Mid-reading #Pitchwars Note


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Hey, how are you all holding up?

Some people seem to be pretty frustrated this year, more so than I noticed in past years. So I figured I’d share my perspective on the contest, as I think it might help.

1. #Pitchwars will not make or break your writing career. Repeat this to yourself as many times as needed until it sinks in. Yes, it can be a major boost for some, but even when selected, it doesn’t mean your book will be published. Of my past mentees, one went on to self publish her MS, three have trunked the MS and moved on to other projects, and one has gotten an agent and her book released through a big 5 digital sub-imprint. Not because any of their writings were bad, but because some genres are just REALLY hard to break into. Romance, for example, is a hell of a lot easier than adult SF/F right now, because there’s a lot more romance publishers than SF/F.

2. This is an incredibly HARD industry. If you’re serious about pursuing this dream, you’re going to get rejected a lot. Everyone does. Yes, including authors you can’t imagine everyone not groveling at. Find a good coping mechanism now, be it eating a piece of chocolate, ranting at a friend on DMs, or writing a short story where you are a best selling author yourself and get those agents/publishers to beg for your next book. Whatever makes you feel better, just keep it private. Agents DO check your social media if they consider representing you, (One agent I interned for would check it before even requesting the MS!) so make your public face professional. Keep a side account if you really must put it out there, and keep that locked down to friends only or similar, and don’t add the professionals to it. Same with, for example, the pitchwars boards. Not saying you have to be all rainbows and smiles, but bashing the people you want to work with isn’t going to make them want to work with you, no matter how good your writing is.

3. With a contest like this, there are inherent limitations. I have a dayjob, editing work, at least some social events, household tasks, my own writing, and other things that take up the vast majority of my time. I’ll give you guys some stats after the contest, but suffice it to say, I don’t have nearly enough time to request and read everything I would want to. There are easily another 10 MSs I could have requested, and a few I’m still considering requesting anyway, just because they’re still sticking in my mind. Even the best MS in our pile right now has things to improve, and even the entry we liked the least does some things really well. Getting requests, yes, is a good thing. It means your writing caught our attention, and your concept was something we think might have a shot in the current market based on our understanding of it. We did research, in addition to my usual habit of keeping up with what’s going on in publishing. But we’re not the queens of publishing, and it is SUPER subjective. We can only pick one, so we have to prioritize. We only have so long to edit this, we have to think the author can pull off the changes in the 2 months. Last year, our mentee really struggled to do that, and we really did ask a lot from her. She did her best, and life got in the way. So this year, we’re probably going to be tougher on that, and pick something that needs a bit less changed, that we otherwise would have just sent them the feedback and encouraged them to refine based on that and then query.

4. Oh, did I mention KT and I often give feedback to the ones we requested if they don’t get picked by us or other mentors? Cause we do. We’re in no way REQUIRED to, but we make these notes as we read anyway, so we may as well give them what we came up with. Yes, this also means it takes a lot longer to read than if we were just reading for pleasure. This means we do try to limit the number of requests we make. I can read a book, with no notes, for pleasure, in about 3-4 hours for a 90k MS. With notes, for editing or critique, you’re looking at about 8-12 hours for that same MS, depending on the shape it’s in and what level of critique I’m doing. Plus I take a bit of time (an hour or two at least) to put together some overall thoughts after I’m done reading and sort my notes into categories. We requested a total of over 800k words so far, on top of all the queries and first chapters of the rest. It’s physically impossible to request and read even all the good ones we would want!

5. Some really didn’t seem like the kinds of projects we were looking for. We specifically wanted romance PLUS other elements, so straight up romance, or projects where we couldn’t find the romance element, we were less likely to request. Targeting the right agents will be the same kind of issue. Yes, it takes time to research them, just like it took time to go through the blog hop. You may be thinking, oh, but mentors can swap, so it doesn’t matter. Well, except if we look at it and go, nope, not for us, we’re not throwing them into a huge pile for everyone else to look through. The only swapping that happens is when a mentor LOVES more than one MS and another mentor isn’t falling in love with their submissions, and wants to see it. There’s only been one of those we even asked to see the query/first pages on, because the concept sounded like it’d be right up our alley when a couple of the mentors were talking about it.

6. Take a deep breath, and talk with other entrants. Make friends. At the risk of sounding like a Care Bear, that’s the biggest prize in this contest. Find your people, find CPs, get feedback and apply it. It’s one piece of a very long journey, and you’ll need them all along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am now without my friends. And I’ll be further along later, because of friends, and they’ll be further along too because we all work to help each other. You can do this!

(Crossposting to the forum as well)


Excerpt for #Pitchwars Mentor @LH_Writes

This sounds DELICIOUS! Laura’s a fabulous writer, and this looks like such a fun read!

Release Date: September 5, 2017




Jen Reid’s life after walking off a reality show has been great–she’s gone from being a broke twenty-four-year-old Seattleite with no love life and no job to the twenty-five-year-old who got the guy, moved to Miami, and is starting a bakery with her best friend. She thinks her showmance love might be about to propose. And with mouthwatering goodies based on everyone’s favorite shows, her business, Sweet Reality, is destined for success.

That is, until a killer competitor opens right across the street. If she’s going to save Sweet Reality, Jen has to come up with a secret ingredient–like the recipe that won Totally 80s Bake-Off. Jen can get it–if she steps back into the spotlight. Soon she and her boyfriend are out to sea on a cruise ship full of reality stars, including her nemesis, Ariana; her lying, cheating ex; and some wicked producers looking to bring the drama. Separate cabins, “surprises” from her past, and scenarios tailor-made to spark fights are just the beginning. But with her self-respect, her business, and her future on the line, the fallout from this made-for-TV plotline will be all too real . . .





