Tag Archive: Pitch Wars

The time I almost quit

We give a lot of glory to the big milestones in this business. Finishing a draft, getting an agent, going on sub, announcing a book deal. The smaller wins get love too– things like writing each day, starting a new book on craft, or meeting a reading goal are celebrated. But sometimes what we fail to talk about as a community are those moments when we come close to giving up. The gritty underbelly of all of the good things tends to get glazed over with a pretty dollop of success. When you do see somebody’s good news, you rarely think about what happened for that person to get to that point. You don’t see the near-misses or the almosts, the messy drafts that go nowhere or the tears. I share a lot of my own good news on social media– book deal announcements, photos of my neat and organized writing space, snippets from what I’m working on. But today, I felt compelled to talk about the side I don’t show as often. My own gritty underbelly, in the form of the day I almost quit writing entirely.

Shelved, but not forgotten.

It was spring of 2013. I was getting married in less than a month, so needless to say, my life was incredibly busy with wedding preparation. I had been querying a New Adult manuscript since December with some interest and several requests, but no offers. I was totally convinced that it was only a matter of finding the right agent for my project. And one day, I got an email regarding one of the full requests. They wanted to set up a time to talk to me about my book. On the phone. It was THE call, I was sure of it! Much flailing ensued. This was my moment, after six months of querying. Everything was coming together for me.

But the phone call wasn’t an offer. It was an R&R, which I pretended not to be disappointed about. I tried not to get my hopes up, and I diligently set about making the changes that the agency wanted to see. I pored over my manuscript, certain that I was making it so much better. I could practically envision the book deal announcement. When it was ready, I sent it back and kept my fingers crossed for good news.

But it wasn’t good news. There was an email passing on the project less than a week later, on a Friday night when I was binging on Shark Tank in my pajamas. I’d like to say I took the news well, but I remember crying in my apartment. I had an opportunity and I fell short. What if another opportunity never came? I wasn’t good enough. My manuscript wasn’t good enough. Every single doubt I had ever cast on myself bloomed around me, sucking me into a dark cloud. I didn’t even want to look at my computer, and suddenly the dream of being a published writer was ridiculous and unfathomable. I was glad only a few people in my life knew that it was my goal to become a published author, because it was less embarrassing to only fail in front of my immediate family. With that one rejection– one person’s opinion– I convinced myself that I should just give up entirely.

And I did give up. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. I didn’t open a Word doc or create anything new. I focused on all of the other good things in my life. My wedding. My mini-moon. My friends and family. My dog. Summer weather and patio season and long walks and barbeques. I think I needed that break, needed to let myself be upset over something that really hurt. I needed to let myself feel the sting instead of glossing over it the way I usually did. I needed that time away from writing.

I told myself that life was easier without the rejection and judgment that comes with being a writer, or trying to be. And it was easier. But it wasn’t me. I was happy, but I wasn’t creatively fulfilled, and for me, the two are tied together in a knot that can’t really come undone.

Picking myself up and trying again was not easy to do. But I did it, slowly at first. I sent more queries, knowing that they might end the same way, with rejection. But I also knew if I didn’t send them, my book would never see the light of day. I became more active on Twitter, despite my shyness, and I started entering contests. I worked on a different New Adult manuscript and let myself believe that it was my best work yet. I truly believe that the art of creating that book might have saved me from quitting entirely. (This is part of the reason why I believe always working on the next thing is so important!)

That new manuscript? I didn’t query it very widely before a new idea lodged itself in my head and wouldn’t leave. That book was Firsts, and I wrote it over a furious and magical three-week period. Then I heard about a contest called Pitch Wars, and my life was forever changed.

Not finding an agent with that second book really didn’t sting at all. It was a totally different experience then the first time around. All of my expectations weren’t hinged on one manuscript. I was so excited about Firsts and getting into YA writing that I felt a sense of possibility, like anything could happen. And a couple months after Pitch wars ended, my dream of getting an agent did happen, and then I dared to think even bigger and let myself believe the book would sell. After it did, I dared to believe I could keep selling books. And I have.

