Introducing NestPitch

There’s a special Easter tradition throughout central and northern Croatia – making Easter nests. On the afternoon or eve of Easter Saturday children go out into the garden and collect leaves, grass, twigs, flowers and then make a “nest” for the Easter Bunny – that’s where he places his Easter egg presents. The children go to bed that eve wondering if the Easter Bunny will like or love their nest, because the best nest gets the best and biggest eggs!

NestPitch is based on this idea where an author’s ‘pitch’ is the nest and the Easter Treats are the Agents requests.

Aboriginal BilbyThe submission window opens on 1st April.

Once Submissions are closed, firstly the SLUSH BILBIES will go through the submissions and pick the top 100-120. Then the NEST BLOGGERS will each pick eight of  their best and brightest NESTS and post on their blogs.

After that, the SECRECT AGENT BUNNIES will jump from blog site to blog site and leave their Easter treats.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I AM A SLUSH BILBY! (A bilby is an adorable, long-eared, endangered Australian marsupial. You can of course see the resemblance…right?) You think I’d have learned from the madness that was Pitcharama how hard it is to choose between a whole bunch of awesome pitches. But no, apparently not.

In just over 24 hours, the Pre-Pitch Post clinic starts, for those of you that want to have someone look at your pitch. The details are here. And the rules for NestPitch are here.

If you’re wondering why the mix of Croatian and Australian, that’s because the host of the contest, Nikola  Vukoja, is exactly that. Running these sorts of contests is hard, so show her the Twitter love here, mkay?

And if anyone wants to send me masses of chocolate on 1st April, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Formatting tricks in MS Word

I originally posted this over at Aussie Owned and Read in May. I decided my blog needs a few more yawns and a little less excitement (lol), so here it is again for those that missed it.

I can’t decide if this is going to be the most boring blog post in the history of the world, or extremely useful. It may actually be both—I shouldn’t limit myself to a single option, I suppose!

I’m here to talk to you about Microsoft Word formatting tricks to save time when you’re reformatting your manuscripts to meet different agents’ or publishers’ requirements (or so they look correct in blogs; I just had to fix this one using one of these tricks). These tips have all been written for Microsoft 2010, but they work in 1997–2003 as well; they just won’t appear quite the same way on the screen.

Anyway, say you’ve got your beautiful manuscript, and you’ve written it in a standard paragraph format, with an indent at the front of each paragraph. An agent asks you to submit it with no indent and an extra carriage return between paragraphs, like this post. You don’t have to do it all by hand: there are a couple of quick tricks you can use to reformat the entire document in seconds.

The first step is to get rid of the indents at the front of the paragraphs.

How to access the paragraph formatting box: click the little arrow in the bottom right corner

How to access the paragraph formatting box: click the little arrow in the bottom right corner

If you’ve used the hanging indent option it’s easy enough: just select all your text, go into the Paragraph box, and set the indentations to 0pt and none. (If you don’t know, the paragraph box is on the Home ribbon; you access it by pressing the little arrow in the bottom right corner of the box.)

But if you’ve used the spacebar to indent, you need to use the Find and Replace tool. (Press CTRL+F and then click on the down arrow at the far right of the search box and choose Replace.) In the find cell, put the number of spaces you used (say three). Leave the replace cell empty and hit Replace All. That should remove all your indents—although you’ll want to run your eye over it to make sure you haven’t used a different number of spaces anywhere. (This is also the way I reduce two spaces after a sentence down to one.)

Then you need to add that extra carriage return.

This is the sneaky bit. Go back into Find and Replace. In the find cell, write ^p. In the replace cell, write ^p^p.  The caret (that’s what the little upside-down v is called) tells Word to look for the paragraph character. Then hit Replace All again.

Ta da! (Okay, I know I’m the only one excited about this, but can you at least pretend to be excited?)

Obviously you can also use this tip to go the other way as well, reducing two carriage returns to one and then adding indents.

