#PitchWars #BoostMyBio 2019 — Here we go!

I can’t believe it’s September!

I’m excited and so nervous. It’s like being at the top of the roller coaster. (Am I the only one feeling queasy?)

This is my first time submitting to #PitchWars. The writing community on Twitter is just incredible — so supportive and so kind.

I’ve loved reading the #PWPoePrompt tweets 💕and getting to know other authors. It’s been an amazing experience.

Why I need a mentor

My writing technique is good but my novel lacks something. Things are a little too easy for my characters. I need help complicating their lives.

I’d really love guidance and direction from someone who can show me what I can’t see and teach me what I’m too new to even realize that I don’t know.

I’m a details girl, so I’d really benefit from working with someone who can see the big picture.

My dream mentor would love contemporary romance, savor it like fine wine and good chocolate, and would help guide me through the tumultuous world of querying, subbing, and publishing.

An offer to fellow #pitchwars writers

I’m great with copyediting and formatting. If you are a 2019 #pitchwars hopeful who is writing #Romance, #YA, #MG, or #ChildrensLiterature, and you need help getting your manuscript ready for submission, I’m your girl. DM me on Twitter (@NielsKeira). I’ll help if I can.

But please be patient and give me a few days of lead time. I’m juggling 20 clients with Sep/Oct submission deadlines.

A bit about my novel

Yay, the fun stuff! My novel, GIRL FRIDAY, is a small-town contemporary romance. One of my friends described it as a cozy beach read.

Thea, who hates conflict, is ordered by her older sister to evict a con man from her grandmother’s home. Returning to her small town, she finds Nana and the couch-surfer plotting something she can’t unravel.

Jace needs money. A lot of it. He’s returned to San Juan to shut down his family estate so he can buy back what is rightfully his. His plans go awry as soon as he sets foot on the small island, and he’s drawn into schemes that aren’t of his own making.

The novel is set in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, which is just south of the Desolation Sound, where my family and I lived for 7 years. It is a beautiful and magical place.

We moved to one of the smaller islands when my daughter was 5 weeks old and my son was just a toddler.

Now we live in the city, because my kids are teens and they need peers more than sand dollars, seashells, and driftwood, but the island was an incredible place to raise little ones.

We come back every summer. Just last night, we were down at the lagoon at the dark water’s edge, wading into the bioluminescence, the sea’s version of the Northern Lights.

Sometimes it glows in trails of blue light. Last night it flickered and flashed like little blue sparkles of magical fairy dust. It’s one of my most favorite things in the world.

If you have ever questioned that magic exists, go to the sea on a dark, still summer night, somewhere far from city lights, and you’ll doubt no longer.

Pictures don’t do it justice. It is breathtakingly stunning. It will rob you of your breath and steal away your thoughts.

A bit about me

I’m an academic editor. I’ve run my own business for 12 years, and I’ve helped over 800 authors publish their work.

I love my job. I get to read for a living, although I don’t choose what I read. I edit in the fields of medicine, psychology, education, business, leadership, conflict resolution, and justice & criminology.

The most memorable report I edited was written by a hostage negotiator who wanted to share his lived experiences with high school principals to de-escalate violence in American schools. It was a heart-breaking report. When hostage negotiators have a bad day, people die. I cried a lot when I edited that dissertation.

I’ve also edited uplifting works for famous non-fiction authors and inspiring feminist leaders. I haven’t requested permission to mention their names, so they shall remain anonymous.

All of the authors I’ve worked with are amazing people. I’m so lucky to have crossed paths with them.

OMG, TLDR

I’m new to Twitter and the online writing community. My novel is a contemporary small-town romance. I would really love to have a mentor help me see what I just can’t see and learn all the things I don’t know.

I’m a details girl. If you are submitting to #pitchwars in 2019 and your novel is #Romance, #YA, #MG, or #ChildrensLiterature, I’d love to be your critique partner and help with the technical parts like where to put a comma and how to format your doc for upload. DM me on Twitter (@NielsKeira). If you do reach out, please be patient with me. My workload is high at the moment.

Oh, and I’m excited and nervous. Did I mention that?

Review of an interview with Helen Hoang (a #PitchWars alum)

Protip: “For comps, try to appeal to women in their 30s because most agents online are women in their 30s.”

Today I listened to the Write or Die podcast, Episode 28: Helen Hoang & Properly Destroying Your Readers.

For the first 30 minutes, the hosts bantered about where they were at in the writing process. It was useful information. They had an incredible discussion about minorities’ representation in literature and especially how trans people have been treated, and they invited anyone with that experience to contact them and use the Write or Die platform to express their thoughts.

“We have to amplify people’s voices and stop speaking over them,” said one of the hosts.

That was a wonderful thing to hear. I appreciate how open minded the hosts are and how clear they are in their advocacy of people in marginalized communities.

Enter Helen Hoang — she talked about so many things, covering her journey to becoming a published author, her experiences with agents and editors, tips on submission, tips on writing romance, and she closed by sharing an embarrassing query story.

