Pitching at RWAus 2016

A couple of weeks ago RWAus 2016 was held in Adelaide. Since it was the first time held here I volunteered and was lucky (?) to get the pitching assignment. This involved the wrangling of around 180 people to see 12 editors and agents for 5 min face-to-face pitches (some with 4 pitches). Kind of like speed dating for books.

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If you ever get a chance, do pitch face-to-face. The editors and agents are lovely and keen to find your book.

As an organiser, I learned a few things –

  1. Everyone is doing their best (be kind to the organisers)
  2. Editors and Agents are human and professional and aren’t trying to trip anyone up. They come to find work to take on.
  3. Everyone is nervous, even published authors who might seem like they would know everything worry about the pitch (which returns to the eds and agents being lovely)
  4. Be prepared. They all have what they’re looking for available with a search – take the time to make sure they are looking for what you’re writing.
  5. Make sure you leave time for questions.

 

Have you pitched at a conference? Volunteered to help at an event?

🙂

Beck

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I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

The book was published in 2013 but it wasn’t until the movie popped up on my Foxtel premier list that I thought, “wait did I read that book?” I bought a movie release cover copy (BTW – I HATE MOVIE RELEASE COVERS!) and hid away in my room determined to read the book before I watched the movie.

My first question after reading the book was: Are we becoming a society of YA readers who are happy with the expected? Nothing in The 5th wave was exceptionally original. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the book. Rick Yancey is a talented wordsmith, but I felt like I was reading a mix of alien invasion tropes and the portrayal of a teen female lead that left a lot to be desired.

I get that original ideas are few and far between but isn’t the trick with using a base idea that is already out there is to put your own original spin on it that makes the reader forget that they have actually heard this or part of this story before, Yancey might have missed the mark with this.

My second question was: Why speed through the first 4 waves? The alien invasion in The 5th Wave happens too quickly with the majority of the human race taken out within the first 4 waves, I would have loved to see more of the devastation the waves caused, this could have been done by swapping their order around. The technology would need to remain active for the devastation to be widely publicised.

I guess that is the point that many people reviewing unfavourably are missing – but why I still enjoyed the book. This story is told from the points of view of two teens that have no real idea of what is happening all over the world. They know only what has directly affected them and what Government officials have told them. Yancey took away the option to know what the world was doing to fight back and many readers felt unsatisfied with the brush over the 4 waves, especially when most of them saw the 5th wave coming.

My third question and probably the one that took a whole star from my review score was: Has Yancey ever met a teenage girl? I was one, and I can tell you I was not impressed with his portrayal of Cassie in some parts of the book. One particular quote; “Time for the angrily-storming-out-of-the-room part of the argument, while the guy fold his arms over his manly chest and pouts.” The problem I have is not with the description of what Cassie is doing, I myself did exactly that, I stormed out rooms middle argument many times. My issue is with the second part, the guy standing there with his arms folded over his ‘manly’ chest. WTF?  This line made Yancey look like an author from 100 years ago that thought it was okay to portray females as tantrum throwers and men as the rational adult types who have to wait for the irrational woman to see sense.

If you, like me overlook the moments of question within the book and continue to read, you will come out the other side having enjoyed a well-crafted novel that sometimes successfully combines tropes to form an almost teen romance/alien story.

I can’t say I will be rushing out to read book 2, but I did enjoy the movie, so if the sequel comes out I will watch rather than read when it comes to this particular series.

3-stars-out-of-5

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Rebecca is a writer, mother, crafter and cake maker. With three children and a full time job, many of the characters bouncing around in her head will just have to wait to have their stories told. You can find her tweeting here.

The Elevator Pitch

This month here on Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking pitching. Make sure you stay tuned for our best pitch info and advice coming all throughout the month.

Today my post is two-fold. I have some advice on pitching, and then I have some news, but first with the pitch thing …

You’ve written a book. You love your book. You tell all your friends about how you’ve written this amazing story, and it’s all these (insert thousands here) words long. It’s really great, and you think everyone should read it, and so on and so on. Then one friend asks that question. You know the one. The question that has you thinking, um … well, how do I answer … in the next ten minutes?

And that question is: So, what’s your book about?

