Query Critique Numero Uno

Hello virtual friends! 

I recently held a query giveaway and I picked three queries to critique! I've decided to put each one in its own separate blog post with the hopes that it will be helpful to others! I'm keeping the identities of each winner private, but if you have any questions for me, give me a shout out via twitter or in the comments section below. 

There are many traps a writer can fall into while writing a query (telling and not enough showing, passive voice, past tense, etc.). The biggest one I see over and over again is that a query uses a broad brush and glosses over the story. Without specifics, it's impossible to pull the reader—in this case, an agent. 

OK! Without further ado, here is query numero uno!

ORIGINAL QUERY

Dear,

WAVES is an 85,000-word contemporary young-adult adventure novel that begins on a disaster-bound study-at-sea ship in the Caribbean. It would appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST.

Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked-in to a treatment facility. The list was supposed to be everything she was going to do ‘someday’ when she didn’t need to watch over her mom. But ‘someday’ isn’t coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.

Sure, Number One on the list was never supposed to land her on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but then again, Number Five says to let go of control. Gaining some independence is second on the list, but Will, his green eyes, and his secrets make it hard to check that one off.

As Mia attempts to complete the list before summer ends and responsibility beckons, her ship is sailing on a course that will bring her into the middle of colliding storms. Mia’s struggling to let go of problems at home and build her own life, but her emotional struggle becomes a battle for survival when the ship sinks and leaves her injured, stranded, and desperate on a deserted island.

Mia and the others who made it through the shipwreck must battle the island, the elements, and their very selves if they want to survive until rescue. Mia left home to find independence and adventure, instead she’ll have to discover what she’s truly made ofWAVES is a story of self-discovery, romance, and survival set against the backdrop of the sea and its lost islands. It is the first book in a possible duo following Mia and her friends.

When I’m not writing I’m raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

BREAKING IT DOWN

OK! Let's break this down. This sounds like an interesting concept, but because of the formatting and some vague language, I think there are some missed opportunities to pack some punch and evocative language into the query. 

First, let's start with formatting. The best queries I've seen all follow the three paragraph formatting. 

Paragraph one: intro to your characters and what they want. 

Paragraph two: the events or circumstances that stand in the character's way. This is also a great place to introduce a secondary character, like the love interest, and the villain. 

Paragraph three: this one is all about the stakes! 

Dear,

WAVES is an 85,000-word contemporary young-adult adventure novel that begins on a disaster-bound study-at-sea ship in the Caribbean. It would appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST.

This is a matter of preference, but I like to keep all housekeeping info in the bottom paragraph, and according to Miss Query Shark, she prefers the same. Just saying! ;) Don't be afraid to jump into the story. You want to hook the agent right away. 

Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked-in to a treatment facility. The list was supposed to be everything she was going to do ‘someday’ when she didn’t need to watch over her mom. But ‘someday’ isn’t coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.  

This paragraph should introduce the main character and their biggest desire. I like this first sentence since we not only meet Mia, but we also have a pinch of back story (sick mom) and her desire: a bucket list. The only thing I'd change is to mention what kind of treatment the mom is receiving. The more specific, the better. 

Second sentence: I'd shorten and make a touch punchier. Get rid of passive voice. Maybe, something like, "The list is everything she's supposed to do 'someday', when she doesn't have to care for her mom. (It'd be fun to have a specific action here. Something that shows how she cares for her mom. Does she make sure her mom is taking her meds? Eating three square meals?)

Third sentence: I like this. It show's Mia's agency. 

Sure, Number One on the list was never supposed to land her on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but then again, Number Five says to let go of control. Gaining some independence is second on the list, but Will, his green eyes, and his secrets make it hard to check that one off.   

I'd scrap this whole paragraph since this is about her list and not about what actually happens in the story. The second paragraph should be about the inciting incident. What happens to catapult Mia into her journey? 

Bring in specific examples. I can't stress this enough. 

