Thursday, 31 October 2013

Vlog - Episode 2 - How to Craft an Attention Grabbing Query!

If you've been following this vlog series about attracting the right agent, then welcome back to Episode Two - How to Craft an Attention Grabbing Query!  If you're new to the series, go back and check out Episode One - Finding The Agent For You.

I hope you enjoy episode two!


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Vlog - Attracting the Right Agent

Howdy!  This week I've started a new vlog series on how to attract the right agent.  This is a six part series designed to help new authors break into the publishing world.

Here's episode one:  Finding The Agent For You.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Shine those books for Pitch Wars!

How to shine those books for Pitch Wars!

Okay, we all know it's coming.  We're all as impatient as hell.  It feels like it will never come.  And then it'll be over as soon as you know it.  So while we're in the phase that I like to call "The Epic Wait", I thought it would help if I shared some tips on how to get your manuscripts in tip top shape.  Also, because it's almost Halloween and that just happens to be my all time favourite season of the year, I thought I'd throw in some of my favourite writing resources for your reading pleasure too (cause we all know that we'd rather be procrastinating than drafting!).

So what exactly do I need to do to get my manuscript picked out of the slush?

Be different.  No, seriously.  It's got to be fresh.  There are thousands of writers competing against each other every week.  Really sit down and analyse your concept.  Write down, in one sentence, what's really different about your book.  Write down in another sentence WHY it is different.  Tell you what, here's a challenge for the bravest among you - write these two sentences in the comments.  I'll give you my feedback.

Okay, so that's half the battle.  What's the other half?  Character and prose.  We need to care.  And I mean really care.  Caring can mean we either love your character, or we are intrigued or fascinated.  Why do you like the character?  What is it that makes YOU connect to them?  Tear through your opening chapters and really hone in on whether you are conveying this.  Don't just write and hope for the best.  Use the resources you can to really find out if your words are doing what they are supposed to (the Donald Maass link at the bottom of the post can help you with this.  But it's tough, tough work.  But how much do you want it?).

We mentioned words.  These are important.  Almost the right word is not enough.  You need the exact words.  But that's not all.  You need flow and voice.  Think of the people you know.  They all talk in their own way.  So do you.  So should your characters.  Get in their voice.  Don't just write in your own voice.  Become your character.  Actually, one of the best pieces of advice I heard came from an improv actor.  He acts out his characters then writes them.  He literally becomes them.  Try it.

Okay, I'm out of the slush.  What now?  How can I make them love my book baby?

Work as hard on your whole ms as you do on the first three chapters.  It's sad to say, but writers hone and polish their first three chapters to a high shine, and then they let the other chapters just trundle past.  I'm not saying writers don't edit and critique their full ms.  Of course they do.  They have critique partners, they stay up to the small morning hours checking plot arcs and character growth.  However, they don't put the same focus on the full manuscript as they do on the first three chapters.  Take the time to do this.  There's nothing worse than reading something in the slush that has amazing opening chapters but then the rest of the manuscript doesn't live up to the high polished sheen of those first few pages.  Trust me.  It will pay off.  Really, really work them.

Make sure your concept matches your actual story.  It's surprising how you can get an amazing pitch but then the actual plot doesn't reflect us.  Don't hook an agent with a killer hook if the story isn't really focusing on that angle.  The idea isn't just to get them to read it.  They need to love it.  An agent will get disgruntled if these two things are at odds.  It's a huge disappointment.

Check for flow.  Flowing sentences, paragraphs and pages count.  Your writing should be invisible so that the reader can fall into the world effortlessly.  You get this by having flow.

Learn the writing rules.  Properly.  Know them.  Check through your WHOLE book.  Then break a few.  No one ones a pitch perfect book.  Pitch perfect is boring.  Choose wisely about what you write.  Don't be afraid to experiment.

Know your genre.  Simple.

I'm waiting, what now?

Query selectively.  Enter contests selectively.  Don't just throw your book at every wall and hope for it to stick.  Research your next book idea.  Work out what you learned from your last book.  Apply it to your new book.  Think of your pitch.  Yes, now.  Use it to keep your writing focused.

