16 May 2016

Your first 5 pages

You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: whether you start on a prologue or Chapter 1, the opening of your novel is important. It's what's going to either hook an agent, a publisher, and a reader or help them decide that your book isn't for them. A good first line is important, but if it's followed by several paragraphs of background information to set up your world or character, you're going to lose us. We want to feel something - shock, amusement, curiosity, fear, excitement - and we want to get invested.

As a result of my participation in March's Pitch to Publication Twitter contest and The Work Conference, I've read a lot of people's first five pages in the last couple of months, which led me to reflect on what makes excellent first five pages.

And, in short, it is this:

The first five pages of your novel should be rooted in a scene with a goal and stakes; convey a strong sense of voice, emotion, and setting; either include a catalyst or the promise of one coming soon that's related to the primary conflict and/or include a mystery or question that the reader is invested in.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Any questions about what I mean? Anything you'd add? Do you know of a novel published within the last five years that hooked you with its beginning but doesn't fit the above description?

03 May 2016

Pitch to Publication: Reflections on the Editing Round

That time I thought I'd only take on 1 manuscript...

In March and April I was a participating editor in #P2P16. As a follow up to my post about the selection round, I wanted to share here some of my reflections on the editing round, which ran from March 12th to April 15th, and the goal of which was to work with my chosen authors to get their manuscripts ready for the agent round, April 16th-22nd.

My P2P authors & their manuscripts
I chose to work with Tabitha Bird on THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING because the voice was lyrical and distinctive; the premise captivating; the theme of healing oneself from past trauma something I'm personally passionate about; and because the final pages reached into my body, grabbed my insides, pulled them out and laid them bare. This was the manuscript that got me sobbing just from the partial.

In response to Tabitha's partial

05 April 2016

Pitch to Publication: An Editor's Perspective

Last month I participated for the first time in Pitch to Publication, not as a writer but as an editor. I had no idea what to expect, but I'm so glad I did it. In this post I reveal the work I did during the week of March 6th and how I made my decisions. I hope it will be helpful (or at least interesting) to writers who are thinking of submitting to P2P in the future.

Round 1
I received 86 queries, most of which fit my manuscript wish list (MSWL). Deciding early on that I would only have two piles, a Maybe pile and a Pass pile, I read the query letters and usually just the first 2-3 pages of the writing sample.

Those that made it into the Maybe pile had a well-written query letter that gave me a sense of the premise, plot, stakes, and character(s) - some or all of which resonated with me on a personal level - and pages that started in a scene with some sense of stakes, emotion, and/or intrigue. The most common reasons I passed were that the submission didn't fit with my MSWL or the story didn't start in the right place. There were a couple of cases where the first five pages were actually outstanding, but the premise or main characters just weren't my cup of tea.

I did notice that I became pickier about halfway through the submissions, which would suggest that those who submit early have a slight advantage. That said, there were definitely some very strong submissions that came in later, several of which made it into my Maybe pile and I think one or two even made it to Round 3.

26 February 2016

Pitch contests

If you are an author who has finished writing The Thing and wants to get it published traditionally, there are many reasons to consider pitch contests.

Much has already been written on this subject by other bloggers, so instead of rehashing here, I'll point you to some of the articles I like:
  • On her blog Writability, Ava Jae has discussed the whys and why-nots of entering Twitter pitch contests. (She also has a host of other helpful posts on the topic, including several on pitch critiques.) 
  • Christina Dalcher has blogged about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of pitch contests; I found her cautions in the last section particularly helpful. 
  • Literary Agent Carly Watters wrote a succinct yet comprehensive guide to Twitter pitch contests
  • And on Carissa Taylor's blog you'll find a fairly comprehensive list of pitch contests that seems to still be relevant despite the fact that it's a few years old.

What I want to talk about is Pitch to Publication (#p2p16), a pitch contest organized by Samantha Fountain (@FountainWriter) with help from my colleague Becca Heyman (@RFaithEditorial) that's different from any others I've heard of. Most pitch contests involve a writer pitching to agents. Sometimes the prize includes critique. But Pitch to Publication has two rounds and includes not just critique but actual editing.

22 February 2016

Writing prompt 66

As longtime followers of this blog will know, from time to time I get an idea (or a line of dialogue or an image) that I really like but am probably not going to do anything with because I have too many writing projects in the works already.

The following lines popped into my head sometime last week. I wish I could tell you an interesting story about where I was at the time or why it occurred to me, but of late my life's been so full that I'm lucky if I remember in the afternoon what I did in the morning.