Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Query Letter Breakdown

If you’ve made it to the query letter stage of the writing process, congratulations! That means you have a completed manuscript that has been through a couple of edits, hopefully a few betas, and more than one trusted critique partner. This is a huge accomplishment and you should absolutely bask in the wonderful feeling of finishing your novel.

Okay, now comes another piece of hard work.

The dreaded query letter. Not as feared as the daunting synopsis, but equally as important.

The query letter is one of your most important tools in acquiring representation for your novel. You can write the most incredible, sharp, and well-paced novel in the universe, but if your query letter is lacking, there is a good chance no one will see the words on your manuscript.

That’s because query letters are your first impression with the agent or editor you’re trying to contact. Many ask for the first five pages along with the query letter, but the query is what they read first. So it is extremely important to hook them instantly.

I know the process of breaking your book down to a mere 200-300 words seems like an impossible task, but when you narrow your concept down to its most important form, it really can be an enjoyable experience.

There are countless books, blogs, and authors willing to share their advice on how to write the perfect query letter, and I won’t pretend to know it all, but after four years as a PitchWars Mentor, I have read hundreds of queries—some I can remember today—they were that good.

For me, I want the stakes up front—or the sizzle—what is at risk for your character and why I should care.

Let’s look at an example (and since my two year old daughter has this movie and soundtrack on repeat since birth it seems) how about Frozen?

Princess Anna must find her sister, Queen Elsa, and get her to stop the eternal winter her special powers set off, or their kingdom and everyone in it will perish.

First line, we have stakes (kingdom will perish) and the characters (a pair of sisters, one of which has supernatural powers) This draws the reader in and pushes them to the next line.

Trekking across a treacherous, frozen kingdom, Anna braves the cold alone with the hopes that her unflinching love for her sister will be enough to convince her to bring back summer and return to the kingdom.

Second line, highlight the reason the hero/heroine has taken the task upon himself/herself. This helps connect the reader to the main character.

But Elsa isn’t as easy to convince as Anna thought, and in an overwhelming panic, Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart—doing the one thing she’s always feared most, harm her sister.

Third line, insert the conflict—what prevents the hero/heroine from achieving her task.

As Anna flees an attack from Elsa with help from a couple friends she met along her journey, she must decide what is more important—save herself from a quickly approaching frozen death, or use her last breath to save her sister and the kingdom in the process.

Fourth line
, the stakes are at their highest and the hero/heroine must make a choice, one that will either make or break them. The conflict resolution is present, but the reader won’t know how they solve it unless they read the book (or synopsis) You want to show the reader that your hero/heroine has a way to achieve his/her goal, but you don’t have to give away the ending. The main goal is to gain their interest instantly (show the stakes) then connect them to the character (show them their motivations) and then use the higher stakes to create tension (Anna is on the brink of death) and finally, show how she can or cannot solve her conflict and the consequences of either choice (her life or the life of her sister and kingdom)

Let’s see it all together now.

Princess Anna must find her sister, Queen Elsa, and get her to stop the eternal winter her special powers set off, or their kingdom and everyone in it will perish.

Trekking across a treacherous, frozen kingdom, Anna braves the cold alone with the hopes that her unflinching love for her sister will be enough to convince her to bring back summer and return to the kingdom.

But Elsa isn’t as easy to convince as Anna thought, and in an overwhelming panic, Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart—doing the one thing she’s always feared most, harm her sister.

As Anna flees an attack from Elsa with help from a couple friends she met along her journey, she must decide what is more important—save herself from a quickly approaching frozen death, or use her last breath to save her sister and the kingdom in the process.

This is the plot at it’s most basic, but at 145 words it hooks the reader quickly, allowing them to decide if the book would be a good fit for their list or not. Follow this up with a line or two about yourself, listing any writing credentials or awards that are relevant, and then why you chose the agent/editor to query. And there should always be a reason you chose the specific agent/editor (because you’ve done copious amounts of research on why your book would be perfect for them to represent)  :)

This isn’t a surefire formula. I’m not sure one exists, because no matter what, this business is a subjective one. It can be a perfect book and query and an agent can pass on it because they’ve just bought a winter-wonderland book or maybe they feel like their not the best person to represent a snow themed novel because they have a huge fear of snowmen (you get the idea) That is why researching the agent and the books they represent, or the editor and the books they’ve sold at the house, is so important. Knowing the genres they like and what they’ve recently acquired will go a long way in helping you narrow your search down to the perfect list of people to query. And combining all these efforts together will give you the best odds. is an amazing website that helped me when I was in the query trenches (twice) It not only helps you organize and track agents and their wish lists, but there is a community of people who are in the same position as you. Many are even willing to swap advice on queries! Being surrounded by like minds (even virtually) really helps while you’re waiting the weeks and sometimes months it takes to get a response on a query.

