#pitchwars

Getting Ready for #Pitchwars

The last month or so before Pitchwars is always stressful. Putting the time in to make sure your work is a polished as you can, so your story shines through and grips your dream mentor by the throat heart. But once you’ve done that, there are more things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of the event.

Make sure you’ve covered the basics – three months is not a long time. Trust me on this. If you’ve got major rewrites, adding or removing a POV, aging up or down, changing tense etc, you don’t want to be also dealing with the minor things. If a mentor thinks you might have too much to do, they might pass you over – no one wants to break their poor mentee.

  • Filtering – look for words like felt, saw, heard etc in relation to your MC. Most of the time these distance the reader from the events and can be cut.
  • Crutch words – that, just, look etc. Anything that’s overused and the text loses nothing if removed.
  • Consistency – if you have invented words, are they always spelled the same, do they always have a capital or not

Get your Submission Ready – you don’t want to be learning to write a query or synopsis on the day before submissions close. Get the practice in now, as both take a while to get your head around. Take advantage of the offers for query swaps from other mentee hopefuls, or critiques from mentors and past mentees.

Get to Know the Mentors – wishlists won’t be out for a while, but it’s good to get to know the mentors to find someone who will be a good fit for you in advance. Read their books, blog posts, tweets etc. You’re going to be working closely together so you want someone who clicks with your personality as much as possible. When the wishlists come out, pay attention to the do not want as much as the want. That can be a good way for narrowing down your selection.

Find CPs – whatever happens with the actual contest, you can always come out ahead with new CPs and friends. If you don’t have any yet, this is the ideal time. Swap a chapter or two with people who write the same as you, find someone whose work you get, and who gets yours. It can take time to find the right people, but it’s always worth it in the end.

Find a Writing Group – this one is a little different to CPs. With those, you generally want someone who writes close to what you do. They’ll know the ins and outs of your genre, and help you push your work to its best. A writing group doesn’t need to be all the same genre. In a way, it’s better not to be, because you can learn things from other styles of writing that you can apply in different ways to your own works. The point of a writing group is to build each other up, get invested in each others works as readers, to hold hands in the hard times and scream with joy in the good. These people can end up being your biggest fans, your loudest supporters, even if they’re largely based in another genre or age group.

I’m a #Pitchwars Failure – And Here’s Why I Think You Should do it Anyway

Before I start, failure is my term. It’s never been pushed on me by anyone in Pitchwars and I suspect I’ll get a few pokes from people saying oi, no after reading this. But it is how I feel. Let’s be honest, we push ourselves because we want to achieve. We want to get that agent, that book deal. Everyone tells you Pitchwas isn’t a guarantee, it’s not about the showcase or the agents, or the book deals. Deep down though, we all wish it was.

So, if you’re not one of the people who has agents battling for their manuscript; if it isn’t you going into auction at major houses; what’s in for you?

A List of What I Got out of Pitchwars and Am Thankful for

  • The knowledge I can still do it. I came into Pitchwars after four years of not writing. Four years of pushing myself and struggling and never getting anywhere. And yet in April 2020 I started a writing a new project. In August 2020, I finished the first draft. And in September 2020 Ian selected it for Pitchwars.
  • A much better book. Seriously. It’s a much, much better book now, even if it’s not getting any traction with agents or publishers. It’s deeper, it’s smoother, it’s better paced. It shows a mastery of using the blank line.
  • Industry knowledge. It had been years since I’d queried, so getting support in not just my submission package but knowledge of agents, who was a good match for querying and so forth was a massive help. When I go back in again, that knowledge will help with the next book.
  • A friend in Ian. We might not be discussing krakens and just how big to make giant spiders, but’s still good to know he’s there to reach out to.
  • The 2020 Pitchwars cohort. These people are amazing. Some of them have achieved incredible things already, but everyone has always been kind, helpful and thoughtful at all stages.
  • And understanding of pressure. Those are three tough months. For many of us, there was a huge amount to do in a very short space of time. Nothing teaches you like leaping in the deep end!
  • Another book. Pitchwars was stressful, my book was serious and emotionally draining. So I wrote something light and fluffy. The experience definitely gave me the drive to write it.
  • The knowledge that I don’t need to give up. I was that close at points this year, but being around a large number of people who have very varied experiences helped me to see where I fit in, what options I had open to me, and why the dismal failure of my pitchwars book shouldn’t be seen as the inevitable fate of anything I write.