The truth is, my dreams didn’t change from when I wrote that first book. But my expectations did. I went from feeling like I would fail if a book didn’t get me an agent or published to being okay with any given book not being the one. Because I can always write more. The words won’t dry up if I write too many. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more I write, the more efficient I get, and the less I get attached to any one darling. My advice? Get comfortable with whatever you’re working on not being “the one.” Don’t consider any writing you do a waste of time, because it never is. And let yourself mourn the losses. Admit that it sucks to be rejected. When you’re done grieving, I promise you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.

My first two books are currently trunked, but they were some of the best use of my time. Maybe I’ll go back to them someday. Maybe not. But they’re the foundation upon which everything else was built, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

August, briefly

August has been a ridiculously busy but fun month. Basically, my attention has been focused on three things: revision, Rio, and Pitch Wars! I watched as much of the Olympics as possible and was so inspired by the amazing performances by our Canadian athletes. And speaking of inspiration, the talent in Pitch Wars has totally blown me away. I remember how nerve-wracking it was being a mentee the year I entered Firsts (back then, it was called Fast Girl), and now I can confirm with certainty that being a mentor involves just as much anxiety. Choosing a mentee was not an easy task, and I’m honored that so many talented authors submitted their work to me. I wish I could have chosen several mentees! But there could only be one, and the story that captured my heart was Still Breathing by Mary Dunbar. I’m so excited to work with her… you’ll be hearing lots more about Mary and her beautiful manuscript later!

#TripleTriple success!

#TripleTriple success!

This month, I have been:

Working on: August has been a full-on revision month! I finished revisions on two different projects, and now they’re out of my hands. (Although, for a writer, nothing is ever truly finished until you hold that first copy of your book!) I feel very positive about both projects and am proud of what I accomplished. Going into the fall, I’m looking forward to changing gears and drafting again… there is nothing as freeing and rewarding as fast-drafting a project and seeing where it goes, learning about the characters and their motivations as I write. There are two projects I’ve made some initial progress on, so the next step is figuring out which one to focus on first.

Reading: ALL things Pitch Wars! I requested material from several of the authors who submitted to me, and was so impressed by what I read. These books made me laugh, made me tear up, got me angry, made me think, grabbed my attention, and kept me up way past my bedtime. I can’t even begin to describe the extent to which these stories impressed me. I look forward to seeing all of them on bookshelves someday, because I have faith that will happen!

Watching: To say I have been obsessed with the Rio Olympics is a bit of an understatement. If it would have been possible for me to sit on my couch for two straight weeks and do nothing but watch the Olympics, I would have festered there in my pajamas and made a pillow fort. I was jumping up and down when Usain Bolt completed his astonishing triple triple, and seeing Canada’s talent– including Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner, Lanni Marchant, and Penny Oleksiak, among so many others– made me incredibly proud. The Olympics are all about following dreams and pushing limits, and I think it’s impossible to not feel moved by the dedication and passion these athletes demonstrate to their sports. To be honest, now that Rio is over, I don’t know what will fill the void for the next four years! (PS you heard it here… De Grasse for gold in 2020!)

As much as I love summer, I’m looking forward to all things fall… the changing leaves, jeans and ankle boots, crispness in the air, and pumpkin spice everything. There’s an electricity in fall that always energizes me, so I’m excited for whatever September brings!

For all the Pitch Wars hopefuls

On Wednesday night, the Pitch Wars mentee list was unveiled. Excitement ensued for those chosen and there was a fun virtual Twitter dance party as everyone congratulated each other on this huge accomplishment. I remembered being on the other side of things, as a mentee two and a half years ago, madly stalking the hashtag for any and every update. I remembered my heart racing and the doubt coursing through my mind that I wasn’t going to get picked, and I’d have to move on from that. When I did get picked, I stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake.

Keep taking that leap of faith... you'll only get higher!

Keep taking that leap of faith… you’ll only get higher!

Why the crippling doubt? Because I had entered contests before with other manuscripts. My hopes had been high. They had promptly been crushed. I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment, gird myself against failure. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being hopeful and started being what I called practical, steeling myself for the sting of rejection.

If I’m being perfectly honest, every time I wasn’t picked for a contest, I went into a mini-spiral of negativity. I convinced myself my writing wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t on the same level as others who had entered, that I’d never find an agent, that I should only write for fun and not put myself through the stress of trying to get published.

Sometimes I took a break. Sometimes I threw myself into a new project. But always, I went back to writing, and always, after the storm cloud had passed, I looked toward the next contest. The next query. The next thing.