A quick recap of Helen’s journey: Helen’s first few books didn’t fly. Then she got into #PitchWars and Brighton Walsh helped her fix her story, The Kiss Quotient. She learned a lot from that. The story didn’t do well in the Pitchwars Agent Round, but she found a great agent through the query process. The book went on submission for 2 weeks, and then it went to action. It was picked up by Cindy Wong at Berkely.

The host’s response to Helen’s journey to being published: “People think that if they stumble at one point in the journey, then the rest of the journey will be completely ruined. Like you were saying, yeah, you didn’t get a lot of attention in the agent round of PitchWars, which is just one event of many events, and only one way to get the attention of agents. And a lot of people can take that to mean, ‘Oh my story isn’t good enough, so even if I get an agent it won’t do well in submission,’ but you provide that wrong, because you freaking killed it in submission.” 

This really helped me (Keira the blogger) feel better about my blunders and the haphazard way I’ve been learning about fictional writing and the publishing process.

Helen’s view on securing an agent:  “You know they say all you need is one yes, but that’s not exactly just one yet, it’s the right yes. I think my agent has a personal connection to autism and she is like especially designed to be my agent in that way, so she was able to champion the book … it was her combined with the manuscript that got me to Cindy Wong’s desk.”

Tips for submission: “Know what a query looks like. Research how to write a query. Make sure that your manuscript is as good as you can make it. A lot of queries don’t follow the standard structure, and I think just researching what a query looks like and learning how to write it in a standard structure is useful.”

Tips for Romance: “Be in tune with your senses, it’s a big part of the sensuality of it. being in your body physically and to be really aware of your emotions. Loneliness and yearning… focus on those feelings. “

“I like a romance to be a total body experience. You want your heart pumping. You want to experience all the parts of it like the love and the anguish and also physically that excitement of the first kiss, and the first time they hold hands, and the shivers and all those things.”

Tips for Plot & Story Construction: “I build the story towards the words moment that their going to have. You have to structure it around that horrible falling out moment, because that’s when you’re going to have the most dramatic impact. I need to know what that moment is ahead of time, so that I can build everything towards that so that when it happens that you are properly destroyed… very destroyed.”

Helen’s embarrassing moment: “I feel like I embarrass myself so often but they kind of just all blend together. …  When I first started querying I didn’t know the structure of a query, and it’s funny because it was actually a successful query. It was just one sentence. I wrote the hook and sent that out to a bazillion agents, and I got a request from a very good agent. And she said, ‘Okay, I’ll bite. Send me a partial.’ Then I got feedback, this is not ready.”

“Every step along the way can be seen as a learning process.”

Towards the end of the interview, Helen said, “Our characters would be boring if they did mess up… They would be super boring.”

Which I think is true for authors too… we need to screw up in our lives so that we can write our characters screwing up in theirs.

Plotting – A walkthrough of 7-point story structure

Protip: “Start where your Resolution is and then make sure that the Hook has the character in almost exactly the opposite position.”

Today, I checked out the Writing Excuses podcast. I really love that they are all 15-minutes long!

I listened to Episode 7-41 on 7-Point Story Structure. This is a screenplay technique that works extremely well for action/adventure, romance, and many other genres.

Dan Wells, who is famous for this writing approach on YouTube, gave Harry Pottery examples for the following 7 steps:

  • Hook – who people are what their starting stage is
  • Plot Turn I – the call to adventure
  • Pinch I – Put pressure on char to force them into action (i.e., forcing to use skills to make things happen)
  • Midpoint – Char moves from reaction to action (sick of running, going to face the problem)
  • Pinch II – Really put the pressure on char – as dire as possible (loss of mentor)
  • Plot Turn II – Get last info they need. Figure out puzzle. Realize the weak point that allows everything to wrap up.
  • Resolution – They do it. They win.

But stories have so many more plot twists than that! How can this possibly work?

Dan says this doesn’t restrict you to having only 7 scenes. This approach has you think of your work as 7 key moments that move from Hook to Resolution. And within each of those, you can have a mini 7-point loop as well.

Dan suggests starting from the Resolution. You want to look back and make sure that the Hook has the character in almost exactly the opposite position.

They have to move all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other to accomplish their goal.  When writing, make sure your character moves believably from one point to the next.

If you want to dive deep into this, check out Dan’s Youtube video series. He explains this process in 5 videos over an hour (I think it was part of a workshop or talk).

Overall, I really loved how quick and clear the hosts were. The podcast was informative. I will definitely be listening to Writing Excuses again.

An agent’s take on query letters … and so much more

Pro tip from Suzie: “Keep your query letter to 250 words…. Make sure every word counts.

I’m taking you back again to the YouTube Ask a Mentor Chats with the fabulous PitchWars mentors. They consistently recommended the “88 Cups of Tea” podcast with Yin Chang.

Today, I listened to Episode 151 – SUZIE TOWNSEND: On Becoming a Literary Agent. Yin dives in deep with Suzie, a New Leaf Agent.

I have a lot to share with you. This interview was seriously packed.

The first 30 minutes or so were about Suzie’s journey and how she came to be the lit agent she is today. The next 30 minutes were a deep dive into the world of agents, editors, and their slew of colleagues, including experts in translation, audio, film, and merchandise.