So, what is your book about? If you can’t tell me in one or two sentences and grab my attention straight away, then I’m probably going to nod my head and say, Oh … that’s nice. Then raise my eyebrows and smile, and keep nodding as you give me the five page synopsis of your book. If it’s a young adult book about vampires, and you tell me it’s a young adult book about vampires, then I’m also going to go along the “that’s nice” line. Seriously, there are so many of those😉

This is where the elevator pitch comes in.

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If you launch into the long synopsis version, I’ve already left the elevator before you’ve reached the end of the first page.

The elevator pitch needs to be short and to the point.

The elevator pitch should also be your best friend. It’s the one-liner you know by heart and can recite promptly when asked. It’s the essence of your story, what your story is really about. Take the young adult book about vampires example … your elevator pitch needs to say why this (very) popular YA theme is better and more awesome than every other YA book about vampires. And it needs to say it in a few (maybe only one or two) short and memorable sentences. Maybe your pitch doesn’t even mention the vampire thing.

Easier said than done, right?

This is where story summaries come in really handy. After you’ve written your book, and if you didn’t plot this way to begin with, it’s a useful exercise to summarise each chapter of your story. This will help you see what the main theme is that you have running through your book, because the elevator pitch has nothing to do with plot. It has to do with theme, essence, and intrigue.

Summing up an entire novel in a sentence or two can be difficult, but it is well worth the time and effort.

Now, for the second part of my post …

It is with great sadness that I announce my departure from the Aussie Owned and Read blogging universe. I didn’t make this decision lightly, but I’m at a point in my life where there is just so much going on that something has to give, so I’ve decided to step away from blogging for AOaR. I have had an amazing time over the past few years, and I’ve met so many equally amazing people. I extend a heartfelt virtual hug to all of you, and I thank the girls at AOaR for having me as part of their team. I’ll still be around, and I hope to see you all again at some stage. Keep smiling and writing xxx

 

K. A. Last is sad to be leaving AOaR, but she’ll still be around. She is the author of Sacrifice, Fall For Me, Fight For Me, and Immagica. She drinks lots of tea, is obsessed with Buffy, and loves all things purple (it used to be pink). K. A. Last hangs out on Facebook or you can find her on twitter and Goodreads. She’s also been known to blog once in a while.

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Pitch Wars Mentor Musing

For the past three weeks I’ve had my nose buried in my Pitch Wars searching for the manuscript and mentee that are a match for me. With a matter of days left to go until the mentor picks have to be in I have yet to mark my top pick, but I’m pretty close.

I won’t give away the top runners for me, but I will share a bit of my reading process and then some tips for improving your chances as snagging a spot in future pitch contests.

So here’s my process for my mentee:

  1. I scan through all the pitches as they come in and get a basic impression. If a pitch piques my interest as I may read the prose. And if that prose makes me want to salivate with literary lust I ask for the full.
  2. I set aside reading time, go back through the pitches and add in the prose. I then categorise the stories into folders in my emails under Full Requested, Maybe, Not For Me.
  3. As fulls come in I save them to Voice Dream Reader and I spend a heck of a lot of time with earphones as I do things like cook dinner so I can get through the requests. I also listen to the manuscripts in my car as I do a fair bit of driving for work.
  4. As I listen to the stories I determine:
    1. How much I enjoy the story.
    2. If I believe I can value add to the story.
    3. If I believe I can value add to the story in the required timeframes for the competition. (Yes this is different to the point above).
  5. I stalk the author. Sometimes this happens simultaneously with other points above. I want to know if I can work with the author, and I want to know if publishing professionals will want to work with the author. The author would have to behave pretty badly for me not to want to take them on.
  6. I begin making notes to get ready for the revision round. If I think there’s going to be a war (which there may be for me this time) I may hold off so I don’t do a stack load of wasted work.
  7. I let Brenda know where I’m at for who I want to mentor and it goes from there.

 

Now, onto tips!

