SiWC – Pain and Pitching Novels (With Links)

Some things need a plan

Some things need a plan

As with any great endeavor in life, (a marriage proposal, a writer’s conference, a popcorn lineup at the movie theater), it’s best to have a plan.

My plan for Friday was simple but very stressful. I had to see and pitch to 3 agents and 1 editor.

As luck would have it, I thought there were 4 people there who might, just might, be interested in my historical novel. But the Surrey International Writers’ Conference only allows you to book 1 appointment. To see other people, you need to get in a line and see if there’s an opening or find a way to bump into them at a workshop they are running (or find the table they’re sitting at for lunch/dinner.)

Being me, and being Canadian, the latter choices are particularly hard. I hate bugging people. I know that sounds totally not like me given that I bug my friends constantly, but really I hate bugging strangers. I hate sitting down and interrupting their meal to say, hey, hi, please put down the spaghetti, I need you to listen to me talk about my novel. Badly.

But at some points in your life, you have to nut up. You have to find a way to push through the nerves and get the job done. Or, as the great philosopher Will Ferrel said, put on your big boy pants.

So, even before the first keynote speech of the morning ended, I had to get up and stumble out of the hall to go stand in line for another appointment. If I could get one, it would make my life a lot better since I wouldn’t have to pitch to anyone while they were in a toilet stall.

The stars aligned and I got myself one right off the bat. 10:20. Nervously, I waited, rehearsing what I would say or at least the points I hoped to highlight. Much like the speech I did at my wedding, I had to semi-wing-it. I have no ability to actually memorize anything, as best exemplified by my ability to sing the wrong lyrics to pretty much every song, nor am I good at pitching just off the cuff. So I hybrid rehearse.

Open with what the story is about. Mention character for the love of God. Look the person in the eye. Do not scratch my balls no matter how itchy they become. Talk about why I love this story. Remember to breathe. Talk slowly. Enunciate my words. Tell them about why it matters to my hero, Kurt Yager, that he find his sister. Mention the time crunch and the stakes if he doesn’t find her. Breathe.

But no matter how much I prepared, the moment I went over to talk to the agent, my heart pounded so quickly that if someone had pricked me with a needle, I would have shot blood 100 feet out like a fire hydrant releasing water. I honestly thought about running outside to get some fresh air, but it was too late.

I reached the table where the agent sat and held out my hand. God, was it sweaty? Would I remember my name? Would I be able to talk at all?

She shook my hand as I introduced myself and sat down.

And I began with a shaking voice.

By the end of my pitch, my entire body was soaked with sweat, but she seemed interested in the story. Genuinely interested. She asked to see 50 pages, said she loved the premise, the characters, the setting.

I nearly jumped out of my seat and hugged her.

But instead, I thanked her for her kind words, promised to get her those 50 pages as soon as I could, and left with her card.

Success! At least as much as I could hope for at this point in the writing process.

1 down, 3 to go.

I wasn’t sure my nerves could take it.

*******

Here is a link to an article from Writer’s Digest on Pitching.

Here is a link to pitching from the Writing World.

Here is a link from SFU.

Here is a link from The Professor.

Lots of good stuff! Please check out the links.

 

 

 

To go or not to go

Joe’s Post #153 —

headerThat is the question.

I’m talking about the Surrey Writer’s Conference. Oct 23rd -24th.

It’s a toss-up this year. Pros and cons.

So I did what I do when I can’t decide.

I make a list. And drink. Here’s the list.

the authors

My best writing buddies, The Five

Top 6 Reasons to Go

  1. I could pitch 2 books to an editor who’s interested in my genre.
  2. There are 3 agents there I could take to about my books.
  3. 9/10 times I get inspired.
  4. The food’s pretty good.
  5. I love to learn and there’s always something to learn.
  6. My best writing buddies are there.

 

Top 5 Reasons Not To Go

  1. don maassDon Maass is NOT there. See #3. He is my biggest inspirer.
  2. No Chuck Wendig, so that means I won’t spend 2 hours laughing my ass off and I do love to laugh my ass off.
  3. It costs a lot of money at a time that I don’t have that money.
  4. Most of the agents showing up don’t want to look at the books I write, or I’ve pitched to them and they’ve rejected my brilliant stories.
  5. I can’t find a full day of things I want to do. There’s a bit Friday and Saturday, but that’s a huge cost for basically 2 half days.
  6. My best writing buddies will not be there. Joe sad.