Sarah kissed both our cheeks before pulling away and handed me a small, clear plastic container. “You’re the best, both of you. I gotta go before they tow my car. Love you all, I’ll see you next Sunday. Bring me alcohol, and try not to get into any trouble. Especially you, Ed.”

He winked at her, and Justin pulled her aside, supposedly to talk about their mother for a minute before dropping our suitcases with the porter. I suspected he had another reason for this conversation, which made me grin far more than I should at the prospect of having my luggage checked.

This excitement would not be contained. Nearly two years ago, I’d been so sure my ex-boyfriend planned to propose right before I found out he was married. I’d been excited then, but the thought of spending my life with him never sounded as perfect as marrying Justin. He was my other half, the absolute best partner for me.

Sarah winked at me over his shoulder, her way of telling me she’d slipped him the ring. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, wishing I could share my excitement with someone, but got distracted by the massive ocean liner casting shadows over the dock. More specifically, by the lifeboats.

Eyeing the orange rubber vessels lining the sides, I turned to Ed. “Do you think they brought enough lifeboats?”

“Yes. Also, this isn’t the Titanic. We’re not gonna sink. We have communications devices to call for help. And you, Jen, have your very own hunky stud in Justin to save you if anything goes wrong. Relax. Take your Dramamine.”

I rooted around in my carry-on for a moment before giving up. “My Dramamine must be in my big suitcase . . . which I probably shouldn’t have given to him to check. At least not without putting this Tupperware in first. The carry-on is about to burst.”

Ed gestured at the container Sarah handed me before leaving. “What’s that for?”

“So I can bring her one of Tammy Rae’s cupcakes. They’re doing a tasting after the bake-off tomorrow, remember?”

One of the onboard events pitted reality stars against each other in a baking competition, which Ed apparently forgot to sign up for. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to wing it. My friend created excellent meals for everyone while we were in the Fishbowl, but his laissez-faire attitude to cooking wouldn’t produce the same delicious results in baked goods.

Instead of competing against Ed, I signed up to judge with Justin. Partially as a way of getting on Tammy Rae’s good side, and partially because rumors said everyone involved got to sample her winning cupcakes after the event. I needed to be in the right place to snag one. Well, two. One for me, one for Sarah. Then I could verify whether these things tasted as good as the inter-webs claimed and butter Tammy Rae up by raving about what a baking genius she was before begging for a favor.

Where was Tammy Rae? Hopefully she hadn’t changed her mind and canceled at the last minute. According to E-Entertainment News Online, she’d mysteriously pulled out of Celebrity Poker Match a few years back, despite being a favorite to win. I scanned the docks, looking for her.

With luck, the recipe would be in my hand and I’d be lounging by the pool before the ship arrived in our first port. But one thing at a time. First, Justin and I needed to thoroughly explore and “enjoy” our cabin. Our glorious private cabin where we wouldn’t have to worry about my boyfriend’s sister or his somewhat creepy roommate hearing us through the paper-thin walls of our respective apartments. Or well, at least we wouldn’t know the people on the other side of our walls, so it wouldn’t matter what they heard.

Ed’s voice called me away from those thoughts, back to our conversation.

“What?” I asked.

“I said, calm down. Justin will be back soon, Tammy Rae will arrive before the ship leaves, and your suitcase, with Dramamine, will be delivered to your cabin sooner rather than later.”

“Why didn’t I take seasick pills before leaving home?” I moaned. “Why am I doing this?”

“You mean, freaking out over nothing? I couldn’t tell you.” Ed hugged me. “Really, Jen, you’ll be fine. I’ve cruised before. You won’t feel a thing.”

Finally, Justin walked toward us, sans luggage. I found myself relaxing as he put an arm around my waist and squeezed. I kissed him.

“Ugh. Lovebirds!” Ed moaned. “Get a room!”

“Hey, Ed, isn’t your boyfriend around here?” Justin asked good-naturedly. “Why don’t you go find him?”

Ed met his boyfriend Connor, formerly known to me only as Curly Beard, while filming The Fishbowl. Although the Network strictly prohibited staff from socializing with the contestants, they still found a way to make a connection. More importantly, they’d managed to keep it going ever since. The Network promoted Connor from production assistant to camera operator, and Ed recently moved from Boston to Los Angeles to be with him while pursuing a stand-up comedy career. I couldn’t have been happier for them.

“He’s doing some pre-boarding filming. I’m not allowed,” he said to Justin. “Besides, someone had to keep your belle here from having a panic attack. Did you know she gets seasick?”

Justin tilted his head at me the way he did when he didn’t want to say he thought I wasn’t being one hundred percent truthful. “You never mentioned that. You do?”

“I don’t know. When I was in high school, I threw up on the swan boats at the local fair.”

“Wasn’t that right after you bought tacos out of some guy’s van? Because I’m not sure that was the boat’s fault.”

This was the problem with dating someone long enough for them to hear all your stories. “Maybe…”

“You’ll be fine!” Ed said. “Now, let’s go before they take off without us.”

“Depart,” I said. “Or set sail.”

“Whatever.” Ed took off for the ship, luggage in tow.

“What’s really wrong?” Justin asked.