Other Find and Replace functions

Other awesome functions of the Find and Replace tool include finding other special characters, and finding specific (or all) text in a certain format. All of these options are accessible from the Find and Replace tool if you click on the button that says More>>. The extra pane that opens up has two more buttons (Format and Special, funnily enough), which open up a world of new options.

Searching for an italicised word and replacing it with an unformatted version

Searching for an italicised word and replacing it with an unformatted version

For example, in my first manuscript I’d used a few foreign words (okay, words I made up) and italicised them throughout the entire document. But because they were used quite often, I later decided the italics were annoying. I didn’t want to search for every occurrence of the word and fix it by hand. And I also didn’t want to unitalicise the entire document—because I’d used italics for other things, like thoughts.

So I did a find and replace for each of the words formatted with italics, and replaced them with the same word with the font set to “Regular”. What could have been an hour’s work was done in minutes. (You can also search for all examples of italicised/underlined/whatevered text by leaving the find box empty but specifying the format.)

Another example would be if you’ve used tabs to indent your paragraphs rather than spaces or indents, and you want to change it to (say) spaces. If you look in the Special dropdown list, you can see that the tab character is ^t. So if you find ^t and replace with three spaces, Word will take care of it for you.

Format Painter

Format Painter: my favourite and my best

Format Painter: my favourite and my best

The last tool I want to mention is a little gem called Format Painter. You may not use it much in drafting a novel, but it is pure gold for a document with different styles, such as a non-fiction manuscript, essay or newsletter. Format Painter lives on the Home ribbon.

Put your cursor in a block of text with the correct formatting, and then click that button. Then click on the paragraph you want to apply the correct formatting to. Voila! All of the formatting should be applied to the new paragraph. (I say “should” because sometimes it’s a little flaky. But it usually works a treat!)

So, those are my favourite Microsoft Word formatting tips. I hope they help you as much as they help me. Do you have a favourite formatting trick? I’d love to hear about it.

Hey! Are you still awake? *pokes*

Why I have an agent

Today’s guest post is by Amy Reichert. I’ve had a few posts on indie publishing and small presses, so I’m really happy that she and Emery (see previous post) have provided us with the other side of the coin. I’m all about “fair and balanced”. 😉 

When Cassandra asked me to blog (and a huge thank you for that), she suggested I write about why I chose to go the agented route—I’m represented by the talented Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. My initial response was, “Why wouldn’t you?” But with the rise of small publishing houses and self-publishing, many do feel finding an agent isn’t worth the hassle. The queries, the rejections, dear God, the waiting. It can crush your writerly dreams like Snuffaluffagus on a grape. So, dear reader, your path to publishing is your own, but here are few reasons why I wanted an agent.

  1. Reassurance. You know that kid in school who always wanted the teacher’s approval. Or your co-worker that needs the pat on the head from the boss to feel good about his work? That’s me. I want someone in the publishing industry to read my book and say, “I read a lot of books and this is so good I will convince people to buy it and print it.” I don’t have the confidence or the balls to do that myself. I need the approval.
  2. Guaranteed Critique Partner. Critique partners are essential to making a manuscript better. If you don’t have some, get them. However, until you establish a solid circle of beta readers, it’s hard to tell if you’re getting the honesty you need. Many people aren’t comfortable telling you your writing sucks. Since my agent has a vested interest in my book being its best, I know she’ll give me high quality, blunt if necessary, feedback.
  3. Options. With an agent, I have all the options. I’m not limited to small presses or self-publishing. I could get a book deal with a big house, or medium, or still end up self-publishing (though that isn’t my preference—see the following reason). Together, my agent and I will discuss what is best for my book and my writing career, then work as a team to make that happen.
  4. Publisher. While having an agent leaves me with all the options, I really do want a publisher for my book. One that comes with an editor, a beautiful-cover designer, and people who know about paper, ink, and fonts. And maybe a little marketing on the side would be nice. I don’t want to do it all. I want to focus on writing and interacting with readers. Working with a publishing house gives me a team of experts who are there to help my book into the world. I’m willing to give up some creative control to have all that publishing knowledge.
  5. Negotiation. Unless I’m at a street market in Mexico (in which case I’m a badass negotiator), I suck at negotiating things. I don’t even like calling the cable company and asking for a refund when service goes out. My agent knows the industry and what would be a fair offer, what rights to give up, which rights to keep. She knows everything is open for negotiation. She will also play bad cop if I’m not happy with my publisher. This is good because I also don’t like conflict. I’m a midwesterner, I like to be agreeable and feed people.
  6. Knowledge. Legal contracts are complicated, nuanced beasts that even regular lawyers don’t understand completely, but agents eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As boring as they are, it’s what makes the publishing world clunk along. I want someone who will have my back and make sure I don’t give away my left kidney in exchange for an ebook deal.
  7. Money. I like money and I’d like more of it so I can take fun trips with my kids and maybe pay for their books when they finally go to college. Yes, every dollar I make will have a slice removed for my agent, but I’m more than OK with that. I feel that with her support in selling my book and future books, her knowledge of the industry, her negotiations skills, etc… I’ll make more money in the long run than if I went it alone. Maybe even enough for a fancy treadmill desk.

