Editing Category Archive

Interview with #PitchWars 2016 Mentee, Lacee Little

Another year has flown by and we’re heading into my fourth year with #PitchWars (ahhhh!). This year is going to be an extra spacial year, because I am co-mentoring with the extraordinary Allison Ziegler. We’ll announce our 2017 wishlist soon enough, but for now, I have a post about my indomitable 2016 mentee, Lacee Little, and her experience with PW!
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Lacee Little’s manuscript, AN IMPOSSIBLE MAGIC, is honestly one of the more creative, adventurous, and surprising historical fantasies I’ve read in recent years. Her query and pitch snatched up my heart immediately when I read it during the 2016 submission process. She turned out to be an absolute joy to work with, and over the course of two months, she was miraculously patient and hard-working while we made her MS shine. She’s become one of my dearest writing friends in the past year (#PitchWars can be a blessing in many different ways!), and I am eternally grateful to have a friend whose undying love for Diana Wynne Jones matches my own <3
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Read below for Lacee’s thoughts on Pitc.h Wars 2016 and what it was like to work closely with me in preparation for the agent round (umm, have I mentioned yet that the girl garnered 24 agent requests during the agent round? It was an absolute whirlwind)! Also, if you’d like to read the interview with my 2014 mentee and alternate go here, or the interview with my 2015 mentee go here (eh em, this lady–Julie Artz–is a mentor this year, too!).
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Me: There are a few parts to PitchWars, the first of which was deciding which mentors you wanted to submit to. How did you decide who to send to?
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Lacee:  I treated it very similar to looking for an agent. Mostly I looked at the MG mentors’ wishlists, and what books they enjoyed, and found the ones that closest matched my MS. Also with you, I had followed you on twitter since 2015 PW, and I really thought you seemed like an enjoyable and encouraging person to work with.
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[Me: Lacee was an alternate in PW2015 which is what she's referring to above!]
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Me: For the 2017 PitchWars hopefuls, what was it like to have me as your mentor? (Feel free to be honest :P)
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Lacee: The best ever!!! Seriously though, my answer is “Beyond my wildest dreams,” and I really mean it. I did not expect such detailed attention, encouragement, and just general helpfulness. Instead of just offering feedback, you talked things through with me, too, which helped accelerate the revision process.
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[Me *blushes furiously* Really though, the feeling is mutual!]
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Me: What was your overall experience with the editing/revising process? Was there a certain part that was particularly difficult or rewarding?
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Lacee: This was actually my best revising ever, I think. It certainly was the most enjoyable. Usually I revise extensively, then send to a CP, then revise a ton more, and send to a CP. It takes months. This time, I feel it was so much more collaborative, which I loved! I discussed ideas with so many people in the MIDST of revisions, and had people look over stuff before I’d completely “polished” it, which I’d never done before. Plus, I had more people read over and critique my MS than I’d ever had before, and I loved getting so many expert opinions. It was really interesting to see how everyone notices different aspects that need help.
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Me: Were there any parts of PitchWars that you were surprised at? Submissions? Edits? The agent round?
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Lacee: Like I said above, I was surprised how much support you gave me! I honestly did not count on such generosity! Also, I was very surprised by the community. Last year [in 2015] I was a last minute addition, so I wasn’t on the facebook group. It was such an essential part of my PW experience this year, not to mention the support from other mentors, and your past mentees. It totally felt like being adopted into a tribe/family, which I definitely hadn’t expected!
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Me: If you could choose to do PitchWars all over again, would you? Why?
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Lacee: Honestly, I would feel a bit greedy since it would be my 3rd time. ;) But hypothetically, for sure. I would encourage anyone to participate. I have yet to find an opportunity for better community and mentorship, and Pitch Wars handles things so professionally. It’s the best ‘writers helping writers’ organization I’ve ever seen!
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If you’re interested in finding Lacee over on twitter, you can find here; she really is a remarkable writer and friend, and I know she’d love to say hello!

Pitch Wars Blog Hop!

It’s finally time for Pitch Wars to start! Yippee! I’ve been looking forward to this for months and I know the other mentors have been too. For this contest, I’ll be mentoring Middle Grade books :D Below you’ll find the types of MG books I tend to enjoy most. Please feel free to post questions in the comments section or find me on twitter (@julianalbrandt)! I love making new friends and can’t wait to work with you :)

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MG Wish List

I adore MG because it’s often extraordinarily clever and touches upon tough subjects (“…if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”-Madeleine L’Engle). If your MS is a story with clever twists, whimsical turns of phrase, solid world building, and well developed relationships between characters, then I’m your mentor! [think HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, CRESTOMANCI, & THE PECULIAR]

For more specifics:

-Genre wise, I’m most attracted to fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure stories.