He gazed into my eyes until I realized I’d been freaking out over nothing. “I don’t know. I’ve been on edge all week. Partially it’s the bakery. What if Sarah can’t come up with new recipes? What if Tammy Rae hates me?”

“You are a resourceful, brilliant woman. You can be very persuasive. Plus, Sarah’s a genius in the kitchen. Even if Tammy Rae says no, the two of you will come up with something.”

I sighed. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being stupid. I don’t know why I’m so jittery.”

Behind me, someone walked by wearing a t-shirt showing a woman with long, dark hair, pouting out from the inside of a clear fishbowl. And suddenly, I realized exactly why I felt so on edge: Ariana. The one person who could always make me act like my brain took a vacation without my body. No one confirmed whether she’d be onboard. I couldn’t relax until we set sail without her.




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About the Author


Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.


Connect with Laura


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Cover reveal for #Pitchwars Mentor @Michelle4Laughs

Here’s what Michelle has to say about her cover. I haven’t read this series, I’m waiting for it to be done before I binge read it, I had a feeling from the first book it would be one of those series for me. If you’ve loved it, tell me why!

It all starts, of course, with getting hit with the writing bug. You have an idea for a story. You bravely sit down and write it. You learn that you don’t know how to write quite yet and you begin to gather experience plucked from other writers farther down the road. 

A manuscript or four later your craft has improved enough to land an agent. Your brilliant story goes out to the scary land of editors and may or may not sell. But you persist. You write other stories if the first one fails. And eventually you make your first sale for, say, three books.

Now you are faced with the scary fact that you need to write your first sequel and carry on a story line. You get the wonderful news that the characters you adore will live on. At the same time, you are full of anxiety that a sequel is a daunting thing and you’ve never tried one before. Bravely you forge forward and write a sequel that meets your editor’s approval. 

A new first appears now that you conquered the other challenge. You now have to write the ending book of a series. You have to take all the characters and all the obstacles you created and bring them to, not just an end, but a highly exciting end. Once again you doubt your talent and ability. You plunge forward nonetheless. And you succeed.

Cover reveals. Release days. Publishers Marketplace announcements. All those days are great days, but they are blips on the actual journey. The true test is the challenge you meet everyday to go out and do what scares you because you might fail– and see yourself instead succeed. 

So a cover reveal is not so much a celebration of art as it is a celebration of spirit. Another test passed. Another doubt proved groundless. A forging forward on the journey of you, whether you are a writer or something else. 

Proof I climb this mountain in the form of a third cover for my Birth of Saints series. Thank you for being a witness and may you climb your mountains. 

 Do what scares you my friends and face those challenges.  
Against an angry god whose only desire is to wipe out all life, what hope is there to survive?

The army from the north has left a trail of burned and captured cities. In trying to stop them, Claire and Ramiro unleashed the northern god, Dal, but now they face two monstrosities and no amount of honor or hope can stop the killing as Dal grows in power.

Searching for a miracle, Claire finds the elders of the Women of the Song, who might teach her a thing or two about using her voice magic to fight back—if they can put aside their own problems first—while Ramiro searches for truth in his dreams, leading him to the northern priestess Santabe, the only one who could share her knowledge of Dal and the mysterious magical Diviners. 

Claire must unite the Women of the Song in the face of utter destruction, and Ramiro must decide how far he will go to get the answers he needs to defeat the rampaging god.

It will take nothing less than a saint to rise and face the leviathan before they all become martyrs. (unofficial blurb)

Steadfast releases December 5, 2017

Enter Giveaways to Win Signed Copies of Grudging and Faithful:

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

Following Grudging–and with a mix of Terry Goodkind and Bernard Cornwall–religion, witchcraft, and chivalry war in Faithful, the exciting next chapter in Michelle Hauck’s Birth of Saints series!

A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.

Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?

On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.

What they find instead is an old woman.

But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.

A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.

About the Author:

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two college-going kids. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Picture Book Party, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy, starting with Grudging (November 17, 2015) and Faithful (November 15, 2016) and Steadfast (December 2017)  is published by Harper Voyager. Another epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing.

Find her on twitter at @Michelle4Laughs or at her blog.





So a couple years ago, in 2015’s #Pitchwars, I was looking for something specific. I wanted something that would appeal to a certain agent, frankly. Something that was right in line with the market, that would be a compelling, voice focused read.

Going through the slush, a couple different romances caught my eye. But this one… It had a strong voice and awesome marketability. (One of the others hitting the same combination in that pile was Kristen Lepoinka’s Last Place You Look, under an old title, so clearly my inbox that year was full of awesome novels. If they let us pick as many as we wanted, I would have had 10!) I knew it was the right one when I kept sneaking glances of it between other books. I was trying to read 3 different entries at once, seeing which was stickiest.

Killing June? Well, it was super glue to me. I couldn’t stop reading it!

And then we dove into it. May tackled every change, every challenge, with aplomb and grace. We did a lot of work on the sensory details, and as she wrote the sequels, she was able to integrate that feedback on them too. As many of my editing clients will tell you, I focus a lot on what kinds of sensory details to use. It brings the story to life, and is the HARDEST element to get right. It’s also one of the biggest reasons I see people (whether that’s agents or readers) reject a book.

She’s become not only one of my mentees, but a friend, and I couldn’t be happier for her. She’s fantastically talented, and incredibly dedicated to her work, and I am SO excited to see where her career  goes from here. Books 2 and 3 of this set (Same world/you’ll see familiar faces) will be out later this year/early next year too. And trust me when I say, while I didn’t have enough time to give them my full workup as much as the first, she has applied what she’s learned throughout them VERY well.

