Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Hey you! I see you! Toiling away! Biting your nails with worry! Not sure you’ll ever make it/do it again/finish that book/be successful. I totally get it! This writing thing is tough! It’s only for the strongest, most awesome people! Which is why you deserve a gold medal no matter where you are on the journey.

 

Celebrate YourAccomplishments

Here. I made you some! So stop moping and start celebrating every little thing!  (These are words I’m saying to myself as much as you.)

Got a great book idea!

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Started writing a book!

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Completed a first draft!

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Sent your writing to CPs or beta readers!

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Conquered the impossible revision!

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Polished your MS to a shine!

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Revised even after you thought you were done!

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Sent a query!

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Got a rejection!

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Got a request!

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Got a new CP or writing buddy!

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Attended a conference!

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Entered a contest!

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Pitched to an agent/editor!

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Got an agent!

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Revised with an agent!

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Almost emailed your agent seventeen times in one day, but restrained yourself to only two times!

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Went on sub!

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Got an editor rejection!

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Made it to second reads!

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Made it to acquisitions!

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R&R!

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YOU SOLD A BOOK!

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Revised with an editor!

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Survived copy edits!

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ARCs!

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Your book has a cover!

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Your book is on Amazon!

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First review from someone you don’t know on GR!

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First trade review!

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A starred review!

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Book launch!

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Survived people emailing you with the errors they found in your book!

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Started writing the next book!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

 

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got (…it might not be what you think it is!)


In writing, as in any profession, there’s a lot of advice to take in. “Show, don’t tell.” “Use adverbs sparingly.” “Write what you know.” A writer at any stage can find advice on everything from craft to platform-building to marketing to how to tackle a query letter—and nearly all of that advice is extremely helpful.

But gather close, my fellow writers, because today I’m going to tell you about the hands-down most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten… and it probably isn’t going to be what you think.
In the summer of 2014, I was getting serious about pursuing publication. I’d been writing off and on my whole life, and had recently completed and polished my third novel. After years of not feeling like I was ready to wade into the daunting world of publishing, I’d decided it was time to go out and chase my dream down. And so I did: I signed up for a writing conference and live-pitched my book to an agent. I queried a handful of other agents and spent my days dreaming about how much they’d surely love my book. And when none of those agents uttered a word that wasn’t “no,” I stumbled across the world of online writing contests and entered Brenda Drake’s fabulous Pitch Wars, hoping that I’d win a coveted mentorship and be able to take my writing to the next level.
In the two weeks that passed between the Pitch Wars entrance period and the decision day, I knew with increasing certainty that I wasn’t going to make it in. None of the mentors I’d submitted to had requested any further materials from me, and none of the hints they were Tweeting about their favorite manuscripts lined up with mine. Sure enough, when the list of mentor picks went up, my name wasn’t on it. In the days that followed, I received kind rejection e-mails from three of the mentors I’d submitted to, all of them confirming the feeling that had been growing in my gut: My precious book, the one that my critique partners had declared “beautiful!” and “Newbery-worthy!”, was probably not going to have a chance of standing out in its highly oversaturated market.
Like any good protagonist, all of this plunged me into a bit of a Dark Night of the Soul. I traded anguished e-mails with my best friend and critique partner, agonizing over the fact that I’d never make it as a “real” writer, that I’d never be able to move beyond writing pretty words (my specialty!) to creating something truly meaningful that people couldn’t put down. I lived in fear that I would never figure out the secrets of a compelling plot—that I’d be consigned to nature-observation blog posts and lyrical but slow historical novels for the rest of forever.
During that time, I wasn’t on Twitter much. Seeing all of my newly-made Twitter friends rejoicing in the start of their Pitch Wars experience was just too hard. But on occasion, I’d get on and read the advice the mentors were tweeting for those of us who didn’t get in. And one tweet—a bit of advice from the lovely writer Bethany Smith and retweeted by a Pitch Wars mentor—particularly made an impression on me. 