What I didn’t realize then is that publishing never stops being about rejection. Even as a published author, I deal with it. And if I had let every “no” derail me, I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no direction. But I learned to take those “nos” for what they were. Subjective opinions. Sometimes, a “no” is accompanied by great feedback that you can apply and learn from. Sometimes it’s about someone not connecting with your writing or your plot or your characters. And you know what? Every “no” is okay. Because every “no” takes you closer to the “yes” that you will get if you keep writing.

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was totally blown away by the level of talent and the caliber of work in my inbox. I also heard the mentor chatter behind the scenes, and it was unanimous that this year’s quality level was higher than ever. Not getting picked is NOT a no. Not even close. You have a whole community of people behind you, and that’s the beauty of Pitch Wars. Once you submit, you’re in the Pitch Wars family, and we all want you to succeed. We’re here for questions you have, advice you want, virtual hugs you need. We’re here for you.

It’s okay to be disappointed, to process whatever you’re feeling. But just remember that if you’re sending your work out there, if you’re doing your research and learning something about the publishing industry, you’re doing things right. You’re where you need to be. And I have no doubt with that attitude, you’ll get where you want to be.

Be hopeful. Be practical. Be you, because only you can write your stories, and the world wants them!

July, briefly

It was pretty cool seeing our books in the window at Brilliant Books!

It feels like just a second ago I was changing my calendar to July and looking at the start of a fresh new month. Is it just me, or was this the fastest July in history? I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun, and July was a whole lot of good times. The highlight of my month was definitely a trip to Traverse City, Michigan, to see my wonderful CP Emily Martin and do some book events. Thanks to many great conversations with Emily, I came home motivated to tackle revisions on one of my YA contemporary projects that has been giving me serious grief. Sometimes all you need as a writer is to talk things out with another writer who understands you and your work. (And when that other writer just so happens to be a great friend who makes killer cocktails… well, even better!)

This month, I have been…

Working on: The revision mentioned above, which has been consuming all of my time. While I intended to fast-draft a different project consecutively, I just couldn’t manage to multitask this month. I tend to be extremely hard on myself when I don’t meet my goals, but I have come to realize that I’m never going to accomplish everything I want and I’m always going to feel like I could have done more. That attitude is something I’ve had my whole life and I’m trying to be kinder to myself, but it’s a constant struggle. I think revision is especially hard for me since it’s difficult to measure progress in tangible ways– sometimes it’s counter-intuitive in that progress can be getting rid of unnecessary words instead of adding new ones. (Let’s just say there has been basically a whole book’s worth of murdered darlings as a casualty of this revision!)

Reading: It has been a slow reading month, but I finished two books I really enjoyed. The first was Signs of You by one of my fellow Sweet Sixteen sisters, Emily France. It has been pitched as a YA Da Vinci Code, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the layers of mystery and intrigue. I definitely ripped through the pages because I needed to know what happened next. I also finished The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, which has one of the most authentic and fresh voices I’ve read in a long time. I bought the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline at Brilliant Books (seriously amazing bookstore, by the way!) when I was in Traverse City, so I’m looking forward to diving in next month.

Watching: I love anything involving travel, so when my husband suggested a travel documentary show called Departures, I got on board. (See what I did there?) It chronicles the adventures of Canadian travelers Scott and Justin, who take a year off their lives to travel the world. I’m always fascinated by stories of people who can leave things behind to venture into the unknown, and seeing the different destinations they visited definitely ignited some wanderlust within me.

I’m very much looking forward to August… I think it’s going to be another whirlwind month filled with not only my own writing projects, but Pitch Wars fun! I posted my wish list and have been enjoying all the engagement on Twitter with potential mentees. The submission window opens August 3rd, and I cannot wait to see the entries that come in and choose a mentee… although, I have a feeling that will be difficult with all the amazing manuscripts out there.

Wishing everyone a happy and sun-soaked August!

Pitch Wars Mentor Bio!

I’m beyond excited to be a Pitch Wars mentor for the first time this year! My career was greatly impacted during my time as a Pitch Wars mentee, when I was able to work with two amazingly talented mentors (hello, Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Skye!) to strengthen Firsts and get it ready for the agent round. I learned so much and grew a lot as a writer, and I came out of my shell, social media wise (I had previously been a Twitter lurker, but thanks to the welcoming Pitch Wars community, I shed a lot of that shyness). Shortly after the contest, I signed with my amazing agent, Kathleen Rushall, and had a book deal by the end of the year!

