Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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It’s not over until it’s over

Hi! I remember blogging! I remember having time to sit down and compose well-planned and thoughtful blog posts! I knew one day I’d have the time to do it again.

Today is not that day. Fooled you! I’ve been more than knee-deep in Pitch Wars revision passes, refining, fine-tuning. Eradicating crutch words, erasing bad habits, spit-shining and polishing my manuscript. Writing the supplemental material: query letter, synopsis, pitch, and as one of my mentors put it, taking a chisel to my first page so that despite the fact there’s an entire novel to follow, it’s compelling all by itself.

Not too much to ask!

During the course of Pitch Wars I’ve learned:

  • how to survive on almost no sleep
  • potato chips are really not a great substitute for real food
  • the more you use “just a cup of coffee at Starbucks” as a reward for writing, the faster you qualify for more free drinks than you want
  • I can rewrite an entire novel in a very short period of time if I have to
  • When given the secret formula for supplemental material, I can take off my “I’m no good at marketing” hat and write those too
  • why scene maps are important
  • why outlining is a great idea
  • genre-specific story arcs exist for a reason and sure, I can be a rebel, but then I won’t have the type of book I want
  • this year’s mentees are a wonderful group of people and I’m so thankful to have taken this roller coaster ride with them
  • this year’s mentors are a wonderful group of people. I lucked out having two (thanks, Mary Ann and Jaime!)
  • It’s a real kick to find that people like my characters and stories and want more

GROUP HUG!

I could go on with haphazard lists, but I have to say that this has been an outstanding experience. Yes, my house isn’t as organized as it was two months ago and sure, I ate some of (okay, a lot of) the Halloween candy out of nerves and no, the agent showcase hasn’t started yet, but no matter what happens when the Adult/NA entries go up tomorrow, I’ve already “won” Pitch Wars. Just ask the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met, the people I’m still planning on meeting. Look at the book I’ve written. This contest makes for great common ground. Whether my co-mentees have been writing Adult manuscripts like me, or New Adult or Young Adult or Middle Grade, we all have this shared experience. It’s humbled and enlightened me. It’s rejuvenated my love of writing. It’s taught me so much… you get the idea.

There will be a playlist post soon. In the meantime, I’ll be quiet.

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My Very Pitch Wars Month

So… it’s been a month now, give or take, since the Pitch Wars results were announced and I started kicking into gear. I’m going to wait until it’s over to give you my overview of the whole experience, but I thought a check-in was in order.

It’s important to say right up front I’m convinced I have one helluva mentoring team. We seem to have similar perspectives on what we want for my story (hugely important) and similar taste in so many things unrelated to the story. Pitch Wars is stressful enough, so I feel extremely fortunate to have mentors who are a good fit with my temperament and personality. They’re making it easy, and they’re making it fun. That stated…

…oh man, what a lot of work this contest is! I’m learning to love parts of the book-writing process I never loved (and in some cases, never heard of) before. For someone who’s always been a confirmed pantser, I can now see the value of putting in time planning and organizing. Because I only had a month to rework my novel, incorporating feedback from my mentors and moving it into its shiny newly-outlined direction. (Oh, I also beefed it up by 20,000 words or so.) I don’t know if I’ll be able to face NaNoWriMo this year without an outline in hand!

One of my first thoughts after we got started was that despite my initial attitude last year when my manuscript wasn’t chosen, I’m glad I didn’t make it in then. I wouldn’t have been ready, either as a writer or as a recipient of critique and suggestion. I’ve never been one to write THE END and ship a book off for querying immediately. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that all the advice about letting a manuscript sit for a while before querying was right. (Also, I’m terribly shy about my writing and have a hard time sending it out… or at least, I used to.) I’ve never been in a rush to get something out the door.

That’s proved incredibly useful during this whole process. Last year I wouldn’t have had the patience to make the necessary changes. I might have fought them tooth and nail. Instead, I sat on the manuscript for most of a year, rewrote it with all the drastic changes I could muster, and guess what? I’ve rewritten it again with even more drastic changes.

Now I wait for feedback. Will it be good? Will it be horrible? Will I have to rewrite it again? I don’t know, but I’ll find out. For me, one of the joys of Pitch Wars is that it’s unpredictably predictable. I have to be on my toes. I have to be ready and willing to write, rewrite, finesse. I also have to cast off the shackles of claiming I detest the “other” pieces of writing (pitch, synopsis, query) and delve into those with an open mind and open heart.