I tell ya, it’s a tough call. Not that there aren’t some great people there, not that there aren’t a few good workshops, and it’s always amazingly well organized, but this year, I may choose not to go. The weight of the list is clearly on the No side, but then there’s #1 on the Go side.

Is it worth it?

Thoughts?

 

Surrey International Writer’s Conference – part 1

Joe’s post #115

surrey IWCThe day is finally here. SiWC 2014. I wish I could have attended all the days, but I couldn’t so chose to hit up one day in particular. Friday.

I had a mission.

Learn more about social media. Bug people about social media. Tweet something. Figure out if I actually tweeted something. Read someone else’s tweet. Say tweet 20 times.

Oh and have a bit of fun and learn something new from Don Maass.

My first thoughts of the day were, why did I have to have a crappy cold right now? My second thought was is everyone having as hard a time as me figuring out how writers use social media effectively? I mean, really, none of this should be hard, so is it just my age, my deteriorating brainage or is it really kinda complex?

Well, I had the right people to help me understand it. I’ll talk a bit about them in the next post, cuz, you know, I’m like that. In my novels, I’d call it a hook. Here, it’s just me being a bit of an asshat because I want to give everyone an idea of the SiWC experience.

So, yeah, for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t nervous at all. Nothing to pitch. No agents or editors to see. Just me learning and having some fun.

Having not registered ahead of time, I had to get in line to buy a day pass, a huge extra- large cup of Timmies in my hand. (Double-double, thank you very much). Day-passers are kinda like brussel sprouts at a turkey dinner – I’m not sure anyone really wants them. Case in point, we don’t get dinner.

Sigh.

I do like a good dinner.

IMG_6038[1]I got my high-tech name badge and fancy wrist band and marched off in search of a blue-pencil mentor.

For those who don’t know, the blue pencil meetings are a chance to sit down with someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, and made a living at it. Usually you bring a bit of writing and let them read it so they can help you better understand what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes you leave in tears, sometimes with great insights.

In my case, though, remember, social media focus. So I lucked out and found an opening with, oh, crap, almost gave it away. No, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

After signing up at the blue pencil, I went to listen to the opening keynote speech in the grand ballroom. With minutes to spare before the speech, I took a look at my thick-as-a-yearbook guide. It had a great title, the guide did.

This day we write!IMG_6037[1]

Which I love, but which was probably not exactly accurate for the day. Or the next 3 days. Maybe these 3 days we listen and then, THEN we write. Dammit! (I would have added the dammit for sure.) I’m honestly not sure anyone got a lot of writing done, but the idea still works.

I may put that sign on my dog to remind me what I have to do.

Anyway, if you’ve never been to SiWC, it’s quite the thing to walk into a ballroom filled with writers. The only odder thing might be a room filled with cosplayers or lion-taming tax accountants.

It’s a huge room filled with people, the vast majority women, who have gathered to learn more about writing, to discuss what they are working on, to connect with the writing community, and maybe even pitch a book or two to agents and editors.

Old, young, tall, short, hats, no hats, suits, shorts, t-shirts, glittering black blouses, sandals, high heels, tattoos… man, if you ever wanted to get some great characters for a book, you just have to go into that ballroom, but more than all of that, it’s a room full of people who say, proudly, I’m a writer.

I barely had time to look at the guide once before the event started. Having gone a few times before, one of the highlights in the morning is always Carol Monaghan.  (In the evening, it’s singing with the always Scottishly charming Jack Whyte.)

IMG_6018[1]Carol is just one of those people who lights up a room, someone who never seems to take herself to seriously and always finds something funny to talk about. She was in fine form today and started the conference with a laugh.

Then came the keynote speaker, a veteran agent named Peter Rubie, who was funny in the way only the English can be funny. He noted that the best stories are about people, not plot, that this is (and will always be) a subjective business (saying that some people love caviar, but he hates it, so no matter how great that caviar is, he’s not going to like it at all), and that procrastination and not actually writing can be successful ways of actually writing. Hey, I told you he was English, they think differently, but my takeaway from his speech was this…

He told us to ignore what everyone tells you about writing. Have fun. Write what you love to write.

I loved to hear that because my next project is likely going to be a pure labor of love.

So,  tomorrow, the whole social media smack down. Wow, did I ever learn some cooooool stuff.