(If you’re interested in hearing about my experience as mentee, click here!)

Me! Don't let the smile fool you... I want all the angsty, dark, dramatic stories!

Me! Don’t let the smile fool you… I want all the angsty, dark, dramatic stories!

So, a little bit about me! I’m a proud Canadian girl and I live in London, Ontario with my husband and my beloved senior Chihuahua (aka the star of my Instagram and basically my life). I’m a former model and lifelong fashion addict. I love walking in the woods, thrift store shopping, wearing red lipstick, and indulging in nachos basically any day, any time. I write YA contemporary books. My debut novel, Firsts, came out in January and was recently nominated as a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick. It’s the story of a high school senior named Mercedes who has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy is a virgin. I’m also the author of a series of short stories, the Boys Tell All, sharing the perspectives of ten virgin guys from Firsts.

My Critique Style

I focus on both larger issues– plot, theme, characters, voice, and pacing– and smaller details, like sentence structure, misplaced commas, and overused words (my crutch word is “look,” in case you were curious). I’ll let you know the elements I love about your book, but I won’t shy away from letting you know what I think needs improvement. I’ll work extremely hard for you, and I want to collaborate with a mentee who isn’t afraid to dig in and make the big and small revisions needed to make a manuscript stronger. I want to work with someone who will think critically and kill darlings for the overall good of the pages. It’s your story, and I’m here to help you make it the best book it can be. I’m very open to bouncing ideas around and will do everything I can to help. I also want to make this fun for you! I’m pretty laid-back and approachable, and I want you to feel like you can come to me with any questions or concerns, any time.

My WisH List 

I’m mentoring YA, and I want ALLLLL the contemporary! Give me your flawed girls and boys, your messy relationships, your morally questionable decisions, your heartache and big mistakes. I love a good antihero– a protagonist who isn’t traditionally likeable, but someone you can still make me feel for. I love to see diversity in any form. Give me your dark, your edgy, your gritty, your raw emotions, your drama– maybe I’m a masochist, but feel free to break my heart! I’m not afraid of controversy and I’m definitely your girl for pushing boundaries.

I’m very invested in what feels real, and I don’t need a happy ending to be satisfied with a story. I’m fascinated by stories with an element of mystery and intrigue, where multiple layers exist and unraveling is required (complicated and twisty = me reading past my bedtime). I’m a huge fan of unreliable narrators and their secrets and lies.

I also enjoy creativity and inventiveness with storytelling– alternating timelines, unique perspectives (ie. second person, a la We Are The Goldens by Donna Reinhardt), and stories told in different and unconventional ways (letters, diary entries, lists, etc). I also like to laugh… I think a book that evokes the greatest amount of feels contains both humor and heartache.

I adore character-driven boy POV stories that feel incredibly authentic (think Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence or Perfectly Good White Boy).

Above all, the most important thing is voice. I swoon for voice. Voice will keep me reading, even if the plot needs a lot of work. Voice is what sets your story apart.

To get a sense of the kind of work I gravitate toward, here are some of my favorite YA books:

Anything and everything by Courtney Summers and Amy Reed

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Tease by Amanda Maciel

Fault Line by Christa Desir

Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

I’m not the best mentor for… 

Fantasy, magical realism, sci-fi, and horror. I don’t read widely enough in these genres to be an effective mentor, nor have I ever written in them (unless you count my cringe-worthy high school attempt at high fantasy)!

Abby thinks you're awesome. And so do I!

Abby thinks you’re awesome. So do I!

I’m so very excited to get to know you all. If you’re on the fence about hitting “send,” know that I was in your position too, and I can honestly say my career wouldn’t be where it is today if I hadn’t taken the chance. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I’m very active on Twitter, so if you have any questions or just want to chat, please follow me @laurellizabeth!

 

 

 

 

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August, briefly

It’s hard to believe summer’s coming to an end. (I say that every summer, but this time I really mean it!) August has been a pretty challenging month for me—challenging to balance everything and challenging to get the work done that I set out to do. But there have also been some amazing and surreal moments. My ARCs arrived, which was one of the greatest-ever author experiences for me, and it’s so cool to know that FIRSTS is being read by bloggers and reviewers already! I’m truly honored and grateful for everyone who wants to read it… thank you!