Example: When Mia boards the NAME OF SHIP, she thinks she's on her way to checking things off her list. But a storm knocks her off course, leaving her injured and stranded on a deserted island in the Caribbean. Armed with only the clothes on her back, Mia befriends the other survivors, especially LOVE INTEREST. 

As Mia attempts to complete the list before summer ends and responsibility beckons, her ship is sailing on a course that will bring her into the middle of colliding storms. Mia’s struggling to let go of problems at home and build her own life, but her emotional struggle becomes a battle for survival when the ship sinks and leaves her injured, stranded, and desperate on a deserted island.     

This paragraph can blend into the second paragraph. I'd get rid of the first sentence as it seems to backtrack. You want to write your query like your story progresses—onward. 

Second Sentence: This is a vague sentence and honestly, I'm not sure this belongs here. Since the writer doesn't give specifics to Mia's "problems", it's hard to feel connected to her. 

Now would be a good time to bring in a secondary character (not too many—really only the love interest if you have one, or best friend and then the antagonist). 

As is, the only other character named is Mia. In the below paragraphs, the query mentions there's a romance but we see no hint of that anywhere else. Bring in the love interest into the second paragraph. 

Mia and the others who made it through the shipwreck must battle the island, the elements, and their very selves if they want to survive until rescue. Mia left home to find independence and adventure, instead she’ll have to discover what she’s truly made of.     

This paragraph glosses over the story and since there are no specifics, there's a big risk the agent reading has lost interest. What exactly does Mia face? Who are the others? Be as specific as possible and get close to Mia and HER story. The last sentence is also super vague—how does this impact her personally? What are the stakes? 

WAVES is a story of self-discovery, romance, and survival set against the backdrop of the sea and its lost islands. It is the first book in a possible duo following Mia and her friends.  

Cut the entire paragraph above. Your query shouldn't advertise your book, or sum up it's themes. Your query is a bird's eye view of your story that highlights your main character, what they want, what stands in their way and what should happen if they fail in getting what they want. 

When I’m not writing I’m raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association.        

In terms of the bio, less is more, ALWAYS. Only include the absolute necessary here. This bio is brief and to the point. It works. 

Before the bio, be sure to drop in your housekeeping info! 

Example: 

WAVES is a 85,000 Young Adult contemporary. It was written to stand alone and will appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST. 

A word about comps: Be careful with the books you choose to compare your MS to. Don't use best sellers, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Winner's Curse, etc. Pick titles that show your market savvy, and are appropriate on many levels. Don't pick just an adventure story, shoot for something deeper, too, like theme and tone. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.   

Ok, let's recap and try to everything and get things where they are supposed to be!

EDITED QUERY

Dear X,

First paragraph: AGE Mia has been working on her list since the first time her mom checked into a treatment facility (what kind of treatment? BE SPECIFIC). The list is everything she's supposed to do 'someday', when she doesn't have to care for her mom (add in a specific action here. Something that shows HOW she takes care of her mom). But 'someday' isn't coming, and Mia is done waiting for her life to begin.

Second Paragraph: When Mia boards the NAME OF SHIP, she thinks she's on her way to checking things off her list. But a storm knocks her off course, leaving her injured and stranded on a deserted island somewhere in the Caribbean. Armed with only the clothes on her back, Mia befriends the other survivors, especially LOVE INTEREST. When X happens, Mia realizes her new friends (OR NAMED ANTAGONIST) might only be out for themselves (or however you wish to show how the "others" are turning against each other. Just be specific!). 

Third paragraph: In the original query, there's hint of a rescue. What stands in the way of rescue? What must Mia do to ensure there's a spot available for her? What tough choices does she have to make? This is where you raise the stakes. If she doesn't do X, then Y happens. If it's time sensitive, make sure to add that since it increases tension! 

WAVES is a 85,000 Young Adult contemporary. It was written to stand alone and will appeal to fans of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, THE RAFT, and LOST. 

When I'm not writing, I'm raising two girls and teaching writing to law students. I am a graduate of Vassar College and William Mitchell College of Law, and my writing has been published by the American Bar Association. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful! I'll have another query up tomorrow. Stay tuned!

