Category: Publishing

The Tw(itter P)itch is just the beginning

I’ve received some lovely emails these last few days from writers whose pitches I reviewed and workshopped until I thought they were strong and unique enough to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention in the mad #PitchMAS feed last week. I noticed with undeniably smug satisfaction that some of the pitches I said were winners received requests. Not all of the pitches I critiqued got starred, which made me a bit sad, but out of twenty-something writers, it looked like about 14 received requests.

Those aren’t bad odds. It kind of makes me feel like a fairy godmother, except I know I’m not.

Disney’s Fairy Godmother, circa 1950 Yeah, this is so not me.

Now that the #PitchMAS Twitter party is over, it’s really just the start for these authors. A request from a pitch party is nothing more than an opportunity to move your query to the top of the pile. It’s not a guarantee of an offer of representation or publication. Yes, agents and editors have shown interest in the general concept, but you can only get so much across in 140 characters. A pitch is like a teaser promise: It’s supposed to hook the reader into the story. So now that an agent or editor is intrigued, it’s time for the writer to deliver on that promise.

To carry the Cinderella metaphor further, the pitch gets you to the ball. Whether or not Prince Charming falls in love with you is entirely on you.

I lucked out with my first Twitter pitch party event. My pitch not only caught an agent’s eye—it caught the agent’s eye, the agent I knew I wanted to represent me while I was still researching her. But here’s the thing: Not every story lends itself to 140 characters. Some stories require that full three- to five-paragraph query letter to grab an agent’s attention. And all stories require a well-written text.

So I hope each of the writers whose pitches I reviewed finds a good home for their manuscripts. I hope they find agents—and ultimately editors—who love their novels and are as passionate about them as their respective authors are.

And when the next pitch party rolls around, I’ll show up beforehand to offer help to anyone who asks.

Let’s (Twitter pitch) party!

Those following me on Twitter (or stumbled upon my blog or this post via Twitter), know I’ve extended an offer to review people’s Twitter pitches (which I prefer calling “Twitches”) before Twitter pitch parties. The fabulous ladies behind #PitchMAS, a contest in which unagented writers are invited to pitch finished and polished manuscripts, have organized a Twitter pitch party for Friday, December 20, and I’m eager to help others hone their Twitches.

But why me? What makes me so qualified to critique pitches and tell people how to make their Twitches stand out?

Well, that’s kind of a fun(ny) story.

At the end of January, I stumbled upon #PitMad, a Twitter pitch party organized by author Brenda Drake to coincide with her Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness competitions.

Keep in mind, I was still new to the whole book scene. (Who am I kidding? I still am.) I had just finished writing my first novel at the end of November. I painstakingly revised it, carefully listening to feedback from friends and early readers, but I knew very little about querying and even less about pitch contests. I was still honing my elevator pitch and was proud of myself for managing to condense my concept into a 140-character tweet.

Twitter, by the way, is not the place to pitch to agents or editors. Unless there is a specific call for it or a Twitter Pitch Party (like #PitchMAS or #PitMad), it is not the way to present your idea to agents and editors. Twitter is for engaging, for getting to know people, for demonstrating that you’re an interesting person. It’s not for pitching (or, later, for constantly advertising your book).

Anyway, back to #PitMad. As I mentioned, I stumbled upon it. I had no idea it was happening or what it was. I just saw a number of agents I followed were tweeting about it, and when I checked it out, I realized it was something I could do. I had a completed manuscript. I had a query letter written. (It wasn’t very good and my writing group hadn’t had a chance to look at it, but it was done.) And just the night before, I squeezed my pitch into 140 characters.

So I bit the metaphorical bullet and tweeted it.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

To pay it forward, I’m reviewing Twitches for anyone who emails me (emcaines {at} outlook {dot} com) for Friday’s upcoming #PitchMAS Twitter Pitch Party. I’ll review them for other pitch parties, too, for as long as they’re in vogue because it’s a simple way to help my fellow writers stand out a bit.