Have any questions for me? Ask in the comments, I love to share my wisdom. If I don’t know, I’ll just make up an answer.

Amy Reichert is a first-time novelist, mother of two (three if you count the dog—and you should), beloved wife, spectacular procrastinator, die-hard Harry Potter fan, and amateur baker. She earned her MA in English Literature and worked for several years as a technical writer. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s taking the children somewhere, drinking hard cider, or collecting more cookbooks than she could possibly use. Amy is represented by Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

You can find Amy at Twitter or her blog.


Pitcharama: what influenced my selections

The Pitcharama first-round selections were announced today over at Aussie Owned and Read. There are some great pitches there, although I’m sad we couldn’t take everyone through to the final round. (However, as I said yesterday, it’s not too late: the pitch-a-mate round opens tomorrow. Keep an eye on the blog for details.)

My three selections (in the order they were submitted) are:

You’ll see that I chose two young adult manuscripts (both urban fantasy) and one new adult (an m/m romance). There were a few things that influenced my decision.

1. I love urban fantasy.

I write it, I read it—it’s hardly surprising that I would lean toward choosing it. This should give you an idea of how subjective this process really is.

2. Word counts were a big factor.

YA can run from 50k to 80k (or up to 100k for fantasy, but better to keep it lower than that for a debut novel). I chose pitches for manuscripts in that ballpark. If you want to read a great blog post on word lengths, this is the one I use as my rule of thumb.

Some of the digital-only presses may care less about word count, since they don’t have to pay the larger cost of producing a fat novel. I don’t really know much about that, though, so I assumed the normal conventions would apply in this case.

3. I looked at the participating publishers’ preferences.

We have several presses looking for romance (at least one of which publishes m/m—I checked!). We have several that publish paranormal, UF and dark fantasy. So I tried to choose pitches that I thought those presses’ acquiring editors would be interested in, to give “my” three authors the best shot.

This, by the way, is the same process you should go through if you’re pitching to presses or agents directly: look at what they buy or represent. Look at their website to see what they’re after. Most of them are pretty upfront about it, and it saves you from wasting your time and theirs. And, even better, saves you from the heartbreak of a rejection you could have avoided.

Anyway, that’s it. Looking back over the post, it doesn’t seem like rocket science to me, but maybe it’s helpful to someone out there. A big snuggle-y thanks to everyone that has participated thus far!


Thoughts on pitching contests

I’ve got a new-found respect for agents.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I highly rate pitching contests. They are a great way to hone your pitch, query or first pages. And, just as great, you can get in touch with what I’ve discovered to be a supportive community of fellow writers, many of whom have great advice to offer or are just happy to be a cheer squad. I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for Pitch Wars (if you want to know why, I blogged about it here).