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By that time, in the summer of 2014, I was not—and did not consider myself—a beginner writer. I’d been writing with varying levels of seriousness for almost a decade, and I’d been throwing myself into publication-related prep for the past two years. 
But in many ways, I was still a fledgling, just barely beginning to understand how to navigate the world beyond my own Word document. And in even more ways, I had fallen into the trap of imagining myself a “wunderkind”—a pretty natural fallout of having grown up surrounded by praise for my writing from teachers, friends, and critique partners. 
And, hard as it was to swallow, Bethany’s advice was exactly what I most needed. I needed that wake-up call—a reminder that, while I had studied hard and gotten skilled at some aspects of writing (lyrical language chief among them), I still had an enormous amount to learn (plots, for instance!). 
And as the weeks passed after the Pitch Wars mentor picks went up and I wasn’t one of them, I did my best to follow Bethany’s example, and I went to work. I turned to revising another novel, a strange little book that had a lot of my heart and soul in it, and the next year when I began querying that one, I started getting agent requests right off the bat. Ultimately, that novel got me into Pitch Wars the next year, and the things that I learned while revising that book for Pitch Wars were transformative for me. That novel didn’t get me an agent—during Pitch Wars or after it—but it did help me learn skills that I was able to apply in working on my next book, and that book was the one my fabulous agent signed me with.
In the two years that have passed since that watershed moment, a lot has changed. I have an agent now, and, in a funny twist of fate, I myself am a Pitch Wars mentor for 2016. But even now, I think about that tweet. Because while I’ve improved in many ways, I still have a lot of weaknesses, and I no longer consider myself a prodigy. Instead, I try to focus both on how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go, balancing my acquired strengths with the things I still need to learn. Because, I now realize, every writer, no matter where she is in her writing journey, has something to learn.

 

And that’s advice worth following.

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Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. She writes middle grade and young adult magical realism in addition to the occasional poem or creative non-fiction essay. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

Decorum

Each year, around Christmas time, the district administrators come to each school to shake each teacher’s hand. We usually know the day they are coming, but not the time.

A few years ago, they came into a colleague’s class to shake her hand. While she was visiting with this small group of people for a few minutes, her class stood, formed a line and proceeded to go through all the administrators. As you can imagine, the students were giggling the whole time, the district administrators obliged, and my colleague was horrified.

Later, she wrote a single word on the board: decorum.

A few days ago, I was asked to finish teaching a music class that I normally accompany as the regular instructor had a dress rehearsal at the same time. In the transition, the students (ages 9-14) lost their minds a little and were messing around, plucking on string instruments when they should have been listening, talking when I was. I requested they hold their instruments in rest position and told them about this word they needed to know: decorum.

Decorum requires dignity and orderliness. It embodies civility.

Okay, you may be saying, what does this have to do with me? Or writing?

Everything. 

Say you are offering a critique on something that needs tremendous work. Instead of saying, “I didn’t like anything about this first part” you could explain “The story really picked up here”.

Or what if you get a bad review that makes you want to toilet paper the reviewer’s house? Decorum says you say nothing online, and if the review or critique is face to face, the words out of your mouth are always, and only, “Thank you.”

I recently entered a contest where people provided feedback first for a pitch, and second for the first 250 words. They didn’t charge for this contest, and every entry got three to four critiques. Some authors took to twitter telling the critiquers how wrong they were, that they didn’t understand the story, that they were obviously not qualified to give feedback.

Never mind the fact that the writing world is extraordinarily small and word travels fast. Never mind that these people are trying to help progress a work, striving to direct the writers to a path of greater success. There will always be critiques that we don’t agree with, but that is a quiet off-line conversation with trusted readers, not ever something to be vetted for the world to see.

But it goes beyond that. Decorum says you don’t interrupt a conversation. I attended a panel at a conference a few years ago and one person interrupted EVERY SINGLE PANELIST. Constantly. The hurt and frustration was clear on the other panelists faces, but it was also very uncomfortable for the moderator and many in attendance. And due to a lack of this author’s decorum, I have sworn I will never buy even one of their books.

But that decorum needs to be practiced in critiques as well. I have attended events as conferences where several people were assigned to a group to give and receive feedback on the first ten pages. Each time, there is one person who interrupts when it isn’t their turn to critique, and tries to defend everything the other readers have to say that isn’t a glowing praise of perfection. As you can imagine, the desire to say anything else decreases very quickly, and that author literally misses out on what they paid for.

As spring and summer progress, so does the opportunity to attend writing conferences, author events and the like. I would like to suggest that the first thing we pack in our bags is decorum – remember the work that goes into events, the considerations of the people teaching the classes, the efforts provided for critiques and feedback, and hand out the expressions of gratitude at least ten times as often as pitches, business cards and bookmarks.