So go ahead and congratulate yourself again on completing your novel and then run have a conversation with your hero/heroine on what is most at stake for them. They’ll let you know where to start your query and then the real magic begins!!!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Not The Way Vague Is

According to Joseph Campbell and myth criticism, the same stories are being told over and over again. To a point, that’s true. Tropes are repeated all the time.

Person meets person. (Boy/girl girl/girl boy/boy or any combination you so choose, it’s still the same basic trope of that first meeting.)
Coming of age.
The one.
Second chances
Person on a journey
Rags to riches
And the list goes on.

If I say there’s an awesome story about this guy who was prophesized to kill his father, would you know what story I’m talking about, or would several come to mind? Maybe I’m talking Oedipus Rex. Maybe I’m talking Star Wars. Who knows? It’s too vague to be certain. Oedipus Rex and Star Wars are two completely different stories, but without the details, both can be described by that first vague line.

This is the same thing I see in queries all the time. People are vague. That vagueness describes two hundred other stories written with the same basic trope. You think you’re talking about your story, but really you’re talking about many, because I have no idea the details of yours and what makes it different.

Oedipus had no idea it was his father he killed at the time. Had no idea he married his mother. Luke knew Vader was his father, but had no idea that Leah was his sister when she kissed him. Similarities, but differences enough to make it known that it’s not the same read at all.

Without the details, your book is lumped into a trope. Be specific.

How do you know if you’re being too vague? There are some pretty good key words.

Things like that. Also no asking questions. This is your story. You tell me. Questions are vague and honestly, in my opinion, a little annoying. As far as I can tell most agents don’t like them much either.

Will she have the strength to face her inner demons and let herself love?

I dunno, but this doesn’t tell me anything about what makes your story different.

What must she do to face her inner demons? Tell me. Tell me what will happen if she fails. What’s the consequence of it all?

The details give the little nuances that are different from the basic trope. Sure, it’s a story about a son having to kill his father for some reason, but Luke is definitely not Oedipus.

Agents don’t want to rep the same story they just came across last week or last year. They want something new. The more details you give, the more they can see just how unique your story is, and it ups your chances of getting a request. If the son is destined to kill the father, that’s great, but tell me what makes yours different than the 8,000 other novels with the same trope.

What is going to make me LOVE your novel? 

The query is the agent’s first impression of your novel. Give it enough detail to make a good impression.

 As Query You Write, Force Be With You It Will

Thursday, January 21, 2016

FAQ for Sun Versus Snow

When you're a contest host you get lots of questions. Let's face it--writers worry. Maybe it's our extra helping of imagination. Maybe it's because the stakes are so high. But that leads to a lot of questions. And that's okay. As a host, it is part of my job. No question is too crazy or asked too often. So fire away in the comments. You can ask about Sun versus Snow or about contests in general.

I'll also do a few of the most often asked questions right here in the post--a sort of FAQ for Sun versus Snow, but do add your own or ask for more information if something is unclear. But first here's an overview of how Sun versus Snow works.

I am the snow side of Sun versus Snow and my wonderful co-host Amy Trueblood is the sun. She hails from Arizona and I'm here in snowy Indiana. What could be more interesting then the extremes of our different climates and using that for a contest? 

Sun versus Snow is a writer contest that features a query letter and the first 250 words of manuscripts. It is open to any middle grade, young adult, new adult, and adult manuscripts. We are not accepting picture books or chapter books. Entries should be complete and polished. 

Amy and I pick the best entries from the email slush and post them to our blogs for our seventeen agents (and any ninjas) to make requests for pages. The submission date is February 1st. You can read all the rules here. The agent round is February 22nd. (List of agents here.)  And the chosen entries do get to work with a mentor to polish their query and 250 words.

This is different from a twitter pitch contest in that the agents only see the picked finalists. And it happens on blogs and through emails. Our hashtag #sunvssnow is for making writer friends and having fun. We don't post any pitching there.

