Monthly Archives: January 2014

Another Pitchwars Story

The first Twitter contest I submitted to, I never made it out of the slush. Afterwards, the host Tweeted advice based on queries he received. One of his tweets, I knew, was a direct hit to me. Yes, guilty, I switched to first person character perspective in the query. I had my flash of embarrassment and fixed my query.

In late August, I gave PitchMadness a shot. Then the “teaser tweets” came, and I saw one that I knew had me pegged. In my query, I used an undefined word that’s unique to my book, “Mythian.” Oops. I didn’t make it out of the slush. I did, however, see some wonderful pitches and first pages. I cheered for them, making a few twitter friends. Again, I went back and tweaked my query.

Trick or Treat with agents rolled around, and again, I remained in the slush, but cheered for my favorites and my new friends. And I made way more new friends. This time, there were no tweets that I read and went “oh crap. That’s me.”Afterwards, I took another look at my query and went “how can I make this more attention grabbing – how do I tell them that it’s unique?”

By the time PitchWars came around, I was swimming in a sea of shiny NaNoWriMo WIP. I fell in love with my new MS, an NA Contemporary called Quarter Turn. The story brewed in my head for about a year, and it just poured out of me during NaNo.

Pitchwars showed up, and though I really wanted to focus on my new MS, I went for it. I made a deal with myself. If Scales turned another stagnant slush run, I agreed to shelve it and continue on with Quarter Turn.

My query took on a more personalized tone, because not only did I give my pitch, but I told each mentor what elements of my MS fit their desires. (That mostly came from the two years of writing resumes and cover letters post-college.) I thought my queries were rocking. I even jogged them back and forth with my CP and my sister to make sure my pitch wasn’t a rambling mess.

I didn’t expect to win a spot – I expected to validate my assumption that Scales was a statistic in the “first novels never see light” headline.

Molly (@MollyLee) scooped my baby from the slush pile and called me hers. Twitter blew up with congratulations while I was in a meeting, and I did laps around the office when I discovered it. Seriously, I did. My bosses will vouch for me.

And then the high quickly deflated as the reality of editing settled in. Molly gave me back a fully marked copy of my MS, and I knew I had to embark on a Frankenstein adventure. She loved my characters and the premise, but I had some plot issues with pacing and leaving too much of the good stuff to the back half of the book. My CP (and best friend since highschool) Michelle (@mah_hoehn) took my shaking hand and beat my frazzled nerves into submission. She graciously helped me distill Molly’s critiques into ways that I could fix certain elements. I moved A LOT around, switching scenes, gutting damn near every chapter, and sanded down all the rough edges. Seriously, I rewrote probably 40% of the book.

No, I didn’t get any agent love out of the agent round. (I am stoked that one of my teammates did though, Go Sam!) And, honestly, I’m not all that upset about it. I thought Scales was shiny before, but now I need sunglasses to read it. And most of all, it gave me the validation that Scales is worth pursuing. I just needed those baby steps to learn first.

So that brings me to my advice. Guys, Twitter contests are phenomenal for learning experiences. Yeah, the sting of losing sucks, hardcore. I’ve done it. A lot. But know that everyone who got to the top had their own string of failures and losses. And the industry is so subjective (I saw a ton of thrillers getting love in PitchMadness. Last time it was Historical Romances.) I read a quote once, which I can no longer find the original source for, that said : Authors are writers who never gave up.

Have a back-bone to critiques. Don’t take it personally. Take a day to sulk, then learn, improve, and move on.

Super shout outs to #TeamMollysAngels, Molly, Sam, and Jamie, and the wonderful host Brenda Drake. You guys rock!

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You are a writer.

We’ll call this a two part series. Part 1: You ARE a writer, and Part 2: Trial by Fire.

I mentioned in a previous post that my mistakes on my first book, Scales on our Eyes, were numerous indeed. Before I delve into that, however, I need to address this:

For a long time, I considered writing a hobby that got out of control after college. I’m not a writer. I didn’t go to school for this. Who am I in the grand scheme of things to give myself such a prestigious title?