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

Seven Tips for Surviving–and Thriving–in Online Query Contests

I’ve spent the last three days caught up in the (good) madness that is Pitch Wars. After nearly two months working with my mentor on my manuscript, I thought I was ready. Turns out, my manuscript was, but me personally? Not so much.

I’ve written before about my love for online writing contests, particularly query contests. And if you’ve spent much time in social media communities, you’ve heard of them: Pitch Wars, Nightmare on Query Street, Query Kombat. Some of you may be participating in the upcoming Baker’s Dozen contest, and if you’ve missed the entry opportunities, there’s still PitchMas and Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness in the spring. And there are lots of monthly contests.

But the one thing I hadn’t anticipated–or had forgotten–was how emotionally challenging these contests can also be. After all, your prose is up there, in public, for the world to read. And anyone who wants to can see if the agents or judges are interested (or not) in your work. As one fellow Pitch Warrior put it, “it’s like being naked in public.” All the anticipation can make you crazy, in good and bad ways.

So here are five things I’ve learned to survive–and thrive–in online contests.

1. Keep Your Expectations Reasonable
Writing is a subjective business. With the same manuscript, I’ve had incredible success in some contests and zero response in others. Some of my very favorite entries in Pitch Wars didn’t have any requests, others had only one. The agents responded the most to the YA entries, and the NA entries didn’t get nearly the attention, despite having some incredible writing. Keeping the subjectivity in mind can ease–a little–the sting of being passed over.

2. Learn What You Can
Every contest I’ve been in has had something to learn–whether it’s from feedback by other contestants, or feedback from the judges themselves. Sometimes you’ll get direct responses to your writing. Other times, you can learn by studying the patterns. In Pitch Wars, which only had a short pitch and a first page to attract agents’ attention, I’ve been reminded–again–how important it is to establish genre, voice, and some sense of the main conflict on the first page. It’s a tall order, but it can be done. (Take a look at the Pitch Wars entries, and you’ll see what I mean.)

It was also interesting to see what agents were most drawn to: the top requested entries in MG and YA were both fantasies with dark undertones. And if you’re thinking of querying one of the Pitch Wars agents, it might be worth your time to see which entries they were requesting (this is, in fact, one of my favorite parts of The Baker’s Dozen).

3.  Reach out to Other Participants
Hands down one of the best parts of Pitch Wars (after the feedback from my amazing mentor, Virginia Boecker), was interacting with the other contestants. One of the Pitch Warriors created a Facebook page for everyone involved, and it was heartening to see the behind-the-scenes cheering that went on (and the mourning and support for entries that weren’t getting as much love). For me, personally, knowing the other contestants meant that I had someone else to cheer for as the contest unfolded, and I could celebrate their success with as much excitement as my own.

4. Step Away
The day Pitch Wars went live, I was alternately torn between not wanting to look at my computer screen at all (what if no one requests?) and wanting to stare at it all day (but what if they do?). But I’m a mom who’s currently teaching an online course, and I had other responsibilities to my kids and to my students. One of the best things I did for my sanity was to get out of the house with my toddler. We ran errands and went for a walk and I felt (almost) normal when I got back to check my results. I also forced myself to shut down the browser window for a few hours while he napped so I could focus on my students.

5. Wallow
It’s okay to take some time to feel frustrated or elated or despondent. It might be a good idea to stock up on your favorite solace ingredient. During Pitch Wars, some of the Pitch Warriors turned to chocolate, others to ice cream, still others to their favorite adult beverage. (My husband still owes me some Diary Queen). But when the wallowing is done, pick yourself up and move on.

6. Have a Back-Up Plan
While Pitch Wars was running, I spent some time fine-tuning my agent list to query in case the results weren’t great (and in fact, I’ll be using that list today!). Other contestants dove into NaNoWriMo or worked on drafting new projects. Having something else to think about–and be excited for–can help take your mind off the current drama (or trauma, depending).

7. Remember You’ve Already Won
Putting your work out there is hard. Having the courage to try is an important first step–so celebrate that! In addition, many of these contests have a vetting process to even get in. If you’ve made it, that means someone recognized something valuable in your writing. Enjoy that feeling.

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. She’s currently working on a YA historical fantasy, set in nineteenth-century England and Hungary.