XX

 

Pitch Wars Wishlist

Welcome to my wish list, Pitch Wars hopefuls! I'm a YA mentor looking for an adventure loving mentee who isn't afraid to work hard. Ready for the details?! :)

ABOUT MOI

It's incredibly surreal to be writing this post. Last year, I entered Pitch Wars and it has literally changed my life. My mentor, Megan Lally, challenged me to make my story the best that it can be. After two rounds of revisions, I was ready to start querying and not long after, I signed with the wonderful Mary C. Moore with my Pitch Wars manuscript! It's a story about a Latina pirate sailing the Caribbean seas in the early 1700s during the Golden Age of Pirates. There is also a very handsome merman. It's currently on submission and I'm hard at work on my WIP, THE PONY EXPRESS. 

Some other qualifications: I majored in Creative Writing + History, have critiqued and beta read for other writers (agented and not) and have gone through a hefty revision of my own manuscript, SEA OF RIVALS, with my agent. I know how to break down a novel and build it back up again so it's at its best. It will be hard work but totally worth it when everything is all said and done. With me as your mentor, please be prepared for hard work. I want my mentee's story to be the absolute best that it can be. :) 

When I'm not writing, I'm running my company, 9th Letter Press, a design and stationery studio based in Winter Park, Florida. That's right...I design and write greeting cards for a living. We use a letterpress built in 1894 (it's made of cast iron and weighs a whopping 1,500 pounds!) for printing and he is the heart and soul of 9th Letter Press. I started the company four years ago and I sort of can't believe I get to do what I do.

Side note: I feel like now is as great time to mention my scavenger letter is B!

WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU

Here's the game plan: I'll read my mentee's MS very carefully and write up a detailed edit letter addressing the various aspects of the story that need work. This can be anything from dialogue to the world building, from character development to their emotional arcs. From there, my mentee will revise, revise, revise and then once he/she believes it's ready, I'll take another quick look and add any track comments I think necessary for another round of quick edits before the agent round. If you're game to work hard, I'm your mentor! I'll push and encourage you, always politely and never in a harsh way. And I'll always be honest with what is and isn't working. 

I'll always be available for questions via email but full disclosure, I'm a SERIOUS introvert so if you're looking to have multiple chats on the phone a week, I'm not the mentor for you. But I'll respond quickly to emails and questions, twitter and any DMs, that I can promise you. :)

WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR

Remember that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle is surrounded by rolling hills and she starts singing about wanting adventure in the great, wide somewhere? This is all me, sweet friends. I want your adventure, your far off places, daring sword fights and princes in disguise, please and thank you!

I'm seeking incredible landscapes, well drawn fantasy and fresh world building. Does anyone have a fairy tale retelling in the same tone as SHREK or ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS? Please do send my way! Do you have a story set in a desert kingdom or ice castle? YES, YES, YES. I want all the unique settings, please! 

(And here is where I reiterate my love of fairy tale retellings. GRABBY HANDS). 

SETTING: I'm the most excited about unique places that haven't been overly done. Roman servant in a palatial house? Catherine the Great's court? A YA mystery set in a theater? I LOVE epics and sweeping landscapes, where the latter is a character onto itself. 

Hate to love <3 <3 <3

ROMANCE: I LOVE love. I'm looking for believable romance, so please no instalove and the like. I'm a sucker for these troupes: hate to love, friends to something more, will they or won't they, forbidden romance, and enemies to lovers. Do you have something that falls in that category? HIT SEND NOW. 

DIVERSITY: As a Bolivian Latina writer, I think reading about different cultures enriches the reader and their perspectives. This is super important to me. I would love to get my hands on a story from a different culture/religion/background. Ottoman empire? Babylonian? Imperial Russia? The Dominican Republic? Cuba? China? Africa? Hispanic, Black, Asian? YES PLEASE, especially own voices. 

