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Crossing All My Digits

I tell you, it’s kind of hard to type with all my fingers crossed, but I’ll give it a shot because I need all the luck I can get. My toes, arms, and legs are crossed, too. I’m even thinking about braiding my hair so the strands are crossed. Why do I need all this luck? Because I’ve gone contest crazy!

The big one is that I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) again in January. I’ve had a rocky road with this contest, and if you want to know the details you can read this post and this post. But the short version goes like this:
 
1st time – booted in the first round (based on just the pitch).
2nd time – made it to the quarterfinals (based on excerpt) and got a great Publisher’s Weekly review (based on entire novel).
3rd time - booted in the first round (based on just the pitch).
4th time – made it to the quarterfinals (based on excerpt) and got a devastating Publisher’s Weekly review (based on entire novel).
 
ABNAAfter trying so many times with the same novel, I wasn’t going to enter again; but in December, I decided the January deadline was just what I needed as motivation to finish the rewrite. I was finally able to focus and do some major revising that I’m really happy with. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish rewriting the entire thing by the deadline, but I did transform the first third, which all my beta readers have agreed was the weak part in the original. 
 
In mid-February, I was excited to find out I’d made it past the pitch stage. Even though I used the exact same pitch that got me through last year, I was nervous because I never seemed to get picked during odd years. I was now one of 2,000 picked from 10,000 pitches anxiously waiting while our excerpts (the first two chapters) were read. I’d made major changes to these two chapters since the previous times I’d make it through, and this was the first time the new version was being read by strangers, so my stomach was in knots. They announced this past Tuesday – 2,000 were whittled down to 500 (100 of those YA ) – and I made it!! I’m a quarterfinalist again, and it seems like the rewrite didn't make the first two chapters worse. Whew!
 
Customer reviews don’t have any bearing on the contest at this point, but if you’re interested in reading the new first two chapters of THE DRAMA QUEEN WHO CRIED WOLF, you can get it here for free from Amazon. You don’t have to have a Kindle, since they offer lots of other ways to read it. And if you do have feedback for me (either positive or negative), you can either leave a review or send me an email. I’m trying to make these opening chapters the absolute best they can be.
 
And now it’s waiting time again as Publisher’s Weekly reads the entire novel. Gulp! Although I’d love to make the semifinals, only FIVE of the 100 quarterfinal YA novels are moving on, and as much as I love my silly little novel, I know it’s not the type of book that wins these awards. So I’m basically just hoping for a PW review that is helpful (and doesn’t reduce me to tears). 
 
writeoncomI’m also playing the waiting game with WriteOnCon’s Pitch Fest. They randomly selected 350 pitches to be assigned to agents for feedback and to be voted on by readers for prizes, and my pitch was lucky enough to be selected. My usual pitch is 300 words, so I had to whittle it down to 200 words for this contest. It’s another contest where reviews don’t help or hurt, but if you want to take a look at mine, you can read my pitch here and let me know if you have any feedback to help me make it stronger. Also, they have smartly set up voting so it’s not a popularity contest, so no one is able to go vote for a particular pitch, but if you’re interested in being one of the official voters, you can sign up here.
 
To keep from worrying myself into an anxious puddle of goo with all this waiting, I’m working on submissions for two more contests. I’m putting together my packet for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant, and I’m also turning one of my short stories into a short script for the PAGE International Screenplay Awards. Both deadlines are at the end of March, so they should keep me busy enough not to check online every five seconds for new tidbits about ABNA and Pitch Fest. At least in theory . . . *hurries off to check twitter one more time* 
 
What’s keeping you busy these days? Did you enter ABNA? Do you have a pitch in Pitch Fest? Are you applying for one of the SCBWI grants? Have you ever tried your hand at screenwriting? 
 

Pitch Slapped – Part 2

Official Pitchfest BloggerHave you heard about the WriteOnCon 2013 Pitch Fest? It’s a great way to get feedback on your pitch, and you might get lucky enough to have agents and editors read it. Click here for all the details.

To help people prepare, I’m sharing lessons about writing a perfect pitch that I learned from watching the movie Pitch Perfect. Go here to read part one about how to get Pitch Slapped.

Shalom. ~Deaf Jewish Student
That’s not a real word but keep trying. You. Will. Get. There. ~Fat Amy
With so few words available in a pitch, the key is making every word count. Choose words that create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. Use strong action verbs. Cut fluffy words that don’t make a precise point about plot or characters. Adjectives should be few and far between, but if they are pressed into service, they should be vibrant instead of generic like ‘beautiful’ or ‘mysterious.’
 
Keep in mind it is sometimes worth using additional words of the precious word count to make an impact. Instead of saying your protagonist is smart, mention she hacked her principal’s Facebook account to change his profile picture to Grumpy Cat. It uses more words but creates a memorable image and shows she has computer skills, a sense of humor, and a need to thumb her nose at authority.
 
