Monday, August 13, 2018

My 2018 Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist!



Woo! It's time for another round of Pitch Wars! Here are the rules of the wishlist game: Pull up a seat (have a snack, just—no double dipping in the nacho cheese, please), grab a card, and if it matches your Middle Grade manuscript, I'd love for you to add me to your deck of potential mentor picks! I'm thrilled to be back for my third year of mentoring—here's what I want to see in my inbox this year...

Contemporary
Give me your heartwarming, tear-jerking, laugh-out-loud-in-all-the-right-places contemporary. Make me feel all the feels! I want sincere, relatable characters—with personalities and voices that leap off the page—and I'm open to heavy issues handled with honesty and grace.

Examples of contemporary styles I'd love to see: Front Desk; The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street; The Charming Life of Izzy Malone; Lemons; The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher; The Meaning of Maggie.



Contemporary w/Magical Elements (Magical Realism)
I love when the bit of magic in the midst of everyday life is the thing that gives the MC hope and/or is part of a strong emotional journey. As with contemporary, I'm open to weighty themes, and my favorite characters are the ones who never give up, even if things don't turn out the way they thought they wanted them to.

Examples: Where the Watermelons Grow; anything by Natalie Lloyd; Hour of the Bees.



Fantasy
In this dish, I'm looking for very specific ingredients. The key seasonings: humor and heart (are you sensing a pattern yet?). If you have a rollicking fantasy adventure with quirky characters, kooky settings, and/or over-the-top villains and heroes, order up! Badass heroines also a plus. I do enjoy more serious quests, but I connect most when they involve family and/or friendship, with a strong character arc. And I am open to animal/non-human MCs! But, I prefer the stylings of Fenway and HattieThe Wind in the Willows, or The Wild Robot. Stories in the vein of Wings of Fire or Warriors aren't really my cup of tea.  

Examples: The Mad Wolf's DaughterFortunately, The Milk; The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates; Pugs of the Frozen North; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Flora & Ulysses; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland



Mystery
Any and all conundrums—whether a lost treasure, a brain-tickling puzzle, or a whodunit murder mystery. My favorites have larger-than-life characters/settings and a compelling emotional backdrop.

Examples: The Flavia DeLuce novels (I know these are technically adult, but the MC is 11 and I adore them); The Mo and Dale Mysteries; Last in a Long Line of Rebels; Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library; The Mysterious Benedict Society.



Comp Title Highlight!
One of my absolute most favorite reads of the last year was The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. This book showcases some of my favorite things: It's part contemporary, featuring a well-handled weighty topic (the death of a parent), part...let's call it "science-fantasy" (aka a pet black hole), with a ton of laugh-out-loud humor and tear-jerking heart. It's also set in the 70s—while I'm not looking for historical fiction per say, I love books set from 1970-1990s if that setting serves an important purpose or tone in the story (in this case, the space program played a pivotal part in the plot). If your book can be comped to this...I WANTS IT.



What I DON'T Want
Super dark scary/horror/paranormal. Scooby-Doo- or Ghostbusters-level, goofy ghost stories are okay (à la The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing), but if your book is meant to be the middle grade version of The Shining, it's going to be a pass from me. Good news: There are plenty of other mentors on the hunt for chillingly creepy novels. 


A few last wish list notes...
• Genres are listed in no particular order. 
• #OwnVoices welcome! I'm also open to diverse topics not written from an own-voice author, if they've been well-researched. For example, if you submit a novel to me with a bipolar character and you are not bipolar yourself, I will ask what sources you've used, people you've talked to, and whether you've had it read by a sensitivity reader.
• No matter which of these genres your book falls in, the biggest hook is going to be voice, voice, voice!

And now that you know what I'd love (and not love) to see in my inbox, a little bit about me...




Hi! My name is Ashley. I write middle-grade, (fantasy and contemporary), and I'm represented by Marietta B. Zacker of the Gallt-Zacker Literary Agency. I'm also a graphic designer and homeschooling mama of two. I prefer tea over coffee, I love anything lavender (the flower/flavor/scent, not the color), and my favorite Netflix binge is Parks and Recreation. I'm a bit obsessed with personality typing—I'm an INFJ/Enneagram 1w2/Hufflepuff, in case you were wondering. (Although *technically* I'm probably a RavenPuff, but my heart belongs to Hufflepuff and the sorting hat says I get a say, so...) 




