Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Only Pitch Wars Agent Round Pep Talk You Need

Wait...I'm really bad at pep talks.

Instead, please enjoy this post full of kitties and puppies. Reapply as needed.

Good luck, mentees!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It's Okay to Suck

Here we are, just a couple of days before the Pitch Wars picks announcement, and I feel like I can safely assume that a lot of people out there are beginning to freak out a little. There has also been a lot of talk about "what happens if I don't get in?" For the vast majority, this isn't a "what if?" With almost two thousand entries this year, more than 90% of hopeful mentees won't see their names on the list come announcement time.

The simple, often repeated fact is that there are simply not enough spots for all the great entries. Not getting picked does not necessarily reflect on the quality of your writing or your story. And that's 112% true.

"But," you ask (or that persistent, doubting voice inside you asks), "what if it does? What if my manuscript sucks?"

Well, that's okay too. Because—and I know this isn't an easy concept to come to terms with—it's okay to suck sometimes.

I'll say it again: It's okay to suck sometimes.

Story: Many years ago, I took a writing class with a Hugo– and Nebula–award-winning author. (Granted, when I began her class, I didn't know what either or those were, but when I did figure it out, I was suitably impressed.) She did one of the best things I think a successful writer could have possibly done for their students: she shared an early story of hers. And I don't mean "early" like she was still in college when she wrote it. As I recall, and best I could figure, she had written it circa age 30, well into adulthood and her career (which was not, at the time, professional writer).

It was... well, it wasn't good. Even the newer students could see that. It wasn't bad—there were clear hints of the writer she would become—but I've seen dozens of stories like it since. Decently written, interesting idea, not executed quite well enough. A piece doomed to earn polite rejections.

Okay, so it didn't suck, per se, but my point is that craft is a marathon, not a sprint. If you write for any length of time, it's almost guaranteed that you will have that piece that you will look back at and cringe. Because writing is more about persistence than raw talent, and persistence leads to skill refinement, which leads to better and better stories and writing. That manuscript you are so proud of right now might be the thing you look back at in a year and suddenly pick apart, having learned to recognize new ways of improvement.

I was so damned proud of my first finished novel manuscript. I loved it. I still do. But when I queried it, I got only a single request. ONE, out of fifty or so queries. One which, unsurprisingly, led to a rejection. I recently went back to that manuscript, and yup, there was some cringing. Slow pacing, scenes that dragged out, too much exposition, a lack of tension—problems, as far as the eye could see. Problems that decent writing, plot, and fun characters couldn't shore up.

It was my second finished manuscript that got me my agent. (Finished, mind you. I don't even remember how many unfinished drafts I've got going.) Even then it took almost a year of querying, many material requests and Twitter pitch parties, and getting picked for two online contests—including Pitch Wars. And no, I didn't get my agent via Pitch Wars.

So, back to sucking. It's okay if this is not THE project. It's okay if this isn't THE time. It's okay to fail, call it a failure, and revel in the epic failness.

Every writer churns out unsuccessful material, every writer gets rejected.

Not every writer persists.

And this is where the separation happens. I will never forget how my aforementioned teacher responded when someone asked her what made for a successful writer. Paraphrased, she said that she had seen great writers never get published because they didn't keep trying, and mediocre writers become successful because they never gave up.

That's what it comes down to. Persistence. 

If you don't make it into Pitch Wars, it's okay to be upset. To wallow for a while in chocolate or wine or Netflix binges, or however you handle such things. It's even okay to think your manuscript sucks, so long as you don't give up. Write the next thing, and the next. The road may be longer than you want, but I can't think of a single writer I've ever met who hasn't improved with time and persistence.

One more time—say it with me—it's okay to suck. You can suck today and still reach your goals tomorrow, so long as you simply refuse to give up.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My First ReaderCon — A Wrap Up

Blogging regularly, as it turns out, is as difficult as I remember. Lately, the world has left no shortage of things to say. But what to say? When? How? Or more simply, to not, which is the place where I've repeatedly landed, having started and stopped a number of posts.

Fortunately, I took a slight reprieve from the dumpster-fire world to attend my first ReaderCon this past weekend. While no stranger to the geeky end of the Boston convention scene—PAX East, Boston Comicon, Arisia, Boskone—this is the first time I've been able to attend ReaderCon.

