All posts in Pitch Wars

17 Aug

Pitch Wars Homework Assignments

In Editing,Pitch Wars by MK England / August 17, 2016 / 6 Comments

(Quick apology—the new wordpress update broke my theme, so I’m stuck with a temp theme for now. Pardon the mess.)

Last year when I was waiting for Pitch Wars mentee selections to be announced, I was chomping at the bit, wanting so badly to get started on a new round of edits. Sure, I did some half-hearted planning for NaNoWriMo to distract myself, but what I really wanted was to throw myself back into my PW manuscript and make it better.

crazy typing

One of the first things my awesome mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh, did last year was give me homework assignments right after I was selected. They were designed to help me analyze my book so I’d be in a better position to hit the ground running with revisions. And you know what? There’s no reason you can’t start on those right now, before Pitch Wars really begins, before you know if you’ve been selected or not. These assignments are great for anyone with a finished MS in need of editing, whether you’re participating in Pitch Wars or not, whether you get in or not.

So, without further ado, here’s your homework. Get as much done as you can before 11:59pm on August 24th. 

  • Make each chapter title a heading in Word for easy navigation (more info here). Even if you use Scrivener (which I love), you’ll need a word doc to share with your mentor or critique partners.
  • Make a list of all chapters with chapter wordcounts. Variation isn’t a bad thing, but if you have some major outliers, those might be chapters to look at for bulking up or breaking into two parts.
  • Make a character arc chart for all major characters: who are they at the start, who are they at the end, how they get there, what their role in the cast is, what they want, what progress they make toward their goals, etc.
  • Do a goals & stakes analysis for each chapter. Look at how each chapter progresses the characters toward their goal, and how the stakes come into play depending on their progress. If a chapter doesn’t address the goals and stakes, it likely needs to be cut. If you have trouble with this, summarize each chapter in only one sentence listing the most important things that happen, then think about how those tie in to your overall plot arc/goals/stakes. Don’t force it—if a chapter doesn’t fit, it might need to be significantly rewritten or cut.
  • Start on your revision outline. This will change a lot if someone takes you on as a mentee, depending on the feedback you get, but it’s good to start brainstorming fixes based on your own analysis while remaining open to mentor suggestions. Note overall changes to make throughout the manuscript as well as chapter-by-chapter notes.
  • Read my post on Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness. It’s important to understand your own reactions to receiving critiques and be prepared for the emotions that come with. Developing this self-awareness is one of the most critical things you can do as a writer.

Here is your starting ctrl+F list, a list of things for you to look for in your MS using the ‘find’ feature of your word processor. These are common crutch words and bad habit red flag words that apply to pretty much any manuscript. If Jamie and I decide to take you on as a mentee, we’ll also provide you with a customized one with any crutch words/phrases that are unique to you (for instance, I tend to overuse ‘a bit’ and ‘grin’).

  • That
  • Just
  • Filtering phrases (she saw, she heard, she smelled, etc.)
  • Thought phrases (she realized/understood/knew/wondered/remembered/thought)
  • Feeling words (sad/happy/angry/nervous/etc.)
  • Started/began
  • Really/very/extremely/absolutely + other empty modifiers
  • is/are/was/were (passive voice red flags)
  • Suddenly
  • Basically/practically/almost (I am so guilty of this)
  • ly (will help you catch adverbs)
  • If writing in past tense: this/now/here (words that imply present-ness)

When you’re using Ctrl+F to catch these filtering and thought phrases, don’t forget the sneaky constructions that slip under the Ctrl+F radar: I can see, I can hear, I suddenly realized, etc. For advice on fixing these errors, check out Pitch Wars class of 2015 alum Rebecca McLaughlin’s Show Don’t Tell series on her blog in which she reworks passages of her own writing.

Reading List (Choose One or More):

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White OR Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Truss
  • A book in your genre you haven’t read before
  • A book on the craft of writing. Ask for recommendations if you need them!

Best of luck to everyone awaiting Pitch Wars decisions, and major props to anyone tackling a manuscript revisions right now! You got this. You are great. I believe in you.