Real talk, Pitchwars is tough. It’s heart-breaking to not get in. It’s gruelling to get in. It can be crushing if you’re not one of the ones who succeeds. And it’s very easy to dwell on the things that haven’t happened. But it has brought amazing results to a great many people, and even for those who haven’t got there yet, the sense of community, the combined experience, the shared pain is a massive boost to any writer.

If you’re thinking about entering this year, feel free to hit me for any information about my experience.

What I Learned from #PitchWars – Part 2

This post is mostly aimed at those looking to enter #PitchWars in the future. I’ve mentioned things that struck me on an earlier post, which covered a variety of aspects, but in this one, I want to focus on emotions, feelings, and mental health. I’ll start by saying the experience was amazing, and if you took me back to 2020 knowing what I know, I’d dive straight back in. I have a much stronger manuscript, great friends, a better network. But I’d be more prepared.

Edit Letters Hurt

It’s the morning after the announcements, your notifications are going mad, you’re buzzing. And then the edit letter comes in and it’s pages and pages of things that need changing. Work that needs doing. You thought your manuscript was great and reader, it is not.

That’s not true, of course. It is great; you were selected. But in that moment, the doubts come rushing in. Why did they pick it? Can I do all of this? Ian was very sweet and specifically asked how soon I wanted my edits, and also told me I was allowed to hate him in the notes. Being excited and eager, I wanted it now, and only gave myself a day of celebration. I think if I went back, I’d give myself the weekend to enjoy and prepare myself.

Stopping Really Hurts

I finished my second revision around Christmas. I had the week off after Christmas. No revisions, no work, a time to relax, maybe get some new words down. And my mental health crashed. Seriously, dangerously, crashed. I couldn’t do anything but lie on the couch. The intrusive thoughts were loud. Dark thoughts that had been banished for years resurfaced. It was only later, speaking to someone familiar with academic students and similar experiences when dissertations are finished that I realised how much stopping something you’ve devoted yourself to for months can affect you.

I’m sure it doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to enough. Be aware of it it. Make sure you have trusted people who are aware it could happen. It was not something I’d ever considered, but knowing it happens and being prepared helped massively so that when I finished the line edits and stopped again, the impact was not nearly so bad.

The Showcase Can Really, Really Hurt

If you write in a category that doesn’t tend to do well in the showcase, there comes a point where lots of twitter threads and blog posts go up saying what it’s like, how the showcase doesn’t really change anything, how cold querying is how most people got their agents anyway. If you’re like me, you’ll read them, digest them, believe them. Tell yourself you’re prepared.

Reader, I was not prepared.

The first few days of the showcase were, frankly miserable. No matter what anyone says, it’s hard not to compare your work to others, to say, why does this agent like that one and not mine? And at the same time, you’re feeling happy for those celebrating (hopefully you’ve made friends and are desperate to see their books succeed because they sound amazing), and those positive emotions can really highlight the negative ones.

There are lots of rational, positive, “this is not the end of the world” posts out there. I want to take a slightly different track.

Feel your feelings. All of them. Cry, scream, despair. Your feelings are valid, and all the rational words won’t take them away for most of you. Sorry.

Find your people who are also suffering. You won’t be the only one. During our year, several of us with low requests got together for zoom chats. It was a safe place to vent our frustrations, without feeling we were stepping on other’s cheer, or having someone accidentally say something that pushed our misery further.

Know it gets better. I cried every day Wednesday to Saturday. By Sunday, I was calm. I was ready to read those calm, rational, “it’s not the end of the world” posts again. To work out who I was going to cold query. It might take longer for you. But you’ll get there.

Overall, the experience was amazing. I’d definitely recommend it, but go into it with your eyes open. It is A LOT. It is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. It is not the only the road. Make sure you’re prepared. I’m always happy to discuss my experience so feel free to drop a comment or a message on twitter.