The irony, of course, is my own pitch above doesn’t exactly follow the advice I’m dispensing to help others’ pitches stand out. My pitch was for a fairy tale retelling with almost universally familiar characters; I merely had to explain how mine was different. Most of the pitches I’ve seen so far don’t have that same luxury.

So I suggest treating pitches as news headlines to help determine the most important facets of the story. What’s the absolute most important thing you want a prospective agent or editor to know about your story? If you only had 10 seconds to talk to Agent Extraordinaire, what would you say to her? If you were in an elevator with Editor Awesome for one floor, how would you pitch your story?

I was thinking about other books I like and how I’d pitch them on Twitter if I had to. Let me know your thoughts.

Geneticist manages to breed dinosaurs for an island tourist spot, but dinos aren’t easy to manage when natural instincts take over. A/SF (136 characters)

Awkward & bullied telekinetic teen girl w ultraconservative mom has enough & wreaks havoc on Prom Night. YA/Thrill (114 characters)

Trojans v Spartans on the football field in a YA contemporary retelling of THE ILIAD. (85 characters)

As you can see, less is often more when you’re just trying to grab someone’s attention. If you have comp titles or if it’s a retelling of something, use that. Grab attention any way you can.

Oh, and while you strategize your Twitter pitch party appearances, take heed of agent extraordinaire Julia A. Weber’s fantastic Dos and Don’ts for pitch contests.

Best of luck!

ONE MORE DAY (Blog) Tour Stop!

I’m super excited about this.

A few months ago, not long after I signed with my agent, I bought and read Reaper by L.S. Murphy, one of my agent-sisters. We got to know each other via Twitter, met in real life, and have become (I think) pretty good friends.

So when she asked me if she could stop by for the (blog) tour of her latest work, a new anthology called One More Day, I immediately agreed.


The premise of One More Day is pretty interesting: What if today never ended? What if tomorrow never came?

L.S. Murphy headlines the anthology with her contribution, “The 13th Month.” She answered a few questions for me to include in this stop of her blog tour.

5 Questions with L.S. Murphy

1. What was the spark of inspiration for “The 13th Month”?

Actually, Nixon drove the story. I had the theme and his character popped into my head instantly. Even though I had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, I let Nixon show me the way. It’s a rare moment where I didn’t plot out the entire thing from beginning to end.

2. Which character(s) most resemble you?

Nixon does a little. He’s a bit of a smart aleck.

3. If you could travel anywhere at any time, where and when would you go?

London during Victorian times. I’m simply fascinated with that time period. Actually, I’d go to London pretty much any time except The Blitz. 🙂

4. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Never give up. If this is what you want to do, then keep striding toward that goal.

5. Finally, Beatles or Rolling Stones?

*snorts* Duh, Beatles.

Out of the Revision Cave (for now)

April was a brutal month. Not only was I involved in what felt like a million and three projects at work, I also gave myself an end-of-month deadline to get WTRPCPSU in as-perfect-as-I-could-make-it shape and returned to Julia.

Yeah, no pressure or anything.

As I feared suspected, I needed to do two passes to get my novel right. In the process, though, I’ve identified three fantastic ladies who served as beta readers and whom I’ve elevated to alpha status. (I don’t know if Alpha Readers are even a thing; if they weren’t, they are now.) While I valued all the feedback I got from everyone who read it, their feedback was amazingly beneficial. One day, I hope to return the favor to them, but these are ladies I want to keep close to me for as long as I can.

The month has taken its toll on me, as evidenced by the extra pounds the scale is adding to my weight and the occasional nightmare that floods my brain. But it’s over, my revisions are done, Julia has the shiny new-and-improved manuscript, and I can turn my attention back to the work-in-progress, which is now tentatively titled ILHILHN.

But a writer’s work is never truly done, and I’ve given myself a goal to get a first draft of ILHILHN finished by the end of the month. (Of course, I’m blogging instead of writing, so I’m not exactly off to a great start.) And this particular month includes The Boy’s graduation from Kindergarten, an entire week he’ll be off from school (summer camp doesn’t begin until the first week of June), and a possible trip to New York to meet Julia in person. Add to that a frighteningly full workload at the office, and you’ve got my crazy schedule.