Some backyard revising.

Some backyard revising.

Working on: I’m in the process or ordering swag and prizes for various FIRSTS giveaways that will start happening soon, plus planning other secret FIRSTS stuff. This has been a lot of fun, and I’m excited to be able to share more with everyone soon! Other than FIRSTS-related things, I’m revising a WIP and working on first drafts of two other new projects. The time I have carved out to free write every day has made a huge difference in my mindset, and it’s great to experience that first draft excitement and sense of possibility again!

Reading: To say that August has been a good reading month would be an understatement. I started the month with ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers. Ever since I read SOME GIRLS ARE, Courtney Summers has been an insta-buy author for me. I had a feeling ALL THE RAGE was going to be an incredibly special read, and all of my expectations were blown away. It’s the story of Romy, a girl from the wrong side of town who has been branded a liar after exposing the truth about golden boy Kellan Turner. This wasn’t an easy read: Romy’s story is at times brutal and unflinching, but I think it’s important that parts of the story are hard to read, because Courtney Summers isn’t sugar-coating anything. She writes with honesty, integrity, and the authenticity that her characters deserve. There are so many teenage girls like Romy, girls hurting in so many ways. Girls who have been wounded physically or emotionally or both. Girls afraid to speak up, or girls afraid that nobody will believe them if they do. Romy wears lipstick and nail polish like armor to defend herself against a world that keeps beating her down, to arm herself against a world that calls her a liar and sticks her with labels to dehumanize her and make her less than a person. This book will make you think, and that’s good. We should all be thinking about girls like Romy. Because girls can be torn down so much easier than they can be built back up, and that’s not okay.

I also read MORE THAN FASHION, the latest in Elizabeth Briggs’s CHASING THE DREAM series. I love this series, and especially how each book features a different character and can be read on its own without having previously read the others. MORE THAN FASHION is Julie’s story, and the scene is Behind the Seams, a reality show much like Project Runway. Julie is my favorite character so far in the entire series: she’s bold and unapologetic and owns her sexuality, and I really like the evolution of her relationship with Gavin. If you’re looking to read more NA, I highly recommend this series. It’s the perfect mixture of funny and sexy, the right combination of drama and tears and humor.

I received an ARC of my critique partner Emily Martin’s debut, THE YEAR WE FELL APART, as part of the Sweet Sixteens book tour. I have known Emily since Pitch Wars in 2014, when we were both part of Team Evelyn. Emily and I became CPs after the contest, and I read an early draft of the book that would become THE YEAR WE FELL APART. After reading the final version, my heart felt wrecked and put back together at the same time. I’ll be posting a longer review of this one later, but for now, all I have to say is… PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY! Gorgeous writing, a swoony, intense, complicated romance, and the messy reality of making mistakes and learning forgiveness. It’s stunning.

Watching: The background noise for my writing this month has largely been Dragon’s Den reruns on Netflix. I love Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank or any show where entrepreneurs are showcased—I admire anyone who can put themselves out there, and I love seeing the different inventions that people conjure up!

While I’m a bit sad to see August go, I’m starting to get the teensiest bit antsy for fall– for boots and pumpkin pie-flavored everything and crisp air and the changing leaves in the woods. Enjoy the last days of summer, everyone!

Why You Should Hit Send

It’s that time of year again… time for the fabulous Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars contest! The mentor wish list/bio bloghop happens from August 4-18, and the submission window opens on August 18.

As some of you probably know, I was a Pitch Wars mentee last year. And as some of you may not know, I almost didn’t enter Pitch Wars. I had convinced myself that the competition was too stiff, that I wasn’t ready, that my manuscript wouldn’t be what the mentors were looking for.

You know, the typical excuses of the insecure writer.

On submission day, I waffled about entering all morning and afternoon. I had already spent hours reading the mentor bios and whittling my choices down to four. I had a query and pages ready to go, but I stalled and stalled until I was sick of my own excuses. Finally, I just hit send. I figured, why not? What’s the worst that could happen? I had a brand new YA manuscript that had never been queried or entered in a contest before. If it didn’t get chosen, I would take that as a cue that it needed more work before being sent into the world. I would at least have tried.