The last 30 minutes really caught and held my attention. Suzie talked about killer query letters and why they were so damned good.

Yin offers a Query Letter Guide at the bottom of the podcast page that includes 6 queries and Suzie’s detailed notes on what she loved about them. Go grab that now!

Here are some gems from the interview.

  • Suzie finds YA to be more trendy than MG.
  • For MG submissions, everything comes back to voice. The voice must be kid-friendly.
  • Editors are looking for a good sense of humor. It doesn’t have to be the main focus, but a healthy dose of humor helps to pull reluctant readers in.

If you get “the call” ask the agent:

  • About communication style — email person or phone person?
  • For references — one person whose book just came out and one person whose has been on submission but the book didn’t sell.
  • What do you do if we go on submission and the book doesn’t sell?
  • What departments are in house?

When talking about killer queries, Suzie said:

  • In the first sentence, explain what the main char wants, what their number one goal is, and give the reason why.
  • Keep the full query to 250 words.
  • Make sure every word counts (no extra words thrown in).
  • Your second sentence should be about where the plot is going. Bring the reader along.
  • Each paragraph should build off the one that came before it. The stakes should be getting higher and higher, especially in a plot-driven story. 
  • Avoid character soup. If you have a big cast of characters, only mention one or two.
  • If you say that you’re sending your query to an agent because she likes plot-driven work, then make sure your query demonstrates that. If you highlight something, it should be very clear in your query and writing style that your story delivers that.

Time to Toughen Up

Two days ago on Twitter, @CooksUpAStory advised authors grow thicker skin and learn to manage our works being critiqued.

I’m approaching this with extreme reluctance. I decided to start by listening to professionals critique other people’s work.

It’s a baby step, I admit, but I’m still moving forward, right?

I listened to the Red Penning Romance podcast, Episode 5: Snow Daze. Mary and Jeremy pull no punches. They are blunt and cutting, but always clear.

I’ll be honest, it was hard to listen to — but it was also valuable. If I’m going to create something and put it out in the world, some people may like it, but guaranteed many will deeply hate it.

So here’s what I learned from that episode:

  • Things have to make sense. (This came up a lot.)
  • If you give a character a unique name. Have a damned good reason for that and make that clear to your reader.
  • Times and sequences of events matter. Check for this when proofing.
  • Think carefully about motivation. What drives your character? And is that even plausible? If you were in that situation, would you do that? Can you imagine anyone else ever doing that?
  • Don’t allude to uber famous writers in your own work. It comes across as bragging.
  • Don’t use the phrase “meet cute” in your novel, even if your story is about a romance author who is plagued by the meet-cute beat.

Toughen up with me and give Red Penning Romance a go. Good advice with callous-building commentary.

Just sex, always

On YouTube Ask a Mentor Chats, the PitchWars mentors 💕 have consistently recommended Print Run Podcast.

Today, I listened to Episode 3: Romance Outakes. It was fun and informative.

Pro tip from Laura and Erik: “Pretend your characters are boning at all times. Just sex always. And your writing will definitely improve.

They talked about unnatural and empty dialog tags that appear in first drafts, like grinning, smiling, and shrugging. For Erik, those unnatural tags are grating. No one grins fives times in a conversation.

“Even in the first draft, which is a bit rough, the sex scenes are the best written parts, because the writer is actually thinking more and more about how the bodies are interacting in space and they’ve made that their focus  and so all this extra stupid action that doesn’t mean anything they suddenly instinctually realize, ‘Oh yeah, that doesn’t belong.’ …

And so my point here is when you’re thinking like that for your sex scenes, think about bodies and space for all your other scenes too. Make all your scenes like your sex scenes in that way. … If you start working from that perspective, you’ll get rid of a lot of … [the] empty dialog tags, a lot of this stupid gesture that doesn’t actually mean anything, and you’ll be able to cut that away and add in other sensory detail, which I think … comes really naturally to people when they’re writing about sex but less so when they are writing about conversation.”

Twitter #writingcommunity and #pitchwars

On August 13 I read the first few pages of “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang, and in her Acknowledgements she thanked https://pitchwars.org/

And then my life changed.

I spent a day pouring over that site. Instantly got hooked on the idea of a mentorship. I love my new novel and I’m proud of it, but I know it can also be better. I need an expert’s guidance to see the things I can’t.

Then I logged into my stagnant and idle twitter account, and I actually tweeted for the first time ever.

(Yes, I do live under a rock.)

I stumbled into #writingcommunity and they are the nicest and most supportive people! It’s been a steep learning curve for me for the past 2 weeks, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I’m over-the-top excited about pitching to pitchwars. The submission deadline is September 25. I’ll be polishing up my query and synopsis for the next month.

If you’re a writer, check it out.

So empowering!

This week I helped my daughter self-publish an adventure book. It was far easier than I thought.

It also helped me get over the awful sting of my first rejection letter.

I’ve been going about this the wrong way. I’ve got to make this more fun, for me and for my readers.

And thanks to my daughter, I have a plan.

Photo by Elvis Ma on Unsplash