So if I’m sparse, please forgive me. I’ll try to check in at least once a week. But if I’m writing, there’s a high probability it will be on ILHILHN and not the blog.

My thoughts on the “New Adult” genre

One of the new(ish) buzzwords in the publishing industry is “New Adult”. I can’t go a day without someone mentioning something about it in my Twitterfeed or seeing it talked about in a blog post or in a writing-related article.

New Adult is, for all intents and purposes, really just a shelf label. It’s a marketing tool, just like “Young Adult” and “Middle Grade” are both marketing tools. I mean, it was coined by a publishing imprint. If that’s not a sign of being a marketing tool, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been giving the whole New Adult thing a good deal of thought, since it currently seems de rigueur for an author to at least be thinking about a New Adult concept, or at least have an idea of how she might approach it. And here’s what I’ve decided:

New Adult is that time when you’ve left the structured confines of school and/or living at home and you’re striking out on your own for the very first time.

It’s not an age, per se. A New Adult novel could have a protagonist who is a recent high school graduate, someone in their mid-twenties, someone in their late twenties, or even someone in their early thirties. It’s not about age: It’s about the life stage.

“What are you talking about?” you ask. “Give me some examples!”

If you’d like to watch a few movies that illustrate the time period I’m thinking of, check out Reality Bites. (No, really. Click on the link to the trailer above if you haven’t seen the movie before, or if it’s been a really long time, or if you just want to drool over Ethan Hawke in all his yummy GenX glory.) This is definitely New Adult. St. Elmo’s Fire, too. I think Singles is on the older end of New Adult, but it definitely qualifies in my mind. Want something a little more recent? How about American Reunion?

Are TV shows more your thing? Consider Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23 or see if you can catch earlier episodes of Melrose Place. And of course Girls on HBO is a perfect example of what I would consider New Adult.

If Middle Grade is about capturing a time when anything is possible and Young Adult chronicles a time when everything is tragic, I see New Adult as the combination of the two. Anything is possible, but any failure is tragic. Gone are the rigid confines of school (though I think characters in grad school, law school, and med school would still qualify) and parental authority. Now the burden falls entirely on you, and you no longer have that safety net to catch you.

You’ve been on your own long enough to let your crazy side loose (if you have one), so you’ve already Been There Done That.

You’re embarking on your first career, maybe planning a wedding, maybe watching your friends get married and wondering if you’ll ever meet That Guy.

You’ve experienced just enough to think you’re worldly but haven’t quite realized there’s a hell of a lot more that you don’t quite know yet – and you hate it when people condescendingly pat you on the head and say, “Yeah, well, you’ll learn.”

You’ve survived adolescence and are back to thinking that you can do anything you set your mind to doing – and that’s awesome because you haven’t yet learned that there are limits to what you can do.

Like I said: I think New Adult is a life stage. Maybe your character is newly out of high school and is thrust into the very scary Adult World. Maybe your character is still in college and figuring out how to pay tuition and bills and expenses on her own. Maybe your character is a new college grad desperately seeking a job – any job – to make ends meet.

There’s way more drama in New Adult than in Young Adult, but on such a different level. There’s a lot more at stake – real things, like the potential of getting your car repossessed or facing eviction from your apartment. Sure, your character can believe anything is possible, but she’s got a whole lot more on the line if she fails because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be there to help pick up the pieces. (And if they are, she wouldn’t want them to be.)

Am I right in my approach to it? I have no idea. I’m not a published author (yet), nor am I an expert on the publishing industry. From what I can tell, the general consensus lumps college experiences in with New Adult, but I respectfully disagree. I also disagree with those who think New Adult is just “sexed up YA.” But I do agree with those who say that New Adult stories represent that time between being an Angsty teenager and being an established woman.

And based on my experiences, there’s no magic age when you’re suddenly “experienced.” That title comes after a lot of – you guessed it – experiences.

Writerly Confessions: Love and Agents

I have a confession to make:

I’m addicted to following stalking spying on agents on Twitter.