PitcharamaButton (3)And if you’ve been reading my blog for only a little while you’ll know that Aussie Owned and Read has been hosting its first pitching contest, where people can submit a 250 word blurb for their young adult or new adult manuscript. In the first round, the eight bloggers at Aussie Owned choose their favourites to progress to the final round. That is where we have eight small presses (nine editors) who will swing by to request the ones they’d like to see more of. (In the second round you can pitch your friends—that starts on 20 June so if you missed the first round it’s not too late!)

The first round closed last night and choosing three pitches from those that entered was SO HARD IT HURT MY BRAIN! Not in a bad way but in an “aaaah, I can’t choose” way! My original shortlist was 50 per cent of the total. I loved them all, and wanted to take them home with me. Like, really. I have a newfound respect for people like Brenda Drake and the writers who help her; she runs Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness. Our humble contest is only in its first year so we didn’t get nearly the number of entries she’d see in one of hers. (Not that I didn’t respect her before, but Oh. My. Gods!)

And that’s why I also have a newfound respect for agents. In a way they have it a bit easier than we did in choosing our pitches, because most of them request at least the first five pages, which gives them an idea of the voice and execution. But in another (much bigger) way, they have to read thousands upon thousands of queries a year. And they don’t even get paid for that part of their business, not until they choose a client and then sell their client’s work.

Wow. Just wow. You seriously have to love books, love stories and tales well told, to dedicate that amount of time to it. Because while all the pitches we saw were good, the same cannot be said for agents’ slush piles (or so I hear).

Agents, I doff my hat to you. Or I would if I was wearing one.

I doff my imaginary hat to you.

One more thing. If you’re reading this and you entered Pitcharama, I also wanted to say that, whether you’re one of my final choices or not, I respect the courage it takes to put yourself and your work out there. I know how stressful it is. Don’t give up.

Interview: Lauren Spieller on query letters

I interviewed Lauren over at Aussie Owned and Read.

Space cat. Enough said.

Aussie Writers

Lauren Spieller is a literary agency intern who has read more queries than the rest of us even want to contemplate. She has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her job.

First off, let me say THANK YOU for having me! I love talking about querying and writing, so this is a treat.

We’re glad to have you! You’re an editorial intern at a literary agency. Can you tell us what that involves?

I’ve had two internships. The first involved reading the slush—a lot of it—and deciding which queries to forward on to the agent. I loved doing this because it a) taught me how to get a feel for a manuscript from only a few pages, and b) helped me hone my editing skills.

My current internship—with P.S. Literary Agency—is a tad more editorial, which is fabulous. So far my focus has been on reading…

View original post 548 more words

Musings from the query rollercoaster

As my regular reader knows, I’ve been querying my first manuscript, ISLA’S INHERITANCE, for about six-to-nine months. I’ve blogged about my generic strategy for querying before.

You’ll notice the first of the items in my strategy is from the Miss Snark playbook: exclusives stink. I noted that one of the benefits of having a lot of queries out at once is that a single rejection seems smaller. Think about it: if you’ve got ten queries out there and one agent says no, then the ratio of “no” to “possible yes” is 1:9 in your favour. Those are pretty good odds.

Animated-picture-of-love-rollercoasterI don’t blog about the actual details of querying—who has my query, who said no, who has a partial or a full—because there are some things a writer just shouldn’t share with the (largely indifferent) masses. How many agents or publishers have already said no is one of those things; do I really want to advertise to a potential agent that a number of other agents passed? Especially if it’s a big number?

(As an aside, thoughts on individual rejections—especially if they tend toward vitriol—are another, and top of the list of things not to blog about. Not that I have any vitriol to vent, mind you; the rejections I’ve received have generally been very polite form letters. Sometimes I’ve gotten nice individual feedback, including from an intern who said she was sure I was getting lots of offers. Bless her and her wishful thinking; do you think I should send chocolate?)

However, I think I can say without oversharing that I’ve had a little bit of trouble finding a home for Isla and her friends. I like to imagine it’s not because of the writing—although I may be deluded on that score; every parent thinks their child is the most beautiful and talented, right? I had some problems getting the pacing at the start of the book right, but my beta readers have helped me with that and I think I’ve more-or-less nailed it now. (Again, I may be deluded.)