What are you still here for? GO READ.  Fair warning, it’s incredibly steamy.

Happy Book Birthday @Stormowl7 and My Soul to Give!!


This book looks SO delicious! I’ve read another project of hers, and her style is excellent. Dark, conflicted men, complex, nuanced women, and sexual tension fit to steam up your summer! Taking this one on my next long weekend trip!MY-SOUL-TO-GIVE-evernightpublishing-June2017-smallpreview


When Celina Leviet escapes the brutal home invasion that kills her husband, she’s left with a bullet in her gut and vengeance in her heart. An alluring demon, Mekaisto, offers an irresistible deal—in exchange for her soul, he’ll let her live long enough to get her revenge, but she must hunt and kill the murderers herself.

After sealing the contract, Celina digs into her husband’s past for clues about his murder, and what she uncovers makes her question everything she thought she knew about him.

His company never existed.
His family history was a lie.

And he was involved with The Lumen, a shadowy religious order whose members know too much about demons. As the life she thought she knew crumbles around her, Mekaisto’s charms become harder to resist. Forced to face a horrible truth, Celina struggles against her late husband’s betrayal and the dark seduction of the devil she knows.


Short Excerpt

Her breath came faster, and he could smell what she wanted before she even knew what it was. “Please, Kai—I’m yours. I want more. I want everything you can give me.”

The wave of lust heating his body could have burned a city to the ground. “Well, now,” he whispered in her ear as he stood, lifting her up with him, “I need to oblige such begging with a reward.”



Evernight Publishing



I’m passionate about writing, reading, photo manipulation artwork, animals, anime/manga, video games, the fandom world of TV shows and movies, and stuff like that. I’m a proud Ravenclaw: I’ve always been sorted into this house, but the recent Pottermore sorting placed me in Gryffindor―I don’t care since the Sorting Hat couldn’t consider my choice, so I identify with Ravenclaw, and that’s where I’ll remain!

I have two main hobbies: writing and creating book covers. I’m also a gamer (Diablo, Zelda, Final Fantasy), enjoy listening to music (and always singing along to Disney), have a passion for Japanese culture, and adore reading. I love anime/manga, Japanese Dramas and consider myself a proud fan of many different TV shows including Buffy, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Merlin, Game of Thrones, Outlander, etc.

I wrote my first story when I was 12 years old (and we’ll never talk about that story), but started writing three years later. Since then, I always write, and this particular novel is my 19th story. It’s always been a dream to be a published author, and I can happily say I’ve reached that goal―I plan on continuing writing and publishing for the rest of my days.

Connect with Magali

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(This story has two points of view )

“I am a demon, Celina, and above all else, demons love the hunt.” He smirked when her eyes widened.

“So, you see having sex with someone as a hunt?”

He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “By your expression, I would say you still do not quite understand.”

“It’s your twisted logic.”


“I take my time, stalk my prey first, count the number of breaths she takes, imagine her screams…”

She arched an eyebrow. “That’s not at all creepy.”

Kai ignored her. “I am a creature of infinite time; the world creeps by, yet an intimate moment is so fleeting, it feels as though it is gone in less than a second.” He stopped, expecting an interruption again, but she stayed silent. “The pleasure is heightened by the danger, and in the throes of passion, I could lose my control and revert to the form least likely to be found pleasurable by my … partner?” He lost himself in the images in his mind, pinning down Celina’s body, taking her in a way she would never be able to recreate with a mere mortal man. “Hunting is simple. There is always one in the crowd that stands out—rarely is it the one searching for the one-night stand—no…” Kai locked his eyes with hers and goose bumps rose on her arms and legs. “No, the one unsure of what society wants her to be, the one who is desperate to be loved and appreciated. She is the one I seek.”

“So, social outcasts are your type?”

His eyes pierced her until he could see through her mind again, to all those curious little fantasies.

He smiled. “It’s about finesse, Celina. I listen to her, and as she speaks more confidently, I brush a hand over her skin”—his hand skimmed Celina’s neck as he brushed her back—“just enough so she shivers with anticipation of what my lips would feel like in the same spot.” He delved into Celina’s mind as his words worked against her disdain for him. “Then I caress her in a way she won’t notice, but her subconscious will let her lean into, let her mind take over and her body will beg for more.”

“She’d notice if…” She followed his gaze to his hand on her knee.

“Are you certain?” He’d worked his own body into a sensual frenzy as he’d drawn her into his web.

She stared at him, her cheeks flushing. “I—”

“Eventually, I suggest a night filled with pleasure.” He couldn’t contain his smile as he moved closer. “I keep touching her in small ways—maintaining physical contact at all times.” His hand inched up her side, until he tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She sucked in a breath and he cupped her cheek.

He sat close to her and her scent calmed and excited him at the same time.

“Kai?” Her voice wavered.

“Sex is fleeting.” He took her chin and drew her close. “But intimacy is endless, a continuous moment of gentle touches”—his hand dropped back to her knee, and then made its way up her thigh until she let out a small gasp—“personal boundaries broken, and pleasures that go beyond sex.”

She sat as if frozen. “It’s still a one-night stand.”

“Mine last longer—and you reveal not only your body.” His hand moved to the middle of her chest. “When you are intimate with a demon, you reveal your soul. You make yourself vulnerable and open.”

“Considering you’ll have my soul sometime soon, I’m not giving you a free sample.” She drew away from him and stood. “I won’t be your prey tonight.”