 

 

Surrey Writers’ Conference

Surrey International Writer’s Contest

surrey IWCAnyone going?

I’m still making up my mind. Last year, I had a lot of ups and downs, but the ultimate result was a complete failure to interest anyone in my book. Worse, some of the agents never even got back to me, which I find increasingly odd in an age where indie publishing is becoming (or has become) acceptable and profitable.

sean ranHowever, let’s take a look at this year. There’s a good social media presence, and some very accomplished people, which could be very interesting for us 5/5/5. There’s even a masterclass on owning your online space by Sean Cranbury. I like owning my space and Mr. Cranbury knows his stuff.

diana G

Diana never put her arms around me, but then I’m not a highlander

Diana Gabaldon will be back, as will Jack Whyte, and frankly, they’re both worth the price of admission, both great speakers, great story tellers. I have a secret crush on Diana so whenever I get near her I go back in time and become 9 years old, again, blushing and mumbling and looking at my feet. I think I said to her last year, as I stood beside her in the food line up, “Errr, uhm, book, you, that thing, you know, ack, character, highlander, urm, erp, ah, oh look there’s a muffin.”

There’s a pretty good selection, as always, of workshops, and one of my favourites, Hallie Ephron is giving a keynote speech. She written one of my writing bibles, “Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style,” and she’s amazingly approachable.

Same with Don Maass. I often learn more in one of his two hour workshops, than I could learn in a year at college. He’s also written one of my other bibles, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” and while I haven’t written one yet, there’s still good advice in there. Totally good advice.

I guess it’s up to every individual (and their finances) to determine if this year is worth attending.

IMG_1557

That’s me on the left

For me, even being a card-carrying introvert, I have fun talking to the people there. When I’m not sweating like a used car salesmen at a tax audit, I can actually have some fun, talking craft or experiences or even learning a thing or two from the person sitting beside me.

If the other writers decide to go, then I’ll probably tag along for sure. I mean, I’m the only guy in the 5/5/5 so I’m sort of like their pet. Like a bulldog or pet pot-bellied pig.

But everyone, please at least check out the web page. Check out the writers, agents, editors and gurus who attend.

And maybe I’ll see a few of you there.

 

Surrey Writer’s Con (Epilogue)

Joe’s Post #68

A few final thoughts as I wait for Trick or treaters.

1) Best time to snag extra interviews with agents and editors – Friday. Saturday is as busy as a NY subway in rush hour and there were no spots available. Unless you’re better at stalking people than I was, book your favorite early then leap on any openings on Friday. Get it done fast so you can have fun on the other days (unless you like pitching.)

2) Research your agent and/or editor. Read their blogs, if they have them, (and most do), and look at not only what they say they’re looking for but what they’ve actually worked on or represented.

3) Something an editor said to me, “if you get a mean agent/editor, you don’t want them.”  Hey, you’ll be working with them for a very long time so why would you want to work with a blue-meanie?

4) Coffee is not always your friend. I know it looks like a friend, smells all nice and warm, but I tell you, after 6 cups in 2 hours, you run the risk of looking like you’re jacked up like a meth addict having scored a bucket-full of ‘blue sky’ from Walter White.

5)  Listen. Really listen. Come with an open mind. Come with the thoughts that some people may be farther down the road than you and others, well, not (but even they might have a nifty idea or two.) Come prepared to listen to the little conversations that happen in the cupcake lineup, in the workshop after the presentation (or before), at the lunch tables hosted by the presenters. You’ll be amazed what you pick up.

A few other tidbits, or perhaps some of the stranger things I heard.

“So, I’m like going to build my audience by social media so that by the time my book comes out, everyone will be excited to see it and rush out to buy it.”

“So you haven’t written the book, yet?”

“No, man, no, why would I?”

(Why indeed? I know I would buy a novel someone hadn’t actually written but blogged about a lot. Right? Right?)

*****

“Do you think it’s important to have experienced what you’re writing about?”

Me: “Yes and no.”

“I’m writing a book about being on the inside of a mental institute. I’ve been in them. A lot. I just got out.”

Me: “Then I would say, yes, that would help you sell that book about as much as anything. Oh look, someone I know. Over there. Bye.”

Anyway, tomorrow I begin the “LAST” rewrite of my YA novel, taking into account some of the things I’ve learned. Next week, the queries begin. Again.

And look at a new project.

