How to shine those books for Pitch Wars!
Okay, we all know it’s coming. We’re all as impatient as hell. It feels like it will never come. And then it’ll be over as soon as you know it. So while we’re in the phase that I like to call “The Epic Wait”, I thought it would help if I shared some tips on how to get your manuscripts in tip top shape. Also, because it’s almost Halloween and that just happens to be my all time favourite season of the year, I thought I’d throw in some of my favourite writing resources for your reading pleasure too (cause we all know that we’d rather be procrastinating than drafting!).
So what exactly do I need to do to get my manuscript picked out of the slush?
Be different. No, seriously. It’s got to be fresh. There are thousands of writers competing against each other every week. Really sit down and analyse your concept. Write down, in one sentence, what’s really different about your book. Write down in another sentence WHY it is different. Tell you what, here’s a challenge for the bravest among you – write these two sentences in the comments. I’ll give you my feedback.
Okay, so that’s half the battle. What’s the other half? Character and prose. We need to care. And I mean really care. Caring can mean we either love your character, or we are intrigued or fascinated. Why do you like the character? What is it that makes YOU connect to them? Tear through your opening chapters and really hone in on whether you are conveying this. Don’t just write and hope for the best. Use the resources you can to really find out if your words are doing what they are supposed to (the Donald Maass link at the bottom of the post can help you with this. But it’s tough, tough work. But how much do you want it?).
We mentioned words. These are important. Almost the right word is not enough. You need the exact words. But that’s not all. You need flow and voice. Think of the people you know. They all talk in their own way. So do you. So should your characters. Get in their voice. Don’t just write in your own voice. Become your character. Actually, one of the best pieces of advice I heard came from an improv actor. He acts out his characters then writes them. He literally becomes them. Try it.
Okay, I’m out of the slush. What now? How can I make them love my book baby?
Work as hard on your whole ms as you do on the first three chapters. It’s sad to say, but writers hone and polish their first three chapters to a high shine, and then they let the other chapters just trundle past. I’m not saying writers don’t edit and critique their full ms. Of course they do. They have critique partners, they stay up to the small morning hours checking plot arcs and character growth. However, they don’t put the same focus on the full manuscript as they do on the first three chapters. Take the time to do this. There’s nothing worse than reading something in the slush that has amazing opening chapters but then the rest of the manuscript doesn’t live up to the high polished sheen of those first few pages. Trust me. It will pay off. Really, really work them.
Make sure your concept matches your actual story. It’s surprising how you can get an amazing pitch but then the actual plot doesn’t reflect us. Don’t hook an agent with a killer hook if the story isn’t really focusing on that angle. The idea isn’t just to get them to read it. They need to love it. An agent will get disgruntled if these two things are at odds. It’s a huge disappointment.
Check for flow. Flowing sentences, paragraphs and pages count. Your writing should be invisible so that the reader can fall into the world effortlessly. You get this by having flow.
Learn the writing rules. Properly. Know them. Check through your WHOLE book. Then break a few. No one ones a pitch perfect book. Pitch perfect is boring. Choose wisely about what you write. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Know your genre. Simple.
I’m waiting, what now?
Query selectively. Enter contests selectively. Don’t just throw your book at every wall and hope for it to stick. Research your next book idea. Work out what you learned from your last book. Apply it to your new book. Think of your pitch. Yes, now. Use it to keep your writing focused.
And that’s it. Study your craft. Question yourself and your book. Analyse what you’ve done. Let your muse flow. Have fun. Enjoy. Research. Reach out and ask others for help. Stay true to yourself. Learn and grow. And don’t give up. Keep doing this and eventually it’ll all come together.
Trust me. I’m a slow learner but I stick around. It took me sixteen years to get an agent. If I can do it, so can you. Just repeat and rinse the above advice. Over and over and over, as many times as you need. I’ll see you on the other side!
Please, please, please check out all of these blogs:
1) Brenda Drake (really you should know this url off by heart now): http://brenleedrake.blogspot.co.uk/
2) For the YA writer: http://yatopia.blogspot.co.uk/
3) For ANY writer (this is an extensive resource): http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.co.uk/
4) If you value your writing in any way at all, listen to Mr. Maass: http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2012/11/donald-maass-talks-about-how-to-make-your-readers-care-about-your-characters.html
5) Yes, this is for YA, but EVERY writer should use this as it discusses diversity in books: http://www.diversifya.com/religious/diversifya-natalie-blitt/
6) Wonderful, incise writing blog: http://falling4fiction.blogspot.co.uk/
7) A fantastic writing community: http://www.badgirlzwrite.com/