-I’m a massive fan of mythology, whether it’s a retelling or it’s incorporated into the story (WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, WATERSHIP DOWN)

-I love journey stories where MCs are set on a physical quest (LIESL & PO, THE SPINDLERS, PETER & THE STARCHASERS)

-And tales that use magic to help explain/tackle a serious subject (A MONSTER CALLS)

-I also prefer stories in which magic is already ingrained into the world (along the lines of magical realism) rather than stories where the MC “discovers” magic or comes to realize they have magical abilities (“chosen one” stories)

-Lastly, I adore a good adventure story. I still daydream about DOWN RIVER by Will Hobbs (which I think is technically YA, but I read it in early middle school and so have stuck it firmly in the MG category :P ) In general though, I might not the best fit for contemporary MG. I typically don’t enjoy contemp unless it’s full of heart–think WALK TWO MOONS or OKAY FOR NOW, or if it’s an adventure.

All of the above are merely stories I’ve loved in the past, which is just to say that I have no idea what I’ll love in the future. If your MS is a humorous, character-driven story, with an MC who goes on a physical journey that parallels their internal one, then I’m the mentor for you :D

 

Why You Should Choose Me!

-My writing is represented by the fiercely wonderful agent Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency. While I mostly spend my time writing YA, I started out with MG and I always come back to it–it’s at the heart of my writing soul. I’ve written 8 books (whew) and am amazed at how much I’ve learned with each one. I can’t wait to share some of that with you.

-I love editing and critiquing! It’s one of my favorite parts of writing.

-I’ve had a lot of practice honing queries. In fact, I often do giveaways on twitter for them. It’s something I genuinely enjoy. Also, I know the query game. I know what it’s like to be in the trenches. We’ll make yours sparkle.

-I’m passionate about writing in all forms and will work so, so hard for you, if you’re willing to do the same.

-On a not-writing note, I’m currently in school for my Masters of Elementary Education, and I work full-time as a secretary. I spend the majority of my free-time in the mountains–rock climbing, hiking, running…pretty much anything that gets me outdoors.

Girls wanna have fun

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Show vs Tell: The Pain Lexicon

Now that November is over and your NaNo is finished, it’s time to move on to the next step…QUERYING!

Uhh…wait. That’s not right. Once you’ve taken a step back from drafting your NaNo and given yourself a moment to clear your head, it’s time to edit your WIP until it shines.

For this mini blog series, Lauren Spieller, Charlie N. Holmberg, and I have put together a few (hopefully helpful) tips on how to pump up your writing. Our goal is to help you avoid a few simple pitfalls when describing characters who are experiencing pain.

To kick us off on Show vs Tell, a quote from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The idea behind “show, don’t tell” is the thought that, believe it or not, readers are pretty darn smart. They are very capable of taking cues and figuring things out on their own. As an example: when a character frowns, most everyone will know (or assume) that character is feeling something negative. Our goal is to take out the moments when we write, “Suzie is mad,” and change them to, “Suzie frowned.” Though, of course, this is very simplified.

Often, there are simple clues that hint that you might be telling instead of showing. Scour your writing for the following words. If you find them, there’s about a 90% chance that you are telling something that would be much more powerful if you would show it instead.

  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped
  • smell
  • see
  • hear
  • feel

Also check for forms of to be (is, are, was, were…), which are clue words that you might be using a passive voice instead of an active voice.

Instead of this these weak words, as writers, we want to choose strong words! Words that have pop, that allow a reader to experience the story along with your characters. This is exactly why Charlie, Lauren, and I created the Pain Lexicon (found in a link at the bottom of this post).

Since this post is supposed to be directed toward PAIN, here’s an example of using “telling” words to describe what a character might feel if they are in pain:

Suzie realized her stomach hurt as pain ran through it.

In the sentence above, we know Suzie’s stomach hurts, so writing the word “pain” becomes redundant. Also, do you see the clue word “realized”? Take it out! If it’s happening to your character, they won’t have to “realize” anything—their response to it will be automatic.