Dubbed The Secret Project of Secret Awesomeness

 

 

 

Surrey Writer’s Conference Act 1 – Scene 2

Joe’s Post #57

siwcYou’d think there wouldn’t be any problems yet. I mean, hey, the darned conference doesn’t start for me until tomorrow. But I am me and problems sometimes swarm around me like angry flies around decaying meat.

First challenge: I can only get one interview with an agent ahead of time. I can get 1 more by standing in line. And I want to see or talk to about eight. Six for sure. So that leaves four to six I’m going to have to hunt down.

surrey barSo I looked at where they’d be. In workshops? On panels? In the bar? (Sadly, and perhaps dishonestly, no one said they’d be in the bar, but I have to think, if I had to listen to a whole bunch of introvertie writers like me pitch books all day, I would probably buy the bar).

I found all of them were in workshops but one. That’s great. But when I wrote down the schedules in pretty colors, I found that most of them were speaking in different rooms at the same time. Or, worse, three were on a panel together. Hard for me to march up and stand in front of the table and spread my arms wide and say, “Yo, what’s up? Wanna hear a pitch?” So I will have to make some tough choices. I may not be able to speak to a couple of them. But which ones?

Which ones indeed? That’s the second challenge. Do I forego the editor from a respected publisher? Do I chance meeting a newly minted agent from a outstanding agency in the hallway? Can I clone myself in time to be at two places at the same time?

Oh how I wish my writing friends were going with me. We could break those workshops up and find a way for everyone to meet everyone.

So simple.

Yet this year it’ll just be me. Justjoe. So decisions will have to get made. I may have to fast-pitch someone then sprint (which is, in itself, a funny thing to watch) and then fast-pitch the next person before they can flee to the safety of a bathroom.

It’ll all take planning and a little luck.

But I hate the unknown. I would rather be able to line up everyone if they have free time and sit and chat with them. I can do the chat thing. It’s the pitching on the fly that’ll be a bit of a challenge and god help me if the agents and editors have learned to walk fast!

However, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I have charts. I have schedules. I have notes. I have my business cards. I have a great book I can’t wait for others to read.

Oh crap, I just realized I need to iron a shirt. Gotta go. Stay turned. First scheduled pitch is at two, but I hope to blog before that (or cry after that).

How to get rejected in 5 easy pages

rejection-lottery

Silk’s Post #31 — Are you ready to face your greatest fear? The monster under the bed? The thing that makes you break out in a cold sweat?

Okay. Let’s talk about rejection. You’ll feel better, I promise.

When the 5 writers convene our retreat to do our whole-book critiques (which I’ve taken to calling “5 writers critter week”), we will be commenting on all aspects of each other’s books. Characters. Setting. Plot and structure. Style. Ending.

But one of the most important things we’ll be talking about – from the perspective of as-yet unpublished writers who need to (literally) break into the business – is the beginning of each book. Those first few pages that an agent or editor will evaluate to determine whether to immediately discard the manuscript … or read on.

To give the most useful feedback possible on the magic first five pages, we will have to put ourselves in the shoes of an agent or editor. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We 5 writers care about each other, and about each other’s books. The agent or editor does not.

Imagine slogging through dozens, hundreds, thousands of manuscripts. One after another after another. Looking for that rarest of prizes: the potential bestseller written by somebody that no one’s ever heard of. This is what agents and editors do every day. It must be like sifting through a bale of hay … or a whole barn full of hay … searching for a diamond ring. One thing you’d quickly learn is that you can vastly increase your chances of finding that diamond if you can sift through more hay faster.

first-5-pagesIt’s that mindset we writers have to understand. Fortunately, there are a number of good references to help us do that – agents’ websites that give great query tips, hints from successful authors, and books by agents that are rich with advice. One of the most useful of these is The First Five Pages by New York literary agent Noah Lukeman. Here’s what he says about the gatekeepers’ mindset:

“Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript – and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.”

It’s that simple, and that brutal. Yikes.

To someone who’s struggled through the process of writing – and rewriting, and re-rewriting  – a 400-page novel, it may seem unfair that it will be judged worthy or unworthy on the basis of just the first one percent of those pages. It makes the process seem like a lottery. Yet Lukeman insists that it is “not a wild assumption” to conclude that:

“… if you find one line of extraneous dialogue on page 1, you will likely find one line of extraneous dialogue on each page to come.”