Another surge of heat rushed through him, but he pushed it down with a long, deep breath. “You would set me loose on another human?”

She glared at him. “I wasn’t aware I had a choice about what you do outside of our deal. This would be on you, not me.”

“You think you control what I do within our deal?”

She rubbed her arms when he stood. “Not when you say it like that.”

“Celina…” He stopped in front of her and leaned into her personal space, drawing a lungful of a scent he would only ever associate with her.

He wrapped his arms around her, swallowing the shiver that shook her body. “What are you—?”

“Let’s play, Celina. I can assure you, you will not regret a night in my arms.”

I want you… Against all my instincts, I need you close.

Celina pushed him as hard as she could, and he withdrew as disappointment withered his gaze.

“Let me go, Mekaisto.”

You are trembling again, my dove… Is it because you are scared you will give in? How far can I push you until you bend?

“What if I say no?”

She glared at him, but Kai’s smile widened. He could feel, even smell, the pulsing between her legs begging him to take her.

“Isn’t it enough you’re getting my life and my soul? Now you need my body, too?” She pushed against him again, but he only held tighter, unable to let her go. “Why are you doing this? I just lost my husband, found out things that break my heart. I can’t sit and flirt with you.”

“I am offering you the chance to forget.”

“No!” Her hands clenched to fists as she shoved even harder against his chest. “No! You want to take everything I have left.”

He grabbed her wrists, pushed her back on the sofa, and pinned her down, his body hovering over her. “What is your life without your body?” He tilted his head and flicked his tongue across his lips. “You never asked what selling your life and soul meant specifically. Allow me to enlighten you now.” He moved until his face loomed only an inch or so from her face and her breath caught. He let go of her wrists, but his gaze pinned her to the spot.

“What?” Her voice ached just above a whisper.

“I own every inch of you … body and soul.”

Her face flushed and her lips trembled. “I never agreed to that!”

“You agreed to living. The details did not matter to you.”

“I was dying! You told me I didn’t have much time left, so it—”

His smile widened. “Even if you had all the time in the world, it would not have made a difference. Humans never read the fine print.”


Paralyzed by Perfection



(Post inspired by a #Pitchwars and @tammy_oja convo)

How do you know when to hit send?

It’s impossible.

Here’s the thing: You can literally spend 20 years polishing the same thing, getting better with every revision, pushing more with each turn.

Every published author I’ve known sees things a year later, two, five, ten..whatever. Things that once the book/story is published, they’d change. This applies to even luminaries like Tamora Pierce and Neil Gaiman.

The first short story I ever submitted for publication was picked up at the first place I sent it to. Knowing what I know now about the publishing industry, I recognize that 1. That project was limited in market. 2. It worked because the narrative arc was very personal, and 3. I used what I knew at that time about what that specific market was looking for, and what works well for the audience, to try to push that project into where I thought it had the best chance to succeed.

After that?

I had perfection paralysis.

I justified it in a million ways. I wasn’t ready to dive into a publishing career. I wasn’t going to put out less than my best. I wasn’t. I wasn’t. And then I blinked, and a decade passed without my putting out another thing.

If I query, I want to query my strongest project to the best agents. I’m talking those who rep people like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, Cat Valente, Seanan Mcguire, etc. And when I eventually do so, I will have easily 6-10 projects where, with some good editing, can line up for the market.

But if I don’t get past the perfection paralysis, they will never see the light of day.

There’s a point at which perfect becomes the enemy of the Done.

My boyfriend and I have been cleaning out the excess stuff in our apartment. Do we really need 350 pens/pencils? Probably not. That shirt that doesn’t quite fit right, I can send that to the local thrift shop.

He’s been working on the same box for over a month, breaking down various office supplies into specific categories. Ball point pens. Novelty pens. Fountain pens. Quill pens. Mechanical pencils, 2 pt. Mechanical pencils, 0.5 pt. etc ad nauseum. I wanted him to just count how many pens/pencils there were so the next time we’re tempted to pick up more when school supplies go on sale, I can avoid it!

There’s a point where being perfect is counterproductive. Where you’re further polishing something that is already golden.

The hardest thing?

Recognizing when you’re nearing that point.

We all want to put our best foot forward. But you’ll never be perfect. The hardest thing to do is to put yourself out there. Yes, they may reject it. But they may not. You’ll never know until you find the courage to hit submit.

So how do you figure out when it’s good enough, and silence the doubt that whispers that it’s awful?