Now some frequent questions:

Should my entry be single spaced or should I double space the first 250 words?

Answer: The whole entry should be single spaced with spaces between paragraphs. Spaces between paragraphs is very important. When you are reading 200 entries, that white space really helps your eye and keeps you sane. Otherwise the words start to blur together.

Often the spaces can get lost when you copy and paste to an email. To be really safe, backspace out the spaces and add them in again manually inside the email.

Oh, and no attachments. Everything goes in the body of the email.

My email doesn't have Times New Roman. What do I do? Will you disqualify my entry?

Answer: No. We don't disqualify for formatting. We only disqualify if a part of your entry is missing--such as you left off the first 250 words and only sent a query letter--or there is some cheating involved. If your email doesn't have Times New Roman use whatever is closest to that font. Just don't use some font that is wild and hard to read. 

I personally don't like Courier font. Like above, it sort of helps reading if all the entries have the same font. That's why we ask for a specific one. 

Can I include my bio in the query?

Answer: We don't want to see your bio or word count/genre sentence. The word count and genre is up above so no need to repeat them. The bio could bias us. Bios can be added if picked for the agent round. You can include your comps in your submission.

My manuscript features two alternating POV. Can I put that in the query?

Answer: This is an important feature of many NA and romance. So yes. That can be included.

My last sentence of the first 250 words goes over 250 words. Should I stop at 250? Or   completing the sentence puts me at 260 words, is that okay?

Answer: Do not stop in the middle of a sentence. You may go over by three or four words. It is not okay to go over by ten words. Then you need to cut. We want to be fair and hold everyone to the same standard. Find some words to cut somewhere to be at the right length or very close. 

Too long entries will be disqualified.

Note: There is no word count length restriction for the query letter.

Does word count matter in your picks?

Answer: Yes. If your entry is close to the accepted standard for your genre and age category, you are more likely to be picked. Agents go by these word count standards. I've noticed when I pick a 50K YA that it is less likely to get requests. Same with an adult ms far over 100K. A too large or too small word count can hurt your chances.

I asked my editor at Harper Voyager about the word count of my sequel. What he said was interesting. They have a fine schedule for the books they publish as far as timing. If the word count goes higher, it can mess with that schedule and throw everyone off, the editing and formatting will need more time.

We might pick an outstanding entry that doesn't follow the standards, but that will be rare.

Good places to check standards are and   

I also write under a pen name. Can I send different entries under two names?

Answer: No. This will get you disqualified. Send only one entry, no matter how many pen names or different email address you have. We like to share the love and give more people the opportunity to make the agent round. 

How do I follow your blog?

Answer: We ask that you follow our blogs because we are doing this work for nothing. It helps show us we are appreciated--and everyone wants to be appreciated. :-) 

There is a widget in the right sidebar of my blog that says "join this site." Click on that. You must have a Google account for the widget to work. If you don't have a Google account, you may subscribe to my newsletter instead. It's in the same sidebar at the top. My newsletter gives early notice of upcoming contests and opportunities.

The method for following Amy's blog is different. She has a small "follow" button at the bottom of her blog.

I was in #SFFpit or some other twitter pitch event. Does that mean I can't enter? Or does that mean I can't enter the new twitter pitch event in February?

Answer: No. We don't count twitter pitch events as agent contests. They don't have a set list of agents and they don't have query letters. They aren't the same as Sun versus Snow so you can do both.

My story was in PitchWars or Nightmare on Query Street, does this mean I can't enter?

Answer: Yes. We ask that if your manuscript was in an agent round in a contest within the last five months, that you don't enter Sun versus Snow. We want to showcase unseen manuscripts for our agents and give them something new. We also want to give opportunities to more writers by giving new people a chance. 

I was in an agent round, but I've really changed my manuscript and have done a big revision. Can I enter?

Answer: Technically yes. But I would advise checking our list of agents. If most of those have seen your manuscript, please give someone else a chance.

This also applies if you haven't been in an agent round, but most of our listed agents have seen your query. You might want to look for a different contest to enter.

I have a different manuscript finished then what I got in an agent round. Can I send that?

Answer: Yes. If you have something fresh to show the agents, then it's fine to enter it.

I just finished my manuscript. It's not really polished, but it's done. Can I enter?

