Find Your Community

The most impactful thing you can do for your writing (besides finishing what you start) is join a community of writers. No one understands a writer like another writer. We have quirks, tremendous self-doubts, huge highs, and a lot of anxiety about an industry that can be maddeningly unpredictable. A community will provide you the support you need.

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Where can you meet other writers?

Blogs, social media, fan groups, conferences, and retreats are a few places to start. Target groups that write your same age group or in your genre. Be brave and introduce yourself. Pass along a business card. Ask them questions about themselves. Befriend them on social media. Whatever you do, think of reaching out as making friends and not as networking.

How do I find beta readers?

The same people you meet through blogging, social media, fan groups, conferences, and retreats are good options. Ask to swap manuscripts. If you ask someone to spend their time reading your manuscript, the best way to repay them is to do the same. Another option is to find or form a critique group. You may find one through your library or local chapter of SCBWI, SFWA, RWA, or any other reputable writing organization. Contribute to the groups you join, and only commit if you intend to be reliable and active.

What do I stand to gain from socializing with other writers?

The benefits are endless no matter where you are in your career.

For those of you who aren’t published, writers love to talk about books, so be ready for a lot of book recommendations. Some of these recommendations may become a comp title for your own work. Associating with other writers may lead to them asking you to participate in conferences, critique groups, book clubs, and book events. Socializing provides you the opportunity to receive feedback on worthwhile time investments, balancing home and work life, writing and working full-time, recommendations on agents, insight into how to query, what questions to ask when you get The Call from an agent, and so on. Publishing thrives on the whisper network. Most of what you learn will be from speaking directly to other writers.

If you’re published or under contract, you need a community too. You can get advice from others on cover art, social media platforms, building your newsletter list or website, and swag. You may want to know if, when, or how to part ways with your agent, which conferences are worth your time, advice on maximizing book bloggers, how to cope with bad reviews, what to do if your agent retires or your editor moves houses, how to sell on synopsis, and the list goes on and on. Join a debut group. Actively seek out relationships with authors, agents, editors, and bloggers. Maintain those relationships the best you can.

At no point in your career will you be better off without a community. Benefits come from creating reciprocal relationships with your colleagues. This is not “networking” per se. Initially your intentions may be to meet critique partners or gain social media followers. But as you engage with other writers, friendships will form. The same person you introduce yourself to at a conference could be the author you ask a blurb from one day or they may ask you. Interact with the spirit of giving. Don’t take anything without the intent to give back. Show up, be friendly, bravely ask questions, and contribute to building a community where all writers feel welcome.

 

Inspiration 101

Any writer will tell you that when inspiration strikes, it feels miraculous. The planets align, all your neurons fire in tandem, and nature trills along with your giddiness. I dare say that any person who becomes a writer did so because they were struck by inspiration. A story idea. A character. A setting. A magic system. What led us all to the keyboard is the same—inspiration.

But inspiration can be fickle. Like any emotional high, it is special and rare. When we as writers have pages and pages to fill, how do we compel inspiration to come and stay a while?

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Here are some suggestions.

  • Sit at your computer and write. Don’t worry about punctuation, word choice, or sentence structure. Let the words flow out in a messy jumble and see where they lead.
  • Break up with your keyboard. Leave your house, and better yet, leave your cell phone behind. Unplug, go for a walk, run errands, visit a friend, grab a meal, experience nature. Do something you’ve never done before or that has nothing to do with storytelling. This can be tough because so much of our lives circles back to our art, but set aside “Me Time”. You deserve it.
  • Consume enriching stories. Read, read, read. Binge-watch an acclaimed TV series. Go to the movies and absorb yourself in the big screen. Take in and digest well-crafted stories as well as the not-so-great ones. Think on what you would improve. Let these ideas permeate and simmer.
  • Set a deadline. Require a certain number of words/hours from yourself a day, week, month, etc. This goal should be attainable. It should motivate you, not cripple your process. Adjust these expectations as you go. Forgive yourself for falling short. Reward even the smallest accomplishment. Be open to new ideas for how best to meet your deadlines.
  • Limit social media. Browse the internet, but don’t allow your Facebook feed to distract you for hours on end. You may find inspiration there, but is it more likely to come when you’re not irritated over someone’s political rant or snorting at sarcastic Disney memes. By all means, build your online platform. But don’t let that work infringe on more reliable forms of brainstorming activities.
  • Have a backup art. Tethering your creative self-esteem to one manuscript could backfire. Create or build something else. Bake, quilt, sew, woodwork, draw, sing, dance, paint. Do whatever fills your spirit and helps you feel accomplished.
  • Don’t play the comparison game. If so-and-so drafted a book in two weeks, great for them! Who cares if your first draft took two years? Respect your creative process by not forcing it to look like someone else’s. Write like you. Your stories are an extension of yourself. Why would you try to put that unique thing of beauty inside someone else’s box? Nothing kills inspiration quite like letting outside forces shame or discredit your hard-earned work.
  • Be resilient. The publishing industry will throw a lot of unexpected twists at you, both upbeat and negative. (Pro tip: the good news can drain your creativity too.) Be ready to combat highs and lows with perseverance and remain steadfast in your determination to achieve the goals that drive you. Protect your creative process vigilantly and without regret. Wield your positivity like a shield and don’t let anything harmful get through. As you do this, you will still take hits, but your recovery time will shorten. You’ll become better practiced at staying centered and won’t let the ebb and flow moments slow you down.
  • Your health is number one. Don’t sacrifice sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, or suitable recreation to satisfy the fictional perception that writers are moody, self-destructive caffeine addicts. The writing process is a mental marathon. Keep your physical faculties conditioned for optimum performance.