But much to my surprise (and delight!) I got picked by two mentors, Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich. (They are both mentors this year too!) I was chosen as Lori’s mentee and Evelyn’s first alternate. I was so happy that my manuscript resonated with both of these amazing ladies, and I buckled down to work hard.

And work hard I did. With revision notes from Lori on my full manuscript, I made a schedule that would allow me to edit and incorporate all of her feedback. I also spent a lot of time crafting a pitch and honing my query with both Lori and Evelyn. Our efforts paid off: during the agent round, I got eight agent requests for FIRSTS (plus one ninja request).

It was a whirlwind. A crazy, amazing experience that changed my writing for the best. So I wanted to pay it forward with some of my tips for getting the most out of Pitch Wars.

If you’re chosen:

  • Have an open mind. Take your mentor feedback seriously. Before Pitch Wars, I had never had any of my manuscripts read by another writer (big mistake, I know). Lori picked up on so much that I would have glazed over—plot holes, character inconsistencies, places where words had been overused, spots where sentences could be smoother. Evelyn and Lori looked over several pitches and helped refine until we had the perfect one. Point is, you enter this contest to make your manuscript better—so be open to ripping it apart and changing what isn’t working, from your title to your pitch to your whole plot.
  • Be active on Twitter. I’m a generally shy person, but I wouldn’t have gotten nearly the same PitchWars experience if I hadn’t followed my fellow writers on Twitter and gotten to know them and their amazing manuscripts. I found that I was cheering for other people even more than myself! I was lucky enough to become friends with fellow Team Evelyn member Emily Martin, who is now my awesome CP. (Emily is a mentor this year and is seriously brilliant, by the way!) I loved the way everybody supported everyone else, and the genuine team atmosphere. It’s a great feeling knowing that so many encouraging people are rooting for your success.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush your revisions. They won’t happen overnight, nor should they. Having a schedule helped me complete things on time, but when Lori advised me to do a final read-through to check for places that were still rough around the edges, I took her advice and I’m so glad I did. Turns out, my manuscript needed that extra mini-round of edits and I’m glad I completed them before turning it in to agents. Yes, agents would rather you take your time and wait a few days than have you send them a subpar manuscript. This is your chance to show off your best work, so take the time you need!
  • Start thinking of a pitch early on. Be able to describe your manuscript in just a couple of sentences. This will really help later on. I found that writing a pitch was just about as hard as writing a whole novel, so being able to whittle your manuscript down (ideally to 50 words or less!) is an invaluable skill.
  • If you don’t get requests in the agent round, don’t stress out about it. Your entry was chosen for a reason– because a mentor saw something special in your writing– and you are well on your way. You can still query the old-fashioned way. And if you do get requests, don’t be shy to send queries out after Pitch Wars too. I found my agent, the wonderful Kathleen Rushall, while querying.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The mentors are there to answer them, whether to elaborate on a suggestion they made or hear a new idea. My mentors were both so easy to talk to and bounce ideas off, and they gave such great pep talks during the agent round too!

 

If you don’t get chosen:

  • Keep writing. This is the biggest one. Keep remembering why you write—because you love it—and write the story you want to write, not the one you think will sell. You can worry about the rest later. Don’t be hard on yourself because you weren’t chosen– because if you keep writing, you will be chosen someday. You will find the route to getting your work into the world– the path that works for you.
  • Find a CP who you trust. This person will be very important to your development as a writer. This person is not just somebody who tells you everything you write is amazing—he or she is somebody who will dig deeper and help you uncover issues that you might not notice yourself. He or she will push you to make your work the best it can possibly be. He or she will tell you what’s working and what isn’t, and that feedback is so essential to thinking outside the box in an isolated profession like writing.
  • Research agents and what they are looking for. I stalked agency websites, followed agents on Twitter, and made a query spreadsheet with agent names and notes about each one. I read agent interviews and made a list of agents I thought would be a good fit for FIRSTS. This takes time and effort, but it’s so worth it. If you aren’t focused, chances are you aren’t getting your work in front of the right people.
  • Send out queries. Different writers have different strategies. Some send in large batches, some in small. I was in the latter camp. I tweaked FIRSTS constantly and didn’t stop thinking about how to make it better. After shelving my first manuscript, I was much more focused with FIRSTS. I only sent it to agents I thought would be a really good fit– agents I would be thrilled to work with if they offered rep.
  • Read, read, read. When I queried my first manuscript (a NA contemporary), I admittedly hadn’t read much NA. But before, during, and after I wrote FIRSTS, I read tons of YA. I read works from writers whose work had things in common with mine and writers whose work was nothing like mine. I read light, humorous books along with darker ones. Reading not only educates you in the market you’re hoping to break into, but also lets you see why these books got published. Voice, tension, characters, great plot twists—they’re all there, and you can learn from them.
  • Enter other contests. Even if you don’t get picked—or if you get picked but don’t get requests—you’ll make friends and connections along the way, and that’s the best part.