If your manuscript won't be ready to send on February 22nd, then please don't enter. We want our agents to get their requests within a few days, not a few weeks. It has to be ready to go.

I already have partials and full requests out from querying. Can I enter?

Answer: Yes. But we ask that if you get an offer, please let us know right away. We want to celebrate with you! And we don't want to pick an entry for the agent round that already has an agent offer. 

I never have any luck in contests. Why should I enter? I won't get picked.

Answer: Don't sell yourself short.

Also, only a small percentage of people will make it into contests. I never managed to get into any large contests. I got my agents through regular querying. But contests are for more than just requests. Contests are a great way to connect with other writers and learn about writing. There's lots of wisdom floating around the hashtag #sunvssnow on twitter. Contests are helpful no matter how it turns out for you.  

Those are some of the most often asked questions. But they are no means all. Please leave more questions in the comments or ask me on twitter (@michelle4laughs). We also have a #SVSChat scheduled with our mentors at 3:00 pm and 9:00 pm EST on January 29th, where you can ask about publishing or querying or contests.

Contests are so much fun. We want you there joining us! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It's Book Birthday Time!

Grab your noise makers and party hats (and why don't you stop off and grab me a couple cupcakes, too...), and let's celebrate!

Paige in Progress, the third standalone in the Reluctant Hearts series, releases today. This book was such a labor of love, and love it I do. It's probably my favorite book I've ever written, with my favorite characters I've ever written about. I just love these two so... Readers are calling it laugh-out-loud funny, swoony, and uber sexy (so sexy that I probably shouldn't post an excerpt on this PG blog, so you're going to have to take my word for it).

Without further ado, here are the deets of this new release!

She wanted a one-night stand…and then he moved in next door. 
Paige Bennett is more than content with her life and what she does—and does not—have in it. She’s got a supportive family, a great apartment, and the best friend a girl could ask for; so what if her relationships expire faster than a carton of milk? After a disastrous detour courtesy of poor judgment in the boyfriend department, her plan is back on track and her dream job is finally within her grasp. Nothing can make her lose focus now. Well, nothing except the one-night stand she had with her best friend’s surrogate brother. The one-night stand she can’t stop thinking about.
Adam Reid has always been reliable…the responsible son, the loyal friend, the steady boyfriend. Two years ago, he graduated Magna Cum Laude and is well on his way to making a name for himself at an accounting firm in Denver—a far cry from working as a helper in the Mom and Pop store his parents own in Michigan. But when said store starts failing, he’s the only one who can step in and help. So reliable Adam does what he always does, and he comes to the rescue.
Paige thought Adam was a safe bet because he lives halfway across the country. But then suddenly he’s moving back to their town, and then into her apartment building, and soon he’s worming his way right into her life. If she’s not careful, he might sneak his way into her heart, too…

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Monday, January 18, 2016



Love them, hate them, either way you need them when submitting your manuscript to an agent or editor. And if you’re querying your second (or third) manuscript, I bet you’re looking forward to never writing another query, right?


See, I know you’re going to get that agent. And then you’re going to go on submission and sell that book! And then your new editor is going to ask you to come up with the back cover copy—the blurb. And you know what that blurb is disgustingly similar to? That evil little query you thought you’d said goodbye to forever.

But don’t fling yourself to that chaise just yet.

Queries, like pitches, only have to do ONE thing: Entice the reader.

*Please note: you can break EVERY rule in the book as long as you do it well—and hook the reader—but you’re probably not that special snowflake. Trying to stand out can make you look like an amateur, or gimmicky. There’s a format for a reason.*

They may only have one purpose, but they’re made up of a few standard things. FOLLOW THE RULES and you increase your chances of getting a partial or a full request.

When I say follow the rules, I’m talking about two things:

Submission guidelines and standard formatting.

If an agent asks for the query pasted into the body of the email, the first five pages, and a one page synopsis attached as a word doc DO EXACTLY THAT. Don’t paste it all into the email. Don’t paste the synopsis at the end of the pages for their “convenience.”

Do. As. You’re. Told.

You’d be surprised at how annoying little things like that get to agents and interns. With the sheer odds of publishing you’re already up against a stacked deck. Following the submission guidelines shows that you’re a serious professional—or at least capable of following simple instructions. Do I want a client who takes the time to DO AS I SAY, or do I want a special snowflake who starts things off by disregarding my requests, giving me a PDF when I wanted a word doc?