Inspiration does not strike once and recede like a tsunami. Inspiration comes little by little during routine events until it accumulates into a solid, recognizable idea. Inspiration comes by living.

This New Year, I hope you can keep your creative wells full and respect your personal writing process. I guarantee that inspiration will lure you back to the keyboard when you are primed for another story.

Which of these conduits to inspiration work best for you? Is there another method you’d like to share?

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

Revisions, Buttoning the Right Holes

As a child, I went through a period when I struggled to button my shirt. I looked down at both sides of the fabric and matched the button with the hole, over and over again. Once I reached the bottom, I noticed I had two buttons and one hole left. In frustration, my uncoordinated little fingers undid all the buttons and started over.

Years later, I don’t fumble with buttons (too often). But as a writer, I have struggled to put the right pieces of plot, characterization, and world building “in the right holes.” My first drafts are glorified outlines. I set many of the pieces of my story in the wrong places at first. Rearranging them is what revisions are for. But what do you do when you’re nearly finished writing your story and you find it has been off a button from conception?

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  1. Don’t panic. My first instinct is to get frustrated and eat chocolate. I tell myself I’m the worst writer in the world and wish I had become a marine biologist instead (my childhood occupation of choice). This is natural. Feel sorry for yourself. Eat all the chocolate. Dream up a life where you live on a boat and tag sharks for your career. But whatever you do, don’t delete your file or burn your manuscript. Revisions are a natural progression of every story. The fact that you’ve found a section, or sections, that are wrong is good. This will help your story become stronger.
  2. Gain perspective. Go for a walk and then sit down and think through your storyline. What needs to change and where? Note the chapters and the size of the revisions. Often pulling out one button to put in another hole means undoing the whole shirt. Talk this through with a beta reader, family member, or friend. Discussing the changes that need to occur will help you understand the extent of the revisions.
  3. Decide if your story can be undone and buttoned up right. Now that you’ve gained perspective, are you in for a few changes or a total rewrite? Do you have a deadline or commitments that compel you to complete this revision? Or can you set the manuscript aside? No one can answer these questions except you. I believe any story can be fixed as long as the author is willing to put in the work, but you should do what is best for your career. Sometimes shelving your manuscript and starting something else is enough to help you decide what story you most want to write. Once you find your resolve, you can determine if reconfiguring what you have is the solution or if you should write another manuscript.
  4. Save your work. Copy and paste every section of your story that you “unbutton” into a leftovers file. Do this no matter how small or insignificant the scene or dialogue may be. Keep those bits and pieces, but also be ruthless in their removal. Take your manuscript apart where necessary. Don’t hang onto segments that no longer serve a purpose. Your story will feel messy, sparse, and unwieldy, but remember that reorganization is part of the process. My apologies for switching metaphors on you, but think of it as surgery. A surgeon must cut their patient open before they can repair what is wrong. For a time, it looks like a mess, but they always sew them up when they finish. Have faith in yourself that you can repair your story for the better.
  5. Button those holes. You have the right state of mind, a proper perspective, a story you must tell, and your important pieces saved. Now slide those salvaged parts into the right places, rewrite where necessary, discuss any lingering questions you have with your beta readers or editor, and finally, smooth out your pacing. If you have any last doubts that your story is indeed what you set out to accomplish, write a query letter or pitch. This will force you to condense your characters, world, and plot into a concise summary. After your mind has been swimming with several versions of your story, this will help you refocus on your initial vision.

