Thursday, 27 September 2012

Mini Pitch Workshop: send us your pitch!

There are just over 2 weeks 'til the Hook, Line & Sinker (#HLandS) contest opens to submissions, and we're giving you a chance to get your pitch polished right here before it all starts!

Summer Heacock (our beloved @Fizzygrrl) will be co-critiquing with me, and the pitches will also be open to constructive comments all next week when I post them on this blog. To get yours whipped into shape by Fizzy and I, we'll need to receive it by 1pm (EDT) this Sunday.

Pitches should be no more than 60 words, and you can email them to katelliswrites (at) gmail (dot) com if you'd like yours critiqued. Please also let us know your genre.

N.B. If you get your pitch critiqued by me or Summer and you enter Hook, Line & Sinker, we will pass your entry to our secret guest judge to decide whether it goes to the next round. Also, there is no requirement for anyone who gets their pitch critiqued to enter the contest, but we hope you will!

Any comments or questions? That's what the box is for ;)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Author interview with WILDFLOWERS author Sally Stephenson

Sally Stephenson, author of WILDFLOWERS, a YA historical romance, is hopping onto my blog today for an author interview! Here's the blurb for her newly released debut (scroll down to the end of this post for links to where you can buy it):

100,000 Germans were persecuted for their sexuality as Adolf Hitler waged war in Europe. Their history is shared by Edith and Helena as they discover their sexuality and decide whether to fight for a life together or live a lie in order to survive Hitler's war.

Sally - tell us a bit about Wildflowers.  
Sally Stephenson

Wildflowers is a romance story between Edith and Helena, set during the rise of Hitler, just before the start of world war 2.

What inspired you to write Wildflowers?

I attended the Pride Parade in my hometown last August where the mayor was talking about homosexual persecution during WW2, I hadn't heard of this side of history before and found it intriguing.

At the time I was writing a WW2 romance between straight characters and it wasn't clicking, I changed them to gay characters and it suddenly fell into place

What is your favourite part of the book?

I think Part 3 of the book, my main characters grow and embrace their feelings as the world around them becomes a battlefield.

What was the hardest part to write?

I think the historical information, I tried to be as accurate as possible where I needed to be but I did take liberties with some of the history elements, either because I couldn't find a clear answer during research or because it provided some light relief to the characters.

What made you decide to self-publish? 

I had originally wanted to publish traditionally and got interest from two agents, however, the market is incredibly tough at the moment and self publishing is a way to prove yourself as a writer I think to agents before you query again.

Also, I believed too much in the story I had written for it to simply be forgotten and so far sales have been going moderately well, which shows that going indie wasn't a bad decision!

What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser? 

I'm a pantser. I usually write whatever comes to mind and then edit it into something that makes sense later. With Wildflowers I wrote 2,000 words a day until it was finished. I also took part in NaNoWriMo during November 2011 and managed to write the full 50,000 words during that time. But normally I can write any time, in most positions (table, lap etc), I just need the right motivation before I start.

What are you working on next? 

I'm working on the sequel to Wildflowers and a couple fun projects as well as plotting out my next novel featuring themes relating to the American Dream.

Which authors have inspired you, now and when you were a teen? 

At the moment I'm inspired by good literary writers, the likes of Jamie Ford, Audrey Niffenegger as well as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. As a teen I read a lot of work by Stephen King and other fantasy writers, but he sticks in my memory the most. They inspired me because of how they manage to craft language so well and build worlds that you want to escape to, if I ever reach that as a writer then I'll be happy, till then, I'll keep working.

Who is your all time favourite YA character? 

I like Luna from Harry Potter, she's very alternative to most teens, she's a free thinker and doesn't care about other people's opinions - a very refreshing change given that most teenagers are filled with angst. It's just not something you find in Luna and she's a great relief!

I have a theory that all writers want a ‘secret’ place to write – secret attic, treehouse, room behind a hidden wall panel…where would yours be? 

I'd have a nice little cottage in some woods just by a beach, close enough to a town, but far enough away so I'm not interrupted when I don't want to be. I've always wanted to take my writing to a tropical beach, who know's? One day it could happen.

What 3 things do you need to put you in a writing frame of mind?

Motivation to write, no one else around to distract me, music or some form of background noise but I can generally write anywhere if I have the energy and drive to!


Amazon UK

Amazon US

Monday, 24 September 2012

TMI Monday - Pitches, CPs and a Lonely Boy

Welcome to another round of TMI Monday...enter if you dare! *cough* Uh, yeah. Here's what has been on my mind this week.