The second thing you need to focus on is formatting.

A good rule of thumb for queries is to keep them short and sweet. TRY to make them no longer than 200 words INCLUDING the salutation AND your bio.

That’s right. 200 words. That was not a typo. Time is money. Be succinct.

So. The formatting of the query.

1) The email’s subject line should always be: Query: TITLE by Name.
This makes it straightforward as to what the email is, and easy for them to find later in a folder.
The only exception to this rule is if they’ve requested materials from you at a conference or a contest. If they request, ALWAYS state REQUESTED MATERIALS in the subject line so you won’t get stuck in the slush.

(and don’t try to be sneaky and put ‘requested material’ in the subject line when they didn’t request it. 
Agents might be insanely busy, but they’re not stupid. You’re only shooting yourself in the foot by being unprofessional.)

2) The salutation or greeting. Salutations should be simple. You’ll hear people say to personalize your query, and I agree. BUT only if it’s relevant.

Eg. Dear Ms. Snucker,
I’m querying you because I read on #MSWL that you’re looking for a YA ensemble cast featuring teen girls pursuing careers in STEM.

BAM! THAT’S IT! Move right into the pitch!

Or greeting two:

Dear Ms. Snucker,
I pitched to you at X conference and you invited me to forward my full manuscript, (title).

BAM! Move right into the pitch and include any requested materials with reckless disregard to their standard submission guidelines you unicorn, you!

*If the agent/editor you’re querying requested materials, LEAD WITH THAT INFORMATION. You may have a great logline but a lacklustre query and they don’t bother reading to the end where you finally remind them that they liked something about this story and actually wanted to see it. Agents are wildly busy people. DON’T BURY THE LEAD!*

You don’t need to say WHY you wrote the book or that they’re your absolute fave agent on twitter and you’d love for them to read your MS. OF COURSE you’d love them to read it. It goes without saying. Just get to the pitch.

3) The pitch itself. Typically, these are three paragraphs. In dual POV romance, for example, you get ONE paragraph for the first POV, the next paragraph for the second, and the last paragraph to tie their worlds and conflict together. I like adding a final line to sort of sum things up in a punchy way.

With The Best Laid Plans, the final line was:

‘Jayne wants the perfect lover. Malcolm wants revenge. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…’

Sure, it’s three sentences instead of one, but it sums things up in a quick, punchy way.

(And yes, if your manuscript has more than one POV it NEEDS to be represented in the pitch. A good rule of thumb is that if the character is important enough to get a POV, they need to be in the query as well. It’s a little different if you’re working with a large ensemble cast, but those are a different beast and able to be summed up with broader strokes.)

So. 1 paragraph PER POV. 1 paragraph to tie those POVs together and show the conflict and stakes. 
And one ring to rule them…no…ONE line to sum with a punch.

Let’s go a little deeper. Those paragraphs (the pitch) needs three things.

A) Goal: What does the main character want/need to happen.
B) Conflict: What’s stopping the main character from achieving that goal.
C) Stakes: What happens if the character doesn’t achieve that goal.

You can also have motivation in there—WHY the character wants to achieve their goal, but that’s usually self-explanatory.

4) The close. ‘TITLE is a YA contemporary romance, complete at 65k words.’ (ALWAYS round up/down to the nearest k. It looks neater.)

(You COULD put comps in here, but ONLY do it if they’re accurate. A sloppy comp can hurt you if the agent HATED that book or maybe already rep someone with something like it. I’d say it’s better to NOT put specific book comps. Instead, go for a higher concept, accurate but more vague ___ meets ___. The Usual Suspects meets Hot Tub Time Machine. And if you have a great line like that, I suggest putting it JUST before the first paragraph as a great hook.

5) The sexy bio. Keep it RELEVANT. Degrees, awards, publishing creds. If it’s a book about space and you’re an astronaut, STATE THAT. But even if your bio is…less than fresh…you can still make something short, sweet, and spicy.

Here’s mine: Tamara Mataya is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a librarian, and a musician with synesthesia. Armed with a name tag and a thin veneer of credibility, she takes great delight in recommending books and shushing people. She puts the 'she' in TWSS and the B in LGBTQIA+.