Now that you’ve got your story buttoned in all the right places and it’s looking snazzy, celebrate by posting GIFs on social media of people dancing. And eat chocolate. Always celebrate with chocolate.

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

A Hero Worth Cheering On

Last month I had the privilege of speaking to sixth graders graduating from elementary school. Around this same time my debut novel was releasing. Writing this talk was a monumental task, as I had never given a commencement speech before. But my rambling thoughts turned out well enough that I want to share an abridged version with you. This is a more personal post than I typically contribute to Thinking Through Our Fingers, but much of what I said to those sixth graders applies to writers on the path to publication. The following is my revised speech.

Over my years of writing, I have learned that no matter what genre you read or write most components of storytelling stay the same. First, stories start with a main character. He or she has strengths and weaknesses as well as opinions and attitudes about life in general. The reader sympathizes with the main character and is interested in seeing what happens to them. He or she isn’t perfect. Main characters make mistakes and have fears, but they are someone readers care about and cheer on. Since art mimics life, for the time being, I’d like you to consider yourself a main character.

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The next story component is the main character’s goal. Their goal drives them forward and establishes to readers what is important in the story, not only to the main character but in their world. Every main character has something they want to accomplish, so I would like you to think of a goal for yourself. In the next year, what do you want to achieve more than anything? Roald Dahl said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Whatever your goal may be, think big. Don’t be afraid to believe in a little magic.

Now that you have your goal, hold onto it. Because we’re about to meet the next story component: the inciting event.

The inciting event propels the main character forward on a path they cannot turn back down. It’s when Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts or Percy Jackson sets out to find his mother. Think of the inciting incident as a door that locks behind you. The key to the inciting incident is that no one can shove the main character through the door. No one can make he or she want to go out and save the world. The main character must take that step on his own. But the thing that pushes him through that door, the personal incentive that drives him to take that step, is his goal. Remember that goal I asked you to make? That is your reason to go through that door and start on your path.

Our next component comprises of the bulk of the story, the part that everyone wants to read about in books or watch on TV but never experience in real life—conflict. Conflict is any obstacle that seeks to prevent the main character from reaching his or her goal. Think of your goal again, the one you want more than anything. Again, conflict is what will prevent you from achieving it. We all have rough days. At some point or another, you may even have a really bad day. And then it may get even worse. The ultimate conflict happens at the climax, which is when the very hardest, very worst thing you can imagine tries to stop you. What do you do when life gets hard? Do you give up?

Reflect over your past year. Think of one thing you did that you are really proud of. Was it always easy to continue? I’m certain it wasn’t, but you kept trying. You did the work. You put in the time. You believed in yourself. Your conflict did not put an end to your story.

The thing about conflict is that the hero pushes onward. Notice I said “hero”, because the main character of the story starts off as someone the reader sort of knows, sympathizes with, and roots for. But as the main character goes through trials and triumphs, over the course of those challenges, they become more than a character the reader sort of likes. They become a hero we cheer on to beat opposing forces and win. JK Rowling said, “It is our choices that make us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Perseverance over obstacles makes a hero.

Let’s recap. The components we’ve talked about so far are: the main character, the goal, the inciting incident, the conflict, and what comes next? The resolution, or the happily ever after. This is the end of the story when the hero celebrates their triumph.

One year from now, your resolution will be this: Did you reach your goal? Did you stick it through no matter what?

I wrote for nearly ten years before I became published. I wrote thousands and thousands of words. I completed several manuscripts. I was rejected dozens of times by literary agents and editors. I had a lot of conflict, but I also had a goal to become a published author. This wasn’t a year-long goal. As I said, it took me much longer. Your goal may be the same or different. But whatever it may be, you are the hero of your story. You are likeable, other people sympathize with you and understand what you’re going through. You are someone your family and friends are rooting for. You are someone we want to see succeed and live happily ever after. You are worth cheering on. No one is saying you have be perfect or get everything right. Neither can others attain your goal for you. You must go through that threshold by choice, travel down that path, and push onward. But you’ve already proven you have the courage to aspire to more, and your story isn’t finished so long as you keep trying.