Overall, it was an enjoyable enough line up of panels. I was a little dismayed at first, having left the first two I attended partway through. If I had any significant criticism, it was that several of the panel topics were enticing, but their actual discussions fell a little short. There was too much "this is what I think X is" and not enough "this is how we take X and go forward with it," especially pertaining to creativity in fiction. Twice in one weekend, I had friends refer to the discussions as too much "101" on a topic.

(There was also some tip-toeing/avoidance/shut-downs concerning racial issues. I don't want to comment too deeply on this, as I wasn't at most of the panels in which it occurred, or I completely missed something due to poor acoustics or my wandering attention span. But, hopefully, there will be more full panels specifically dedicated to those discussions in the future, as they are clearly wanted.)

What struck me most, though, was that ReaderCon was the most "professional" public convention I've ever attended. Even moreso than Boskone, my prior benchmark, it seemed there were more published authors, editors, and agents at the convention than than "regular" attendees. Which makes for informative panels, but also adds a certain level of weirdness, especially in the confined space of a semi-remote hotel. You pass authors you idolize in the halls. End up at the same party as editors you hope might want to acquire one of your books someday. Attend a panel with the agent who has your friend's manuscript. Ride the elevator with a Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Eep. Cue raging insecurity.

Several months ago, Kameron Hurley (the author I was most excited to see, but whom unfortunately had to cancel her attendance at Readercon) wrote an amazing post about kindness at conventions. She talks about opening up the "circles," those social groups who inevitably exist in the convention environment. When you're unknown and unestablished, it can be rather hard to know what's appropriate to do in that intimate atmosphere. Should you talk to that author you admire, sitting a table away in the pub? What's an acceptable place or time to pose a query question to an agent? If you overhear a well-known editor talking about your favorite fandom at a party, is it okay to try and join the conversation? If you chat at an evening party, during the haze of revelry, does that open the door to do so again in the light of day?

Hurley's post resonated with me since, when I was in school, I spend a lot of time on the edges of circles. Not quite out, but not quite in either. Eventually, I learned to stop seeking crumbs of acceptance, and I was lucky enough to find the circles who didn't relegate me to that uncertain fringe. I even encountered a group of writers who opened their circle to me, and showed me how to go from crawling to walking on the writing path.

And at most of the cons I attend, "opening the circle" happens quite naturally. You chat with the people around you in line for panels or demos. Folks you're acquainted with from other corners of life join you for dinner, and cross the bridge to friend. Friends of friends become friends of yours. At PAX East, the boardgames Freeplay area even has "Looking for Players" orange cones you can put on your table, an open invitation for a stranger to going you for a game or two.

ReaderCon was the first convention in years where I felt back on the edge. Not in a negative manner; in reality, I had so many writing friends in attendance that none of us ever wanted for excellent company. And plenty of those friends are friends with the people whom I forget how to human around; I'm enough of a grown up to ask for an introduction if I really want it.

Still, there was something almost Austen-esque about the whole situation. An insecure perception of needing the right manner, or connections, or per-year (book sales, that is) to truly be party to what's going on. An awareness that I hadn't "arrived" yet, and maybe I never will. (Hurley is far more articulate on this, having greater scope and better writing skills, and I urge anyone who attends conventions to go read her post.)

In the end, ReaderCon was my fairly standard con experience: new information and inspiration, getting to see good friends, too much bad food and booze, not nearly enough sleep.

After I got home, though, a friend texted me, thanking me for inviting him along with my writing group for in-room drinks and hanging out. Circle opened? Check, apparently. (Of course, anyone who knows me knows I look for just about any excuse to play bartender.)

It would be ever so splendid (Did Austen ever write that? Probably not.) to one day be the person making others forget how talk, instead of being the one trying to make it through the elevator ride without being awkward. But if that doesn't happen, at least I know I'll be siting in the panel audiences with plenty of friendly, familiar faces around me.

(And, if you want to come hang out with us, we'll be in the pub. Cocktail hour. See you there.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pitch Wars, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Revise the Book

I have, clearly and admittedly, not blogged in an absurdly long time. Which doesn't really matter, because you can't disappoint an audience that doesn't exist. But blogging again has been on my "To Do" list (an intangible document currently roughly the size of the Library of Congress) and so, here I am.

I had grand ideas for this blog when I started it. Chronicling the path to (hopeful) publication, for one. Connecting with the broader writing world for another. I wrote mainly about querying my first novel--a spectacular, if not unusual, failure. Then, tired of composing posts about query rejections, I fell off my updates.