  • If you are going to enter a pitch contest make sure your manuscript is in a good place:
    • Show, don’t tell: Here is a great article another Pitch Wars mentor shared that I highly recommend aspiring authors read: https://nicolelochoa.com/2016/08/16/do-i-tell-too-much/
    • Foreshadowing: You need to give the reader the opportunity to work things out, or at least be able to connect the dots after the twist is revealed.
    • Learn the technical side of your craft, like how to format dialogue.
  • You need to make sure your pitch glitters so much the contest coordinators have to slide on sunglasses.
    • Research what makes a good pitch and use the formula. And here’s an article on creating a pitch and query that the amazing Brenda Drake prepared earlier.
    • Workshop your pitch/query with both people who do know your story and people who don’t. Yes, pitches need betas too!
  • Make sure you familiarise yourself with the rules of the contest you want to enter and comply.
  • Be nice, professional, and not creepy on social media with contest officials. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to have some level of professionalism online. That doesn’t mean be a robot, but don’t be racist, sexist or any other negative ist that will make someone not want to work with you.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunities. Connecting with the contest coordinators and other entrants is an amazing opportunity. But don’t just be there when the contest is on (I’ve already noticed my Twitter followers start to dwindle, which happens regularly around this time), say the course and keep in touch because publishing is a community and it actually takes a village to write a book. Despite what people think, writing isn’t a solo sport.

I love being a Pitch Wars mentor. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve made so many friends being involved with pitch contests – it’s the reason why I’m on this blog!

What’s your favourite thing about pitch contests? What experiences would you love to share with AO&R readers.

 

Pitching Contests: Yes or No?

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This month here on Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking pitching. Make sure you stay tuned for our best pitch info and advice coming all throughout the month.

There are a lot of different types of competition authors can look at as a way to give their work industry attention, but today I’m talking pitching contests. Two of the biggest pitching contests that come around every year — which you may have heard of if you have a Twitter account and follow any authors at all — are Pitch Madness and Pitch Wars. The latter is on right now.

Both of these are organised by contest queen Brenda Drake. The ultimate goal is to have your pitch and/or manuscript chosen, polished, and put in front of participating agents for consideration. To do this, you need to first be selected by one of a number of mentors, who are generally editors, published or agented authors, or others with publishing experience but who aren’t actually publishers or agents themselves.

My experience: the positives

I am not an expert on the inner workings of either of these particular competitions. For that, you’ll have to ask Sharon, who is an experienced Pitch Wars mentor. But I have participated from the other side.

When I first joined Twitter back in 2012 I didn’t have any experienced critique partners. The only people who’d read my manuscript at that point were friends, who were enthusiastic but either didn’t see problems with the story as it stood or were too kind to tell me.

Pitch Wars was on about a month later, so I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t win, or even get picked for the final three by my mentors, although apparently I made some shortlists. It turned out that my query letter blew chunks. Several kinds, in new and interesting colours. Disheartening, much? But there were some definite positives from the experience.

  • I received some lovely compliments back on my writing. Yay, validation!
  • I got some specific, constructive feedback on the query and opening pages — all of which ultimately led to me improving both and selling that manuscript to a small publishing house.
  • I befriended many other entrants and a few of the mentors. I wouldn’t be an Aussie Owned and Read co-blogger now if it weren’t for that first Pitch Wars, and that’s how I met my critique partners.

My experience: the negatives

Of course, there are also a couple of big downsides to these sorts of contests.

They are yet another way to experience rejection, and some people will be disheartened to the point where they give up altogether. (Julie Hutchings, an author I adore, posted a rant last week that touched on exactly that; it’s worth a read if you want the other perspective.) I remember how gutted I was, receiving those “no thanks” emails after my first Pitch Wars. I’d never received a real, non-form rejection letter before, and it hurt — though I believe it’s better to have received that email from a fellow author than from an agent.

The other downside to these contests is that the mentors, as wonderful and giving as they are, are third parties. I can see that some authors, even those who don’t necessarily need the feedback anymore, might use pitching contests as yet another procrastination tool. If you have a query-ready manuscript that has been beta read and critiqued and edited, and you have a polished query letter all ready to go, do you really need to take a month or two out before querying in order to enter a contest? Why not hit up MSWL (Manuscript Wish List, my favourite agent-finding site) and put that baby out there all by yourself?

Are pitching contests right for you?