You COULD say, thanks for your time, I appreciate your time etc. but don’t get too effusive with it or you sound like a politician.

And I don’t endorse THAT message.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Capturing Voice!

“Didn’t love the voice.”

“Didn’t connect with the voice.”

“Nothing special about the voice.”

These or similar phrases are often used in rejection letters by agents and editors as reasons for passing on a particular query or manuscript. Conversely, when an agent or editor falls in love with a manuscript, they often comment that they, “love the voice.”

Everything that a reader sees and experiences in a novel is filtered through the voice. No wonder voice plays such a significant role in the success or failure of a manuscript.

Yet often writers feel a great deal of confusion and frustration concerning voice. It seems like such an abstract concept, hard to pin down, difficult to define. Many believe voice can’t be taught or learned; it’s inherent.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that voice is a quality of writing that can be taught, learned, worked at, and improved, just like any other aspect of writing.

Voice is critically linked to character and point of view. Particularly in YA novels, since they typically employ a first person or close third person point of view, a novel’s voice is often essentially the main character’s voice (or in the case of dual or multiple POVs, voices). I believe the key to voice, in this type of novel, is striving to put oneself right inside the POV character’s head and heart with each line that is written, so that each word on the page is imbued with that character’s unique individual way of perceiving and relating to their world.

What kind of words does the character use, both in dialogue and internally?
Is the character verbose or quiet?
Are there words or expressions that are unique to your character or their world?
Does your character spew their feelings in continuous stream of consciousness run-on sentences?
Or are they reserved, perhaps needing to have their true thoughts and feelings pried from them?
Do they have a sense of humor?
Do they use slang or profanity?
Sparingly or non-stop?
Are they honest with themselves?
Do they understand themselves?
Is their worldview straight-forward and logical, or is it filtered through the eye of an artist, or a dreamer?
Do they wear pinstriped suits or pajama pants?

These traits will be reflected in their thoughts and the type of words they choose and how those words are structured into sentences and paragraphs—their voice.

Below are four contrasting examples of voice from opening lines of YA novels (or in one case, a short story). Note the difference in vocabulary and sentence structure, and the resulting impact on voice in each example.

 “Crap. There’s a naked freshman chained to my locker. No. Not naked. Briefs. Not a good look, kid.”
–from Sing Me to Sleep, by Angela Morrison

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its’ Januaryness.”
–from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

“I didn’t tell anyone how dire shit had become. Yeah, maybe my old man could slip a few buck in an envelope, mail it to my Brooklyn apartment (where it might get carried off by a pack of gangster rats), but he had his own worries.”—from “Angels in the Snow,”
-by Matt de la Pena, in the holiday story collection, My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

“This is how it all begins. With Zephyr and Fry—reigning neighborhood sociopaths—torpedoing after me and the whole forest floor shaking under my feet as I blast through air, trees, this white-hot panic.”
–from I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

Like other aspects of writing, one of the best ways to learn about voice is by carefully examining voice in novels you particularly admire. What is it about the voice that works? What kind of language does the author use and what does this convey about the character, story, and mood? What makes the voice feel authentic and interesting and engaging?

Probably, though, the best way to learn more about voice is by practicing. I suggest pushing yourself deep inside your POV character’s heart and soul and viewing the world through their senses. Then, write on!

What are your thoughts on voice? What novels would you recommend as outstanding examples of voice? Any tips that have helped you better understand and improve voice in your writing?

And for some other thoughts on voice, here’s a link to a post on VOICE by my Pitch Wars co-mentor, Mónica B.W.

By Susan Gray Foster

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How not to eat feet

A sock in the face doesn’t really smell that great, does it? Well, at least not if it’s one of my socks, because I’m a regular farm jockey. But how about yours? Even if your toes are sparkly clean like a “Tide” advert you’re gonna want to avoid the whole foot in mouth thing when you’re querying. After all, no one wants to eat smelly feet.

That brings me nicely (if not stinky-ly) to the topic of query faux pas (or f*ck ups, as they’re fondly known on my side of the pond – and hey, did you not notice I used “Tide” as a detergent as opposed to “Daz”? “Daz” is for us Brits who don’t know what “Tide” actually is). Anyhoo, let’s look at what blunders you don’t want to blunder into when you enter query land…

One - For the love of all things holy, do not compare yourself to the literature greats. Sure, you might be the next big thing, and sure, you might be as good as Dickens or Rowling, or gosh golly Mr. Shakespeare himself…but don’t, I beg you, tell an agent this. You will be fish slapped straight out of the query inbox and deemed “that” writer. You know who you are (and if you don’t, God help you).