Depression wrap its greedy claws around my neck when I researched query letters, especially when I started writing them for contests (I wanted to test the waters before jumping into the scary ocean of querying agents). There’s that little ending paragraph to tout degrees in writing – creative or not – and, often times, published works.  In my contest queries, I had one line: I self-published a book of poetry, The Diary of a Broken Heart, when I was seventeen.

Rewind to seventeen (holy cow, that’s almost 10 years ago). A girl in class had a single poem published in some gimmicky poetry.com book, and I was beyond mad. I ate poetry for breakfast, not her. Every time we had to read poetry in class, I memorized the poem and got all slam-poetry dramatic, and I would pick the longest ones to do (To Santa Clause and Little Sisters). If a classmate forgot to do their poetry assignment, they’d pick a poem from me that I wrote. When we had to analyze poetry in class, I took half an hour to tell the class every nuance of Poe’s Lenore, when most kids spent 5-10 minutes on a throwaway Robert Frost we already discussed in class.

I scrounged up my entire binder full of poetry and self-published it. I knew nothing about publishing, I just did it. It’s still sitting on lulu.com somewhere, collecting virtual dust. But I never saw myself as a writer. I just wrote poetry, and my English teachers told me I was good at it.

That was the year I got an 86 on my ELA exam… and it BROKE me. An exam in essay format to discuss books – and I failed it. 86 meant fail to me. Heaven could have struck me dead, and I would have felt deserving of it.

I thought maybe words were not my calling.

That year, we had a multi-genre research project. I chose writers and mental illness, and I developed and designed a full blown newspaper with creative gimmicky articles, comics, and ads that summed up my research on the aforementioned topic. My teacher thought it was a genius piece, A+ all around, and that sparked the world of graphic design for me – the route I took in college.

The point of telling you all of that is to tell you this: I struggled with the question “Am I good enough to call myself a writer?” Even when I started Scales in 2011 and finished in 2013, I never considered myself a writer.

In my senior year of college, I took a mandatory writing 101 class. When my professor handed me back my 26-page final paper, she handed me a Writing Program brochure. She said “your writing is exceptional, and I would urge you to switch majors to the writing program.” But I was too late. I left college thinking I had missed the writing boat. Less than a year later, I started Scales as a project for myself. I saw stories of teenagers and 20-year-olds securing book deals. No way could I play on the same field. These people lived writing their whole life, and I gave it up.

Writing soon took over my life this past year. I finished Scales in February, slammed through edits, beta readers, and more edits. I joined Twitter contests, NaNoWriMo, and started hashing out a second novel. In recent months, my writing has taken a significant lead over my design work. People don’t ask me about my design job anymore. They ask “how’s your book coming?” “Are you writing anything else?” “How did that writing contest go?”

At my first (and last) NaNoWriMo party, I met my chapter leader. She gave me a pin. It simply stated: “I write Books.” Even then, I still struggled with the question: Am I a writer?

No, I don’t have a degree in writing. Yes, everything I learned about writing came from Google, blog posts from fabulous Twitter writers, dropping the proverbial ball in contests, my own ventures in reading, and amazing people who have critiqued my work along the way.

It wasn’t until December that I finalized my answer. Making it into PitchWars and ProjectREUTSway simultaneously validated me to finally say, yes, I am a writer. BUT I WAS WRONG! WRONG I TELL YOU! I’m a writer, and was always a writer, because I write.

I made it into the finals of two twitter contests. I was a writer then.

I cranked out a successful NaNoWriMo this past year while juggling project REUTSway. I was a writer then.

I joined in on Twitter contests last August. I was a writer then.

I started full-on editing Scales a year ago. I was a writer then.

I wrote Scales starting in January 2011. 80% of it in a notebook/ iPad during my lunch breaks at work. I was a writer then.

I wrote kick-ass papers in college. I was a writer then.

I wrote poetry in high school. I was a writer then.

I let myself be intimidated by those with more experience and education. I learned to keep learning and keep teaching myself – to keep putting myself in learning experiences. I forced myself to enter Twitter pitches, to swap 1st pages with other writers, to write short stories for a contest, despite my comfort zone and insecurities. Right now, I don’t feel like less of a writer. I learned that, eventually – with enough drive and an open mind – no one will be able to tell that I didn’t study this in school.

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