Dr. Suess said, “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” I’d like to end by extending a challenge: Dream big. Think of a goal you want to achieve. Fight for it. Believe you can persevere. And don’t ever forget that you are worth cheering on.

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the USA, she has perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. Visit Emily at emilyrking.com.

The Secret Life of a Debut Author

I thought I knew a lot about the publishing process…and then I sold my first book. I’d lived vicariously through my author friends who sold books and debuted before me, watching and learning from their experiences the best I could. But sending your first book baby out into the world is a lot like, well, delivering your first baby. Some things go as expected, and a lot is out of your control, but the more you know the better prepared you are for what comes your way.

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I asked six authors what they wished they’d known when they signed their first book contract. Between their experience and mine, I compiled a must-know list.

  • Learn to be a juggler, an acrobat, a magician, and a miracle worker—all at once! After you sell your first book, you’ll always be doing more than one thing at a time. Drafting one book, revising another, promoting yet another book…and that’s all in one day! Be flexible. You’ll learn real fast how to hop from one job to the next with the click of an email.
  • Dun-dun-duuuun! Deadlines. You won’t have as much time to complete major-level edits as you’re used to, and there WILL be major edits. Your editor will send you an editorial letter that could be anywhere from one page to a dozen pages long. Global edits, one or two rounds of lesser edits, copyedits, proofreads—you will be on deadline for them all. To publish a book on time, there’s a step-by-step process that must be followed. It sounds overwhelming and intense, because it is. But confidence in your ability to meet deadlines will grow when you meet your deadlines. So be on time, okay?
  • One-star reviews don’t always mean they hate you (I mean your book). As soon as your book deal is announced, someone will post your working title on Goodreads. Within an even shorter period of time, someone will rate your book one star based solely on your synopsis (remember, you don’t have a cover yet). Some readers rate books according to how important they are on their to-be-read list. One star means you’re at the bottom of their list, but hey, at least they want to read your book, right? Try to remember that every author receives one-star ratings, and don’t take it to heart.
  • Go ahead and judge a book by its cover. Your editor may ask you what sort of cover you envision for your precious book. You may even send him/her comparison covers of styles and designs you absolutely love. Now take those ideas and pitch them. Covers are all about marketing, and let’s face it, that’s outside most writer’s scope of expertise. Your publisher will pick a cover they feel will best position your book in its market. They may ask your opinion, they may not. Try not to get too upset when your first cover design isn’t what you expect. They will spruce it up. If the final cover still isn’t what you want, you can politely request to have it changed, but ultimately, that decision falls to the marketing department. Try to remember your publisher paid you for your book. You’re an investment that will hopefully pay off. They won’t give you a cover they feel could sink their investment. This advice also applies to book and series titles, release dates, foreign rights (depending on the terms of your contract), and basically everything else that you signed over to your publisher’s control. Again, keep in mind that publishing is a business.
  • World traveler extraordinaire. Conferences and book festivals are fun! And expensive. Travel, food, and time away (remember you’re on deadline!) costs YOU, not your publisher. They may offer to reimburse your expenses, and on the rare occasion they may schedule your travel and foot the bill, but don’t expect it. Even if you tell your publicist you’re attending an event—as a presenter—it’s unlikely your publisher will pay your way. There are exceptions, but if you have your sights set on attending a huge national conference, I suggest you start saving.
  • What the what? You’ll get a crash course in terms and abbreviations. For example, an ARC is an advanced reader’s copy. CEs are copyedits. PR are proofreads. STET means let it stand. Galley is a fancy word for an advanced reader’s copy. Swag is any small item that promotes your book (i.e. bookmarks. By the way, authors usually pay for swag out of their own pocket). Starred reviews are given by trade reviewers to books that are deemed exceptional. Original content is when you’re asked to write an article or Q&A for a media outlet. Media outlets include newspapers, blogs, websites, etc. Bookplates are large Avery stickers with designs that you autograph and mail to fans too far away for you to sign their book. PM is publisher’s marketplace, where most agents record their deals. An advance is an upfront payment on royalties, and is paid to you in percentages, based on the terms of your contract. Royalties are your earnings on sales after the book releases. You pay through your advance before collecting your first royalty check. Selling audio rights goes toward paying off your advance. I could go on and on, but that covers the basics.
  • All by myself. You have a signing event! The bookseller advertised that you’re coming, and you posted the date and time on your social media. You’re all ready to go with your colored Sharpies, bookmarks, and a big smile. But when you arrive, no one is waiting in line. In fact, there is no line. You spend the entire time sitting by yourself and smiling at people as they pass. When your time is up, you autograph a few copies for the store to put on their shelf and go home. Glamourous, right? Don’t forget that bookish people aren’t usually the most outgoing. Getting them to events can be a struggle. Ten people is a fair turnout! Don’t take it personally if you don’t bring in droves of fans. Few authors do.