I’ve haven’t entered a pitching contest in a couple of years now. (I do love an enthusiastic Twitter pitch party, though!) There are a few reasons for that, but primarily it boils down to the fact that I have those awesome, experienced critique partners now, and I’m comfortable with the idea of querying directly to agents and publishing houses rather than going through what is essentially another set of gatekeepers. (I mean that in the nicest possible way!)

I’ve also been a mentor-equivalent in other, smaller contests — NestPitch and Pitcharama — so I’ve seen the slush pile from the other side. I’m not so arrogant as to suggest that I wouldn’t benefit from the insight of the current contest mentors, but I also know I don’t need that help as badly as I did in 2012. Back then I didn’t even know where to find a list of agents to query!

Ultimately, my advice is this: see what the contest is offering you. Not just the ultimate reward of an offer from an agent or publishing house, but all the other benefits, which are potentially available regardless of whether you’re selected. Pitching contests can be an excellent way to receive another perspective on your work from someone other than your bestie or your mother. They can teach you how to research a mentor’s preferences (a skill that will be invaluable when querying agents). And they can introduce you to a new circle of writers, who — if you’re as lucky as I was — might become an invaluable support network.

Whatever you decide to do, may the odds be ever in your favour.

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer whose first book, the manuscript she entered back in that 2012 Pitch Wars, is now available as a free ebook!

Cassandra Page

 

Review: Unrivaled by Alyson Noël

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Everyone wants to be someone.

Layla Harrison wants to leave her beach-bum days for digs behind a reporter’s desk. Aster Amirpour wants to scream at the next casting director who tells her “we need ethnic but not your kind of ethnic.” Tommy Phillips dreams of buying a twelve-string guitar and using it to shred his way back into his famous absentee dad’s life.

But Madison Brooks took destiny and made it her bitch a long time ago.

She’s Hollywood’s hottest starlet, and the things she did to become the name on everyone’s lips are merely a stain on the pavement, ground beneath her Louboutin heel.

That is, until Layla, Aster, and Tommy find themselves with a VIP invite to the glamorous and gritty world of Los Angeles’s nightlife and lured into a high-stakes competition where Madison Brooks is the target. Just as their hopes begin to gleam like stars through the California smog, Madison Brooks goes missing. . . . And all of their hopes are blacked out in the haze of their lies.

Unrivaled is #1 New York Times bestselling author Alyson Noël’s first book in a thrilling suspense trilogy about how our most desperate dreams can become our darkest nightmares.

I loved the cover and the blurb as soon as I picked this book up. It sounded like the perfect mix of Gossip Girl elite and who-dun-it mystery, and I’ve been keen to get into another well-written suspense.

*sigh*

This book is multi-POV through the three MCs Layla, Aster, and Tommy, with occasional entries by Madison. It starts off with a prologue of Madison being kidnapped which I guess was meant to reel in the reader and get them through the first 60% of the book where basically nothing happens. We go through the first-date, ‘get to know the characters’ initial chapters three times before the Unrivaled competition even starts.

There is just so much establishing. As the first book in the series I guess Noël really wanted us to know her stereotypical characters right down to their two-dimensional depths.

Aster and Madison were the two who showed the most promise and I felt like we didn’t get anywhere near as much time with them as I would have liked.

Once the awkward small talk was over, the book really picked up. From about 60% to the end, there was a lot more intrigue and it felt like the characters actually had to do some work for what they wanted. Layla’s blog posts warmed me toward her too.

The night Madison’s kidnap takes place delivers the kind of high-stakes drama I was expecting from this book, and it was fun watching the main characters puzzle out exactly what took place.

As much as I ended up enjoying this book, it suffers from severe ‘series set-up syndrome’. The cliffhanger ending leaves you wanting more, but there were too many questions left unanswered (and I don’t think a single plot line resolved), that you also feel cheated for the time invested. Like, if I don’t finish the series, I’ve spent a few hours on nothing.

While I might sound overly critical of this book, it’s only because the ending delivered so much. Noël reinstated my confidence in her as a writer and if there had been a solid wrap-up I easily could have given this book a higher rating.

As it stands, I’ll hope the second book builds on the momentum the first leaves us with, for a really killer read.