To help make this moment more clear for a reader and show instead of tell, think about what else might be happening to Suzie’s body: is she sweating, or experiencing shortness of breath? Is she bent over and clutching her abdomen? Or perhaps she’s rubbing her skin, trying to make the feeling go away. To fix this sentence, I grabbed a few words off the lexicon: clench, wheeze, and lurch. So, “Suzie’s stomach hurt as pain ran through it,” turns into,

Suzie clenched her fists and wheezed, doubling over as her stomach lurched.

When you show, your reader will be intimately drawn into your character’s experiences, rather than being on the outside. If we look at the science behind storytelling, it seems that with good showing, our brains can’t actually tell the difference between reading about an experience and having it happen first hand.

If you are working on this very thing in your writing, the next time your character has a tummy ache, is shot, or falls and breaks an arm, I challenge you to forbid  yourself to write the word pain. Try it! Use the Pain Lexicon to identify words that pop and zing. It might be difficult at first, but the end product will be powerful writing that your reader will be able to experience right along with your character.

What tricks do you use when trying to show rather than tell? I’d love to hear about any struggles you might have, or if you’re especially good at this!

Pain Lexicon

Visit Charlie’s website for her post: The Pain Lexicon: Using Physical and Emotional Descriptors in “Painful” Passages.
Visit Lauren’s website for a post: The Pain Lexicon: Let’s Make It Hurt.

Here are some follow up posts that might help if you still need clarification on this:
 Don’t Tell Me Why–by Janice Hardy
Show, Don’t Tell–by Grammar Girl
In Six Seconds–by Chuck Palahnuik 


The Dreaded Query- Guest Post by Lauren Spieller

I have a very special treat for everyone today! Lauren Spieller is guest-posting today on the dreaded query! Lauren is an agent intern and has quite the eye for making a query shine. This past week, she began a query critiquing business and has already been flooded with requests (ie: pleas for help!).
 
She’s also offering a 10% discount if you contact her for a query critique and mention this blog post AND she’s graciously offered to give one lucky commenter a free query-critique. So, make sure you when you comment to post a way for her to get in touch. One week from today, random.org will choose a winner.
 
Without further ado, help me to welcome Lauren to the blog! (also, if you have other questions, post them in the comment section and either Lauren or I will try to respond!)
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Queries are hard. It’s a fact of life, of nature. Queries are really, really hard.

But why? They’re just short summaries of a novel, right? You wrote the book, so summarizing it should be a piece of cake! Right? Wrong.

Queries force you to creep inside your novel, to learn how its internal mechanisms function, to grasp at its still-beating heart. To write a truly spectacular query letter, you need to know your book from the inside out—what makes the characters tick? What conflict drives the plot? And what, for the sake of all that is holy, is at STAKE?

Juliana has been kind enough to put together a bunch of excellent questions about queries and querying. I hope you find my answers helpful! I’ll be checking in for the next week to see if you’ve added any of your own questions, so don’t be shy!

How do I open a query? What should the first line be? – ImJustCasey

Dear NAME,

You’d be surprised how many people don’t address their queries to a specific agent (or spell the agents name wrong!)

Once you’ve done that, you have a couple of options. Some people choose to jump straight into their novel summary, while others feel more comfortable giving a short introduction to their manuscript first. Both options are perfectly fine, but if you’d like to open with something, you have a few options.

If the manuscript was requested (either during a contest, on a blog, or at a conference), feel free to reference this fact. Something as simple as “Thank you so much for requesting my query via #PitMad (or at the Writer’s Digest West Conference, etc.) Below you’ll find….” And then whatever it is that you’re including (query, pages, synopsis, etc.)

If you’re querying without having been requested (which is totally fine…no shame in being discovered in the slush!), then you can start with something as simple as “I am seeking representation for TITLE, my WORD COUNT + GENRE. Below I have included…” and then whatever it is they ask for in their submission guidelines (found on the agency website).

What are the vital elements of a query: ie, format, biography, stakes?

A good query will include THREE ELEMENTS:

  1. a brief summary (2 paragraphs or so) of your book
  2. info about the title/word count/genre.
  3. a short bio containing information that is RELEVANT to your novel.  Are you writing a non-fiction book about water skiing? You better mention that you have an Olympic medal in aquatic sports. Or whatever. Shut Up.

That’s it. But! I also recommend including a tailored message to the agent (ie I’m querying you because you said you were interested in Dragon tales, and by jove, I’ve written one!). 

Is it true that your query should be personalized for each agent?