  1. Great crit partners. Critique partners are rather different from beta readers in one key way: Beta readers should focus on how the story makes them feel. Their job is to make sure the story resonates on the emotional level. Does it feel like the pieces come together into a coherent whole, and if they react the way they’re supposed to? Then you’ve done a good job. Crit partners go further than that.   This is a fine art, not everyone can do it. Make sure your crit partner understands your vision for the story. If you mean it to be a thriller, but they think it’s supposed to be a romance with a suspense subplot, their feedback isn’t going to be as useful for you. They’re using the wrong lens for it. Great crit partners will help you find not only what’s wrong with a story, but how you might fix it.
  2. Alternately, an editor may be used for the same purpose, and a good one comes with the advantage of understanding the market you’re targeting. This is especially useful if you’re looking to self publish, or if you’re working in a really tight genre, like SF/F where a LOT of writers are writing, and few places are buying. Sometimes, they may even suggest you change major things about your novel, like adding a subplot or removing a character. They should also be able to explain why that would help the novel. Any editor who doesn’t explain the why something works or doesn’t isn’t objectively working on the material, but subjectively. That can work, but often leads to projects that drift into someone else’s vision, or don’t fit with their market. Editing is 40% gut, 60% knowledge, and the head needs to guide the heart.
  3. If you don’t understand WHY someone’s giving you that feedback, ask them for more clarification. Sometimes a suggestion won’t resonate with you, but it reveals an underlying issue that needs addressed. It’s always acceptable to ask for clarification. Most good editors/critique partners will explain why when they’re doing it, but sometimes it needs more digging to get to the actual issue, so don’t be afraid to talk it out further with them. Bouncing off each other often results in the BEST ideas!
  4. Most of all, know what you want your story to be, and how it fits into the market. If you can’t define the genre of it, at least in a broad stroke, and you don’t know what the core of your story is, you won’t be able to revise to create it. Keep that vision in mind as you revise, and use it as a target ONLY. It’s the goal, the dream, but you will never get it EXACTLY like it. Just make sure it aligns. The best novel, shined perfectly, won’t get picked up if the agents or editors can’t figure out how the hell to sell it. Better to put it out as strong as you, your betas/crit partners/editor can make it, test the query waters, and evaluate. Try it on your mid level agent list, the agents you’d love to  sign with but aren’t dream level, and see what kind of responses you get. If you get a lot of requests, aim it towards your dream agents, you’ve got this!

Why do you write?

A tweet @Nikki_Roberti said the other day, combined with some recent editing, made me think about this question.

Why did you start writing?

For me, it was when I was in 5th grade. I’d just moved to Texas from Ohio, and my entire world had been turned upside down over the past year. Between the move, my mom getting remarried, my grandfather’s death, and my best friend moving away (in reverse chronological order!) I was in a position where I had no real ties. I mean, yeah, I had my mom, but she was the only semiconstant, and frankly, she had other things she was focused on. We’d read A Wrinkle in Time for my 5th grade class, and I wrote this really Mary Sue story where Not!me (totally me) went back in time and saved her twin sister from falling down the stairs, using the tesseract machine. Very much based on my own life (I had a fraternal twin sister who fell down stairs when we were 2 and died. If you say sorry in the comments it will be deleted, I hate when people do that!! Unless you pushed her, you don’t need to apologize for it! I grew up knowing about her, and her death, the way others might grow up knowing the sky is blue. It’s fact. It’s not something that needs sympathy.)

But my teacher called a parent teacher conference, and I was CERTAIN I was in trouble. Maybe kids here weren’t allowed to talk about death, or maybe I had done such a bad job that I was going to be told never to write a story again!!

Instead, a woman who, to that point was an inscrutable rock who I thought hated me, revealed that she cried reading my story. Not because it was somehow an amazing piece of prose, but because she finally related to me, the stubborn, pain in the ass kid that I was at that point.

I realized, sitting in that stiff plastic chair, that words had power.

I realized, in that moment, that if I honed my words, I could not only reach outside of myself, but find others like me, who might feel just as lonely, alone, and lost.

Everyone starts writing because of something. Be it as a kid, as a parent, or as a grandparent… There’s something we want to capture. For me, as a 10 year old, it was that feeling of being half of something more. Every time I sit down to write a story, I am reaching into some part of my emotion, and finding where a squishy part needs to expand and grow through it.

A friend of mine recently saw another friend of hers lose a child. As an adult on the outside of the situation, my thoughts immediately went to that child’s young sibling. The kind of adoration that is heaped on the child who is no longer there. The idealization that people invoke the lost child with. And part of me felt worse for the sibling than for the deceased child, because they will always live in the shadow of the might have been. And yet, having been in that position, I wouldn’t change it. I started writing because I was emotionally processing a lot of that as I grew old enough to understand it. To a certain point, I think write what you know is right… not so much in, I know BBQ so I must write characters cooking it. But on an emotional level.

If you’ve never known loss, you’re only going to have that outsider’s view. If you’ve never known a deep faith (I haven’t!), your depiction of it is going to be inheritedly limited. There’s an old expression that those who read live a thousand lives in one. It’s true. Reading a good book lets us feel things we’ve never experienced, and put things we have into the context of what others have felt, making it easier to bear.

We all start writing for a reason. There’s an incredibly long journey past that. It discourages at every turn (the first writing convention I went to, the writers of a TV show I adored told the audience “Stop writing. If you can do anything else other than this shit, stop now and save yourself the heartache”. All it did was piss me off and make me determined to show them how wrong they were!).  My job, as an editor, is often to tell people where they need to work on specific aspects of craft. I deliberately don’t try to tell people how to change anything about that core concept. Because I know and understand that concept comes from their experiences. That’s the heart of the story. Everything else should work to grow/support THAT, never the other way around.

Scheduling, Deadlines, and Accountability

So @Jamie_Adams22 and I were talking on Twitter about scheduling tools and accountability, right after I’d had a client run late on an editing project (Her reasons were entirely valid, so I didn’t hold it against her).

I’ll be the first to admit, I hold myself more accountable to deadlines than I often do my clients. My parents were military, so I was raised with the philosophy of “Hurry up and wait”. AKA it’s better to be ready early and have to wait for your time than to be late. On time is late, to that mindset.

So the usual caveats apply here. Not all of this may work for you, or may work all the time. I’ve grown into some of these methods over time, and jumping headfirst into it doesn’t usually work out well. If you’re perpetually late, like my friend who always shows up to events half an hour late, this isn’t going to make you early. But over time, it might help.