Some of My Mentor Strengths:
• Increasing tension
• Pacing
• Cutting passive voice
• Chapter endings
• Consistency in character voice/actions
• Sentence structure/flow
• Angry llama defensive skills (Seriously, I have experience with angry llamas. It turns out you really don't put Baby in a corner, even if you're just trying to groom her.) This fact brought to you by fellow mentor, Michael Mammay.

What You Can Expect From Me:
• Edit letter with overview of revision suggestions + recommended resources
• Line edits for entire manuscript
• No less than two full read-throughs (one prior and one after revisions)
• Help with query + synopsis + pitch
• Cheerleading and encouragement!

Thanks so much for reading and for considering me as a mentor! I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2015 and my book went through plenty of revisions—so I know how hard and nerve-wracking and exciting and terrifying this process can be. I also know how much it means to have someone believe in you and your story, and I can't wait to come alongside you and cheer you on! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or hit me up on Twitter (@papergram).

Now go check out the other mentors' wish lists!

Main PitchWars blog hop page

The other MG mentors:


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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Pitch Wars Prep: Why You Should Enter (And What to Expect)

Okay, so you've got a polished manuscript, a perfected query letter, and you've conquered the dreaded synopsis. Congratulations, you're ready to enter PitchWars!


That queasy pit of nervous excitement in your stomach? Totally normal. 

Other feelings that are also totally normal:
Doubt
Fear
Anxiety
Questioning the quality of every word in your manuscript


Also, voices. The ones that say things like, "Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to bare your writer soul to a group of strangers in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they'll like your book?"

Yes. Yes, you do. Here's why:

Being a writer is all about putting yourself out there. And if you're serious about becoming a published author, it's unavoidable. It's also hard and scary. But at some point you're going to have to decide that you've done all you can do, your book is finished, and it's time for it to leave the nest. Pitch Wars gives you a great opportunity to let your book test its wings. 

The entire Pitch Wars process is the life story of a querying writer. If you've never queried before, it's a great way to dip your toes in the water. If you have queried before, well then you know the drill! Just like when querying agents, you have to polish your manuscript, prepare your submission materials, research the mentors' wish lists to see who would be the best fit for you and your book, submit your entry, and then...wait. (Waiting is also part of the writer's life story.)

But what if I'm not chosen? I hate the thought of being disappointed. I get that. I've been on both sides of the Pitch Wars coin: I submitted in 2014 and didn't get in, tried again in 2015 and was chosen as a mentee. I've felt both disappointment and elation on announcement day. But disappointment is something all writers have to deal with, through every stage of the writing journey. If writers weren't willing to risk disappointment, books wouldn't exist. It's totally okay to feel bummed and have a cry and eat the ice cream, just don't stay there. If you're not chosen, take any feedback you receive, apply it to your book, seek out CPs and Beta Readers, and KEEP GOING. Remember, Pitch Wars, and other writing contests, are not the only way to get an agent. Plenty of writers - myself included - get their agents through the slush pile and old-fashioned querying. Not making it into Pitch Wars does not spell the end of your writing career. DON'T GIVE UP.

And whether you're chosen as a mentee or not, there's something all you hopefuls gain: An amazing community of fellow writers. The other writers on the #PitchWars feed are amazing! You guys are (hopefully) already connecting, swapping manuscripts, and encouraging one another. That doesn't have to end when the mentor picks go live. Writing is a tough business, every step of the way. Having a solid community of people who know what it's like, who can help you strengthen your writing, and talk you down when you're ready to quit is so important. Keep cultivating those relationships.

But what if I AM chosen? What can I expect as a mentee? Hard work. There will likely be late nights, or early mornings, or lunches eaten in front of your laptop. You should be ready and willing to listen to critique and thoughtfully consider your mentor's suggested revisions. Some may resonate with you right away, some you might want to think about for a day or two, some might spark a different "Hey, what if we did THIS?" idea. You may have to kill some darlings and cut a few (or a lot) of words. The days until the agent round will both drag and fly by. And there will also be fun! Twitter chatting and team names and gif wars and taunting and all sorts of shenanigans. If I had to sum it up in two words: Challenging & Awesome.


But you can't experience any of it if you don't put yourself out there and jump into the fray! Don't let doubt, insecurity, or fear prevent you from taking the plunge. No matter the outcome, you'll have the chance to grow as a writer, and that my friends, is a win. 

I can't wait to read all your amazing middle grade submissions! (I mean, we all know MG is the best category, amiright?)

And since I'm obsessed with these adorable gifs, I leave you with a viable option for retrieving sustenance during the flurry of Pitch Wars...