AOaR_3star (3)

(and a half)

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Heather is busy writing in her mind, and growing a baby in her belly. You can follow her random tweeting here

The Dreaded Query Letter

During August, we on Aussie Owned are talking all things ‘pitching’, and Rebecca and I will be tackling how to take on a query letter.

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There is SO much advice out there it can be hard to know where to start, but if you are planning on the traditional publishing route, you WILL need a query letter and it WILL need to be a good one.

Because every agent/editor/reader is different, they all have different preferences, so below are a few pointers that seem like the safest way to go. Heather has also included an example query letter that was successful in gaining her agent’s attention.

Stick to the main story arc

Yes, your story is unique because of the multiple storylines and details you have worked meticulously to craft. We wouldn’t expect any less. Problem is, try and push more than the main storyline, and possibly one sub-plot, and you’ve lot your audience. The whole letter will read like one gigantic mess of problems.

Stick to the main characters

Your query should be written about your MC and their main conflict. If there are other characters that directly impact either the MC or the main storyline, it is okay to mention them. But no one else. No one needs to know the MC’s sister’s boyfriend’s name. Don’t create character soup, you want your reader to connect with your MC, not get confused by side characters. A good rule of thumb is no more than three characters mentioned by name. Usually (especially for YA) this would be your MC, your love interest, and your antagonist.

Write in third person

What’s that? But you want to be super creative and write your query letter from your MC’s POV because the book is from their POV and doesn’t it make more sense?! No. Resist. Keep it clean. Stand out with great writing, not some fancy gimmick.

Rhetorical questions

Aren’t they great? Don’t they open up a world of possibility? Isn’t a life or death choice the best way to start?

No.

Every rhetorical question can be written stronger as a statement, and some agents are so sick of seeing them they can lead to an auto-pass. Don’t risk it.

Word count

Try and limit your letter to between 250-350 words. You should have a solid paragraph or two about the story, and one that mentions genre, word count, TITLE, and any qualifications you have to write the book. This summary paragraph can either go at the beginning or the end as it differs depending on the reader, just make sure to include it.

DO be friendly and show personality

DON’T be too creepy and over-the-top

DO mention WHY you are querying that certain agent/editor so they can see you’ve done your research

DON’T follow up unless guidelines specifically mention an always-reply policy, and in that case, only do so after at least a six week timeframe

It is important to keep in mind that not every query letter will be perfect, and some that get attention are the ones that break the rules. But it’s highly recommended that if you are going to break the rules, you need to be pro at following them first.

A well-written query letter can only increase your chances that whoever you’re pitching will read on to the opening pages. Which we all know is where the magic starts.

The following query letter was probably rewrite number 134.7. It isn’t perfect, but it’s clean, got to the point, and held enough interest for agents to read on.

 

Dear ______,

Michelle Hodkins’ MARA DYER series meets Kate Brian’s PRIVATE in this YA Dark Urban Fantasy about a girl who goes to a boarding school for teens with superhuman abilities. Once there, she must confront her own dangerous powers, her psychotic father, and a scandalous, forbidden romance.

Gifted with special powers, seventeen-year-old Jenna Rose is unique. She can adopt and subvert the supernatural gifts of those around her. Unfortunately, her father has the same ability—and it’s pushed him to the brink of insanity.

In an attempt to escape his psychotic rage, Jenna and her family flee to Delford Valley, a place that coaches and protects Majesties—people like her. Christian pushes Jenna into the school spotlight, and she is torn between wanting to smack the smug out of him, and helping him fight the conformist shackles of his rigid, royal family.

As Jenna learns to develop and control her powers, she finds her sanity being pushed to the edge. Dreams and illusions so real they nearly kill her begin to manifest, testing her perception of reality. And when another severed doll’s head shows up—her father’s calling card—Jenna must make a choice: either flee the Valley and leave Christian behind forever; or face her father once and for all, and risk losing what’s left of her sanity.

ILLUSION OF A MAJESTY is a Young Adult dark urban fantasy with series potential, complete at 75,700 words. It features an unreliable narrator and teens with X-MEN-style abilities.

I am currently a blogger with Aussie Owned and Read. This is my first novel.

Thank you for your consideration.