…now, back to trying to pick a mentee. *sweats*

Report back with your thoughts and progress!

han salute

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11 Aug

Synopses Are Actually Awesome

In Pitch Wars,Queries & Synopses by MK England / August 11, 2016 / 3 Comments

I honestly never thought I’d say those words.

It’s true, my attitude toward synopses has evolved over the years. At first, I utterly loathed them. Then, after my crit partner’s synopsis revealed a major plot issue I’d failed to spot while reading the actual manuscript, I acknowledged that though they sucked to write, synopses could be a useful analysis tool.

And now, after reading Pitch Wars submissions? Synopses are beautiful and valuable and should be written with care.

We requested synopses along with the full manuscript from every contender, and they’ve been so enlightening, illuminating issues with the manuscript that are difficult to see at ground level. Here are some of the most common problems we’re seeing with manuscripts via synopses:

  • No self-contained plot arc. This is the big one. Even if your book is planned as part of a series, the first book must be able to stand alone. Readers hate it when the core plotline of a book doesn’t resolve at the end. More importantly, though, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to sell the whole series. You might only sell the first book. The publisher might want it as a duology rather than a trilogy or quartet. Wrap things up in the first book and leave some intriguing threads loose to pick up. If your book is bought as a series, your editor will help you revise to reflect that.
  • Mushy middle. You get off to a great start, and you knew where you wanted to go, but you didn’t know how to get there and there were no tentpoles in the middle propping the story up. Critical things need to happen throughout the book.
  • Too convoluted. There seems to be a real push to make things too complex: Too many characters, too many new ideas or concepts crammed in, too many subplots, etc. Sometimes these are due to poor synopsis writing, which hey, it’s hard, I forgive you. But sometimes, those same issues are reflected in the manuscript, and the synopsis just makes it easier to see. It’s no fun getting to the end of a synopsis and thinking “…I have no idea what just happened”.
  • More love for worldbuilding than characters or plot. Jamie and I LOVE cool worldbuilding. We really, really do, and it can make a book shine. But your world is the stage for your characters and their actions. Make sure your worldbuilding always serves the characters and the plot.

All of these are fixable, and a dedicated writer CAN fix them in the two months allotted for Pitch Wars, but you have to be open to the kind of large-scale rewrite that these problems require. Are you willing to gut entire chapters, chop off your whole ending, and eliminate dead-weight characters? It’s fine—take a few days, cry, feel grumpy, curse our names, and do whatever else you need to do to mourn and digest the feedback.

Then sit down at your keyboard, crack those knuckles, and make your book the best, shiniest book it can be.

Sometime in the near future, I’ll write a post on non-painful ways to write a synopsis. In the meantime, check out THE classic post on synopsis writing over on pubcrawl.

How do you feel about synopses? Do you have lots of angry feelings about them, or have you kind of come to terms? Vent your feelings in the comments.

28 Jul

Pitch Wars Live Video

Last night I was on Pitch Wars Live answering your questions from Twitter about Pitch Wars wish lists, submissions, and the craft of writing. It was a TON of fun, and we got some really great questions! I haven’t been able to go back and watch it because I know I make incredibly stupid faces when I talk, but if you want to be entertained by my face, you can watch below, or on youtube here.

If you want to follow up on any of the questions I answered, or get answers to any of the ones I skipped, let me know in the comments!

27 Jul

Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness

In Editing,Pitch Wars,Writing Process by MK England / July 27, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’ve written about critiquing and revising several times before. There’s a reason for that—in the last two years, I’ve personally had to come to terms with how critiquing works, how it feels, what I should take from it, and what role it plays in an author’s career. I’ve also watched how those around me have learned to deal (or not deal) with critiques, from casual one-time crit acquaintances to long-term crit partners whom I adore and still work with. You really do go through the five stages of grief when learning to accept critiques, but successful writers eventually make it to the acceptance stage: critiques are helpful and healthy and the best way to ensure your story does what you want it to do.