No, I’m pretty sure my biggest problem is that my book falls somewhere between urban fantasy and paranormal fiction, depending how you look at it. And it seems the big publishing houses aren’t that wild about urban fantasy or paranormal fiction right now. So agents aren’t that wild about it either, because if they can’t sell it to a decent-sized publishing house, what’s the point for them? I’m not judging, mind you; it’s just a financial reality.

I haven’t quite given up hope on getting an agent. I still have faith in Isla’s story, across the first book and the sequel both.  But I’ve stopped sending out new agent queries. The last batch that are out there is my last.

Writers' nervous habits: a case study

Writers’ nervous habits: a case study

This decision means my number of queries in the field has dropped below the magical ten that were keeping me sane. My ratio doesn’t look as cheery anymore. Suddenly I’ve developed a number of nervous habits, mostly around checking my email inbox and spam folder every twenty minutes. I can’t bear not hearing anything. I can’t bear it! Obviously I want to receive a “yes, I love it; here is a purse of monies”, but at this point I’d be satisfied with a “not for us, thanks”, just so I know!

Any tips for me, so I don’t pull all my hair out before my next birthday? (Which is tomorrow, by the way, so yes, it’s serious!)

Knowing When to Follow the Rules and When to Break ’Em

I hope you enjoy this guest post by Lori A. Goldstein. I first discovered her novel, BECOMING JINN, when she and I both entered the same competition. Needless to say, she did a little better than I did. So you should listen to her advice. :p

Hi, my name is Lori.

Hi Lori.

I’m a fiction writer, and I’m addicted to starting novels with a character waking up.

Nods, awkward smiles.

For those of you who are unaware, this is a no-no. Maybe the no-no. But I am not alone. Apparently, so many of us have this particular addiction that we’re the ones who’ve made it a no-no. Not necessarily for readers. My small, informal, highly unscientific poll shows that readers have no idea this is a common way of starting a novel, let alone so common that it has become an on-the-books writing “don’t”.

But agents know. And agents care. For many agents, starting with a character waking up is an instant turnoff. Rejection based on that very first yawn, stretch, or tossing off of a blanket.

Sure, The Hunger Games starts with Katniss stretching across the bed for Prim. The Road opens with the protagonist reaching for his sleeping child. Every Day begins with the words “I wake up”.

Again, readers aren’t aware of this. They don’t remember exactly how a novel starts by the time they finish it. Most don’t remember how it starts by the time they hit Chapter 3. All they know is they were sucked in.

As for why other authors “get” to start with their characters waking up and I don’t? The answer is simple.

You are no Suzanne Collins. You are no Cormac McCarthy. You are no David Levithan.

But that’s not the whole answer. Novels need to begin in the right spot. And whether it’s taboo or not, the truth is, sometimes that jackpot moment is the instant a character’s eyelids flutter open.

Yeah, yeah, defend it all you want but don’t expect to win.

When writing my first manuscript, I had no idea that this “rule” existed. The finished novel I queried ultimately did not begin with that character waking up, but not because I discovered the list of novel-opening gaffes. It changed during revision because it should have changed. Waking up was not the right place for that story to start.

I have no excuses for my second novel. I was well aware of the rule. Still, I wrote the opening with my character waking up and looking in a mirror. Double no-no. Before you shake the house with your shuddering, this made sense for my character and her story. Plus, I liked it. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to defy the odds. I entered two contests and did not get chosen for the next round in either one.

I caved. I rewrote the start. I tried so many versions of my opening page and opening chapter that I had to create a second folder on my computer just to keep some semblance of organization.

Eventually, with a little help from my friends, more than a little patience from my husband, and a concession to myself (my character no longer wakes up on page one, but a mirror still worms its way in on page two), I had a new opening.

With my rule-following page one, I entered several contests. And you know what? My work started gaining traction. It got amazing feedback. It won contests where there were fifty entries and contests were there were five-hundred entries. It was the same character and the same story and the same voice, but it followed the rules. It led to me finding my agent.