And that's it.  Study your craft.  Question yourself and your book.  Analyse what you've done.  Let your muse flow.  Have fun.  Enjoy.  Research.  Reach out and ask others for help.  Stay true to yourself.  Learn and grow.  And don't give up.  Keep doing this and eventually it'll all come together.

Trust me.  I'm a slow learner but I stick around.  It took me sixteen years to get an agent.  If I can do it, so can you.  Just repeat and rinse the above advice.  Over and over and over, as many times as you need.  I'll see you on the other side!

Please, please, please check out all of these blogs:

1)  Brenda Drake (really you should know this url off by heart now):

2)  For the YA writer:

3)  For ANY writer (this is an extensive resource):

4)  If you value your writing in any way at all, listen to Mr. Maass:

5)  Yes, this is for YA, but EVERY writer should use this as it discusses diversity in books:

6)  Wonderful, incise writing blog:

7)  A fantastic writing community:

Friday, 4 October 2013

A-Z of books

Eeep!  I have stolen the concept of this post from a fellow author (Kelley Harvey) and so it's posted here.  It's so much fun!  Let me know your answers to some of the questions in the comments section below!

Author You’ve Read The Most Books From
Stephen R Donaldson (because at least one of his series is 10 books long!).

Best Sequel Ever
This is a toughie for me.  I'd say the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R Donaldson really floated my boat in terms of sequel books.  That being said,  Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams is definitely a huge contender.  As is the amazing Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.  Eek!  Too many choices!

Currently Reading
You Against Me by Jenny Downham (she wrote a haunting YA called Before I Die, and this is her latest work, so I'm really hopeful it's as good!).

Drink of Choice While Reading
Full fat Coca-Cola - is there anything else??!

E-reader or physical book?
100% Physical book. I understand and appreciate the place of e-readers, but I neither own nor want one.  Paper is where books come alive for me.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School
I don't think there is one, actually.  I don't look at the romance in books to be honest.

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.  It's written in a fairly archaic way and it's difficult to get into, but stick with it.  Honestly.  It's the most compelling, intelligent, and thematic book I've ever read.  I adore it and have read it well over 30 times (and that's a low estimation).

Hidden Gem Book
My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates.  It's an amazing read.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life
Reading My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates and realising that there are so much more options in how you write the story you want to tell.  The same applied when reading Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.  It hit me with such raw emotion.

Just Finished
Effortless With You by Lizzy Charles.  A really sweet YA Romance from a newly published fellow author, who happens to be one of my CPs.  A lovely read.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a particular fan of romance.  However, based on my answer above, it's evident that I can read in that genre (and really like it!).  I wouldn't say there is a book I wouldn't try.  I'm open to giving any book a fair shot, that way sometimes a surprise comes my way!

Longest Book You’ve Read
I never notice page length when I'm reading, but some books just feel long.  I can't think of one off the top of my head, but there have been a few.

Major Book Hangover Because of
The Harry Potter series.  I did not sleep on any of the books.  Some writers laugh at this, like somehow it's not good enough, but that series worked for a reason.  It's damned good.

Number of Bookcases You Own
I don't have ANY!  I have shelves.  I lost a lot of books when I moved country, and I also give tons of books away, as once I've read them, I like other people to get the pleasure of them.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.

Preferred Place to Read
Next to a window with a beautiful view.  I also like to lie in my hammock and read.

Quote That Inspires You:
I don't think there's just one quote that inspires me, as it changes depending on what stage I am in life, and what my current learning curve is.  At the moment, it's about gratitude and remembering what you have in life:

Reading Regret
That I haven't read all of the classics.  I mean to, but I haven't.

(Complete) Series You Started and Need to Finish
I'm pretty good at finishing series, so nothing comes immediately to mind.

Three of Your All Time Favourite Books
The Private Memories and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Unapologetic Fangirl Filthy Stalker Of
Tabitha Suzuma (if you read this, Tabitha, I don't mean in a weird sort of way!  lol).

Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others
Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein.  I am very excited about this, as from what I've seen, this is going to make a huge splash!

Worst Bookish Habit
Not reading the back book blurbs properly as I'm too keen to get the book into my grubby little hands!

