Archive for April 2014

To Pitch or Not To Pitch – Lessons from the Slush   Leave a comment

Rissa - from cover art I’ve had a busy few months between edits of the novel I wrote last year, pitch contests and, oh yeah, my regular job. I don’t usually blog about the writing process, but I have some thoughts on the subject of writing and pitch contests for completed novels that I’d like to share.

This story begins last September, when I finished my novel, SONGS OF CHANGE. I thought it was good and showed it to a few people. The response was not quite what I hoped – good, not great. Certainly not as compelling as it should be.

Like any sensible person I began editing. I’d updated the novel twice when PitchWars, an online pitch contest for completed novels managed through Twitter, began in late November. For this contest, participants submitted a query letter and the first few pages of their novel. Mentors went through the submissions and choose a mentee and two alternates. They worked with their mentees for a month, helping them make their manuscripts shine. Agentslooked at the revised pitches and pages and made offers if they liked what they saw. Entering seemed like a good idea. I thought my novel was ready and was looking for validation. Again, I learned a hard lesson. I still wasn’t ready. Fortunately for me, a couple of the mentors to whom I submitted my pitch generously gave critiques to all their submitters, not just their mentees.

Don’t get me wrong, it was depressing. But I learned from it. I discovered I needed to understand more about writing queries. Even more important, I learned that I needed critique partners (CPs). I found some through PitchWars. They helped me tighten up some parts of my novel and expand others. They also helped me learn how to write pitches. My CPs entered some contests in January and February but I passed. I knew I wasn’t ready.

In March, I decided to enter PitchMadness. This contest required submission of a 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of the novel. Writing a pitch in 35 words or less is hard. I didn’t realize how hard until then. It’s especially difficult when you have a sweeping fantasy novel with various twists, turns, and sub-plots. Still, I tried. I didn’t make the cut but one of my CPs did. Instead of submitting my own novel, as I’d hoped, I helped her. That was fine. She deserved the nod. But I didn’t come away with nothing. I asked a few reviewers for comments on my pitch and listened to the feedback. The biggest problem was that my stated category/genre (Adult fantasy) no longer matched the start of my novel, which looked more like YA. I finally got it. I realized the pitch needed to be tightened. But more than that, the novel was starting at the wrong place with the wrong character. There were two very significant characters in the story, a mother and daughter, and I had simply started with the wrong one.

I pulled back again, this time more briefly. Most of the novel was still appropriate. But I needed a new chapter for the beginning. Oddly enough, about half of the new chapter was already written. I’d deleted it from later in the book because it was slowing the story. In the end, the problem was less the material and more the positioning.

Those issues fixed, I entered one more contest in early April. NestPitch was another 35-word plus first page effort. I was ecstatic with delight when I was selected by Jeffe Kennedy for her blog page in the agent round. I was over the moon when I received an agent request: a query + a one page synposis + the first twenty-five pages. I sprang into action. My synopsis was too long given the requested format so I tightened it. I worked with one of my CPs to get my query in shape. I was finally ready to send the requested material.

That was yesterday. I double and triple checked it but my mail program still put some weird formatting text into the submission. Fortunately it was between sections so it shouldn’t interfere with readability. I have to hope Camilla will understand. Now I have to wait. That’s the hardest part of all. I hope she loves it as much as I do. If not, I hope to at least gain more insight into any issues with the novel and into the process of submission and selection.

While I wait, I’m working on a new novel I started for CampNaNoWriMo this month. It’s a New Adult thriller that I’m very excited about. I’m on track to meet my goal of 40,000 words this month but that will be at most half of it. I’ve also submitted SONGS OF CHANGE to one last pitch contest (for now), PitchSlam. Win or lose on that one, after it I’ll set that novel aside for a little while to let it gel. Unless, of course, I gain an agent. If that happens, all current plans will be readjusted.

My purpose in writing this blog wasn’t just to catalog my adventures with pitches There’s a lesson here as well. Actually, several lessons.

  1. If you enter a pitch contest and don’t make the agent round, don’t stress over it too much. Follow the twitter feeds, paying special attention to the comments made about flaws in pitches and learn from it. Make your next entry better.
  2. You’ll find a lot of great people on the pitch twitter feeds. Engage them. Learn from the ones that know things you don’t. Try to help the ones that know less than you. Ask the evaluators for comments on your pitch if you don’t get in. Lots of them are willing to give them after the selections are finished.
  3. If you get a request for pages from a contest and the end result is a rejection, as it was recently for a friend of mine, don’t let it destroy your confidence. Sometimes “It’s just not for me” means exactly that. It wasn’t what that particular agent was looking for at the time you submitted. It may be exactly what some other agent seeks.
  4. Most importantly, don’t give up on yourself. Just keep working to get better.

Posted April 22, 2014 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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