This must-know list isn’t everything, but it’s a start. You’ll learn a lot as you navigate your debut year. Ask questions. Use your agent as a resource. Interrogate other authors. Everyone’s publishing experience differs, so listen, but try not to compare. No matter what, the result will be the same: You’ll be the proud author of a beautiful book!

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

Looking Back and Forward

Can you believe 2016 is almost over? We at Thinking Through Our Fingers have had a tremendous year, from book deals, to agents, to tackling a new genre, to finishing a difficult manuscript. I asked my fellow contributors to share their best accomplishment as a writer from this year as well as what they look forward to achieving next year.

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Rosalyn Eves—My writing high for the year was two-fold: seeing an actual copy (ARC) of my book for the first time and getting to meet my editor and the staff at Knopf this past November.

My goals for 2017: finish writing book 2 and survive the launch of book one in March!

Cindy Baldwin—2016 was a red-letter year for my writing! After unsuccessfully querying two other books, I managed to land both an agent and a book deal with a third. I’m now prepping to be a 2018 debut author and couldn’t be more excited!

I have lots of things I’d like to do in 2017: write more books, master tricky craft aspects that aren’t my strong point, etc. But the biggest thing that’s been coming to my mind as I’ve contemplated moving forward toward my debut is how much I want to focus on mindfulness and gratitude in my writing journey. Writing carries so much angst and neuroticism with it, and I know that debut years in particular can provoke a lot of anxiety. As I prepare for mine, I’d like to really focus on establishing tools that will help me deal with that anxiety moving forward.

Amanda Rawson Hill—I signed with my dream agent and wrote the book of my heart.

In 2017, I plan to finish an R&R, write my fourth novel, and be proud of myself whether or not I get a book deal.

Wendy Jessen—I just finished a revise and resubmit on my self-help/inspiration nonfiction. Lots of growing as a writer and as a person.

Goal for next year: self-pub some contemporary sweet romance novellas and get my YA rough draft. Or that might change depending on what happens with the aforementioned R&R and there may be some more NF in the works. Clearly, I have a solid plan.

Jolene Perry—I wrote my first middle grade novel, turned it in to my agent, and it’s now on submission 🙂

Next year, I want to get one of my YA horror novels on submission and continue working on my adult historical. This year, and who knows how many other years, are dedicated to stretching my writerly wings in any direction I please 🙂

Elaine Vickers—On the publishing end, my debut came out in 2016, which was every bit as wonderful (and stressful) as I’d ever imagined.

In 2017, I’m looking forward to all the same things again–first pass pages, ARCs, signings, conferences, trade reviews, launch party, etc.–with a little more experience but no less enthusiasm. On the writing end, I worked and revised in 2016 but didn’t draft a whole new story. I’ve got one I’ve been itching to write for months now that’s still just a skeletal outline, so my main writing goal is to get it written in 2017.

Dennis Gaunt—Lots of good things happened to me in 2016, including being asked to emcee the 2016 Storymakers conference. But my biggest news is that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley book that I helped produce, became available.

Looking forward to 2017, I have a couple of books that I’m working on, and am dipping my toe into the fiction world for the first time.

Orly Konig—Highs for 2016: Finished revisions on debut and got to cuddle my ARCs. Sold the second book.

My goal for 2017 is to enjoy being a debut author and not get lost in the frenzy. Oh, and write the next book. 🙂

Tasha Seegmiller—Personally, I signed with an agent (Annelise Robey – Jane Rotrosen Agency) and revamped the book that got me my agent TWICE! I also got re-elected as secretary for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, oversaw the publication of four editions of a quarterly ezine (Write On!), and expanded the frequency of TTOF posts to five days a week. (YAY!!!)

Kristina Starmer—My biggest accomplishment in 2016 was to give myself permission to make writing a priority.

For next year, my goals are to revise my NaNo project and continue querying a previous work.

Ilima Todd—My writing-related highlight of 2016 was probably having a book released (my second) and signing with a new agent (my third) all within a month. Crazy times!

My goals for 2017 include finishing off a couple of projects that I’ve started and writing something completely new. I want to write a novel in a different genre/audience than I’ve ever done before. I’m excited!

