about you, but 50% is way too high. I’ll avoid the gamble and jump straight into chapter one.

5: Don’t Put All of Your Eggs In One Basket

eggs-in-one-basketYou write a book and get an agent. Sweet! Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the attention you and your agent had hoped for. Now what? You got it: Pitch a list of new ideas to your agent and write another book. Agents want career clients, not one hit wonders.

So, don’t charge into the publishing industry with the mentality, “I just need one great idea.” Charge into it with, “I need a lot of great ideas.” And then be willing to let go of those ideas that aren’t working and use the ones that do.

6: Read Your Genre

During the “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest”, literary agent, Sara Megibow, lectured us about the necessity of reading the genre you write for. In a forceful, “Come with me if you want to live” kind of voice (haha, kidding), she said, “These are the three things you must do…

1: Read debut authors from your genre that have been…

2: published in the past two to three years from a…

3: major publishing house.”

If you want to know what’s hot and what’s selling, stick to these rules. And if you ever refer to an older book in your query letter (ex: The Hobbit), an agent will laugh and toss your story aside. They’re looking for writers who are keeping current on the latest trends and staying ahead of the game, not those living in the past.

On a related note, another agent chimed in and said it’s very attractive to see comparative book titles in a query letter. It not only helps them visualize what your story is about, but it proves you know your genre.

7: “Confusion is like cholesterol. There’s good and bad.”

This was one of my favorite quotes by Chuck Sambuchino during the conference. It’s such a great metaphor! Confusion in a story is like cholesterol. You don’t want to have the bad kind that causes your readers to scratch their heads, lose focus, and get bored. You want the kind that makes them wrinkle their brow, ask questions, and eagerly turn the page to get answers.

This idea ties into what the agents said earlier about info dumping. “Questions are good”. So, don’t be afraid to add some confusion to your story. Just make sure it’s the good kind.

8: Be Specific In Your Query and Pitch

imgres

Be specific. Be specific. Be specific!

Chuck Sambuchino drilled that into our heads during the “Everything You Need to Know About Agents, Queries & Pitching.” session. He said the number one problem he finds when critiquing query letters is vagueness. All too often, people will say things like, “Sally had to overcome many obstacles”. But what are those obstacles? Be. Specific! 

Example:
“Billy Jenkins quit his job today”

What job? Lawyer? Plumber? And who’s Billy Jenkins? Old man? Boy?

Try writing it like this instead:

“After 17-year old, Billy Jenkins, made his 1,000th Big Mac, he threw special sauce in the air, flipped off his boss, and walked out the front door.”

So, when you sit down to write your query letter, or get ready for a live pitch with an agent, remember: Don’t be vague. Be specific!

9: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Yes, I know. Obvious! But, it’s true. So many of us read articles, blogs, and tweets about the publishing world, and we tend to swallow every word of them–hook, line, and sinker. Because, hey, if an industry professional said it, then it must be true.

False.

Although 90-95% of the information we read from agents and publishers is golden, there’s always that small percentage that isn’t. Certain agents have certain quirks that go against the grain. They’ll promote an idea that the rest don’t believe in.

For example, during one of his workshops, Chuck Sambuchino had an agent say something to the group that completely contradicted what he and everyone else in publishing taught. Later, when he asked them about it, the agent said, “Well, my agency does it that way, so I tell writers that’s how they should do it too.”

So, play it safe and read multiple resources. Don’t rely on only a couple. And be sure to cross reference your facts to ensure the information you’re using is what the majority of agents and publishers expect.

10: “You have to give up what you like to pursue what you love.”

AKA, put down the remote control!

Yep, that’s Chuck Sambuchino’s “secret to getting published”. And, if you think about it, it makes complete sense. Nobody ever said writing a book and getting published would be easy. It takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication, and a lot–a lot–of passion. If you want to achieve your dream, then you need to cut out those distractions you enjoy so much.

So, there you go! As you can see, I really did learn a lot at the Colorado Writing Workshop. More than I could ever list.

Actually here’s a bonus point I’d like to add:

11: Attend a Writing Conference! 

Okay, I know conferences can be on the pricey side, but if you look around, I’m sure you can find one that’s affordable. The one I attended was only a day long, and it was local, so it was on the cheaper side. Plus, if you have someone like Chuck Sambuchino instructing you, I promise every penny will be worth it. I highly recommend you check out his schedule to see if he’s coming to teach in your area!

So, how about you? Have you ever attended a writing conference? If so, what were some of your biggest takeaways? Would you recommend others to attend one? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you have any specific questions about the sessions I listed above, feel free to contact me! I’m happy to answer what I can 🙂

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 453 other followers

Photo credits:

http://treymorgan.net/10-things-that-are-guaranteed-to-happen-today-on-thanksgiving/

http://imgarcade.com/1/crickets-chirp-gif/

http://lifeconfusions.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/got-me-good/

 http://richfieldmnchamber.org/eggs-basket/

http://www.clipartpanda.com/categories/king-clip-art

http://blogs.extension.org/gardenprofessors/2013/11/18/it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night/

http://gifaday.blogspot.com/2010/08/americas-got-talent-3-x-gif.html

http://zsazsabellagio.blogspot.com/2013/07/dance-till-stars-come-down.html

http://www.jamiegreybooks.com/prologue-or-not/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/23-signs-you-are-hermione-granger

http://myreactiongifs.com/confused/

http://www.dichotomistic.com/logic_vagueness_1.html

http://blog.muchmusic.com/one-direction-release-best-song-ever-and-im-not-amused/

http://hellogiggles.com/amy-poehler-life-coach-15-things-shes-taught

http://usvsth3m.com/post/68874556080/18-things-which-always-remind-you-that-youre-not-as

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/21/fashion-week_n_6022310.html