Two - Keep your head on your shoulders and not on someone’s butt. Seriously though, I know you adore and silently (and please let it be silently) stalk agents on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook…but you shouldn’t let them know that. Yes, they might have the cutest cat in the world, or they eat their chicken roll just like you do, but do not let this pepper your query letter. And don’t tell them they are the most amazing, wonderful, most beautiful person in the world and you’re going to just die if they don’t love you back. You’re just going to make them feel awkward as they slowly back away from you, looking discreetly for an exit (or a fire extinguisher).

Three - “You’ll regret it if you don’t take me on.” Seriously, guys. They won’t. Honestly. Trust me on this. “But people who turned down J.K Rowling must have regretted it”. Maybe, maybe not. Remember – an agent wants someone they can be passionate about. It’s not all about the money honey.

Four - “I’m sending you my first chapter and if you like it I’ll finish the book.” No. Enough said.

Five - I know agents seem to be the font of all knowledge, but hold your pretty little horses and stuff your mouth with cotton wool before you run off with some grand plans of using said knowledge. Honestly, I think some writers believe agents spout fairy glitter and unicorn dust from every part of their body. While they might (you never know) it is not okay to say, “Since you’re awesome, can you give me feedback if you’re going to say no?” Despite the fact they are super duper busy, it’s just not cool. If I walked up to you and asked you to critique my math homework even if you didn’t like it…well, you get my point.

Alright, there are plenty more faux pas you can make in your query, but that’s enough for now. Wait…what’s that sound? Ah, yes, I can hear you choking on your own toes right now. But, wait, don’t let the alarm bells ringing make you run a mile.

If you make a mess up like this, or have done, it’s not the end of the world. Hopefully, your super sparkling pages will snag their attention, or maybe you’ll just have to move on and do better next time.

Either way, just keep going and keep learning along the way. Good luck in the query trenches and you can laugh at me when I put my rather stinky feet in my mouth (and probably all the way down to my throat). As they say, sh*t happens. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

-Fiona (aka the person with too much feet talk)

Monday, January 11, 2016


There is so much writing and publishing advice out there these days. Everyone's got a penny's worth (Pah! Sometimes more like hundred dollar bill's worth) to throw into the ring. And believe it or not, we have too! But ours is better, so you should totally listen.

Today's blog brings together what each mentor feels is THE most important piece of advice they've absolutely got to pass on to you. Whether it's what's worked best for them, or perhaps the piece of advice they wished they'd been told when setting out on their own author journeys; this list should give you something to think about.

'Don’t let anyone else tell you what your writing process should be. Just because your favorite author or your writer friends outline, draft at midnight, and use Scrivener, doesn’t mean that any of those things will work for you. You are unique. Find your own path.' Helene Dunbar

'Try out new writing advice and strategies, but know that not every method will stick. Do what works for you.' Stephanie Scott

'Get words down on paper; you can fix them later. Art harder! (Credit for the latter goes to Chuck Wendig!)' Susan Gray Foster

'Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone gets there at their own pace.' Marty Mayberry

'Find critique partners and writer friends who can genuinely be excited about your success. Sure, we all get jealous sometimes, and that's natural. There will be people who can bring you down, though, so surround yourself with positivity.' Rachel Lynn Solomon

'Keep your head down and write.' Brighton Walsh

'Don't be afraid to learn something new. No writer knows everything. This industry is all about learning.' Natasha Raulerson

'Read. Write. Repeat.' Samantha Joyce

'Thick skin is a must! No one will champion your work more than you will so don't ever give up. Critique partners and beta readers should be a part of the process. Without them you only have one insight on your work...yours which isn't always spot on.' Wendy Spinale-Smith

'Become an active part of the writing community, be it through conferences, workshops, classes, or even online. They are the people who will support you, advise you, cheer for you, and lend a shoulder to cry on as the need arises.' Kes Trester

'Some days, writing will make you feel euphoric, and others it will crush you. Learn to work through both.' Juliana Brandt

'Listen to your gut. It will lead you the right way with writing choices. If you can't write then likely your writing is off track somehow. Don't be afraid to take a day off.' Michelle Hauck