TIME TRAVEL: As an avid Outlander fan, I would love to get my hands on a YA version, but please no Scotland and their highlander warriors. I'm looking for something that hasn't been done before. :) 

HISTORICAL: I love any and all Historical tales, so if you have epic battle scenes and political powers at play between empires, PLEASE send it my way. If you have a story about the French Revolution (and kudos if it has french words in it), I WANT IT. But seriously, all of the history—I want it, no matter the era or continent. Side note: I used to want to be an Egyptologist. If you have a story about a plucky female Egyptologist...you know what to do! :) 

A word about science fiction: I love it, but I'm very, very selective. If you have a space opera, a la STAR WARS, I wantsss it. Since science fiction can be such a cold atmosphere, the characters need to have warmth. Fantastic sense of humor a major plus. ;)

RANDOM LOVES: I love bounty hunters, Norse Mythology, shipwrecks, ninjas, and mysteries. Do you have a YA version of Sherlock? I want it! I love tough heroines, who don't just rely on their mad sword skills but on their intelligence and wit as well. I also love princesses, but lately I've been more intrigued by the people around those in positions of power—the guards, ladies in waiting, etc. I want to read about the people whose stories don't often get told. 

In short, I'm looking to be delighted and kudos to you if you make me giggle over a clever turn of phrase. :) 

If you have anything like the following books, SEND IT MY WAY PLEASE AND THANKS!

  • Uprooted
  • Shadowfell (or anything by Juliet Marillier)
  • Salt to the Sea
  • Walk on Earth a Stranger
  • Starflight
  • Anything by Susanna Kearsley 
  • My Lady Jane

To make things easier, here's my YES list: 

  • Historical (I love all history and time periods, kudos if it has fantasy). 
  • Fantasy
  • Adventure
  • Fairy Tale Retellings (!!!!)
  • Epic
  • Regency
  • Romance (as a subplot! That shouldn't be the main focus)

And here is my NO list:

  • Erotica
  • Contemporary (I LOVE contemp, but I don't think I'm the right mentor for this genre!)
  • Rape (it's OK if it alludes to it but NO on screen time)
  • Paranormal 
  • Dystopian
  • Mermaids + Pirates (I have nothing but love for them but I want to be SUPER careful as I'm on submission with my own Pirate and Mermaid story, and can potentially be revising down the road. I don't want to take on something too familiar!).

XOXO

To keep blog hopping, click HERE!

The Perfect Query Letter

Hi everyone! This blog post is dedicated to the writers who are out in the query trenches, who are this close from finishing their third revision and who are thinking of participating in Pitch Wars. This is for the writers struggling to write the best query letter that ever was or ever could be. 

Because, dang, it's super hard to get the query right. When I was about to enter Pitch Wars, I went through several upon several rounds of writing the query letter for SEA OF RIVALS. I switched around sentences, scratched whole paragraphs and wrestled with each word. Because each one has a job to do. With limited space to work with, every word has to count. 

I wanted to break the query letter down into sections with the hope that it will be helpful! Feel free to ask me any questions you'd like in the comments section. 

But let's back up first: what exactly is a query letter? 

Quite simply, a query letter is a first impression. It's the chance to showcase your book, personality and strengths as a writer. The query letter is your best-foot-forward, a one page letter that gets sent to agents. For some agents, a query letter is the only thing they'll request to read. If they like what they see, they might request the first ten pages, or a partial, or even better, the full. 

A lot hinders on this one page query letter. No pressure, though. ;P

For the purpose of instruction, I will be posting my own query letter, which I'll break down for everyone. My comments are in italic—they weren't in the original query. :) 

The year is 1715, the dawn of the golden age of pirates. Cordelia Rivera's father—the pirate King of Nassau—is a mean bastard, but she still craves his approval. She'd welcome his love too, if it wasn't out of the question. Longing for the day he’ll finally explain her mother's disappearance, she does whatever he demands—even when it means torturing and killing the Merfolk.

