Monday, June 29, 2015

Too Busy to be a Writer?

'Animal Farm' came from a day steering a cart down a country track! 

'Treasure Island' emerged from a sodden holiday in Scotland!

'Around the World in Eighty Days' was inspired by an advertisement in a newspaper!

I was reading something on the Writer's Digest page the other day when I stumbled upon this old column:
I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought you might too.

The reason I liked it is that Tolkien stumbled upon his brainchild in a random inspired moment whilst grading papers. As a teacher who spends most of her time sifting through papers and complaining about not having enough time to write, this is reassuring. Even when preoccupied with other things, that beautiful brain moment might still strike.

Inspiration might come at anytime. While reading the newspaper or taking a walk or chatting with a friend, the beginnings of ideas are forming. You might be doing nothing or you might be multi-tasking a hundred things.

So, basically, my most favouritest excuse of not having enough time to be a writer - pathetic and useless! These 10 classics came about in the midst of holidays and road trips and busy lives, but it didn't stop the writers!

Note to self - being busy helps ideas, rather than hindering them!
No more excuses!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

One Literary Agent’s Perspective on Twitter Pitch Parties

I must seem like a glutton for punishment. I participated in the last three Twitter pitch parties (#kidpit, #pitmad and #sffpit) and I’m gearing up for the one (#writepit) coming up this Friday. As a newer agent, you might wonder why I’ve chosen this route to find authors rather than being open to unsolicited submissions. Part of my reasoning comes from being a slush pile reader. In the year and a half I waded through hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions, I can count on one hand how many book projects I recommended to agents. In the last two months, after participating in the last three pitch parties, I have already found a couple of talented authors with interesting book projects I want to represent.

Twitter pitch parties have proven more effective, because they help match up an agent’s taste to an author’s book. I’m more likely favorite a tweet if the pitch resonates with me. They are also a better way of targeting the kinds of projects what we’d like to represent. For example. while several agents at Kimberley Cameron & Associates represent science fiction/fantasy, our individual preferences within that genre vary widely. One of my colleagues might be looking for a high fantasy or a space opera, while another might prefer an urban fantasy or a cyberpunk adventure.

There are excellent articles online about how to pitch on Twitter pitch parties. One of them from our own Relentless Writer, Janet Wren. My intent is not to rehash that information but instead offer suggestions from an agent’s perspective. And I fully admit these suggestions are influenced by my personal preferences:
  • Your pitch needs to have a strong hook. It should pull us in and make us interested in reading more. It should not, however, be a summary of the story or the plot. It should contain tantalizing details that reveal story or plot, but that’s not the focus. The focus is to make us stop scrolling and take notice.
  • Show the main character’s personal stakes. Personal stakes help create that emotional connection with your story. 
  • Include the external conflict without eclipsing the personal stakes. It should, in fact, heighten the personal stakes.
I favorited James Matlack Raney's Twitter pitches, because they employ these three ideas very effectively:
When an army of wolves descends upon the GrayWoods, a lame runt must rise above his place and lead his siblings to sanctuary #MG #Kidpit 
Wolves. Magic. An army bent on revenge. A lame runt and his family must risk everything to survive. The Lord of the Wolves. #Pitmad #MG 

  • Avoid being vague or abstract. The principles of craft still apply, even in pitches, and specificity is always more effective. Like James Matlack Raney’s pitches, limit the amount of detail and use targeted detail that raises questions. 
  • Be careful not to use overused phrases, clichés or generalizations. For example, a pitch that reads: “She had to face the darkness in her soul” won’t entice me to request a submission. It also makes me suspect that’s this is the kind of writing I’d find in the novel, which I wouldn’t be interested in reading.
  • Just like in your stories, be careful with using questions to create artificial suspense. Pitches like, “What do you do if your marriage was a lie?” are much less effective than using short declarative sentences with tantalizing details.
  • Differ your pitches in more ways than just switching around a word or two. Vary the two tweets allowed per hour to reveal more about the story, although each must stand on its own. I can't speak for other agents or editors, but I’ll check the author’s feed to read all of his or her pitches. For example, the reason why I requested a submission from Michelle Barry isn’t because of just one of her tweets. It was actually the culmination of her tweets that made me favorite one:
Flowers have been extinct on the moon since the Old World collapsed, until Myra reawakens their magic #KidPit MG Secret Garden Retelling
When Myra unlocks a lab full of forbidden flowers she also releases a secret magic within her. #KidPit MG SF/F The Secret Garden retelling

  • This brings me to my next suggestion, which some authors may not agree with: Don’t retweet so much during the pitch period. I understand you want to support your fellow authors, and there is nothing wrong about tweeting your friends’ pitches or pitches that you find interesting. But when you flood your feed with retweets of others’ pitches, you can actually end up obscuring your own pitches from agents who might be checking out your feed for the other pitches you tweeted.
  • Make sure you tweet more than once or twice during the 12-hour pitch party. Most authors have no problem taking advantage of two pitches per hour, but a small number only tweet one or two pitches the entire day. These pitches are often missed because they're sandwiched between thousands of repeating tweets (#Pitmad had almost 50,000 tweets!). 

Lastly, my last two suggestions are more requests:

  • Unless you are pitching a picture book, do not include illustrations, pictures, gifs, video, etc. of what you envision for the book cover, characters, world, etc. Better to leave that to our imagination. Your words have a more powerful impact. (Also, my eyes are looking for words not pictures, and since spam tweets usually include some image or graphic, I'll scroll past without thinking, much less reading.)
  • Do not pitch or promote your self-published book. First of all, it's fruitless to pitch, because agents and editors simply won't consider the book. Second, such tweets clogs up the feed and obscure the pitches by unpublished authors who are seriously looking for representation.
As you work and rework your pitches, keep these suggestions in mind. Your work will not go unnoticed and eventually you'll start getting stars from more agents and editors. If not at first, just keep at it; keep honing your pitches. All your efforts, no matter how big or small, will bring you even closer to finding a home for your book.