Chill, connect, cool it — advice for emerging authors

 

This month we’re talking about things we wish we knew when we first started out on our authoring journey. Some might see it as us dishing out advice for new writers. Whichever way you spin July’s topic here’s my top three things I’d tell younger me, you know if I had a time machine:

 

Chill, it’s just a first draft.

Spewing words onto the screen is perfect even if those words aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter how well a story is written when we first write it. That initial draft is all about getting the story out. About telling it to ourself as the author, so we know who the characters are, what the plot is, and how everything comes together. No first draft is perfect and that’s okay! You can spend years going over that opening chapter trying to perfect it, but you know what? All that time is wasted because you’ll be so hung up on crafting wonderful words that you’re likely to never write the two most magical words ever, THE END.

Connect, it’s not a one man show.

Writing can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to, nor should it be that way. Books are a bit like children and that age old saying which goes with them; it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe it takes more than just one person to write a good book.

Go, grab your favourite book written by a big-5 best-selling author and turn to the acknowledgements. I can guarantee in the list of people that author thanks are other authors. These are usually the people who have supported him/her during the writing process. Many of us here at AO&R are critique partners, beta readers, and plotting soundboards for each other. Reach out, because finding the right writing mates is important.

Cool it, there’s no rush to submit.

Most writers think they have the best story, the best concept, a totally unique idea. And many do!! But rushing off to submit can do more harm than good. You see, most agents and publishers will only look at your work once, so don’t waste that opportunity on work that isn’t your best. There’s no need be concerned that you need to sub before X conference or Y date or Z holiday, or that you have to get in before someone else sells a similar story. Make sure that you submit the best possible product you can. That it’s been through multiple rounds of edits, it’s been read and critiqued by someone who knows about writing and is brutally honest, and that’s it’s been proofread. Of course the opposite can be said too, don’t over think it. You don’t want to hold onto that thing forever.

 

What about you, fellow writers, is there one burning piece of advice you’d give to your former self?

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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Pitch Madness: Pitch-Honing Session Too!

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Happy half-price-chocolate day! ❤

Last Thursday we posted a pitch-honing session here. Anyone who’s tried to follow that thread will know the comments thread has become more tangled than a marionette’s strings after my son has been playing with it for five minutes! So we’re starting afresh today.

Don’t know what Pitch Madness is? You can find out more about it here. Basically, it’s your chance to have your manuscript skip the slush pile and be seen by a heap of fabulous agents.

Two of the Aussie Owned and Read team are involved in choosing some of the pitches that will make it in front of the industry professionals, and we want to help you make your pitch shine! Put your pitch in the comments as per the formatting below and we’ll let you know our thoughts on how it can be improved. You are also welcomed to help out your fellow writers aspiring to be part of Pitch Madness by providing feedback on other posts too.

Sharon and Lauren are on Team Dark Side and they (and the rest of us!) are really looking forward to seeing what you have to offer.

Title:
Category and genre:
35-word pitch:

As the submission deadline for the competition is 20 February, we’re closing this window of opportunity on 19 February to give you time to tinker before the final deadline. Good luck and happy pitching!

Team Darkside 1
Cassandra Page is acting as a minion of Team Dark Side. She’s expecting her light sabre in the mail any day now.
Cassandra Page

Pitch Madness: Pitch Honing Session

*** THIS HONING SESSION IS NOW CLOSED TO NEW PITCHES. PLEASE SEE THE NEW POST. ***
Pitch Madness is just around the corner and it’s time to sharpen those pitches! The Aussie Owned & Read team is here to help!
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Don’t know what Pitch Madness is? You can find out more about it here. Basically, it’s your chance to have your manuscript skipping the slush pile and being seen by a heap of fabulous agents.
Two of the Aussie Owned & Read team are involved in choosing some of the pitches that will make it in front of the industry professionals, and we want to help you make your pitch shine! Put your pitch in the comments as per the formatting below and we’ll let you know our thoughts on how it an be improved. You are also welcomed to help out your fellow writers aspiring to be part of Pitch Madness by providing feedback on other posts too. Sharon and I are on Team Dark Side and we are really looking forward to seeing what you have to offer.
Title:
Category and genre:
35-word pitch:
Happy pitching!
Team Darkside 1
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. Her third release,

Eleven Weeks, just came out last week, and you can currently find her on Facebook here or rocking quietly in a corner. 