X Marks the Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book
I don't have 27 books up there (the shame!).  I give my books away often.  But...I will count until it gets to it's the Gods of Atlantis by David Gibbens (a book I picked up on holiday but haven't read yet).

Your Latest Book Purchase
You Against Me by Jenny Downham

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (last one that kept you up way too late)
Every book in the Harry Potter series, and every book in the Hunger Games series.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Ten tips on how to win a writing contest

With all of the competitions lately, and the upcoming #PitchWars run by the fantastic Brenda Drake (seriously, if you don't know who this woman is, what are you even doing on the Internet?!), it's time again for writers to hone their pitches, polish their queries, and prepare their manuscripts.  There's only one problem.  Writer Self-Doubt.

Yup, that's right.  Whenever a competition comes along, writers get hammered with self-doubt.  It's much like the query process, only sometimes it can be tougher as it has that "competitive" feel.  So how, exactly, do you go about winning a writing competition?  Well, although there is no sure fire formula (good writing trumps all, as they say), there are a few things you can do to really boost your chances.  Check out the ten tips on how to win a writing contest below:

1)  Take a deep breath and read over the competition rules slowly.  You'd be surprised at how many people rush and forget to go over the rules, and then send three extra emails saying "oops, sorry I forgot to say/include/etc".  Professionalism helps.  A lot.

2)  Look through the previous winning entries of the contest.  No, really.  Too many writers are too lazy to do this.  But you need to.  Really, you do.  These entries were picked for a reason.  Dissect them.  Look at their strengths.  Maybe it's form, technical structure, concept, voice.  Whatever it is, find it.  Find out how it works, then use it to your advantage.

3)  Read the book blurbs on the back of your favourite books.  This is called a pitch.  You need to know how to do this.  Don't just try to make up your own.  See how it's really done.  Again, a lot of writers try to make a pitch without ever looking at a real book blurb.  Don''t do this.  It won't help.  Get your butt out your chair and read some real life book blurbs.

4)  Learn the difference between an ACTIVE scene and an ACTION scene.  You want to have an active scene.  Yes, you can have action, but it isn't compulsory.  Even action scenes can lack forward momentum.  A lot of good books by new writers have bad beginnings.  Make sure yours isn't one of them.  Again, read real books that you like to find out HOW they start.  It's not all guns and explosions, you know.

5)  Check over your entries before you send them for spelling and grammar mistakes.  Take your TIME.  Slow down.  New writers are in too much of a hurry.  Publishing is a looooong process, so rein that pony in.  You need to make your copy clean, professional, and precise.

6)  The closer you can get your reader to your character, the better.  What makes readers care about characters is if they can understand them, relate, connect, or are fascinated by them.  Give your opening pages to some good critique partners solely asking for feedback on what they FEEL about your character.  Are they receiving what you think you're putting out?  Why or why not?

7)  Be proactive.  Tweet about your entry.  Encourage others.  This second part is more important than the first.  Yes, it's important we have your submission on our radar, but it's more important that we see you are encouraging towards the writing community in general.  Naturally, judges like people who are nice and friendly.  No one wants to work with a bear.  Fact.

8)  Scour your manuscript for cliches, passive voice, redundant description, purple prose, and other writing demons.  Use that red pen with force.  And then...put a couple back in.  :-)  No one wants prose with no soul.  Just choose very, very wisely.

9)  Pick the right judge.  If you have a choice of who you submit to, read what they like, check out their website/blog/facebook.  Follow them on twitter.  Ask them a question.  They might answer.  Find out what kind of books they like to read.  Don't be afraid to ask.  You might be surprised about what you find out.

10)  Don't be in it just to win it.  Yes, it's lovely to win.  But that's not really the whole point.  A big part of contests is LEARNING experience.  Use it to make connections.  Agents, editors and other writers meet and connect through contests all the time.  While you might not win, you might meet some invaluable people.

So, there you have it.  Contests in a nut shell.  I hope to see you in #PitchWars this year.  Don't forget to check out my Mentor Wish List when it comes up.

Good luck to you all.  And may the force be with you!