So am I converted? Am I law-abiding writer? The answer is a resounding no. Because my rebellious tendencies do not just violate the rules of beginnings but they stomp all over the laws of endings too.

The advice I was given from other writers, websites and craft books was this: novels in a series should be standalone. Do not end with a cliffhanger. This too is a no-no. But apparently, it’s not the no-no. If that’s what’s best for your story, if it completes your character arc, if you have a fantastic rebel of an agent like I do, then breaking that rule can be a big yes-yes!

I guess if someone, reader or agent, has gone on the entire ride with you, ending with a bang can actually be a turn-on.

But to ensure you get there, don’t start with that character waking up. Yawn.

Lori A. Goldstein is a fiction writer whose YA novel BECOMING JINN is currently under representation. She is a freelance copy editor and can be found on Twitter.


My other entry into the Bad Query contest

Here is my second and final entry into the Bad Query Contest. (See the previous post for my first one.)

At ten thousand words, my novel on birds
Is the tastiest treat you will read.
And I know Mum is right; she says it’s a delight
So become my agent, I plead.

I’m sure that you know it. I am a poet—
But my book is written in prose.
It covers the tales of two Willy Wagtails,
Relating their highs and their lows.

In case you’ve not heard, that type of bird
Comes from the land of Australia—
Rather like me. I’m sure you will see
My writing, it shall not fail ya.

And so it is I wait for your reply.
Please send the contracts to me,
And so that I may send them back the same day,
Please enclose an SASE.

A picture of the main character. (From Wiki Commons.)

A picture of the main character. (From Wiki Commons.)

(Yes, I actually winced writing the end of the third verse. If you’re wondering.)

Edit: This one was posted on the Bad Query Contest blog, here. I won the “Best query in verse about birds” award. I’m so proud. Do you think I could use that as an author credit on future queries? 😉

My entry into the Bad Query contest

Jessica Sinsheimer is running a Bad Query contest over at Tumblr. You should check it out, because it’s absolutely hilarious! I think the prize is a query critique, but honestly, that’s not why anyone is entering. 😉

Here’s my entry. For the love of God never write a query like this!

Hi Jessie,

I saw on Twitter that you really like cheese and seen as I really like cheese too I thought that you would be the perfect agent to buy my book, which is a cross between The Hunger Games and the Bible (it doesn’t currently have any cheese in it but i could add some if you think it would help you to seell the book to the Big Six or Five or whatever. Cause, you know, The Hunger Games is about hungry people adn who doesn’t like cheese anyway? I bet Jesus does, unless he’s a vegan. I’m not sure because I’ve never read the Bible. Don’t tell my mother!)/

My book is currently complete @ 25486 words long, although I am still editing it to add in extra scenes after getting feedback from my best friend and my boyfriend. I reckon when I’m done it will be 30000, easy.

Anyway, I have attached the full manuscript because while i know your website said to embed it in the email I thought you would be really keen to read it straight away and I didn’t want to slow you down. You’ll find I’m a super considerate client like that.

Oh, and have you seen Tim Minchin’s song called “Cheese”? I thought it could be our song. Watch it, you’ll see. We’re practically soul mates, you me and Tim!

Lots of love,

Brie Brewster

Here are a few of the things I did wrong:

* She refers to herself as Jessica on Twitter. For all I know “Jessie” one of her pet peeves! Get the name right, and use it the way the agent does.

* Agents don’t buy books. They offer representation. Publishers buy books.

* Spellchecker? What’s that? Proofreading? Ha!

* No genre or title has been provided. Also, the manuscript isn’t actually complete and 30,000 isn’t novel-length. And what’s the plot? Basically, everything that makes up the most important part of a query is missing!

* Sending attachments without being asked – that’s a paddlin’.

* The whole cheese thing… it’s nice to add a personal touch that shows you have actually done your research, but “Brie” took it way overboard. To stalker land!