Isn’t this like getting flunked on a technicality? What about our incredibly engaging plot? Our vivid, complex characters? Our haunting, unforgettable setting? Surely these things can’t be assessed on the basis of the first five pages. No. They can’t. That’s exactly the point. These strengths we think our book possesses will never be discovered if we can’t convince the agent or editor to turn to page 6.

But before you give up and switch from writing to something easier, like brain surgery or rocket science, consider that these gatekeepers’ “snap” judgements may not be as arbitrary and petty as they sound. Lukeman says:

“… I’ve read thousands of manuscripts, all, unbelievably, with the exact same types of mistakes. From Texas to Oklahoma to California to England to Japan, writers are doing the exact same things wrong.”

So the key, according to him, is to avoid early and obvious errors that give the agent or editor an excuse to stop reading before they get to the good part.

But what exactly are these errors? After studying the advice of Lukeman and others, I have been inspired to follow in the tradition of literary advice-givers by preparing a list of rules. I offer the following helpful prescription for failure, which I urge you not to follow.

Silk’s “Sweet 16” Rules for Almost Guaranteed Rejection

  1. When submitting a query, don’t follow presentation and submission guidelines exactly. Do you really want your manuscript to seem like every other manuscript? Make it stand out and show your individuality and creativity by breaking a few rules.
  2. In your presentation, be sure to impress the agent or editor with your mastery of big words and clever use of foreign phrases. This makes you seem smart and worldly. Extra points if you can force the agent to consult a dictionary.
  3. Pay no mind to the old wives’ tales about clichés. Clichés are the spice of life. Make sure to work some into the first five pages.
  4. Don’t forget to make liberal use of adverbs and adjectives. These clearly and engagingly make your writing all the richer and more enticingly, deliciously entertaining. Remember, every plain verb or noun is just crying out for colourful, descriptive decoration.
  5. Be sure to include sufficient backstory early in the book. You might as well get the painfully boring part over with as quickly as possible, like pulling off a Band-Aid. A few paragraphs of straight narrative is one efficient way to get the reader up to speed. Or stick it in a Prologue.
  6. Nothing makes a first impression more dramatically than an opening scene with lots of blood and gore, blue language and explicit sex. If you can work all these into the first five pages, you’ve hit the Trifecta! Why save the exciting parts for later?
  7. If you want the reader to really pay attention to a sentence, be sure to end it with an exclamation point! Or two!! How are they supposed to know you’re telling them something important?!
  8. Want to introduce doubt, mystery and intrigue into your story right from the beginning? Writers often wonder about this? Here’s a simple and effective way to do it: insert lots of question marks. This really makes readers think.
  9. Don’t waste your time, fussing with punctuation nor spelling; and other archaic grammer rules; as their probably all just going to get changed by some editor after you get you’re book contract, anyway so let the editor’s do there jobs!
  10. An apt metaphor is a sparkling diamond lying supine in the belly button of your novel. A novel without enough metaphors and similes is like a cold, empty Walmart warehouse where the golden links of the supply chain have tragically broken and the shelves are bereft of toys and rubber flip flops.
  11. It’s your book and you should make the reader aware of your presence as a writer right from the get go. This is your place to show off your talent, so indulge yourself and don’t let the story get in the way of your creativity with words. You want your special “voice” to be noticed, so don’t be shy about drawing attention to yourself.
  12. Don’t take the risk of an important concept or plot point getting lost. Make sure the reader “gets” it by saying it several times in slightly different words.
  13. Creative use of dialogue is one of the easiest ways to impress an agent or editor. Several pages of uninterrupted, rapid-fire dialogue, using short sentences and fragments, for instance, is sure to be noticed, especially in the first five pages.
  14. When using attributors in dialogue, choose a variety of verbs and evocative adverbs – such as “she tearfully exclaimed” or “he angrily ejaculated” – in preference to the dull volley of “he said-she said.”
  15. Dialogue is an entertaining way to deliver large chunks of backstory, or tell other facts that are hard to “show.” By disguising the information as “natural” conversation, you can cleverly use your characters to speak for you by proxy.
  16. Use of dialect and slang in dialogue adds spice and authenticity. “Thass cane, innit? A and B the C of D!” is far more colourful, for example, than “That’s excessive, don’t you think? Above and beyond the call of duty!” This kind of dialogue keeps readers and agents right where you want them: guessing.

I wish you the best of luck in boosting your approval ratings by not doing any of this!