The first paragraph should be an introduction. Set up the world, introduce the main character and their big desire. What do they want more than anything? What's driving them? Once you have that, you can include something that stands in their way. In the above paragraph, the agent learns: the setting and year, "Rivera" is a typical latino last name so the agent might pick up on the race of the MC, and what Cordelia wants: she wants his love and approval and information detailing her mother's disappearance. Lastly, the agent sees that her father is ruthless who withholds love and affection and the truth from his daughter. 

All of this tied together set ups the next paragraph. I've introduced tension, which makes the agent interested enough to keep reading. 

When Cordelia falls into the sea during a battle, she’s yanked beneath the surface by one of the murderous creatures her father warned her about. But instead of killing her, Marius, the “fish,” inexplicably spares her life and helps her back to the Estrella Del Mar. Surprised by his mercy, Cordelia begins to question her lifelong belief the Merfolk are monsters.

The second paragraph is meant to highlight an event in the story that drives the MC into their journey. It's the event that kickstarts everything else. It's hard to decide what to include in this paragraph since, obviously, so much more happens than Cordelia falling into the sea. But the point is to get to the heart of the conflict. In this case, the agent learns that the father she's looked up to and trusted all of her life has been lying to her. This is a catalyst for Cordelia's questions about her father. What else is he lying about? Why is he lying to her? The second paragraph is the place to showcase the brewing conflict in the story. In this paragraph, I've also introduced another character. This would be a great place to do that. 

With the pirate king declaring war—on Spain, England, and the Merfolk—Cordelia uncovers a lifetime worth of his lies. United by a desire to dismantle her father’s hold over Nassau and save a race from extinction, Cordelia and Marius form a frail alliance. But to defeat Captain Rivera, Cordelia has to abandon any hope of discovering the truth about her mother and sever all ties with the only family she has left. As war laps at Nassau’s shores from above and below, Cordelia must choose which side she’s on once and for all.

Third paragraph is stakes stakes stakes! If the worst happens, what does your MC stand to lose?  In the above, the agent learns that Cordelia and Marius have to work together to stop her father from destroying the Merfolk. But if she stands against her father, she might never find out the truth about her mother. Stakes are what make the reader/agent care about your MC's story. Make sure to drive the point home: If MC doesn't get X, then X, W, and Z will happen. 

SEA OF RIVALS is a 76,000 word Young Adult Historical Fantasy. It was written to stand alone, but has series potential and will appeal to fans of the TV show Black Sails, Erika Johanson’s Queen of the Tearling and Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell.

Typically, a query letter will have three to four brief paragraphs. The last couple of paragraphs are what many call the "housekeeping" info that an agent must know before requesting. Some like to put it in the first paragraph but I like to put it on the bottom. It's a matter of preference but my thinking is that I want to throw the agent into the story as soon as possible. There are many examples on the interwebs of both styles (which are both accepted). 

Do list your title (in ALL CAPS), any comps you'd like to share and the genre, word count and if it's a stand alone or a series. A word about comps: don't use anything too mainstream. If you say your book is the new Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones meets the Hunger Gamers, you're shooting your own foot clean off. Manage expectations, choose a title that displays your knowledge of the industry and the market. 

I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Creative Writing degree. Currently, I write, design and print greeting cards for my company 9th Letter Press in Winter Park, Florida. This book is a finalist in the Pitch Wars contest held by Brenda Drake.

And lastly, the bio. The little bit about yourself that showcases any awards, contests, etc. Keep it brief and to the point. I mentioned the Pitch Wars contest, my degree in Creative Writing and my company. Agents will google you and if you have some kind of following on a social media channel, it might be a good thing to throw that in there, as well. (Mind you, mine isn't huge, but I thought it couldn't hurt!). 

A word about personalization: it's the best thing you can do to stand out in the slush. If an agent gets the impression that you've carefully researched him/her, it goes a long way. Some agents receive an average of 300 query letters a day. ALWAYS address the agent by name and if you met them at a conference, etc., make sure to put that in first. Then start your "intro" paragraph after that. 