Yes. ;)

How do you write a query when your book has multiple POVs? – similar to @RebeccaEnzor’s question

This is so tricky, isn’t it? I’m going to admit to you guys that I have yet to do this. In fact, my current ms SIGHTLESS is told from the pov of a 16yo, but the novel is interspersed with chapters from her mother’s pov. And yet, I chose not to write a multi pov query. I decided that since the 16yo dominated the majority of the novel, it was unnecessary to include her mother’s pov in the query.

However, if you’re writing a novel that is split evenly between two characters (or even 70%, 30%), you may not be able to do that. Juliana and I were discussing this very issue, and she showed me a great query that was written from a single pov, but managed to make it clear that there were many POVs in the novel.  You can check it out here.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, then you can include both points of view. Again, you have options. Some people like to write their query from the pov of an actual character. If this is your style, then you’re going to have to dedicate one paragraph to each character, and make sure that  a) both characters have distinctive voices, and b) your paragraphs aren’t repetitive. Honestly, this is so difficult to do well, that I think you might want to skip it unless you think it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary for your novel.

The other option is to address what’s happening to both characters from an omniscient pov, focusing on the MAIN CONFLICT to organize events. It’s tricky, and I highly encourage you to make sure your final product makes sense by showing it to critique partners (or to me!)

Ultimately, it’s a balancing act, and you have to decide which option works best for your novel and your voice.

What’s the ideal word count range for a query? And the max number of sentences allowed in a query (does it matter?) – @ifeomadennis

I’ve heard it said that the ideal word count is 250 words, but I think this is, once again, dependent on you and your query. Less is always more in terms of word count, but don’t freak out if you’re at 300 words or even 225. Just make sure you’ve said everything you need to say, and not a word more.

How should a writer detail expertise in a certain period, especially if a history buff who researched a lot, not a professor? – @ConniDowell

If you mean, how do you make it clear in your summary, then my answer is: just write the novel summary, and let the research shine through. If you’re writing historical fiction and you’re including a specific location and historical events/people, I think it’ll be self-explanatory that you’ve done your research.

However, if your question actually pertains to your bio paragraph, then you can include your interest in a given area of study. Don’t go on and on, though. Just mention that you’ve spent quite a lot of time researching Ancient Egypt, and that your research played a large part in the creation of your novel, in particular the characterization of the Pharaoh. Or whatever.

I’d love to hear about historical fiction queries. Should one detail whether certain places and events are real or imagined? – @ConniDowell

If a place is real, I think the agent will recognize it. Same goes for invented places—if the reader doesn’t recognize it, they’ll assume its imaginary. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution, so if you’re still not sure it’s clear, you can always say the setting was “inspired by REAL CITY HERE” when you get to the penultimate paragraph of your query (you know, the one where you give the title, word count, and genre).

What’s a good way to go about researching agents and finding the agent that’s right for your book?

Ah, I love this question! Researching is one of my favorite parts of this process, after the writing itself. Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Websites like agentquery.com and literaryrambles.com are GREAT resources for finding agents.
  2. I  found a bunch of agents via Twitter (you follow one agent, you get a suggestion to follow two more…etc).
  3. You can also buy books, but that’s really not necessary. Or cheap.
  4. You should also find out who represents books that are similar to your own. I’m working on a YA fantasy project, so I found out who reps J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Jennifer Bosworth (Struck), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and on and on.
  5. Another way to get an agent is by entering contests on blogs. I found most of these through twitter. Even if all the agents ignore you, you’ll meet people who can be VERY helpful critique partners. I’ve made some great friends this way, and I rely on them a lot when it comes to feedback.
  6. Yet another way to get an agent is through twitter hashtags. Keep an eye on #pitchmaddness or #pitmad. Basically, you write your book pitch in 140 characters or less (this part sucks, take it from me) and if an agent likes it, they’ll ask you to send them a query. It’s still the query model, but you already have an “in” that way.

I found over 200 agents this way, all of whom represent YA Fantasy (which is what I’ve written most recently).

Pro Tip: If you plan on writing in more than one genre or for more than one age group, then make sure the agents you’re querying are open to this. No point is querying an agent who ONLY represents non-fiction if someday you plan on writing a novel for Middle Grade readers.

How important is it that [the agent] be located physically near you? Same coast? Same continent? Thanks! – @Swan Mountain

Not important at all. If it was, we’d all have to move to NYC (not that I’d mind…)

Last: give a quick and dirty tip for making a query shine!

 

Write it, then put it away in a deep dark corner of your computer and leave it there for AT LEAST a few days—a week if you can stomach it. You’ll be amazed how much more clearly you can see the query after some time apart from it.