Hopefully this post has been helpful for anybody on the fence about hitting send. I wish everybody entering the very best of luck this year. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines! If anyone has specific Pitch Wars questions, I’m happy to answer. You can find me on twitter at @laurellizabeth.

Click here to visit my amazing mentor Lori’s website and read more about my Pitch Wars experience and what happened after.

Oh, and for anyone who is interested, here is my pitch from last year’s competition!

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes provides a unique service to the virgins of Milton High: the opportunity to get their awkward first time over with, judgment-free. But when her best friend’s boyfriend wants into her bedroom, it’s not just her secret that spirals out of control, it’s her life.

Happy writing/pitching/querying, everyone!

My PitchWars Experience

Here we are, on the eve of PitchWars! For those of us who participated, it’s kind of like Christmas Eve, with even more excitement and definitely more nerves.

I can’t believe how fast this month has gone by… and I’m pretty sure I have never said that about January before, because here in Canada, the abundance of show usually makes January intolerable. But because most of my free time has been devoted to everything PitchWars– doing revisions, crafting pitches, corresponding with mentors– the time just flew.

I went into PitchWars really hoping for somebody to come in and pick apart my manuscript and suggest changes to make the MS stronger as a whole. I definitely got that and a whole lot more! When I first heard about the contest and checked out all of the mentors, I was overwhelmed with the number of amazing people I could submit my work to. The hardest part was narrowing it down to four! But two mentors really stood out from the start– Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich. Their wish lists aligned the best with what I had written, and I got a sense of their personalities and thought we would be a good match.

Unlike many other hopeful mentees, I didn’t have the chance to scroll obsessively through the pre-PitchWars Twitter feed because I had laser eye surgery done that week. I had to stay away from my computer and phone for a full twenty-four hours, and I was instructed to avoid staring at devices for the first few days afterwards (torture, right?). Lori and Evelyn both emailed me to ask for more chapters and a synopsis, so I used my spurts on the computer wisely. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t stalk the Twitter feed, because I think staying away helped me keep my sanity.

Imagine all of our surprise when the mentors’ picks were announced early on Brenda Drake’s blog. THAT day I couldn’t stay off the Twitter feed. I was happy– and shocked!– to see my name twice under the mentors’ choices. I was chosen as Lori’s mentee and Evelyn’s first alternate. I felt like I had won the mentor lottery (a feeling that was validated many times afterward)!

Lori and Evelyn both helped me so much with my manuscript, which went into the contest with the title FAST GIRL and is now called FIRSTS (one of the many things my mentors guided me on). Lori read the full MS and her level of feedback absolutely blew me away. She was so detailed and thorough, and best of all, she really understood where I wanted to go with the MS. All of the changes she proposed were things I knew would strengthen the MS, and did. She taught me to consider every word choice and to always make sure I was always saying something in the most effective way. She let me know where I needed more emotion to make my main character more relatable. She pointed out my filter words (“look” was seriously overused!). Lori and Evelyn both helped me craft a more effective query letter, and they worked with me to create a pitch to use in the agent round. They worked incredibly hard for me!

I honestly can’t thank my mentors enough. I have learned so much from them, and I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world. I’m so glad I got to know Lori and Evelyn over the past couple of months. They’re wonderful people and amazingly talented writers. I can’t wait to buy all their books. I’m also grateful that I got to know the other mentees. I will keep my fingers crossed that everybody gets lots of requests, and I can’t wait to hear about the good things that will happen for all of you!

PitchWars isn’t for writers who don’t like critiques. PitchWars is for writers who are open to making changes, to ripping their MS apart to put it back together as something better. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. I got everything I hoped for out of PitchWars, plus a lot more. Thanks to my mentors, I’m more conscientious of my own writing and will apply the skills I learned to future WIPs as well. So if you’re a writer on the fence about applying, DO IT! You won’t regret it.