And that's it! Again, if you have any questions be sure to reach out. I'd love to help! 

WHO GETS YOUR QUERY LETTER

There are many, many agents in the world and each one has a particular style and taste, or a genre that they represent. If you're writing a Fantasy novel, don't send a query to someone who only reps cookbooks. They won't forward your letter to another agent who reps your genre. Do your work and research. The best resource I like to use is the Guide to Literary Agents  that comes out every year. 

It helps to make a spreadsheet detailing the name of the agent, what they rep, which agency they work at, and their submission guidelines. Some only want a query, some want a synopsis along with the query, etc. Start building your list! 

As for how many to send, I like to work in rounds. You don't want to send a query letter to everyone on your agent list. Figure out a number you're comfortable with and send that amount out first. And then wait. No, seriously. Wait. You'll get bites or rejections and usually, if your query letter isn't working, you'll know from the first batch. This gives you time to fix your query letter for the next round of agents you send it to. 

Most agents also let you know what their turnaround times are! Be sure to add that to your spreadsheet. This is SO helpful because you will lose track. 

GIVEAWAY!

In honor of Pitch Wars approaching, I'm going to offer three query critiques! All you have to do is share this post on twitter and I'll pick three from those who do! Make sure to use hashtag #junegiveaway so I can find your tweets! I'll pick a winner on Friday. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to read! 

Besos! 

Critique Partnering 101

Hi! Welcome to post numero tres. As Pitch Wars nears, I wanted to chat about a major element of writing and that's becoming an effective critique partner (CP for short). Learning how to read and evaluate a manuscript is crucial not only for perfecting your own story but it will also help attract seasoned writers to return the favor. 

The most important thing to remember, before anything else, is that your book will be much better with feedback. You might be an incredibly talented writer but I can assure you, first drafts are never perfect. The sooner you realize that extra eyes on your book is a major plus, the quicker you'll be in finding the perfect critique partner(s). 

For some, learning how to be a great critique partner is the first step. You need to be able to offer something, right? I would highly recommend learning a few tricks to have in your wheelhouse, things that come easy for you. For example, are you a pro at character development? Have a knack for untangling pesky plot points? A wizard at spotting passive voice? Every writer has their strengths (and weaknesses but I'll get to that in a bit) so use that to your advantage. I'm going to list some tricks you can learn—all of which will help make a manuscript stronger. Pick one or two, or all, whatever you're comfortable with. The point is to identify your strengths so you know what you can offer potential critique partners.

TRICKS FOR YOUR WHEELHOUSE

Filtering: Filtering are crutch words we writers use that unfortunately distance the reader from your characters. They are unnecessary and it's like you're asking the reader to observe the character rather than inviting the reader to be in the character's head. You're telling rather than showing. Common words are watch, wonder, thought, saw, felt, know/knew, notice, look, etc. 

Ex: She watched the man approach her. Better: The man approached her. 

Ex: Sandy was worried as she paced up and down the room. She wondered if her boyfriend would miss the play. Better: Sandy's brow furrowed as she paced up and down the room. Would Adam really miss the play?

Once you know to look for them, filtering words will stand out on the page. Highlight the ones you see so your CP can edit them out later. 

Character Arcs/Development: The inner journey a character takes from the start of the story to the end, is critical on several levels. An interesting and relatable arc will ensure a reader's interest and loyalty. We want our readers to root for our main character. Stories with characters who remain the same, don't learn anything or don't have enough screen time inside the protagonist's head will suffer. As you are reading, ask yourself if you're invested in the characters? Do you care about the stakes and what would happen to them should they fail? Do you feel like you know the character? If you're wanting more from the MC, that's a great indicator that the writer can dive into their character's head more and have more of their inner thoughts on the page. The point is that as the reader, you ought to know what the character desires and what stands in their way, internally and externally. 