I might have been quiet here this past month, but it’s because I’ve been busy. I’m ready for PW Part II. Whatever happens in the end will happen, but I can already say I’ve learned more about being a writer since August 25 than I had the past few years trying to work out this whole novelist thing on my own. And another unexpected bonus? I know how to use gif files with reckless abandon now. See?

starbuck-grinning


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Things I want to keep in mind

I remember how I felt last year when I didn’t get accepted to Pitch Wars. All that hope, all the excitement, all those dreams. I watched the pre-announcement show with all the mentors, and it was the sweetest sort of torment. I seesawed back and forth between I’m going to be in! and I’ll never make it in! I mean, I’d had requests for fulls, and a follow-up email or two. What did that mean?

It meant I had requests for fulls and a follow-up email or two, and that’s it. There were no promises, no hints. I spent the weeks between submission and announcement scouring what my potential mentors were tweeting about, trying to divine if any of it was about me or my book. I got swept up in the contest excitement and hype, and made some new friends and met some pretty cool people.

Then the lists of mentors and mentees was posted and my name wasn’t there. You know that sick feeling you get in the back of your throat when you realize you’ve been caught doing something really stupid? Yeah, I had that. I wanted to throw up. Then I double-checked to see whether or not I’d just missed my name.

Then I got frustrated. Really, my first reaction after the reality set in was this bitter ugly frustration. I’m sure someone’s written up Recognizing The Twelve Stages of Writing Rejection (and if they haven’t, they should). After frustration I got angry, then I got jealous. All the while, I was still happy for the people who did make it to the mentor round, but suddenly the door to the party I’d been hoping to attend got slammed in my face.

So I let myself wallow. I stopped following the Twitter PitchWars hashtag. I stopped reading the people I followed who’d made it in, because I didn’t want my low-level frustrated anger to turn into some full-blown depression. I told myself it didn’t matter, it was just another contest, the odds were stacked against me (I guess Stage #4 is Rationalization). I put my manuscript aside, went about my business, and in time the piquant sting of rejection faded, as it always does. I unmuted people. I stayed in touch with some of the mentors I’d submitted to, but not all. There was too much glee about the contest from some of them.

You know what I did get, though, that a lot of people never get from those they submit to? Feedback. Two of the mentors I submitted to took the time to send me thoughtful feedback about my work and about their decision-making process. Once I wasn’t feeling so hurt by their rejection, I was able to read that feedback and let it rummage around in my brain. Although I set my book aside for the better part of a year, working on a different story or two in the meantime, I never forgot that two mentors who didn’t owe me a thing took the time to send me sweet and gentle encouragement and suggestions on how to improve my manuscript.

When I finally revised (make that rewrote) the book, I reread their feedback and integrated their suggestions.

This year, I was accepted. Is my manuscript perfect? Hell no, but that’s one reason I was picked: there are things in it my mentors know how to help me fix. Three days in, and I’ve come to understand that getting into this contest means I’ve signed up for two intensive months of plotting, planning, and rewriting with two new generous critique partners (since I’m being mentored by a team) with more industry experience than I have. It’s not a magic pill or a fast-track ticket to anything.

But it is nice to know someone else has faith in my writing.


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It’s so easy to get distracted!

When I look at my twitter feed right now, I see:

#p2p16
#PitchMadness
#sonofapitch

Like any good writer who uses twitter, I’ve considered all these contests. They’re all great, all different, all run by the loveliest of lovely people, all gone about with wonderful sentiment. I’ve participated in some of them before, but…

…not this time around.

See, I’ve learned a few things from twitter pitch contests. These are strictly my own opinion, so take them with a grain of salt if you’re so inclined.

  • I see a lot of the same people entering the same works in these contests.

    To my mind, this is both good and bad. It’s good because people aren’t giving up! I assume they’ve been working on their manuscripts, taking the feedback received from earlier entries, and refining. It’s bad because as these manuscripts get accepted into all the contests over and over, there’s less room for the ones who haven’t been through the wringer before.

  • I am not good at distilling the essence of my story down into 140 characters (minus character space for the contest name and genre hashtags).

    I am, however, filled with admiration for people who can do it well. I’m actually fairly adept at doing this for other people, but hell if I can do it effectively for my own work.