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Lastly, as Juliana mentioned, I’ve started my own query critique business at laurenspieller.com. Stop on by and see me sometime. I’m happy to help with all of your query-woes ;) 

What I learned at the SCBWI Conference

The first thing I learned was how very, very similar we all are! There are so many of us out there, taking the same journey. It was an incredible amount of fun to make new friends and meet old ones.

I stayed with my critique partner Janice Foy while in Atlanta.


A few more of the amazing people I met. Unfortunately, none of these ladies are bloggers! Get on it girls! :)

I also had the privileged of meeting Jaye and Mary Ann. It was crazy meeting people I blog and tweet with. It’s such a small world! (Hope you don’t mind I stole your picture, Jaye :)

From Kirby Larson, I learned: Don’t be afraid to take big risks. There is a certain amount of uncertainty we all must have when we’re writing and we can’t be afraid of where that might take us. Kirby was an amazing keynote speaker and this message stuck with me through the entire weekend

From picture books, I learned (from Mary Kole): -Cut what doesn’t fit in the heart of your book. This was stated for picture books since the word count is so low, but I’m finding it completely applicable for my own 80k MS. Cut what doesn’t fit.
-Never strike the reader over the head with the moral. I heard this and immediately went to cut a few paragraphs that had been bothering me. I finally figured out, they were bothering me because I was far too blunt. Delete. Delete.
-Have a rich emotional arch, emotions are the glue that hold plot together.

On Dialogue (from Kristin Daly Rens): -Edit out anything that isn’t essential to the plot. Don’t use dialogue as a crutch for info dumping, to lengthen a scene or say instead of show.
-Dialogue always needs to move the story forward in some way. It can contribute to characterization, be used as a plot device, or to set a scene, but it always must be significant.
-Don’t overuse dialogue tags (woops. Another delete. Delete. moment for me)

On the Slush Pile (from Mary Kole): -Query 10-20 agents in the 1st round. Fix anything that needs fixing and send out to another 10-20 in the second.
-Be sure to follow agencies guidelines
-Ask yourself these questions when doing your agent search: What is important to you for your relationship? Don’t just pick the first agent that offers, be sure they are the right fit for you.
-The goal of the query is to get an agent to take notice. The manuscript is infinitely more important- the query cannot break you. Use the query to get the agent to your (hopefully perfected) MS.
a)isolate your hook- it’s your selling point
b)who is your audience? Find the right comparitive titles
c) be brief and professional, have a short bio but mostly focus on the project
d)a good idea and good execution is enough
-Make the agent care
a)who is your character?
b)what is the inciting incident
c)who/what do they want most?
d)who/what is in their way? The Obstacle
e)What is at stake?

On Writing a Thriller (from Greg Ferguson): (Yep, I’m totally going to write a thriller after listening to this ;)
-Must have non-stop action, dangerous situations where the protagonist is in grave danger, hair-raising suspense and a heroic character

On the First Page: On Saturday night, Mary Kole, Greg Ferguson and Krisin Daly Rens read multiple first pages and gave their insights on if the first page worked, or not. Here’s what I learned:
-The first page must be grounded in the world
-It must have specific cues as to the world it’s in and the main character
-Do you have your opening line or a opening line?

On Plots (from Kristin Daly Rens): -The opening must grab the reader and must not let go. It must make a promise that is kept through to the end.
-Don’t do too much in the beginning. All you need is the hook to lead on.
-Introduce the MC, central conflict and know what is to come ->make that promise
-Your reader should be able to begin reading and understand what’s going on without dropping back story on them.
-Begin with action that moves the story forward with momentum and tension, but do not have action that confuses your reader.
-As you continue with your story, make every word, scene, dialogue count. Continuously up the ante. Test scenes with the question, “What purpose does this serve?”
-Make sure you keep the promise you made in the beginning scenes. Again, test each chapter and scene to see if tension is increased? How have things changed for your MC? Be ruthless :)

Massive TBR List (only titles, I haven’t looked up the authors)
I Heart Killers
Spanking Shakespeare
All Alone in the Universe
The Disenchantements
The Madman’s Daughter
Rampant
Fat Vampire
Through to You
13 Reasons Why
Bad Girls Don’t Die
Bliss
Rosebush
Blood on my Hands
Bzrk
The Butterfly Clues
Ashes
Everneath
Defiance
Dark Divine
Repossessed

p.s. I’m sorry this post took a week to get posted. It was a lot to soak in and I hope I’ve been able to pass on at least a little to you!