Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Attention Romance Writers!

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

2019 Pitch Wars managing director Sarah Nicolas has organized a fairly massive romance writing critique giveaway for queries and/or pages over on Twitter. I’m signal boosting here, not just because I’m offering critiques but because giving back to the romance writing community is one of my favorite things to do.

You can find all the info on Sarah’s Twitter. Be sure to read the whole thread. Lots of Pitch Wars mentors are offering critiques. Best of luck if you decide to enter!

 


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Fear and Twitter Pitching (#amquerying)

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

Probably the single scariest thing I’ve done as a writer was to enter my first Twitter pitch contest. It’s like standing on the edge of a precipice knowing you’re about to jump, but all the “what ifs” crowd for dominance in your mind. What if I don’t make it to the other side? What if I miss the lake and end up on the rocks? What if the chasm is too deep? What if the ground opens and swallows me up? What if, what if, what if?

Then there are Twitter pitch contests. The fear with those is every bit as real, even if they’re on a more cerebral level. What if no one likes my tweet? What if my pitch is terrible? What if everyone laughs at my ideas? What if all the agents and editors snicker at my idea? What if I mess up? What if, what if, what if?

The truth of the matter is that if we want to be published, we have to put our words out there for people to see. Yes, a Twitter pitch contest like #KissPitch for romance manuscripts or #PitMad for all genres or #SFFPit for science fiction and fantasy can be a daunting thing. But it can also be really fun! #PitMad was the contest that started me on the roundabout path to my wonderful agent, Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary.

Before you jump in with a random tweet on a contest day, there’s a checklist you should pay attention to.

1. Do you have a completed, polished manuscript?

This is the most crucial element. If you’re sitting with an almost-finished manuscript, or you haven’t gotten around to doing those edits that your critique partners and beta readers suggested, or you know that saggy middle needs to be tightened up…don’t enter. You’re not ready. On the other hand, if your manuscript has been workshopped, edited, proofed, and you’re ready to query that sucker, by all means enter.

2. Do you have a pitch or three or four ready to go?

You only have 280 words to hook someone’s attention. That includes the contest hashtags, the genre hashtags, and any other hashtags you want to use. In general, the shorter the pitch, the more likely it is to be read.

Remember back in the days when we only had 140 characters per tweet? Remember Polonius going on and on about how brevity is the soul of wit? Forget the rest of Hamlet if you must, but when you’re crafting a Twitter pitch, remember those wise words. Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shorter tweets are easier on the eyes. They stand out in a flurry of other tweets. But whatever you do, don’t add graphics to your tweet. Unless the specific pitch contest you’re entering allows for that, it’s frowned on.

If you’ve got your pitches ready, by all means, enter.

Or be like me. Workshop the hell out of your tweets…then write flippant tired ones the night before and throw caution to the wind. Sometimes, the flippant tired ones are the best.

I could write a whole post on crafting tweets, but that’s a different beast so we’ll save it for another day.

3. You’re querying, or ready to query.

That’s great! It means your manuscript is ready to be evaluated by agent, editor, or publisher eyes. If that’s the case, by all means, enter. The pitch contest is a way to get your manuscript in front of agents, editors, and publishers that you might not have on your list.

But what about the fear?

Conquering fear is something we all need to do as writers. We have to put our words out there. If we’re going to be published, we’re going to have an audience. Some of that audience will love our words. Some will not love our words. It’s one of the truths of being an author: no book pleases everyone.

Don’t let that stop you.

At some point, you have to take the leap. And it is a leap of faith, but experience has taught me that this particular leap gets easier. It goes from paralyzing to scary to not so bad to downright fun. Remember those questions I asked up top? I’ll try to answer them.

What if no one likes my tweet?

That’s happened to me! And look, I’m still standing. An entire pitch event goes by, and not a single like from any agent or editor or publisher. It’s depressing, but it’s not the end of the world. The truth of the matter is that some concepts tweet really well. Others need a little more finessing.

If no one likes your tweet, make sure your query letter and synopsis do a better job of explaining your premise, Make sure your query doesn’t give away the whole book–it should end in a hook. Then query the agents on your list anyway.

What if my pitch is terrible?

We all write terrible pitches. If you think your pitch is terrible, rewrite it. Don’t be offensive, don’t be rude. Stick to the main plotline of your novel, give us stakes, hook the reader, and make it voicey. No problem, right?