Helen Boswell — This was a hard year for me for writing,  but I coauthored a paper with Tasha Seegmiller in American Biology Teacher titled, “Reading Fiction in Biology Class to Enhance Scientific Literacy.” It’s currently more important than ever that we promote scientific literacy, and fiction writers can help!

Goals: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, and finish writing this damned book I’ve been working on for two years. Maybe get a standing desk to help, so I don’t have to keep my butt in the chair after all. 🙂

Annette Lyon—Probably the biggest thing for me this year was hitting the USA Today bestsellers list in July. I also went on my first round of submission with the book I got my agent with a year ago. I’m finishing (another!) round of revisions before we go on sub again early 2017. My hope for next year is that it will sell, of course. 🙂

Lauri Schoenfeld—My massive high this year is that I went through a complete revision of my novel—multiple times. And sending it off to my editor. This is a huge and new step. I’ve been working with this novel for five years.

Next year, I’ll be querying, finding an agent and writing a new baby. I haven’t written anything new for a while so I’m super excited about that stage too.

Jenilyn Collings—I suppose my high was: starting an MFA in writing for children and young adults.

My goal for 2017 is to finish the MFA program and query the novel I’ve been working on.

Emily R. King—My highs of the year were landing a fabulous new agent, Marlene Stringer, and selling my first two novels.

Next year, I hope to enjoy (and survive) the release of my first two books and sell a third (fingers crossed).

What was your high point for 2016? What goals have you set for 2017?

Whatever achievements you have accomplished or plan to attain soon, all of us at Thinking Through Our Fingers wish you a Happy New Year!

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

Surviving the Dreaded Elevator Pitch

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I posted this meme about how writers eloquently arrange words on the page, but when faced with the question, “What is your book about?” we turn into bumbling fools. The response was unanimous. All across the publishing community writers admitted that vocal pitches aren’t their strength. Which got me thinking, what makes a solid elevator pitch?

Using a YA thriller for an example, a previous manuscript of mine, here’s the breakdown:

  1. A pitch must have the following:

  • A protagonist
  • The protagonist’s main objective
  • The antagonist/antagonistic force
  1. Don’t use the protagonist’s name

It provides no essential information and so is unnecessary. Instead, tell us something uncomplicated about the main character. Who are they?

  • A high school senior
  1. Use an adjective to provide insight to the protagonist

This is your chance to show character depth, so beware of clichés. It is also helpful to describe a characteristic that pertains to the plot. What is pivotal to know about the protagonist?

  • A straight-A high school senior…
  1. Clearly and concisely present the protagonist’s main objective

This is what drives the story—and your pitch. The protagonist’s goal must be apparent right away or the agent/editor may quit listening. What does your protagonist want or lack?

  • A straight-A high school senior bound for med school…
  1. Describe the antagonist

The antagonist should be described in a similar manner to the hero. If the hero faces more general antagonistic forces, clarify what he/she is up against. What will prevent the hero from attaining his/her goal?

  • …is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide.
  1. Your protagonist must be proactive

He/she should drive the plot. A good pitch will show the action of the story, the narrative momentum that carries your audience to the end.

  • To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it…
  1. Include stakes and/or a ticking time bomb

These useful narrative devices add urgency. What is the consequence if the protagonist doesn’t achieve his/her goal?

  • before she’s the next to self-destruct.
  1. Setup

Some stories operate in a world with different rules to our own and require a concise setup (e.g. science fiction or fantasy). Other stories have a protagonist whose personal or psychological history is crucial to the story and must be explained. Again, be succinct. What about your unique world hinders the protagonist’s goal?

  1. The ending

Do not reveal the twist. The story, and thus the pitch, should hold up by itself; a surprise ending should be a satisfactory bonus upon reading your manuscript.

Full Pitch

A straight-A high school senior bound for med school is unwillingly included in a secret clinical trial testing a permanent form of birth control, which side effects include scenting sex pheromones and teen suicide. To survive her senior year, she must discover what was done to her, and how to reverse it, before she’s the next to self-destruct.

So there you have it, everything you need to construct a pitch that will snag agents and editors. Practice your pitch, time yourself (it should be 30 seconds or less), memorize it, and then try it out. People will let you know if you’ve hit a homerun.

Pro Tip: Write a decent pitch before drafting. An unfocused plot and character at the pitch stage may mean you aren’t ready to pen the manuscript.

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com