Interview: Shelby C. Madison, Senior YA Acquisitions Editor

Today I’m interviewing Shelby C. Madison, the YA and NA editor at Turquoise Morning Press, or TMP. Shelby is the person that acquired my trilogy, so of course I luff her. ❤ If you’ve got a romance novel looking for a home, or a book in another genre, but with romantic elements, this may well be of interest to you!

Academy For LosersTMP has just opened up its books to submissions from 1 January 2015. What sort of genre or genres are you looking for? Is there anything that is a no go?

I mainly deal with young adult, with the occasional new adult submission. As a whole, TMP looks for engaging stories with strong female protagonists. Within your non-traditional romance genres, like mystery or crime fiction, we like a romantic element to play out in the story. We find these characteristics engage our readers. Check out our submissions page for more information.

Do you accept novellas? Are there word length limitations?

GiftedWithin each line, there are some word length limitations. For example, we do not accept shorter than 50k-word count for young adult. We feel the shorter stories do not engage this type of audience. They want more and our authors can give it.

What topic don’t you ever want to see again?

Within the young adult line, I’m never a fan of stories where all you read is the dirty side of drug abuse or sexual violence. I know it’s a real factor facing many but fiction is an escape. Reading takes you to a place away from reality. But that doesn’t mean I won’t consider a well-written manuscript showing someone climbing out of the drug life, for example.

I don’t think vampires are as hot with YA anymore, unless there is a new take. Get creative. Reach deep down, pull out that hidden story, and wow me.

When you’re reading a manuscript, how do you know it’s The One? What sets your heart to racing?

Reinventing ChloeMany factors can play into this. For example, I recently acquired a YA about a girl who is in love with this band from before her time. The first chapter hooked me because of the clever banter between characters and the way the writer brought me into a school dance and showed me what it would be like it you took away pop sensation and played music from two decades ago.

If I can’t put the manuscript down, I want it. That first chapter needs to move me to the next.

What three YA or NA books from TMP (other than mine 😉 ) would you recommend people read?

Tasting SIlverOver the couple of years that I’ve been acquiring for TMP, I’ve made it a goal to widen the selection in our bookstore. We have an assortment of paranormal/fantasy with titles like Academy For Losers by Cat Shaffer, Gifted by Ingrid Alexandra and a new release in January by Debbie Kump, Elementals. If you’re not into anything mystical or magical, our fiction is filled out nicely with titles by Julie Anne Lindsey, Reinventing Chloe, Tasting Silver by S.E. Campbell and the Honey Creek Royalty series by Jennifer Anderson. We also offer a few suspense tiles. Here is the link to the YA/NA section of our bookstore.

What book are you looking forward to reading over your Christmas break?

Ice PrincessI am a huge Katie McGarry fan. I actually met her two years ago at an author/reader even in Ohio and I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and take her home…but she has kids and they might need her! Her books have everything I look for in a good read: edge, snark, drama and love. Her newest book, Breaking The Rules, releases in early December and I’m re-reading book one, which involves the same characters, so I’m ready to go. I hope to also catch up on my already purchased TBR list. I’m ashamed to admit how many books I have loaded on my e-readers.

Cassandra Page writes young adult urban fantasy with some of the aforementioned “romantic elements”. See?

Cassandra Page

Observations from Query Comp Judging

I originally posted this on my blog, but with our recent Pitcharama event, I thought it would be great to share here with all of you as well.

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I see a ton of queries. It’s the first thing I read with every submission that hits my inbox. With Query Kombat and Pitcharama, it was the first thing I read. What I’ve noticed from this is one thing:
People in general know how to write a strong query.