Seriously, your pitch will only be terrible if it’s vague. “A pirate has to save the princess, or awful things will happen.” Now that’s a terrible pitch, because we really have no clue what’s at stake. But if you tell readers just enough to make it interesting, you won’t have a terrible pitch. “A dashing pirate must rescue his beloved princess from a fiendish tyrant before she’s bound to him forever, or the life essence will be forced from his body.”

That’s just one way to pitch The Princess Bride. I’m sure you can think of a million more. That’s not even a great pitch, but at least it has stakes! And a little personality! And it leaves a few questions: how will the life essence be forced from his body? How is a princess the pirate’s beloved? Why would she be bound to a fiendish tyrant? You get the picture.

Since you have multiple tweet opportunities in most contests, mix it up. Have a tweet featuring Westley, and have one featuring Buttercup. If you’re feeling brave, put out a tweet featuring the Rodents of Unusual Size too.

What if everyone laughs at my ideas?

They won’t. Promise. But if you can write a tweet that makes people laugh for the right reasons, it will be memorable.

What if all the agents and editors hate my idea and talk about it behind my back?

Trust me, they don’t have time for this.

What if I mess up?

You can’t.

Ultimately, the only thing you can do is try. If you’re ready to take that leap, do it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing. You’ll be no worse off than you are now. You won’t have ruined your chances. Remember, an agent’s inbox is open to your query regardless of whether or not they favorite your pitch.

Now, go on and take that leap of faith! The only way to lose is by quitting.


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The night was hazy. Too hazy.

Here in the Pacific northwest, the skies have been filled with smoke from the fires raging up and down the west coast. The worst of it where I live near Seattle has been coming down from British Columbia. Many of the people I know have been affected by the pollutants in the air. If you’re wondering what it looks like…

(You should be able to see the Seattle skyline, clear as day across the water.)

That aside, I have a little bit of news! I’m officially a part of the Pitch Wars blog team. Will you see a ton of posts by me? No, I’m primarily working behind the scenes to make sure everything looks right before the posts go live. I’m working with this fabulous group: Brenda Drake, Lisa Leoni, and Jaime Dill.

This is in addition to the work I’m doing with All The Kissing. Hey, the busier we are, the more productive we get, right?

As far as writing goes, I’ve sent off edits and am taking a tiny breather to read a bit before delving into finishing not one but two books. Where is my clone? Of course I can only physically work on one at a time, but I love them both and have been like a ping pong ball, going back and forth. Spoiler: one of them is not a romance! But it is a novel I love and am passionately eager to finish. So we’ll see what happens, and which one gets done first.

If you haven’t yet joined us on Twitter for #FridayKiss, please do! These Twitter hashtag games displaying lines from a work in progress serve more purposes than just showing off in front of thousands of your best friends. When I work with the weekly theme, I’ve found it helps me notice trends and over-use in my own writing, first and foremost. If I use the theme word the same way more than twice, I’ll go back and do some editing. Then, when I read the feed, I can see what the most common uses are for the theme word. It’s both fascinating and insightful. Maybe I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who did technical editing for a lot of years, but I know it’s made me keenly aware of the way I use words and terms in my fiction. Of course, your mileage may vary, and no analysis is required.

The second benefit is really the one I was flippant about above. If you’re writing and want to be published, you need to get used to sharing your words. Is it scary? Absolutely. Does it get easier with time? Absolutely. But look at this as a proving ground for yourself. If you don’t put yourself out there now, will you be able to do it later? Will you gather the courage to submit to contests? Will you be brave enough to query agents, editors, or publishers if you’re too shy about your writing? So come along and practice with us. You can find the prompt posted every Thursday evening at 7pm Pacific time at @yourfridaykiss. And to make it a little bit more entertaining, there are quotes. About each prompt. Each week. And no spoiler here: I have a lot of fun finding those.


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Walking a Fine Line

Most writers would tell you they’re natural introverts. Writing is a solitary occupation, so we get used to being alone. Living up in our brains, sharing that space with a plethora of characters we know well, trying to make them come alive on the page. Writing requires an immense amount of focus, a lack of distraction, a single-mindedness.