Hey. You must be Kimmy Jin. I’m Beca. [Silence] No English? [Silence] Yes English? [Silence] Just tell me where you’re at with English. ~Beca
I admit I’m a terrible speller. Just awful. I don’t make anything public without running it through spell-check first, including tweets. I also have a strange addition to commas. If I type more than five words without a comma, I start itching to add one… just because. So I have several comma experts read my super important writing with their comma goggles firmly in place. Know your weaknesses and pay special attention to them in your pitch.
 
Taking names, taking numbers, join our righteous frat! If you ain’t pledging Sigma Beta, you ain’t worth no crap! ~Sigma Beta Frat Guys
That’s a double negative! ~Benji
That’s a lot of negatives. ~Jesse
This is basically the same as the one above, but it’s so important it bears repeating. A pitch is a sales tool, so it is absolutely vital that the grammar and spelling be correct. It’s such a small snippet that any mistake sticks out like a sore thumb and leaves a negative impression. An agent or editor might think if such an important writing sample has errors, then the manuscript is likely riddled with errors, too. Even if you are an expert at all things grammar, make sure to have several others read your pitch, since our brains often see what we think is there and not what is actually there. 
 
Pitch PerfectClosing it strong. Like always, absolutely tight. It’s going to be hard to beat that tonight. ~John
Make sure to leave readers wanting more. Several kind critiquers on the forums helped me identify a weak closing in my pitch. In my desperation to quickly sum things up, my last few sentences were generic clichés, losing all the momentum I’d built in the previous paragraphs. So don’t rush the end – keep it as tight and interesting as the rest of the pitch and readers will have no choice but to beg to read more.  
 
Best of luck with your pitch! 
 
Let’s just smash this! ~Fat Amy
 
Have you seen Pitch Perfect? Are the songs permanently stuck in your head? Do you have any tips to share about writing a pitch? Are you planning to participate in the Pitch Fest?
 

Pitch Slapped

Pitch PerfectYou guys are gonna get pitch-slapped so hard, your man boobs are gonna concave. ~Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect

Isn’t that how we want people to feel after reading our pitches? Like they’ve encountered something so awesome it actually changes them and now they MUST read our novels.
 
While we’re unlikely to make someone’s boobs go concave with our words, we can take lessons from the movie Pitch Perfect to help us craft a perfect pitch.
 
Yeah, this number is like an elephant dart to the public’s face. ~John 
Don’t be boring! A pitch is a sales tool, not a summary of the novel. A solid block of text with the gist of, “This happened, then this happened, and then this happened,” no matter how well written, will have readers asking, Is it just me, or did we take a left turn into snooze-ville? ~Gail
 
While it’s important to include elements of our plot, we need to focus on the plot points that will grab people’s attention. We should tempt and tantalize them until they are so intrigued they want to gobble up our novels right then to find out what happens.
 
Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what matters. ~Fat Amy
It’s vital that we connect emotionally with our readers - get them invested in our characters so they want to follow them over the course of an entire novel. Even if our characters are unlikeable, we want readers to root for them.
 
While space is at a premium in a pitch, we must find a way to quickly form a bond between our characters and the reader. It might be a quick bit of interesting back story or a habit or a fear – something that helps the reader see into the fat heart of the character and want to spend more time with them.
 
We should be taking risks. It’s not enough to be good, we need to put ourselves out there, be different. ~Beca
Most of us have heard the writing adage that there are only seven basic plots. Making it even tougher to stand out, a pitch has so little real estate it’s easy to fall into generalities and clichés to describe our novels in order to save space. With agents and editors reading so many pitches, we have to highlight what makes our novels special. What makes our vampire romance/teen discovers powers on 16th birthday/surviving in a post-apocalyptic world novel different from all the others out there?
 
Is it something special about the voice of your character? Then make sure it shines through in the pitch. Is it a quirk that makes your character intriguing? Then draw attention to it in the pitch with a memorable example. Is it a unique setting? Then make the readers feel they are standing there while reading the pitch.
 
It’s important to identify what makes our novel unique and emphasize that in the pitch, but as with all our writing, we need to make sure we show and don’t tell. Don’t say, “Emma is different from any teen you’ve ever read about before.” Instead try a specific and memorable detail like, “Emma always starts the morning announcements with off-key singing from Madama Butterfly.”
 
Your weirdness is actually affecting my vocal cords, so I’m gonna need you to scoot! Skedaddle! ~Bumper
Keep in mind there’s a fine line between being different and being off-putting. We want readers to remember our pitches, but not because it makes them wonder if they should call the loony bin. And while we are all obviously insane since we decided to be writers, we should keep a lid on the cray-cray to make sure we stand out in a good way, not a ‘grab the butterfly net’ way.
 
Pitch Fest Blogger
Since this is turning out longer than I thought, I’m going to stop here for now. Check out Pitch Slapped - Part 2 for more ways Pitch Perfect can teach us about writing perfect pitches.
 
In the meantime, find out all the details about the WriteOnCon 2013 Pitch Fest, and then go out there and crush it!
 
Have you seen Pitch Perfect? Are the songs permanently stuck in your head? Do you have any tips to share about writing a pitch? Are you planning to participate in the Pitch Fest?