Final PitchWars Slush Thoughts

A few overall comments on things I saw in my inbox that might help others. The first is the most important part: inciting incident. Make sure your novel starts where it needs to start. That means that whatever the catalyst for the story is, this starts on page one. Not the main character going to work (unless the work day is the turning point). Not the main character waking up. Not hanging with friends, or combing their hair, or whatever. First page, boom, what happens? Why is this a story in the first place? Show the reader.

Because if you don’t, and the reader has to keep reading and searching for whatever the main plot is, they are going to lose interest. They are going to stop reading, put your book down, and not pick it back up. And that’s exactly what you don’t want!

Backstory. Be wary, every so wary of backstory, especially in the beginning. One of the things I loved about my mentee’s novel is that she interwove important facts effortlessly into conversation. It was there because it needed to be there. It wasn’t forced, or a long, drawn out paragraph that made me yawn. It had power. And, yet, I still am suggesting to cut some of this and interweave it in later. Because backstory clogs down a novel. Keep the reader in the present and let them know what they need to know when they need to know it.

Chapter two. I hadn’t realized up until now just how potent chapter two could be. I know I only saw a few, but chapter two gave me a gut reaction in two direction: yes! Mine! Or not for me. It was the difference between pulling the story immediately along, upping the tension and plot and excitement, or continuing at a slow pace to build up to a point where we should already be at.

Now, that may be harsh, but as a new author you have to hook the reader and keep them hooked. You don’t have a track record, you don’t have anyone saying: “Oh, it starts off slow, but Jane Doe really picks up!” No one’s going to know that. You have to put your best foot forward, and that means attacking your novel from all angles until it bleeds.

And, yes, this is a mentor contest. I’m not looking for a completely polished work. But with 50 subs to read, I needed something, anything to hold my interest. In some cases that was all about the illusive voice, the writer’s personal touch that they bring to the page. In other cases it was the plot presented in the query letter.

More honesty: the two that I fell in love with both had large diverse casts. This is my jam, as anyone can tell. This caused me to sit up and be excited. The rest was about the voice. If the writing wasn’t there, even that initial interest would have sagged. But the writing was there, the concept was there, and I literally squealed while reading. I had others high up on my list that had no diverse elements, so this wasn’t an “only diverse entries allowed” thing. I actually found it really interesting to see that these two entries shared something so special to me.

Another thing: queries. I actually didn’t pay too much attention to them, I used them to get a feel of the novel and focused my energy on the pages. But I saw a trend that I asked the other mentors about, and they noticed it, too. Some people are writing two paragraph queries, where both paragraphs sum up the novel. So the second paragraph may give different details, but doesn’t further along the story. As far as we can tell, this is not something being requested by agents. Use your query to tell a story. You can use a log line, but one line, and then expand on it in the rest of the query. You have 250 words, don’t waste words repeating what has already been introduced.

If your goal is to find an agent, query agents, not editors. Agents prefer you don’t send your ms to editors because that’s their job. There are exceptions, where an author lands a publisher and then an agent. Ultimately you don’t want to spoil your chances.

Find critique partners. I’m blown away by some of the subs I’ve read, where I was one of the first to see these words. I’m so happy these authors are stepping out and sharing their words, ready and willing to grow and learn. And I really hope they now are searching for critique partners (CPs). A writer needs them. My agent expects me to use my CPs before sending her work, so I can send her the best I’ve got. My CPs are my friends, they hold my hand through the ups and downs of this business, and work hard at adding and removing commas in my novels.

I want to take a moment and thank all my subs, for sharing their words with me, and all the cool people hanging out on the #PitchWars feed. You all are amazing and talented, and I can’t wait to cheer on your successes!

Cover Reveal: AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR by Laura Heffernan

Today, I’m excited to share the cover for AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR by Laura Heffernan, which is being published March 7, 2017 by Kensington’s Lyrical Shine Press.

Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .

Without further adieu, here it is!