  1. Figure out what you need to do. This might seem obvious, but one of the reasons people often run late is because they forget about all the steps in the process. For purposes of examples, I’m going to outline the process I generally suggest for those self publishing. You need to plot the novel, write the novel, revise the novel, send it to betas, revise based on their feedback, then send to your editor, revise, organize your cover, send to your copy editor, revise, plan a promotion campaign, send to your formatter, upload to various book sellers for preorders, do your promotion, and keep doing it, have a launch party, more promotion. Break out each step as much as you need to get a handle on what all is involved.
  2. Figure out how much time you need for each step in an ideal world, then add 25%. Why 25%? Scotty’s Principle. No matter what you think you CAN do, other stuff is ALWAYS going to get in your way. Technology fails, people don’t get back to you as fast as you’d like, illness, family emergencies, etc… Life never happens the way it’s planned. Plan accordingly. I can get most of my full MS crits done in 4-5 days. I allow 7, because if I’m early, I look like a miracle worker. Far better than being late. (Of course, now you KNOW I can work miracles. Just never expect them!)
  3. Set both final and interim deadlines-Many of the items above overlap in actuality. I use a few different tools to sort deadlines when that happens. I use Habitica for a running list of what I need to do, and their ultimate deadlines. I also keep a wall dry erase calendar for each month so I can quickly glance and figure out what I need to be working on (Along with a google calendar so it’s on my phone. Yes, it’s redundant, but convenient). Like, with MS editing, I get the books on Wednesday, try to have it read by the end of Friday most times, write it up on Saturday/Sunday, and then I have Monday/Tuesday for a quick look over/refining notes before I send them back.

    When it comes to my own writing, I frequently set a finished deadline, and markers at 10%, 25%, 50%, and 75%. This lets me know about when I should, based on my schedule and the word count, hit those goals. If it takes me a day or two more than anticipated to hit 10%, I know I should put a bit more effort to hit 25% on time, etc. I also track my writing in an excel sheet with a column of goal word count for each day beside the actual word count for the day. Like this:sample WC excel 90k

    I use formulas where all I have to adjust to set the goal is the total word count goal and the amount of time, and the rest of the numbers sort themselves out. (Maxa function handles the words to go so I don’t even have to mess with that. What can I say, I was bored in my high school computer class.)

  4. Once all that is set up, I keep myself accountable. I turn days red on the excel if I don’t make my goal word count that day. If I know I’m going to have a busy day where I won’t write, I will make sure before that day comes that I’m ahead enough to skip, and then any bonus words are just icing. I also know that in the first week or two of a new project, I’m more enthusiastic about it, and I write more on weekends than during the week. So I adjust my spreadsheet to reflect that. This usually results in my theoretically finishing about 5-7 days ahead of where I ostensibly want to for my buffer. This ends up looking something like this:
    sample WC excel 90k_after adjustments

    That repeat of 16000? Is where I’m out of town for 3 days and know if I get anything done, it’ll be amazing. But you’ll note 60k ends up earlier in May this way, because I add extra words before that and on the following weekend.

    Questions? Shout! I try to only update this thing when there’s something worth saying,so if you have things you’re curious about, feel free to ask, I’ll probably make a post about it! 😀


#Pitchmadness crits part 2-Advanced techniques

Now we’re getting into the more advanced techniques.

  1. Concept- You might wonder why this isn’t a basic thing, but it’s deceptively hard. Some concepts just obviously don’t fit with their age range. If the concept sounds too young or too old for the age group, it’s going to have a harder time selling. The line between MG and YA is especially tough, as upper MG and lower YA overlap. The best way to figure that out? If the story’s emotional arc is focused on the character finding themselves within a stable structure, like in relation to family or school, it’s probably MG. If the story’s emotional arc is focused on finding their place in an unstable world, and creating their own identity/what they want, it’s probably YA. (Obviously there are exceptions!) This is where being super familiar with the age/genre/subgenre you’re working in is so critical. If no one’s ever written an adult novel about a purple unicorn princess saving the Death Star, well, there’s probably a very good reason for that. Push the edges of your tropes, flip them and swirl them together, yes. But if you go too far outside your target area, agents and editors won’t know how to frame it, and so they won’t know how to sell it. (I blame this for why some agents tend to get a lot of clients but end up selling few books.) It’s a HARD skill to say a book is like X and Y but fresh because Z, and have them all be marketable comps. Harder still, doing that across multiple ages/genres. The tighter you focus, at first, the better you’ll be able to see where the already existing stories fit, and how yours belongs within that.
  2. Grounding in a scene- This one needed an example, but I didn’t think ungrounding something someone else published would be as useful as seeing something fresh. So I’m going to show you two different versions of a piece of a scene. One is the rough draft with no grounding, one is the edited version. I write very slim and then add texture/setting in editing, for the most part.

    Neither, of course, is a finished version. This was my nano in 2016, so I’m still finishing the story itself off. (I’d wanted to use a more edited scene from another project, but I couldn’t find  the original version anymore! Backups are important, guys!) This just happened to be a section with a chunk of dialogue, which I find is often the hardest thing to ground.

    For context-This conversation happens about a chapter before the first midpoint twist. The POV character, Alynia, was raised in the human world after her royal parents were killed. Cenyia is her best friend/body guard (and if I pull it off right, love interest), and they’ve just recently returned to the alternate dimension where she is the niece of the current queen. Her cousin, the Crown Princess Elleth, is gravely ill with a magic disease that they hope Alynia’s magic can solve. Bucaen is the man Alynia was betrothed to as a baby, in a political match.