But how do you get to that point? How do you eventually make it through the hurt and come to a place of understanding and acceptance? That, dear writer, is the million dollar question. And sure, there’s the usual answers of time, perseverance, blah, blah, blah, but what can you really, actually do?

so much pain

Long answer: For me, the answer is self-awareness. By this point, I know myself, and I know my reactions. I know that when I first get a large critique I will be very sad, and I need to give myself a few hours (or even days) to process that. I know that I’ll have a lot of emotional reactions to the feedback at first. How can I not? It’s like getting up on stage and being booed. It’s a mixture of shame and humiliation over making mistakes, anger over people “misinterpreting” things or just “not getting it”, and sadness for having poured so much of my soul into something and having it criticized. These are honest, real reactions, but they shouldn’t dominate the way you react to feedback, and they absolutely shouldn’t dominate how you revise. Because ultimately, that feedback is what’s going to make your book shine.

Short answer: Don’t bullshit yourself. Learn to spot when you’re bullshitting.

My common bullshitting reactions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • But I like it this way
  • But I did it that way for a specific reason
  • But I worked so hard on that
  • But this scene is essential for Reasons
  • But does that little thing really matter?
  • But changing that will require huge changes in these twenty other places
  • I don’t get how they see it that way
  • NO. *growl*
  • This is terrible, I am terrible, there is no hope, I should give up

Other things to look for in your own reactions (mostly compiled from the #PitchWars class of 2015, thanks y’all):

  • A different crit partner didn’t have a problem with that scene, therefore I’m justified in not fixing it
  • I’m staying true to my art
  • They’re reading it wrong
  • Let me explain it and you’ll understand
  • That’s just the way I write
  • They just don’t get it

The answer to all of these is the same. It isn’t working for this reader. Their opinion is valid. Take a step back, take stock of what you’re feeling, and really think about what you’re hearing.

Next time you get feedback on a piece of work, try this:

  • Name the feeling you’re having. Anger. Shame. Embarrassment. Disappointment. Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t say or do anything to react to it, but specifically acknowledge it and let yourself feel it.
  • Let the feedback sit. A few hours, a few days, a few weeks, however long it takes for you to feel less emotional and be able to approach it more objectively.
  • What is it specifically about that one piece of feedback that bothers you? Is it the work required to fix it? Does it change something you’re particularly proud of? You can be proud of your writing and still acknowledge that it’s not right for the story.
  • What’s at the core of the feedback? Maybe you don’t agree with the specifics, but you can see that there’s something wrong. You don’t agree that the chapter should be cut, but you do agree there are pacing problems, etc.
  • Is it a grammar rule you’re having issues with? These are probably the easiest to let go of. Learn the rule, do better in the future. You might feel some embarrassment over having messed up, or defensiveness because you’ve always done it that way and you don’t think it sounds wrong, but when it comes down to it there’s no need to feel prideful over an established, industry-standard grammar rule. Follow the rule unless you have a really good stylistic reason for breaking it that others agree works.
  • Change your attitude going into the critique. When you first deliver your MS to your critique partner, say, “Do whatever you gotta do to make it awesome,” or, “Tear it up, I can take it!”. When it’s time to receive the critique, mentally prepare for it. Go into it calm, sit down with your crit partner, and say, “Okay, tell me how I can make this better.”
  • Set yourself up to receive the critique however you need. If you need to be alone to process, ask your CPs to send their critiques as edit letters or with track changes in Word or Google Docs. However, I’d really encourage you to try receiving your crits over the phone or in person. It reminds you that the person you’re talking to is a real human who cares about your MS, not a nameless enemy out to hurt you. It also lets them explain a bit about the suggestions they’re making, so you don’t see them in a vacuum.
  • Go into it expecting changes. I’ve talked about this before, but lots of people go into a critique wanting validation. That’s not the point. The point is to make the story better. You’re never done making changes until the book goes to print. A good crit partner will give you some cheerleading too, but that’s not what it’s about.

If, after you’ve done all this, you still feel that a piece of feedback isn’t correct, feel free to disregard it. No one critique partner is correct 100% of the time—not even a Pitch Wars mentor! But make sure you’re rejecting that feedback for the right reasons.