'Embrace revisions. Revising is where the magic comes in and whips your story into shape!' Kim Long

'Read 100 books in your genre. Find trusted critique partners. Never give up.' Jessica Vitalis

'Write the book YOU want to write. Don't worry about the business side (i.e. the right agent, the right editor/house, the market) until it's written, critiqued, and revised. Your #1 priority, first and foremost, should only be to write the best book you can.' Julie C. Dao

'Know your craft, train in your craft and grow in your craft. While a novel usually has one name on it, it's not a solo gig. Surround yourself with positive writers that will help you grow.' Sharon Johnston

'Read what you write. Read what makes you happy. Write your own story. And make connections in the writing community because the opinions of like minds are invaluable.' Molly Lee

'You're building worlds. The laundry can wait.' Tamara Mataya

'Be relentless. Set aside time for writing and stick to that schedule like it's your job. One day it will be.' Jeanmarie Anaya

'Sometimes, it's okay to "quit." There will be times when you need to step back and take a break. That's okay. You can come back when you're feeling more like yourself again.' Veronica Bartles

'Never give up. Writing is the only way to be immortal.' Jennifer Hawkins

'Story ideas are all around you, just watch and listen. Write what you love.' Trisha Leaver

'Enjoy it; don't lose sight of why you wrote in the first place.' Kate Foster

Agree or disagree with any? Perhaps one hits home more than the others. Perhaps you have your own tip you'd like to impart. Well then, use the comments and join in the conversation! Let's chat...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Yes, it's happened. The rumours were true. WE HAVE LANDED!

Shield your eyes from all the dazzling beauty.

The Pitch Wars mentors are here with our very own blog, bringing you writing tips every week (probably) on pretty much every writing-related subject you can think of (possibly). From query letters to promotion, self editing to working with the professionals – we've got it covered.
It's going to be breathtaking. Heart-stopping. A thrilling ride of tips, tricks and techniques. We're being dramatic, over-the-top. No, we're not. Just watch and see the birth of true magic, not a single wand in sight.
But wait... What's that? Do we really hear you asking: What is Pitch Wars?
You're telling us you don't actually know what the best, most awesome annual writing contest is that was ever invented ever? You don't know who Brenda 'The Boss' Drake and her team of published writers, interns and editors are? These magical beings who donate a couple of months of their time and expertise to work with upcoming talented authors to hone their craft before showcasing their work to a bunch of top class, successful literary agents. Seriously? Well, in that case, you'd best click on this link and go find out...

*drums nails on desk*
Read it? Good. Now you know. Awesome, right?
So here we are. (Find out exactly who right here.) We're pumped and ready to help make you better writers. Dishing dirt and spilling secrets; who doesn't want to be a part of that?!
And just to show precisely how spiffing we really are, we're kicking things off with a few tasty giveaways!
Yeah, seriously.
All y'gotta do, is leave a comment telling us how amazing we are (really go for it, OK) and specifying which giveaway you'd like to win. Simple. And we will pick the best answers to receive the prizes. Don't like this technique? Well, consider it your first visit to the land of subjectivity. As a writer, it won't be your last. You have until our next blog goes live on January, 11th.
Here they are...
3 x query critiques
2 x first chapter critique, up to 10 pages
1 x query & first chapter (up to 4k words) critique 

1 x query & first chapter critique
1 x first 10 pages critique (preferably for an MG manuscript)
1 x query/first chapter critique

1 x copy of Hardwired by Trisha Leaver
Sparkly, right? So what are you waiting for... GO!
But seriously, thank you, all of you, for tuning in and being a part
of something special. We hope we can bring every aspiring writer
a sliver of gold to help them grow and develop their craft. This is
a tough business to be a part of; support and guidance, even a
shoulder to cry on, can get us through those sticky spots, those
emotional holes. Let us help you. Share us with your friends, tell
us what you think, and how we might have helped you, chat with
us; this will make it all worth while. (As well as buying our books
and leaving reviews, but we didn't just say that.)
Next on the Blog...The Mentors' Top Tips!

Also coming this month...Openings by Susan Gray Foster...Query Letters by Tamara Mataya...Query Letters by Natasha Raulerson...Query Letters by Molly Lee...Sun VS Snow Questions Answered by Michelle Hauck!