Let’s just call it what it is. I’m not really stalking any of them, as I no long have any intentions of submitting queries to them. After all, I do have a rather fabulous agent of my own, and I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China.

But still I enjoy reading their advice on what to do (and especially what not to do) when sending out query letters, and the agents I follow (a) all seem to know each other (which only shows how very small the world of publishing is), (b) share some pretty hilarious banter, and (c) seem like really amazing people. Plus, they are so much better read than I am, which is so awesome considering that I caused a coworker to look up the word “aplomb” in the dictionary the other day (that gives you insight into who I surround myself with on a daily basis).

So what is it about these agents that makes me so interested in what they do?

Aside from just general interest in the whole process, I’m still trying to figure that out.

Let me take a moment to make a quick PSA to every writer out there who might be reading my blog: Whether or not you are in the querying trenches, you should be on Twitter and following agents who rep your style of writing, editors who publish your style of writing, and fellow writers of all genres. You will learn a lot about what not to do, you’ll see contest announcements, and you’ll begin to develop an appreciation for what it is that agents do and the process in getting a book from manuscript to print. I, for one, am incredibly humbled and view my books in a whole new light.

Anyway, my agent tweeted something earlier this week that made me smile:

When I signed with Julia, my Twittersphere exploded with congratulatory messages from both agented and non-agented writers. I got messages from other agents, from editors, from about a hundred people I’d never met before. The number of people following my Twitterfeed tripled overnight and doubled again over the weekend. (In fairness, it was a very small number to begin with.) And everyone I encountered was so amazingly happy for me.

It was a glimpse into a part of the writing world that I never knew existed, but I am so thankful that it does.

So on to what prompted tonight’s post.

I checked my Twitterfeed while I was at The Boy’s school waiting for him to use the restroom before I drove us home. Every now and then, Sara Megibow will do something she calls #5pagesin5tweets. I enjoy this feature a lot, and not just because it gives great insight into what she thinks while she’s considering a submission. It’s because – and this is going to sound crazy – I’m rooting for the manuscript.

There. I said it.

I once read somewhere that agents open every querying email with hope. They aren’t looking to hate your work. They want to love it. They understand how much you’ve poured into the story you’re sending them. They know how much trepidation you feel just piecing together that query letter. They know how nervous you are before you send it and how anxious you are as you wait for a response. And they don’t want to reject your manuscript. So when Sara does her #5pagesin5tweets, I get kind of giddy and hopeful that she’ll find something she loves. And when I see tweets from other agents talking about manuscripts that they fell in love with, I’m so happy for them.

I realized it’s a lot like being madly in love: When you’re in love, you want the rest of the world to find love, too. When you’re glowing from pregnancy, you want all your girlfriends to be pregnant, too. When you’re raising a precious child and basking in all his accomplishment, you want the same for your friends, too.

It’s not that different. When you’ve successfully signed with an agent, you want every other writer to be signed to. And I have a feeling that once I sell my book and see it on the shelves, I’m going to want everyone else to hurry up and get their books onto shelves, too.

It’s a crazy euphoria that you get to feel all over again every time you see someone retweet the I-Have-An-Agent announcement or read the How-I-Got-The-Call blog post.

And it never gets old.

How I Met My Agent

So, if you read my last entry, you’ve already seen the best seven words I’ve read in a really long time.

I’ve kept mum on some amazing things that transpired over the last week, mainly because I didn’t want to share something that I was still unsure about. But now that this story is complete, I can share it!

It began last Friday during a Twitter event. I wasn’t entirely certain that I (or my manuscript) was ready, but I took a chance and tweeted my pitch. I mean, the worst that could happen was that no one would respond to it, right?

But I got responses – and one of those came from an agent I had been stalking studying following on Twitter. Her name appeared in one of Chuck Sambuchino’s agent posts, and when I first read about her, I immediately wanted to send her my manuscript and hear her tell me she loved it. But I didn’t. I read more of her interviews (of which there aren’t many) and guest blog posts (again, not many of those), and I followed her on Twitter while I dutifully honed my manuscript. And the more I read about her, the more I really wanted her to love my manuscript and represent me.