America's Next Reality Star Cover
AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play. Click here to add it to your Goodreads shelves.
About the Author:

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR, the first book in the REALITY STAR series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press in March 2017. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, 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.

Some of Laura’s favorite things include goat cheese, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, the Oxford comma, and ice cream. Not all together. The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, and reality TV. Follow her @LH_Writes.

Laura is represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary.


Tips on Strong Endings

Endings can make or break a novel. A lot of attention is placed on openings in novels, especially for those entering contests like Pitch Wars. This results is many novels having kick ass openings that lose something along the way.

Namely the ending.

I’m going to focus on romance novels here, because that is what I know. A romance novel ending has two important features, sometimes interwoven, sometimes separate: climax and black moment.

A novel’s climax is the most intense point, where everything the plot has been working towards unfolds in one way or another.

A novel’s black moment is the instance where all is lost between the romantic couple, and HEA (Happy Every After) appears unattainable.

Getting these two points right is no easy task. It’s an area I’ve worked at and reworked at over and over as my craft has grown. An area I will continue to work at.

In order to get them right, there are a few things to be mindful of. The first of which is lag. Often times, a climax/black moment happens too soon, before the ultimate resolution of all plot points. So the story continues as loose ends are tied up, and the reader slowly loses interest. Conversely, if the build up to the climax/black moment doesn’t have the right impact, the ending will hum along, without the urgency to get to the end, and the HEA.

So the climax/black moment has to be intense, and lead to a satisfying resolution. I know some authors that I love their voice, but the endings always leave me not quite satisfied. In this case I think things are wrapped up too quickly, without enough time to truly appreciate the couple coming together and everything they’ve overcome.

Which leads into personal preferences, of course, but what I might see as too quick for me, might be really too quick for all if not executed correctly.

So be mindful of your beats, of where certain events are occurring in the novel. Use beta readers and critique partners. Listen if they tell you the ending isn’t quite right. Think of your ending as the LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD. The entire book, he “thinks he’s can” get up that hill, all the toys help him in that pursuit, until, finally, he’s over the hill and all the boys and girls get their toys. Your story is climbing a hill. Make sure there’s that peak, and drop off the reader just on the other side, not all the way back to the base.

Black moment. Ahh, black moment, it needs to be kick ass. My editor pushed me to do better in my novel, which involved torturing my characters. Oh, yes, torturing characters is a real thing! A romance thrives on that ultimate conflict that rips the characters apart, and the more intense this moment is, the more satisfying the eventual resolution becomes. A black moment needs to be believable, based on the characters situations and personalities. But not too harsh that the reader doesn’t wonder why s/he forgave him/her!

There can be some lag after the black moment, but only if the momentum holds. At this point a reader wants them together, desperately so, each scene needs to be of outmost importance—but, hey, what scene doesn’t?—and plot strung out just enough to get whichever character needs to get their head on straight fixed. Then, make up, kiss, HEA!

It’s the darkest part of the novel, when the reader wants to hug the characters and mush them together. This can be a second peak from the climax. In this case the reader has made it over that initial hump, thinks they are climbing down the hill, but, bam, nope, there’s the incline again! The rollercoaster is not over yet!

And, it really should be a rollercoaster at the end. Full of ups and down, speed and adrenalin. I love a HEA, love seeing characters together and living their lives. That’s not for the ending.

When you work on your novels, don’t just pay attention to the beginning. Yes, those first few words are super important. But so is chapter two, and the middle, and the ending. Once that first chapter sings, take that magic and sprinkle it throughout the rest. Create something that a reader can’t put down.

Oh, and give your characters hell. They won’t thank you, but your readers will.

Thoughts (and some stats) from a PitchWars Mentor

Pitch Wars as a mentor is a very different experience than being a potential mentee. For two years I was on the potential side, hoping to get in, that some mentor would fall in love with my story and see how to make it better.