What I’ve Learned from #Pitchwars (…so far)

At the beginning of November to my Slack writing group going wild and found out I’d been selected as a #Pitchwars mentee. (If you’re not familiar with Pitchwars, check out the site here: pitchwars.org) It’s been about three weeks now and I’ve finished my first revision, so here’s a few thoughts on what I’ve learned so far.

I Can Still Do It:

This blog has been neglected for a few years now, as I struggled to get back into writing after the birth of my son. Anti-depressants saved my life, but killed my creativity. For ages, I struggled to write anything longer than about 10k. Stories just petered out, never went anywhere. I tried different genres, tried to plot, tried all sorts. But nothing clicked until earlier this year, when I got the idea for a story about a grieving airship captain who finds a new lease of life when he rescues a child. The story didn’t quite keep that shape, but this time the words kept coming, and coming, and coming.

Knowing I can still produce a full length novel means the world to me. Knowing mentors read and enjoyed it is an incredible bonus on the top of that.

Edit Letters are A Whole New Thing

I’ve worked with many CPs over the years, and I’m used to getting a manuscript covered in comments. But getting my edit letter from my mentor, Ian Barnes, was a new experience. With inline comments, you can approach that bit, address that issue, but it’s easy to get caught up with the details, and forget the bigger picture.

The edit letter forced me to consider the novel as a whole, and drew out the weaknesses in the world building and plot. It took a couple of days to process everything, plan, and work out where to start making the big changes.

Keep on Going

With so much going on, it was inevitable that some of the changes was going to get pushed out of my mind. Chapter six needed a rewrite of the opening, fore example, but when it came to that point, my mind went blank and refused to even contemplate the necessary work. I could have forced it, but decided that rather than slow things down and risk getting stuck or stressed, I’d move on and come back to it in the next round. I’ll need to address them eventually, but not piling on the pressure of myself helped make the first lot of revisions go smoothly.

Onwards to round two!

2016 #Pitchwars Mentee Bio

A little bit about me. If you took past last year, you’ll recognise most of this as I haven’t changed much over the last year, apart from one thing: I’m pregnant with my first child, nicknamed the little monster, who is due in October!

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out, or spell them in a mixed up manner. I love spellcheck with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend, my only love (beyond cheese), and we’re still together fourteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. Be aware, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m still one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German. I can sign the alphabet in BSL and sign the suspicious banana is on the table. I have yet to find a use for this talent.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. (I’m missing it terribly at the moment!)  I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a whaleshark. My amazing partner finally found a plushie pangolin, my favourite animal for me. This is my collection (as of last year. I’ll try and update the photo):

IMG_20150807_233037_1

I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last five or six years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My pitchwars entry is an adult fantasy novel, triggered by my partner saying he wanted to read Guy Richie-esque mockey adventures, set in a high fantasy world. It didn’t end up quite being that, but it gives you a feel for the flavour of it. It features a sarcastic, self-depreciating bi protagonist, his were-kitten best friend, an unlicenced wizard with a weak constitution, and Finn, his dashingly handsome romantic interest, who turned up rather suddenly and very naked.

Here’s a small snippet:

I allowed Darius to pull me back against the wall. Lights danced behind my eyes as if someone had lit chandeliers in my skull. The floor swayed beneath my feet and the air felt hot and stagnant. I leant heavily on Darius’s shoulder, trying to force myself to breathe normally.

“Are you all right? Don’t you faint on me.”

“I don’t faint,” I said, going for indignant but only managing to pull off slurred.

“What happened? Is he hurt?”

I looked up sharply at the sound of Finn’s voice, which set of an explosion of colours in my head, each one accompanied by a spike of pain. I’d never been assaulted by the colour orange before.

“Byran?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and his peacock-blue jacket filled my vision. I tried to say something witty, lowered my aim to something coherent, then gave up and focused on not throwing up on his shoes. He put my arm round his shoulders.

“We’re leaving,” Finn said.

All the colour was running out of the world like ink running off a page. Finn’s jacket turned a dull grey, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. Buzzing that might have been words or angry wasps mugged my ears and I gave up trying to hold on, letting unconsciousness and strong arms carry me away.