And of course, PitchWars wouldn’t be possible without Brenda Drake, the contest mastermind and all-around positive person in the writing community. Thank you, Brenda, for bringing so many writers together and forging a sense of community. We are all very appreciative!

Good luck to everyone tomorrow… I’ll be cheering for all of you!

(My lovely mentor Lori’s great post about what she looked for in a mentee!)

On 2013: The Learning Year

The tail end of 2012 and all of 2013 was a whirlwind.

I went to Africa. I got engaged. I moved. I made lots of paintings. I got married. I  finished and queried one book (WAITRESS) and wrote another (DAMSELS)– both New Adult contemporaries. I got several requests for partials and fulls– and also my share of rejections. I got great feedback that I will never forget. I accepted that it’s okay if your first book isn’t “the one,” or even your second or third or tenth, as long as you keep writing. Then, on a whim, I wrote a third book (FIRSTS), a Young Adult contemporary. An idea popped into my head and the book pretty much wrote itself. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen all of the time?) I completed it in approximately three weeks.

2013 was a year of learning for me. I learned how I write best, how to write faster, how to use my time more efficiently. I learned to be less critical of my writing, and I learned that putting ideas on paper is the only way to ensure they become something other than an idea. I used to be almost afraid to write because I thought I was bound to disappoint myself– nothing could live up to the expectations I set in my head. But now I realize that NOT writing would be the only way to do that. Because to get anything remotely resembling a novel, you have to start with words.

I found out last year that I’m a full-fledged pantser. When I wrote WAITRESS, I tried plotting and felt completely stifled. I made outlines and didn’t follow them, and found my characters getting up to things I didn’t plan. I got frustrated that I wasn’t following my own formula. So when an idea came to me for DAMSELS, I decided to just fly with it and not outline at all. I let the characters dictate what happened next. And it was a hell of a lot more fun for me. I didn’t always feel in control– and I liked it. I thought DAMSELS would be a possible trilogy or series, but I haven’t written the sequel yet– mostly because of FIRSTS and the urgency with which it infiltrated my mind.

I also read a lot last year. I read New Adult, Young Adult, thrillers, classics, non-fiction. I have always been a voracious reader, but last year I read with a purpose. I read critically, and I sought out those “it” factors that made me interested in a book. I thought a lot about what makes a book readable, and what it came down to for me wasn’t necessarily genre or style or voice (although voice is an undeniably huge factor). But what makes a book a great book, for me, is that I just can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s the suspense, the tension, the stakes, the hook.

This year, I have several ideas that are practically beating against the inside of my brain. I used to worry about not being able to generate ideas for books, and I wondered how authors could keep coming up with fresh material time and time again. But I’m learning that it’s about going with your instinct and writing the story that only you can write.

So going into 2014, I set some goals for myself to build on what I learned in 2013. I’m going to research and query with the hopes of finding an agent, but I won’t make the mistake of waiting for something to happen without working on another project. I always want to feel excited by a project and my ability to grow, and I think part of that is always working on something besides what you’re querying. Mostly, I want to always remind myself exactly how much I love writing. I’m going to keep creating characters and their stories, because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

This blog is another goal for 2014. One of the best things I did last year was join the online writing community. I met some awesome writers on Agent Query Connect, which is a terrific resource for aspiring writers. I also created a Twitter account and met more great people there. Twitter exposed me to the world of contests, which was both overwhelming and rewarding. I learned the art of creating pitches for my books in 140 characters or less– and if there’s one thing harder than writing a book, it’s writing a pitch. I submitted FIRSTS (previously titled FAST GIRL) to Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars last month and was lucky enough to be chosen as Lori Goldstein‘s  mentee and Evelyn Ehrlich‘s first alternate. Working with these talented ladies has been a truly wonderful experience, and FIRSTS– and my writing in general– has improved as a result.

I put off starting a blog because I questioned whether I had anything interesting or original to say, but 2014 is also going to be the year I put myself out there a bit more. I want to connect with even more amazing people in the writing community, and I want to support other writers. I want to make this a space where I share my thoughts and things that inspire me.

Happy 2014, and happy writing! If you have stumbled upon my site, I hope you come again.

— Laurie

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