Writers have so many resources now that writing a good query is getting easier and easier. With critiques on blogs, in comps, from other writers, refining a query letter is almost as easy as 1,2,3. The queries I see most of the time have the rules down; a hook, the meat of the story, and the stakes. I think once these are clear, your query is ready to go, and I also think a query can be over critiqued, so be careful of that.

Good job to all the writers out there!

 

Now for the first page/250 words.

This is another thing entirely. This portion of the manuscript, for me, is what sells the story. In this brief glimpse of what’s to come, I can see the style of the writer, the voice, and the world building. A first page that introduces me to the main character right away and lays down piece by piece the foundations of the world is more likely to pull me in to read more. If there is info dumping, passive voice (a little is fine because, let’s be honest, passive voice is a beast) and telling in that brief glimpse, it tells me the rest of the manuscript will be riddled with them.

Allow me to use an analogy. Think of it like this: You are building a house. You start off with a blue print to show what the home will eventually look like. This blue print is your query. You place your blue print down to provoke interest and to show what this home is going to look like.

Now, the foundations for the house need to be laid. A foundation of a house is usually dug out, concrete poured, etc so the house has something stable to rest on. Houses with poor foundations crumble or don’t last too long, right? But no one can see the foundation in the long run, even though it is essential to the house’s structure and integrity. Your first page/250 words is the foundation of the manuscript. It’s the first thing to be “laid out” and is needs to be strong, clear, and precise. The basics of the world need to be set out without anything fancy like use of unknown terms for the reader, and the main character needs to be established. In the long run, this opening becomes forgotten in the plot and character interactions, but without it being there, holding the story firmly grounded in the readers mind, the rest of the plot falls apart and the reader struggles to make sense of it, so ultimately sets it aside.

So make the foundation of your novel strong. Refine that first glimpse of your manuscript and follow that refining throughout the book. Give your reader something to love and want to curl up inside and know they are safe and cozy.

 

Good luck to you all xxx

Katie

 

Katie Teller

Katie Teller is a writer of NA fiction. Her debut, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, is now available. You can find out more about Katie, the Kiya trilogy, and her other books on twitterfacebook or at her own blog.

photo credit: blavandmaster via photopin cc

 

Being an Acquisitions Editor & What Happens When a Publisher Says YES

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So this is a post that has come directly from one of our followers (You know who you are 😉 ) As you may or may not know, I work as an Acquisitions Editor with Curiosity Quills Press and Sego Lily Publishing. In a nutshell, this means I am part of the team that reads through all the submissions, aka “the slush pile,” that come into the publisher.

And I’ll tell you what, CQ gets a pretty hefty slush pile. To give you a little bit of a behind the scenes tour, it goes something like this: The submissions are received and sorted by the Acquisitions Manager. They are then sorted into date and time of arrival and go on a waiting list. As they move to the top, the managers gives them to who would best suit the manuscript. I for example, get mostly YA/NA romancey type stuff, and I seem to get historicals fairly frequently, too.

This isn’t a quit-your-day-job kind of job. I do this part time, from home. I love doing it, and when I reject I try to give out positive feedback why. But that’s a personal thing.

Once you get that elusive YES, aka, contract offer, from the publishers I have worked with, I have received a “style guide”. This will tell you how to format and edit the novel in preparation for your editor. Don’t stress about this, just be thorough. After doing three books with CQ, I have learned what I need to do and only sometimes refer to the guide.

While all this is going on, a production manager assigns an editor, cover artist, release date and so forth.

My advice? Work hard, know your art, and write me a story that grabs me from the beginning without distracting me with info dumps, passive voice, and so forth. And Good Luck!

Got questions? Feel free to ask!

photo credit: Olivander via photopin cc

Querying agents and publishers: a glossary

Ah, it’s the second of January. Back to work for many of us, agents and publishers included. If you’ve been waiting till January to begin querying your manuscript and you haven’t yet entered the agent or publisher query trenches, you may not be familiar with the terms used to describe the things a writer might be asked to provide.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the ones I’ve encountered:

MS. Manuscript. Yours. 🙂

Query. This is a short letter (no more than one page in Word, single spaced), that contains two to three paragraphs about your story, as well as the title, genre and word count rounded to the nearest thousand.