It's not that I haven't thought about it. But each time I've felt the spark of motivation to blog, I would stop, held in check by a slightly exasperated internal voice. Did I have anything worth saying? (Eh, maybe?) Did the world really need another post about handling rejection or a stress of being a writer? (Probably not.) Would the time I spent blogging be better spent on one of my works in progress? (Most likely.) And so I'd turn my energy toward something else.

But things have changed dramatically since I abandoned this blog. One, I'm now agented. Two...well, Two involves backing up a little.

In August of last year, the entry window for Pitch Wars opened. Online contests were something I had only recently become familiar with. I hadn't utilized them with my now-trunked first novel; I had begun with smaller contests with my second novel, which was in the query stage. I had some small successes: a spattering of favorites in Twitter pitch parties, and being a finalist in NestPitch, a similar, but smaller contest.

But Pitch Wars was, well, Pitch Wars. Lots of buzz, a significant online community. Run by Brenda Drake, online patron saint of aspiring writers. Over 100 mentee slots, and a large field of notable agents participating.

So, I entered.

There was a month or so wait to find out if you were chosen, drawn out by lots of Twitter teasing and occasional heart-stopping emails from mentors asking questions or requesting additional materials. It might have felt longer, but I lost my grandmother in the midst of it, so my emotions were rather distracted for a good portion of that waiting period. Waiting for a few weeks suddenly paled in comparison with dealing with a thing I had been awaiting--and dreading--for years.

But what began as grief distracting me from waiting turned into excitement distracting me from grief. Two weeks after my grandmother passed, my manuscript was chosen as one of the finalists by the inimitable Elizabeth Briggs, one of my top picks for mentor from the moment I saw a picture of her at ComicCon.

I thought "FINALLY, this was the thing that could turn this purgatorial query process in the right direction, toward the fame* and glory* of being agented!" (*Fame and Glory not guaranteed, not even a little.)

In the end*, Pitch Wars was NOT the contest that got me agented. (Those wheels were already turning, unbeknownst to me.)

Following a grueling two months of revisions, Pitch Wars left me with a respectable handful of agent requests and a much improved manuscript, for which I am eternally grateful. Liz was exactly the kind of mentor I hoped for--I could not have been luckier. But it also left me with something unexpected: a community that has continued to thrive, even ten months later. And that community has been chugging along in a most encouraging way. Besides the 50+ authors that have become agented, and the books deals that are slowly, but consistently, trickling in, friends have been made, critique partners found, and writing resources created.

And that gets me to what I really wanted to post about: INFORMATION.

I love information. In anything I do, I want to be informed as possible. But the nature of querying and publishing is often one of obscurity. Sure, there are excellent resources on best practices and what not to do, But the real-life examples--the stories that really shed light on the darker corners of this process--are often hard to find. They are kept out of blogs and social media for fear of being off-putting to an agent or editor who might be reading up on an author they are interested in. This is not without good reason. Most of the time it's simply better to hide the fact that you've already queried your novel to 50 agents, or to not vent about those awful rejections. (Spoiler: we've all had them.)

This does come at a cost, though. Sometimes you are faced with a situation that you don't know how to handle, and that no one has talked plainly about, despite the seemingly infinite availability of information on the internet. Which is where the Pitch Wars community has become invaluable in a way that defies description.

Revisions, querying, LIFE, more revisions, MORE LIFE, going on submission, failing, succeeding, Succeeding, SUCCEEDING.... The last ten months have produced a thousand scenarios that have been more easily navigated due to the 100+ authors lending their experience and support through difficult times, both within the writing sphere and without.

On August 3rd, Pitch Wars will open to submissions for the 2016 contest. There is no writer with a finished manuscript I would not encourage to participate in this contest. You can get ten, twenty, fifty requests from cold queries--but you can't get the community, or the depth of its support, by just hitting send on an email. Polish up those manuscripts and DO. IT.

*Back to "in the end..."

In the end, my agent, Laura Zats, came from the #SFFpit Twitter pitch party, made long before Pitch Wars. But here's the thing--Laura had my pre-Pitch Wars manuscript. So when she brought up some of the changes she thought it needed, I was able to say most of them had already been made.

Having a big project mostly done before you even start it? Best. Feeling.

So even if you're already querying, even if a bunch of agents already have your manuscript, consider entering Pitch Wars. It's 112% worth it.