One thing I’ve realized this year, beyond Pitch Wars, is just how subjective everything is about this business.

Engrain this in your minds, potential mentees. Because getting picked or not, getting requests for more or not, may have nothing to do with the quality of your work. When I sort through my subs, I’m not looking for something good. I’m looking for something that I connect with. Something that makes me giddy.

Something that needs work. This contest is about improving a manuscript. As a mentor I need to find something where I see the flaws and also how to improve them.

And I can only pick one. Which means I have to be picky.

Not an easy task.

I had 50 hopefuls who thought of me as a potential mentor. Of those 50, only 6 were NA, the rest were Adult stories. Here’s a rough further breakdown:

  • Contemporary Romances: 29
  • Women’s Fiction: 6
  • Historical: 4
  • Romantic Suspense: 4
  • Fantasy: 3
  • Paranormal Romance: 1
  • Not Accepting: 3

(note, if you aren’t quite seeing your category, I blended some together to keep this simple)

A few interesting trends I noticed: openings involving drunk girls dancing on bars, dimples (swoon!), boss/employee relationships, and a few secret (or not so secret) babies which was a wild card on my wish list and so fun to see!

Another great thing: diversity. I asked for it, I begged for it, and I gave a little squeal each time a diverse entry landed in my inbox.

A trend I noticed that began to feel like the cliché first day of school opening: waking up and going to work. Now, this could be just because of how many times I saw it, or it could be indicative of a bigger problem. If your novel starts off this way, ask yourself if this is really the inciting incident.

Another trend: prologues. A few were really cool, but each time I see a prologue, I cringe. Because while some prologues are awesome and necessary, they are kinda a taboo thing for agents and editors. And the last thing you want is to be pushed aside at the prologue. So if you have one, think really, really, really hard about if you absolutely need it or not!

I know, you want to know more about how I’m making my picks, not just general statements (and none of my trends have any bearing on my decisions). All I can say is this: it comes down to voice. And that isn’t something I can easily explain.

Writing a Synopsis with Voice

If you are here as a potential Pitch Wars mentee, don’t freak out! I’m not expecting voice if I ask for a synopsis! Take a deep breath and enjoy, maybe try this one out next time!

Synopsis, a four-letter word for writers. Many hate even the thought of writing up a synopsis. How does one boil down their 50-100k manuscript to one to three pages?

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard!

But it’s also a vital skill to have. At some point in a writer’s career, someone is going to ask for a synopsis on a novel that doesn’t already have one. Oh, and they’re going to want that synopsis yesterday. The more of them you write, the more they will be easier to spit out.

My go to guide has always been this post from Publishing Crawl. It helps me figure out that bird’s eye view. In an ideal world, I love to write one up after I’ve finished editing and the novel is ingrained in my mind.

But life isn’t an ideal world. And this pantser has run into another problem: writing up synopses on unwritten novels. Which was scary as hell, so I started with a novel I had already finished a first draft on. Shined it up, focused on the key points.

It didn’t work.

So I did what I do best, I pantsed a synopsis. I had an opening in mind, that’s it. Nothing else fleshed out. I wasn’t bogged down by plot points I had already written or in mind, nothing but the barest hints of characters and plots.

I started it like a blurb and kept going instead of stopping before the ending reveal. And when I finished, I sat back and thought, “OMG! VOICE!”

That’s right, the synopsis had voice.

Up until this point, I’d always focused so much on the plot that I forgot to focus on the feel of the novel. Furthermore, I write romance, and romance is all about the feels. I promptly turned around and rewrote a synopsis with a blurby feel, once again getting the voice on the page.

I lost plot points, but I gained feeling. Which is almost as important as those plot points. Romance without feeling isn’t romance.

Now, is this always the right answer? Nope. Different types of synopses will be needed for different situations. But when you need to convey the feel of the story, or are just tired of writing another boring synopsis, try writing it like a blurb. Let your voice come out and see what happens on the page.