On the other hand, authors and prospective authors are supposed to make ourselves available. Be engaging and engaged on social media. Keep up a presence. Sometimes, that balance between introversion and extroversion can be nearly impossible to achieve. I’m of the school that asks how can I focus on writing when there are so many other things I should be doing? I’m not a marketer, I’m not a social media expert. I’m also one of those writers on the extroverted side of the scale, at least for the most part. I genuinely like interacting with people at least as much as I like interacting with my imaginary friends. I’m a sucker for face-to-face meetings and for editorial/story feedback. I can’t do this kind of work alone.

Then the kind of shit that took place today with Laura Silverman and Hannah Moskowitz happened. In case you don’t know, both these authors were attacked by a group of people leaving false, derogatory, hate-filled reviews on their Goodreads author pages. This was an intentional and choreographed action by people whose intentions were to defame and destroy these women. You don’t need any more of a rehash here; if you’re interested in more details look it up online (I won’t give any more airtime to hate groups). My first gut reaction was anger, but then something more subtle crept in.

You see, I was raised on the delicate arts of compromise and putting other peoples’ happiness before mine. A side effect of growing up that way means that I’m used to protecting other people at my own expense. It also means that for most of my life, I merged intentionally into the background. I’ve never been one to call attention to myself, or even to have a particularly strong self-image, quite honestly. So when the latest shitstorm happened on Twitter–after the anger subsided–I started to hear this little annoying voice that wanted to convince me to stay quiet, to stay out of the picture.

For most of my life I’ve listened to that voice. I’ve done everything I could not to be noticed. Today, though, something in me bent to the breaking point, and I’m glad it did. I joined the fray. I didn’t just point fingers at the injustice–that’s all too easy to do–but I did what I could to help shut it down. I flagged offensive reviews. I mouthed off to the powers that be. I gladly and repeatedly added my name to the list of people standing up and saying not on my watch to the haters out there.

No more walking that fine line.

The actions I took today might seem laughably small, but I had to start somewhere. When you grow up as I did with the intention of helping everything stay calm and serene, making waves is a bold step to take. I’ve long said that the only thing I’m intolerant toward is intolerance, and in a sense that’s still true. But finally, I’m tired of sitting on my feelings. I’m tired of being quiet. I’m tired of having to walk a fine line between what’s safe/comfortable for me personally and what’s right.

Fuck it. There’s too much hatred and anger in the world for me to be any kind of silent partner. Trying to stay apolitical no longer suits me. My conscience demands I stop, and I’m so glad to do it. I’m not turning this into a political blog–I have other outlets for that, and generally speaking this is my writing haven–but I will speak my mind. I will speak up for others, particularly for fellow writers. No one can be a voice for anyone else, but at least we can stand in solidarity. Let’s show those bastards what true community means.

You can pre-order Laura Silverman’s Girl Out of Water on Amazon or on IndieBound.

You can help combat the hate speech by flagging and reporting offensive reviews on both Laura’s and Hannah’s Goodreads pages.

You can send a message to Goodreads support and let them know you won’t stand for this nonsense.

Even more importantly, we can do this consistently for any author, any female gamer, any female comic book writer–you get the picture–under attack this way. We really are stronger together.

Flag, report, pre-order, order, read. I did.


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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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Why I Entered #PitchWars

Some days it seems like pitch contests are a dime a dozen. I’ve entered a few, but I certainly don’t enter them all. First, that’s too crazy. I’d be doing nothing but entering twitter-based contests. Second, I would saturate the market with my manuscript, which isn’t something I care to do.

So why Pitch Wars?

– It’s a positive contest. There’s no trash-talking the submissions or queries, only positive reinforcement for all participants.
– It’s authors helping authors because they want to, not because there’s anything in it for them.
– Brenda Drake, who runs the contest, seems like a right fine person. I don’t know her, but I like her.
– My manuscript is finished and polished. Good timing on my part! I had a query letter and synopsis ready also.

I’m of the mind set that says nothing ventured, nothing gained. Obviously I like my manuscript and am hopeful other people will like it too. If not, I’m no worse off than I was before I entered. It’s only cost a few weeks of my life where I haven’t been able to query, and that’s okay.

I don’t have any idea whether I’ll make it into the next round. If I don’t, I’ll keep plugging away on my own and cheer on those who did get selected. The whole process is such a subjective thing. Getting to be a part of something this lovely is a treat all by itself.

Good luck to everyone who entered, everyone who’s got a book, everyone who didn’t enter, and everyone who’s querying. Here’s to success and friendship all around.