No pressure or anything, but I had decided she was my Dream Agent. (Oh, yes – the big D and big A are intentional.)

So Dream Agent was the third person who showed interest in my manuscript. (You’d better believe that I freaked out.) The fourth came from a new agent at a prestigious agency who (from what I could tell from the limited posts on his blog) is passionate about good literature and who I had already decided was my #3 agent choice, so I was super excited about seeing interest from him.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made sure I sent out all the requested materials right away – and following each agency’s guidelines. I carefully read (and re-read – and sometimes re-read) guidelines before submitting just because I knew I wouldn’t get a second chance to get this right, especially with Dream Agent and #3 agent choice.

And then I waited.

Oh, that full manuscript request that came in Saturday morning? It was from a small romance imprint that reached out to me with an offer to acquire on Monday after the agent who wasn’t at the top of my List of Agents to Query rejected me. And the offer looked good. Really enticing, in fact. But Dream Agent hadn’t gotten back to me, and I hadn’t heard from #3, either, so I sent them both gentle nudges to say, “Hi, I hate to bother you, but I’m going to, anyway because this just happened.

Dream Agent got back to me almost straightaway with a request for a full. I think I audibly squealed, ran down the hall to tell my coworker, then composed myself, calmly returned to my desk, and submitted my full manuscript. My hand was shaking when I hit send. She replied and promised to get back to me Friday. Meanwhile, #3 was silent, and I needed to acknowledge the publisher’s offer.

I reached out to the publisher and asked if I could call her late in the week. We set up a call for Thursday afternoon, and while I waited for Thursday to come, I kept checking my In Box hoping for a message from either Dream Agent or #3.

Still, nothing.

So I spoke to the publisher on Thursday. And I really like her. I made a mental list of pros and cons of the offer, and I decided that was my fall-back option, my “safety school,” if you will. I asked my cousin to (re)introduce me to colleagues who were familiar with intellectual property law in the event that I didn’t get accepted by my first choice (Dream Agent) or second choice (#3 – but that’s because I didn’t query the agent who would have been in the #2 slot). I made sure that I had everything properly set up so I would be in the position to accept an offer and sign a contract or agreement fairly quickly.

No matter what, I was poised to win. Either I would sign with an agent who would be my advocate and help me navigate through the crazy world of publishing or I would sign a contract with a small publisher so that I could get some published titles under my belt and use that as something that might later entice an agent to represent me.

Obviously, my preference was to have an agent.

Agent #3 emailed me last night apologizing for not responding sooner and requesting my full manuscript. As I promised the publisher a reply no later than Saturday morning, I sent him my manuscript and let him know my deadline.

Well, it wouldn’t hurt, right?

And then early this morning, I got The Offer from Dream Agent, and I bolted upright and accepted immediately even though she had even written a post saying that’s precisely what not to do. But she was kind and suggested we speak before she has to leave the country for about ten days, and we set up an appointment to speak via Skype.

The call lasted about 80 minutes. She knew my manuscript as well as I did. She loved my characters as much as I did. She suggested tweaks that no one had ever mentioned before. She called out areas that needed tightening and others that needed some expansion. She noticed that most of my extraneous characters’ names began with the letter C. Plus, when we talked about ideas I have for forthcoming manuscripts, she was enthusiastic and so eager to read my work. I felt the need to write the best possible manuscript just so she would (a) enjoy reading it and (b) have fun selling it.

It was incredible. It was exhilarating.

It was complete affirmation that she was DEFINITELY the right agent for me.

And so, it is with great enthusiasm and pride that I am ecstatic to announce that yours truly is now being represented by Julia A. Weber of J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH.

Now, I’m certainly in no position to host big events like other authors have done to help their fellow writers find agents, but I do feel the need to pay it forward. When I think of it, I’ll share it.

In the meantime, I have another story to plot.

A bittersweet anniversary

Five years ago this morning, I received the most devastating news that changed my world forever: I learned my mother had passed.

I don’t know how I recovered from it. I didn’t think I ever would. It took a long time (and therapy) to get back to functional.

So that’s the bitter part. The sweet? Today will now mark the anniversary of when I became an agented author.