  • In my heart of heart I believe there’s something to be said for not saturating the decision-making market with one of my books over and over.

    I don’t have any problem doing things the old-fashioned way: querying, using all the connections I have, pulling any and all strings, and making sure my letter and synopsis are water-tight.

I’m happy for everyone entering these contests. Blessed be, best of luck, go conquer, live long and prosper. I’m trying to stay on top of what my twitter friends are doing, but I’m also trying hard to finish my editing and rewriting, tighten up my query, finish getting my beta feedback, and moving forward independently.

Who knows? I might make the exact opposite decision next time around. Good luck! As always, if there’s anything I can do for any of you, just ask.

And before I go: what are you working on, and how do you feel about pitch contests? Leave a comment and let me know so I can cheer you on, no matter which path you’re taking.

 


You can find me on twitter at @gwynnejackson and occasionally under the hashtags #amwriting and #amediting.


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Twitter Pitch Contests

It only took me about three years to realize that Twitter, as a whole, is much more fun if I actually participate. See, I’m an extrovert, but I’m also shy (those things aren’t mutually exclusive). I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the way I present myself on social media, and don’t ever intend to give the wrong impression of myself. I find Twitter to be a difficult medium. 140 characters isn’t much space to get the point across.

Recently I stumbled on something there called Agent Match. For those of you following along, you probably know I’ve been writing and have one book honed enough to shop (I have three, but Book #1 needs work on the opening chapters and Book #3 is in the revision phase). Book #2, the one I’m putting out there, is a spinoff novel featuring a minor character from a novella I wrote a few years ago. Writing it was a blast, because it was like writing fanfiction for my own characters. It fairly flew off my fingertips and onto the page. Then I sat on it, and sat on it, and sat some more until the requisite amount of time passed. I only knew it was the requisite amount of time because I stopped feeling all ooh and aah when I read it, which meant I could finally look at it with a critical (editorial) eye. But I digress! I actually worked on a query letter for it, which is fairly decent compared to some of the other query letters I’ve seen, and got brave and submitted to one agent as a test. She requested a partial (yay!) but rejected it. So I went back to the drawing board, incorporated some of the changes I’d been resisting but knew really made sense, and now I’m ready again.

That’s where Agent Match comes in. It’s a very kind Twitter pitch contest in that there’s no “competition” round. Many of the pitch contests start out with a certain number of entries (queries, samples, what have you) and send them to review, where only a subset are allowed to progress to the next round, and so on. Agent Match isn’t like that. The woman running it, the lovely Samantha Fountain, took the first 150 entries that followed her required format. I made it in, figuring I really had nothing to lose

Little did I know how much I had to gain. Samantha lined up twenty-three agents and editors; they’ll look over the blurbs on February 10 and 11 and if interested, request more information from the authors. Simple enough, right? She didn’t stop there, however. A number of these agents & editors have given up a half hour of their time to participate in twitter-based chats with the Agent Match participants… and anyone else who wants to ask them questions. This type of generosity with time and expertise has been absolutely invaluable for me.

At first I spent a lot of time worrying that my questions would be stupid. Much like I did when I was a little kid in school, I hung out quietly in the back of the classroom letting questions burn holes in my throat but not asking them. Then I remembered there really are no stupid questions, and started asking away. Not recklessly; all my questions have been ones where the answers have been of interest to me as an author. Some have been based around query letters, some around genres, some around wish lists, some around advice. It’s been great.

Agent Match (the actual reveal of our blurbs for agent consumption) hasn’t even happened yet, and I’ve learned so much already! Even if nobody’s interested in my story this time around, I know what I want and need to do to rework my blurb, to reword my jacket copy, and to punch up my query letter. I’ve been able to take part in all but two of the chats (lucky me!) and have started to get a real feel for what agents are looking for and how to present information to them. That alone makes me feel like a winner! As a bonus, I’ve made quite a few new Twitter contacts and have gone back to using it again more regularly.

Would I do this again? You bet. I’ll probably even be brave enough to test the waters on one of the elimination-round pitch contests. I look at it this way: if we never open a door, we’ll never know what’s behind it. The worst that can be there is nothing.

Feel free to join me on Twitter at @notsuestorm (and yes, I will be happy to tell the “not Sue Storm” story if anyone wants to hear it).