The story paragraphs should read like a blurb on the back of a book; they should showcase your MS’s voice and tell the reader who the main character is, their age if the MS is kidlit, and the main conflict or challenge they face. I use this structure: when the main character does X, she must face Y. Avoid rhetorical questions.

The goal is to hook the agent or publisher, making them want to read more. The paragraphs shouldn’t provide an outline of the story—that’s what the synopsis is for. But make sure you write them in the third person, even if your story is in the first person; I’ve seen a lot of agents talk on Twitter about not liking first person queries from the main character’s point of view. Save your first person for the other paragraphs of the query, but make it from your own perspective, not your character’s.

If you have them, your query should also have a paragraph detailing any previous publishing credits or relevant experience that you may have—if you’re writing crime fiction, say, then a background in policing or criminology might be helpful; and a book about an athlete struggling to perform may be helped by sporting credentials. Some agents say that if you don’t have any publishing credits, you can also talk here about your passion for the genre, why you’ve written that particular story—that sort of thing.

If you have a platform—a fabulously successful blog like Chuck Wendig, for example, or if you’re really JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym—mention that too.

Don’t include how long it took you to write the novel. If the timeframe is too short it flags a lack of editing; if it’s too long the book looks overcooked. Either way, they don’t need to know.

You can see Jay Kristoff’s successful query letter here (it’s an excellent example of the writer’s voice). And for a great guide to writing the story paragraphs, check out this blog.

Pages. Some agents or publishers ask for the first few pages of your MS with the initial query, or after receiving the query and liking it. The magic number is usually five or ten pages. I always assume they mean double spaced unless they say otherwise. Almost every agent and publisher I’ve submitted my MSs to asked for these to be pasted into the body of the email, under the text of the query letter (this is a basic protection against computer viruses, not because they’re too lazy to double click an attachment).

If your MS has a prologue, seriously consider sending the first few pages of your first chapter, not of the prologue itself. Many agents don’t like prologues on general principle, and they are rarely a good example of the main story’s voice.

Above all, always, always, always follow the guidelines on the website above any other advice, including mine! 😉

Synopsis. This is a document that outlines the story. Most agents and publishers give you one to two pages (here I assume single spaced unless they say otherwise), but I’ve seen some ask for three paragraphs, say, or 300 words. It’s a good idea to prepare a longer version and a shorter one so you’re ready for either.

Partial. This is a certain number of chapters or pages (50 pages, double spaced, seems to be common, as does the first three chapters)—it’s what an agent or publisher usually asks for if they’ve read your pages, query and/or synopsis and want to see more. At this point they usually want them in an attachment.

Full.  Unsurprisingly, this is when the agent or publisher asks to see the full MS. If you get to this stage, high five! Even if they don’t offer to represent or publish you in the end, you’ve still got game. Double spaced is definitely the go here, unless they say otherwise.

R&R. This is a “revise and resubmit”—the phrase they use to describe the fact they like it, but have ideas for changes to the MS they’d like to see before they offer to represent or publish you. You don’t have to do the changes, obviously, but if you don’t then your MS is still looking for a home. It’s your call.

Summary:

My biggest tip for dealing with agents and publishers is BE PROFESSIONAL. It may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many stories I’ve heard of unedited submissions, incomprehensible queries, angry tirades, people not following the submission guidelines… When a publishing professional is choosing whether to sign your book, they are also choosing whether to sign you, and the sad truth of the matter is there are so many writers out there that they don’t have to sign the difficult ones. Don’t be a difficult one.

And happy hunting!

Cassandra Page got an awful lot of practice at writing query letters before finally landing a deal. She’s actually a little embarrassed by how many queries she sent.

Cassandra Page