    Version 1:

    Bucaen is waiting in the hall just outside the Court chamber. The cobalt blue sash over the silver suit looks fabulous on him. For the briefest moment, I want him to fall in actual love with me. When he sees me, he swoops into an instantaneous bow, as if he’d primed the whole time for just that moment.

    I nod, but the last thing I want to do right now is talk to him, no matter how nice he’s looking all polished up. It’s not even personal, but I feel like crap and I still want to try to practice working with my magic. There’s something about him I just don’t like, on a gut level.

    “I heard you were working out some of your details for our Betrothal, and I thought I might impose on a moment of your time. It’s rather important about the ceremony.”

    I glance at Cenyia, who shrugs slightly. “I have something I need to be doing, but we can walk and talk.”

    “Something more important than the ceremony?”

    I weigh my words carefully. What I want to say is too blunt, and I know myself well enough to know that impulse. “My first goal here is to save the Crown Princess. Everything else is secondary to that. Not only is she the rightful heir to the throne, and from everything I’ve seen, eminently well suited to the role, but she’s a delightful girl. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other in time, and I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but her condition is serious. I need to work on that, more than any of this other stuff.”

    “Your sacrifice and honor are noted, Your Highness. There are many who believe she won’t recover, however, and they need this ceremony to ensure the stability of the throne. You don’t understand the workings of the court yet, nor would any expect you to. But I assure you, this is just as much a potential matter of life and death as your attempts to save the Crown Princess.””

    Major issues here, right? There’s telling, the dialogue is a bit too on the nose, and it doesn’t give you much of a sense of this POV character. It has attitude, but not much of it is focused.

    So I gave it a quick polish.

    Version 2:

    A flash of silver suit and cobalt sash against the far wall catches my attention as I emerge from the Court Chamber. Bucaen’s bow is swift, and when he looks up, the amused glimmer in his dark eyes almost makes me want him to fall in love with me.  There’s no doubt he’s handsome, but the flutter dies down almost as soon as he walks towards me.

    I nod, letting the smile stay on my face. The competing demands of Elleth’s illness and my magic training pull my steps automatically towards that end of the castle, so hopefully he can make this short.

    His smile is shark like, all teeth and flash. It sends chills down my spine. “I heard you were working out some of your details for our betrothal, and I thought I might impose for a moment. It’s rather important about the ceremony.”

    A quick glance at Cenyia leaves me with no better answer. He’s no threat, at least, but that doesn’t help much.“We can walk and talk. I’m afraid my day is quite busy.” I try to keep the tone light, but I can tell from my bodyguard’s wince that I’ve failed.

    “Something more important than the ceremony?”

    A deep breath centers me and lets me resist my sharper impulsive words. I lick my lips hesitantly, then pause and look him in the eyes. I see no malice there, but his calculating gaze seems to weigh my every movement.  “My first goal here is to save the Crown Princess. Everything else is secondary to that.” I glance down the hall leading towards her rooms, making sure the door was safely closed. “Not only is she the rightful heir to the throne, and from everything I’ve seen, eminently well suited to the role, but I’m growing fond of her.”

    At that, he scowls. Feeling guilty, I hastily dig for something kind to say about him. “I’m sure we’ll get to know each other in time. Once her condition stabilizes, I promise I will devote an equal balance of time to our betrothal and getting to know you.”

    “Your sacrifice and honor are noted, Your Highness.” He bows slightly, the sly smile on the edge of his mouth, making me wonder which part he views as a sacrifice. “There are many who believe she won’t recover, however, and they need this ceremony to ensure the stability of the throne. You don’t understand the workings of the court yet, nor would any expect you to. But I assure you, this is just as much a potential matter of life and death as your attempts to save the Crown Princess.”

    His words sting, but I can’t argue the truth behind his spiked words, even if it was classic mansplaining. “Noted. I appreciate your advice and will take it into consideration. You’ll excuse me.”

    Not perfect, obviously, there’s a lot of I still going on, but it gives you a better idea.. This also has rather long sentences still, which brings me to…

  3. Varying sentence structures- It’s easy to write long sentences, especially in rough drafts. I tend to err on the side of adding a bit more detail on a section while initially editing, then I go through and pare the spare words out after. I’ll also have better luck telling where a one or two worth plithy remarks will land well once I have an idea of the flow of the rest of the scene. Like, in the case of the above scene, the next piece gets more interactive as she’s fighting against a problem with her magic, so I didn’t want to get  too into the physical details here. The next section more than has it covered. Short, precise sentences balanced against longer, fluid sentences act almost like music. You need the slow bits to make the fast bits stand out, and the fast bits to make the slow bits get a move on.

Any questions,or other areas you’d wanted covered but I didn’t get to?

If you got picked for Pitchmadness, congratulations! If not, don’t give up. There were easily 300 I could have picked based on the overall writing, and easily 100 I could see as completely polished and ready to go based on their entry. You didn’t make it easy for the judges, and I can’t wait to see where you take your stories from here. Keep growing, keep pushing yourself to improve with every setback. Rejection is everywhere in this industry. Even once you get an agent, you’ll get rejections from editors. Even once you have a book deal, you’ll have readers/reviewers who reject it, or give it bad reviews. It’s subjective, every bit of it. Sometimes you will have to compromise to get your work out there, sometimes you will have to stand alone and shout into the void for what feels like forever. But don’t give up. You’ve got this. And I’ll be cheering you all on!