I got the email early this morning, about the same time I got that awful call five years ago. My 5-year-old woke up at around 3AM asking me to cuddle him.

“I felt something rubbing my back,” he said when I asked if he had a bad dream, “and so I woke up.”

I like to think that was Mom paying him a visit.

As much as I wanted to, I wasn’t able to get back to sleep. I checked my email, checked Twitter, played my turn on Words with Friends against my husband, and emailed my dad to wish him a happy 70th birthday.

And then I saw that I had unread email. And it was from the agent I had been stalking studying following on Twitter after I’d read some interviews and decided she was The One.

I promised you to get back to you by today and well, I literally JUST finished your manuscript — and my heart is beating like crazy.  I loved it, I really did (I also think I might have an unhealthy crush on Tim!). So yes, I’d like to offer you my representation.

Commence freak out… NOW! Because after reading those last 7 words (and especially as she is leaving on a huge world tour tomorrow), sleep wasn’t exactly going to pay me another visit.

That’s all I’m willing to share right now, as I have a call with her at 11:30. I’ve really only got a handful of questions for her now before I sign the agency agreement, but there’s always that chance (however slim) that we may meet via Skype and decide it’s not the right fit, after all.

(To be continued…)

Thoughts on agents and agenting

About a week and a half ago, I read this post by literary agent Molly Jaffa about selling a book to foreign publishers. It wasn’t the journey she made to get this book translated and sold worldwide that made me sigh wistfully. It was the passion that she obviously felt for this title that made me want so badly to write something that an agent would love.

And I think that’s why I’m not so upset about being rejected. I mean, I want my agent to be passionate about my book. She (or he) would be the one who has to sell it to editors, anyway, and I know from my years in sales that it’s far easier to sell something that you love than something that you think is just okay.

So, if an agent doesn’t wax poetical about what I’ve written, I’m okay with getting passed over for something s/he does love. (I’m a bit jealous, but okay.)

Writing is such a hard business because everything is so subjective. As a writer, I’m asking people – total strangers, in fact – to leave their realities for a few hours so that I can tell them a story. Moreover, I’m asking people to pay me so that they can immerse themselves in whatever world I’ve created. That’s kind of a bold request, you know?

But I think that’s where having an agent almost validates my work as a writer. She (or he) reads a lot. A lot. Some of it is good, most of it is terrible, a bit of it is great. So getting that nod from an agent in the form of representation means that someone out there is pulling for your success not because s/he likes you but because s/he has just placed a bet on you. More than that, it means s/he’s out there hawking your words because s/he truly believes the rest of the world would love the story, too.

Of course, there are many agented authors out there who remain unknown, too. So it’s just as important to have the right agent who loves your work as it is to have written something the world would love.

It’s not you; it’s me.

I checked the email I reserve for all things writing-related just before lunch today. I’m a glutton for punishment; there was a part of me that was expecting hoping to see four emails telling me that my work wasn’t great and that they were passing on my novel.

What I found was one email:

Thank you for sharing your work with me. You write well, but I’m afraid that I just didn’t connect with this in the way that I’d hoped. Still, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work.

Translation: It’s not you; it’s me.

The really crazy thing is that this particular agent is one that I had researched and thought, Hmm, I don’t know if she’d love my novel the way I’d want her to. But as she requested a query and a few pages, I submitted. It wouldn’t be the first time that my gut instinct was wrong.

So getting a rejection letter from her – and such a positive one, at that – was kind of, well, not heartbreaking. I described it to my friend thus:

It’s like when you only like a guy because your friends told you he likes you but then you find out he really doesn’t like you, after all.

Yeah, it’s like that. Disappointing, but not disheartening.

But here’s the thing: Everyone gets rejected at some point. I mean, not everyone will love my work. I guess I could hope that everyone loves it, but the reality is different. So it’s okay.

Anyway, another agent (one I had been stalking studying following on Twitter) asked to see my full manuscript, so I’m not out of the game by any means.

All the same, a rejection is still a rejection, as subjective as this industry is.

Guess this makes me a real writer now!