Find more lovely #Pitchwars writers here:
http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/

Five Reasons Why I think Contests are a Good Idea

I’ve entered a few contests this year, starting with #Nestpitch in the spring and finishing with #pitchslam this week. Some I was selected for, some not. Some I got requests, others I did not.

Many contests run on a roughly similar format. A pre-selection period, where you hone the required materials, pitch, query, first 250 words etc. Then the section period where you wait and bite your nails, hoping to be selected. There may be a mentoring phase, where writers and editor help improve your selected materials, and this may be a couple of days or longer. Finally, an agent round, where your materials are displayed for agents to make requests. Throughout, there is generally a hashtag for the community to build up on Twitter.

I think every contest was worth my time. Here’s why:

Reason five: Agents. It can be daunting to know where to start when you begin querying. Having agents who you know are interested in your work gives you are starting place. You should always research agents before submitting, but it gives you a much smaller pool to start with, and then you can widen your search.

Reason four: An opportunity for feedback. For contests with mentoring, this will come from those who have already been through the querying process, or who are editors who help writers get there. They know their queries inside out, and can help you get that dreaded synopsis down to a page. Even if there’s no mentoring, it’s easy to get feedback from other competitors in the pre-selection phase. A show me yours and I’ll show you mine attitude gets fresh eyes on your work and fresh friends on your list.

Reason three: It can help identify if you’re ready. It’s almost impossible to know if you’re at the right point to be querying just on your own. Getting an opportunity to see how your work compares with others, and the feedback you will get, can help you place yourself. Maybe you’ll enter and find out you’re not in the right place to publish. #Nestpitch ultimately taught me that. Maybe you’re not ready to query yet. But if you learn that in a contest, you can revise and still go on to query agents you want to work with, whereas if you’d jumped into querying, you might have lost your chance with that manuscript.

Reason two: It teaches you how to deal with rejection. You won’t get picked for all contests. And you won’t get requests from all the ones you do. We’ve all got to deal with rejection, and this is a more comfortable way of doing it. There will be lots of others who didn’t get in, and you can commiserate and console each other, then work together to build yourselves back up. And you can enter the same contest when it runs next, whereas you can’t generally re-query a rejected project to an agent.

The number one reason I think you should enter contests is for the people you meet. Writing can be a lonely, stressful business. Non-writer friends can be supportive, but they don’t necessarily have the insight other writers do. Having people who know what you’re going through is wonderful. Then there’s the opportunity to meet people who can help build up your skills. Published writers and experienced editors. Your betas and your critique partners. As mentioned in #pitchslam, these are the people who will end up in your acknowledgements when your book is published. A good CP is worth their weight in gold and not easy to come across. Contests are a great way to meet them.

Convinced? Check out this list:
http://carissa-taylor.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/contest-madness.html

7X7X7X7 Challenge

I’ve been challenged to do this by a few people on Twitter. It’s a simple exercise – starting from the seventh line, post seven consecutive lines from page seven of your current work in progress. So, here is a section from what is currently titled Lock Stock and Two Smoking Goblins:

Great. I rolled over to find myself staring into a pair of amber eyes. On a small, buttermilk-coloured kitten.
“That’s how you’re going, Belle?”
The kitten made a soft chirruping sound.
“Fat lot of good you’re going to be if a fight breaks out.”
Somehow her expression managed to convey the fact that she had chosen that shape for exactly that reason.

Pitchwars Mentee Bio

A little bit about me:

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out. I love autocorrect with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend and we’re still together thirteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. By the way, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a honeycomb moray eel. If anyone finds me a plushie pangolin I will love you for ever.This is my collection:

IMG_20150807_233037_1

I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last four or five years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, but I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My pitchwars entry is an adult fantasy novel, following heroes after they have achieved their quest. It will appeal to any mentor who likes strong female characters (no damsels in this book), m/m romance, platonic love that’s as strong as romance, well crafted action, and the power of hope and innocence. Oh, and dick jokes. I’m told there are a few of them.

Find more lovely #Pitchwars writers here:
http://christopherkeelty.com/pitchwars-2015-pimpmybio-contestant-blog-hop/