World Building: This is one of my favorite things to tackle as I'm drafting. Creating a believable and 3D world for your reader is both amazing and stressful. Knowing how much to put in and where is crucial. Think about your favorite stories? What did you love about the world your characters lived and fought in? What stood out to you? As your reading, check to see if details are vivid on all senses: do you have a clear idea of the setting? What are the characters smelling? Hearing? I gravitate toward stories that describe ordinary human actions—what are you're characters eating? What's special about the food to their world? Do people sleep under trees or in hammocks or in bleak environments? World Building is about having rules and using all of the senses to create a sense of time and place. Notice if there are any inconsistencies. It's ok to pepper the story with some questions regarding the rules of that world. 

First Chapter: I could spend an entire blog post on writing the first chapter but for the sake of what you need to look for as you're critiquing, I think sticking to the basics is fine. The first chapter of the story must do the following (no exceptions): introduce the MC and the biggest desire of their heart AND what stands in their way. This involves conflict. I can't stress this enough. There has to be conflict. It doesn't have to be action packed. It doesn't mean your character is getting into a verbal or literal fight to the death with someone. All it means is that there has to be something that stands in the way of your character and what they want. The first chapter has to hook the reader so do let your CP know what worked and what didn't for you. Too much backstory? Not enough? Could you live without the entire paragraph that was dedicated to the character's looks? Did you lose interest? SAY IT—politely and use specifics. 

Adverbs: I freely admit to abusing the heck out of this one. Adverbs are so addicting. But the truth is you don't need an overabundance of them. If you spot several of these on any given page, suggest cutting them. 

Ex: He ran quickly. Better: He bolted. 

Of the two, which reads stronger? More urgent and exciting? If you feel comfortable, offer an alternative word to use that trumps the adverb. 

I hope some of the above is helpful! There is so much you can learn about the craft of writing, I've barely scratched the surface. There are many, many resources out there on different elements of writing (plot, passive voice, the climax, etc.). To be an effective CP, you don't have to know everything. Master a few things and be clear and upfront about what you're offering! 

WHERE TO FIND CPS

There are so many hashtags to check out on twitter (and if you're not on twitter, I recommend that you get on there! The writing community is fabulous). Check out #CPMATCH by Megan Lally (@Megan_Lally)—she hosts a few events a year where writers can meet by following the hashtag. Back in the day, I used Scribophile a ton and that helped my writing early on, I can't recommend it enough. Finally, visit other writer's blogs and read through some comments others have posted. Do any of them read or write what you do? 

MAKING YOUR LIST

Usually, writers know where their weaknesses are as a writer. For example, I happen to stink at economizing my word use. I am, unfortunately, quite wordy and tend to have several additional words in one sentence that clog down the prose. If you know your weaknesses, point them out to your critique partner and have them zero in on this particular line item on your list of what you'd like to have them look over. When you've read your MS over and over again, it's hard to see errors, plot tangles or just clunky writing in general. The line items you add to your list should be things you need the most help with. 

After you've made your list, suggest to your potential CP that they make one as well. What do they want you to pay attention to? Are they expecting line edits? Big picture stuff? Are they wanting help with theme/tone? Nailing down expectations on the front end will save you so much heartache on the backend. As long as you're being specific, the chances of getting feedback that is effective are much higher. Also, be sure to discuss turnaround times upfront. 1 to 2 weeks is usually acceptable to ask for feedback on a full. If they are late getting notes to you, follow up on the 3rd week mark—life can get hectic and showing grace goes a long way. :) 

GIVING FEEDBACK

A word about honesty. I firmly believe that there is always a way to say something. Be clear and direct but also polite. Remember, showing your work takes vulnerability and courage. When making comments on a manuscript or writing an edit letter for your CP to work from, give specific examples of what is or isn't working for you. It's not helpful to say, "I hated this part". Instead try, "I'm having a hard time connecting with your character. Could you try adding more interior thoughts so we can get closer to him/her?" 

There is no real right or wrong way to format your feedback. This is something you can just ask at the beginning. Do they prefer an edit letter? Comments made directly on the MS? I personally have a CP who wrote her thoughts under each chapter. So helpful! I can turn to the specific chapter in question and easily find whatever it was that needs to be fixed. 