Saturday, August 4, 2018

Pitch Wars Prep: The Synopsis

In order to enter Pitch Wars you need three things: First, a completed manuscript, second, a query letter. And that third thing is...a synopsis.


Yes, the dreaded synopsis. It's practically a 4-letter word in the writing world. They're notoriously difficult and writers everywhere balk at the idea of having to condense their beautiful novels into a few paragraphs of factual prose that give away the ending. Tell us authors we have to write one and we'll go all April Ludgate on you.


As much as you may hate the prospect of writing one, if you're serious about getting published, you're going to need a synopsis sooner or later. Now, if you're planning to enter Pitch Wars, no mentor is going to reject a stellar novel over a mediocre synopsis (after all, we're here to help you improve these things), BUT it's a really good idea to take the time to learn the basics now. Why? Because 1) It shows you've taken the time to research what it requires to query a novel and you've come prepared, 2) Writing a synopsis can help you spot potential problems in your story and give you the opportunity to fix or strengthen those areas before submitting.

But why do some agents request a synopsis?

Agents get hundreds of submissions in their inboxes every week. Your sample pages are going to give an agent a glimpse at your main character, voice, and writing prowess (and hopefully hook them with all those things), but a synopsis gives them a more detailed view of your story, plot, and character arc before they commit to reading through your entire manuscript. Not all agents request them, but it's better to have one and not need it, than be scrambling to write one once it's requested, or to limit your querying options to only those agents who don't specifically list them in their submission guidelines.

How long should my synopsis be?

The answer—it completely depends on the agent you're querying. The general rule of thumb is 1-3 pages. My suggestion? Create a one-page synopsis (this is what you'll need for your Pitch Wars submission) and only go longer if the agent's guidelines state they want a longer version. Now, before you panic about the prospect of having to write two different synopses, it's important to remember that when writing a one-page synopsis, it should be single-spaced, but when you move to multiple pages, it should be double spaced. My synopsis for my middle-grade novel, FOLLOW ME, was one full page (just under 600 words) single-spaced. When expanded to double-spaced, it becomes two pages. So if an agency specifically asks that your synopsis be no less than 3 pages, chances are you'll only need to add one more page, or 300 words or so.

What should my synopsis include?

Your main character, sidekick/love interest, antagonist, inciting incident, main plot points, climax, resolution and ending, with your MC's emotions, reactions, and character development sprinkled throughout. The general rule of thumb is to name no more than 3 characters, and to identify everyone else by their role (mother, co-worker, teacher, etc.). Now, I freely admit I broke this rule and named 5 characters in my synopsis for FOLLOW ME. But as with all writing "rules" I learned the rule first, then made sure I had a firm reason for breaking it: It was important that agents knew who my MC's mother was, and my MC's mother and brother play a crucial role in my story's climax and I hated how wordy and cumbersome it was to keep repeating "her mother" and "her brother" throughout the last paragraph. 

What are some basic tips for writing a good synopsis?

A synopsis should always be in third person present tense, even if your story is written differently. Leave out backstory and subplots. Be sure to use active voice, and avoid wordiness and unimportant facts. Strip your language down to only the most essential details. For example, instead of saying... 

On a hot and sunny afternoon, Marge goes to the beach to relax and take a swim, and while there she witnesses an argument between two strangers. Later that night, while watching the evening news, Marge is horrified to see one of the strangers' faces appear on the screen beneath the scrolling words "DEAD BODY FOUND WASHED UP ON SHORE."

...pare it down to the bare essentials:

Marge goes to the beach and witnesses an argument between two strangers. Later that night, she discovers one of them has washed up dead on the shore.

And remember, a synopsis isn't meant to be flashy or oozing with voice. It's meant to give the basic facts and show the story arc. Wow the mentors (and agents) with your sample pages and stick with the basics when it comes to your synopsis. 

What's the magic formula for actually writing this thing?

Here's the deal...I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, I'm going to direct you to my absolute favorite synopsis-writing formula of all time: HOW TO WRITE A 1-PAGE SYNOPSIS over at Pub(lishing) Crawl (also my favorite writing blog name of all time). There may not be one magic formula to rule them all, but in my opinion, this one is pretty dang close. It's the one I've found the most helpful, and the one I used when I write my own. Not only does it take you step-by-step through creating your own synopsis by using question prompts, in bonus nerdy brilliance it uses Star Wars as an example.

Now that you're ready to tackle the dreaded synopsis, take a deep breath. You can do this. And you're totally entitled to celebrate with pie/chocolate/wine when you're finished.

But just in case you need it...