Learning to accept critiques is one of the hardest parts of being a writer, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be a professional. Better to learn now than to try to learn when the critique is coming from an agent or editor!

For more on the subjects of critiques and revising, see my other two posts:
On Receiving Critiques
It’s Not Selling Out!: On Revising From Feedback

How do you react to critiques? Any strategies to share? Let me know in the comments.

19 Jul

Pitch Wars MSWL: M.K. England and Jamie Pacton (YA)

In Pitch Wars by MK England / July 19, 2016 / 4 Comments

We are YA co-mentors M.K. England and Jamie Pacton.

jamegan

We’re Pitch Wars 2015 alums turned agented authors, and we’re here for all your YA submissions! We are smart. We are funny. We read all the things. We will make you work, but you will have a better book by the end. JaMegan: two mentors for the price of one.

yay felicia day

Here’s what you should submit to us in 300(…ish) words or less:

Give us: Your absolute best effort. Unstoppable voice, believable characters (who don’t have to be likeable), settings that feel real. We’re best able to provide guidance for high-concept books with tons of heart or a rollicking adventure. We are writers today because when we were kids reading adventure stories made us feel empowered, like we could go out and take on the world. We’d love a manuscript that evokes that same feeling.

Yes Please: Sci-fi, Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary, Mystery, Historicals with a twist (alt history/ historical fantasy). We’d love to hear from #OwnVoices; we want diverse books!

Bonus Points: Funny. Geeky. Quirky. Heists. Girls saving themselves. Badassery.

No Thanks: Horror, literary, heavy issue books, anything super slow-paced and quiet. We’re just not the best people to help shape works like these. We’re not wild about getting dystopian unless it has strong SFF elements. It’s fine if characters have faith as a part of their lives, but Christian Fiction or anything else very faith-focused is also not a good fit for us. (CLARIFICATION: The level of violence found in your typical YA genre book is completely fine with us! We just don’t like really gratuitous horror or violence, or any types of violence found in our Big Nopes below.)

Big Nopes: On-screen incest, rape, abuse. No problem if this is part of backstory, but we aren’t the best mentors for books that dig into these traumas. Bigoted or misogynistic narratives are never okay with us. Also, you don’t have to have LGBTQ+ characters, but we hate reading super heteronormative books where it feels like a queer person could never exist in that world.

Comp Titles We Would Walk Through Volcanos For: Bitch Planet; Rat Queens; Saga; Carry On; Little Brother; Six of Crows; Wolf by Wolf, The Name of the Wind (but with stronger female characters); an updated YA version of Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword; An Ember in the Ashes; the Temeraire series; Sabriel; Graceling; Eleanor & Park; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

M.K. writes: YA Space Opera, Fantasy, LGBTQ+, and fanfic, because yes.

Jamie writes: YA Fantasy, Alt History, Dark Fairy Tales. And funny MG books.

How We Work: Edit letter for big picture stuff first. Line edit for smaller stuff second. Frequent communication as you prefer. If you’re ready to bust your butt, we’re ready to guide you.

More questions?: @Geektasticlib. @JamiePacton.

————

M.K. England is a writer and YA librarian living in the mountainy parts of Virginia. When she’s not writing or librarianing, MK can be found drowning in fandom, going to conventions, running through the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or improvising truly terrible songs about her dogs. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if she never speaks of BBC Sherlock. She has it bad. MK is represented by the incomparable Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Jamie Pacton is a writer and English teacher living in Wisconsin. In addition to writing Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, she also writes about autism for Parents magazine. She spends her free moments wandering by Lake Michigan, checking out way too many books from her local library, chasing her children, and watching all the things on Netflix. She’s partial to history, adventure stories, Project Runway, and– of course– the BBC’s Sherlock. Jamie is represented by the wonderful Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit

this is getting fun

Looking for our letter for the scavenger hunt? Gotta visit my co-mentor Jamie Pacton over here. For more YA mentor awesomeness, check out the YA mentor blog hop below:

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