I hope this has been super helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below. I'd be happy to answer what I can. :) 

Besos! 

The Merits of Pitch Wars

Welcome to my second blog post! Today I'm going to be talking about Pitch Wars and the incredible benefits of entering this incredible contest. But before I say anything else, I wanted to shout from the proverbial rooftops that I'm going to be a YA mentor this year! I'm so excited to virtually become friends with all the applicants and to read entries. 

SO. What is Pitch Wars? It's an annual contest put on by Brenda Drake where writers submit their first chapter with the hope that their submission/entry will get picked by one of the 135 mentors this year. Mentors are writers who have been traveling down the publishing road for a long time. They have agents, some have published books or are in submission with editors. They've practiced and practiced to master the craft of writing. They know what they are doing. 

The lucky writer who gets picked will then be mentored for two months, in preparation for the last round of the contest: THE AGENT ROUND. It's a grueling two months filled with revisions and line edits and more reading until you think you can't read your book anymore. But you do, because you want your book to be the best that it can be. 

After two months, your book will hopefully be ready for the agent round. Agents will read the first 300 words from your manuscript and if they like what they see, they'll request additional pages. The day is an emotional roller coaster but YOU'RE NOT ALONE. The other mentees are right there with you, cheering you on. 

Overall, the experience of Pitch Wars can't be beat. If you're on the fence about entering OR are wondering what all it would entail to enter, read on!

WHO SHOULD ENTER

If you've written a book that's finished and polished, you're good to go! What do I mean by polished? I mean, has your book seen several revisions? Have you gone through it carefully, stripping it of passive words and filtering language? Your book is polished when your stakes are clear, the voice is its own and unique, and you successfully "show" more than you "tell". You've nailed the world building and your characters grow throughout the book. They have poignant character arcs. You've handed it off to beta readers and to a couple of critique partners. It's the best that you can make it on your own. 

In short, you've done everything you know how to do. 

Pitch Wars will take your book further—so much further than you thought it could go. A lot of hard work but so worth it. If you're at that point and willing to work for it, you're ready to enter Pitch Wars!

Side note: If you haven't done any of the above, it's NOT too late! Now is the time to finish your story and to find critique partners. To ask people you trust to beta read your story. 

PITCH WARS COMMUNITY

And here I come to the heart of what Pitch Wars did for me. The contest introduced me to incredible and encouraging people who happen to tell wonderful stories of their own. It's one of those things where the more you put in, the more you get out. Join the discussion on twitter! Meet other writers, mentees and mentors. If you're lucky enough to get into Pitch Wars, create a Facebook group for the gang. This is the place to cheer, vent and to hold others accountable. Trust me, you're going to need it. They will do the same for you, believe me. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

First, the obvious: finish your manuscript. Once that's done, start working on your query letter. There are so many writers on twitter who offer query critiques or do giveaways. Enter. Rewrite your query letter and swap with another writer. Edit their query letter—sometimes teaching helps me get better. Once you've done that, do it again. I went through so many versions of my query letter. It does get tedious. But once you nail the letter, you're golden and it's the best feeling. You can query with confidence knowing your letter will do its job and snag the attention of an agent. Besides, you'll need it for the contest. 

By now, Brenda has posted all the important dates you need to mark on your calendar. There will be announcements all throughout the summer AND yours truly will be on a google live chat, along with other YA mentors. This is a great time to meet everyone in your genre. You can start getting a feel for them and start asking yourself if they'd be a good fit for your MS. 

I hope this post has been useful for other writers thinking about entering the Pitch Wars fray!

For more info, you should visit Brenda-Drake.com! There will be past posts with interviews, details and you can even spot some entries from last year's Pitch Wars. You can also follow along on twitter by watching the #pitchwars hashtag. Definitely follow Brenda Drake and other mentors, if you see them! They'll be writing helpful blog posts, too! 

Good luck! 

XX