  1. This week, I critiqued a CP's manuscript for the first time in months. I have some amazing CPs, and this manuscript was just brilliant, and has left me feeling kind of recharged for my own WIP. It belonged to Jani Grey, in case you're wondering. She's awesome, and should definitely be followed/stalked.
  2. More news will be coming soon on the Hook, Line and Sinker contest. I'm thinking about inviting pitches to critique on my blog before it starts - would you be interested in taking part? I want to give everyone the best possible chance to hook an agent with their pitch, hint hint, so this seems like the way to go if people are interested.
  3. Serious progress is being made on my Writing Room. In case you've missed this story, my husband generously agreed to create a for-me-only writing space in our house, decorated exactly as I want it. It should be finished this week, and I promise to post a photo as soon as it's done.
  4. I finally got to see the film Lawless this week. OMG - what an amazing film! Of course, I adore Tom Hardy, so it already had that in its favour, but it stayed with me all weekend and I can't stop thinking about it, so that means it was something pretty special. Go and see it if you can. It is pretty gruesome in parts, but if you can stomach that, it's well worth watching!
  5. TRANSPARENCIES is at the halfway point, and I posted a new snippet from it here. I'm aiming to write 60k by the end of September, and I'm a ways off that at the moment, but I'll keep posting updates and snippets as it progresses.
  6. Here's the song from my playlist for TRANSPARENCIES which I envision as the 'opening sequence' song.

Comments/questions/general wonderings are always welcome!

Kat out x

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Age of Steampunk: guest post by Jani Grey

I asked my very talented and generally awesome CP Jani (pronounced Jah-nee) Grey to write a guest post for me - with the very real hope that she would ask me for a topic suggestion, and I could scream "STEAMPUNK" at her. My reasons were twofold: first, Jani's latest manuscript is an epic YA steampunk novel which I can't wait to get my hands on; second, I'm not that well-read, steampunk-wise, but what I've read, I've loved. So, here's what Jani had to say about steampunk after I yelled (tweeted) at her...

Jani Grey. Enigmatic genius.

Steampunk is very tricky to define, and you know what made this really hit home? That little red squiggly line I saw every time I typed the word in my MS Word document. I say it’s tricky because there are so many elements that form a part of this genre, as well as how it is interpreted. Your idea might be slightly different than my idea, and neither is wrong.

So here’s a definition from Marsha A. Moore I found over at Fantasy Faction:

To define steampunk I like this idea I’ve run past a few times—it’s what happens when Goths discover the color brown, a big 1899 party. There are requirements for the fantasy worlds. Steam and natural gas serve as primary power sources. Fantastical geared, steam-powered inventions promise convenience and wonder. The worlds abound with airships, gas lamps, cogs, and brass goggles and are populated with mad scientists, philosophers, adventurists, and air pirates. An important difference between steampunk and cyberpunk is that steampunk traditionally lacks the dystopian/anarchist elements of the other subgenre. Examples include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a comic series written by Alan Moore, Boneshaker (Clockwork Century Series) by Cherie Priest, and the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger.
Marsha also goes on to list a few punk genres - some I’ve heard of, others I haven’t. Cyberpunk. Dieselpunk. Bronzepunk. Candlepunk. Clockpunk. Biopunk. Elfpunk. Mythpunk. I just read about nautical steampunk, and the other day I saw a query for arthurian steampunk. I get all tingly and happy when I think about all these genres and subgenres that we haven’t even started exploring. Oh, the story possibilities.

Copyright-free image by Deviantart

A few of the more prevalent trademarks of steampunk is that it has a very victorianesque feel to it, airships and dirigibles often make an appearance, of course clock work(personally my favorite part aside from the language I get to use). There is also an element of fantasy to the stories, be it major or minor, but it’s there sometimes. I like explosions in my steampunk. Fighting! Inventions! Pollution, a lot of it air because of burning coal which leads to smog and ozone reduction. The military aspect some of these novels carry. Robots/automatons! I love all these elements. It makes for a lot of excitements.

We also see a lot of archetypes when reading or writing. There is the air-pirate, the scientist(sometimes quite mad ones), the inventor, explorer. The pirates! Yes, I had to say pirates again because pirates are badass.

We agree that you cannot have steampunk without some of these elements, it’s these elements that make it steampunk to begin with, but you also don’t need to have all of them present. Be heavy on some of the elements, sprinkle a few of the others in here and there, and you’re pretty much set. By heavy I mean have some of these elements predominant to establish your novel/world as steampunk. The rest is up to you and I say go wild. This is such an unexplored genre that you can do whatever you want as long as you stay true to what makes steampunk steampunk.

Of course, this is just my opinion. At the end of the day we’re writers. We choose our genre and interpret it our way. We tell our story and build our steampunk world to best fit the tale we want to tell.

If you’re interested in reading more about it, I found some great links.

Cool steampunk blogs and posts:

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

An amazing deleted scene from Misty Provencher's KEYSTONE

Welcome, Provencherites! The most elegant Misty has released a deleted scene in celebration of her brand new book KEYSTONE, the second in the Cornerstone series. And you get to read it HERE!! Also, keep going right to the end of this post to see where you can buy your very own copy of KEYSTONE, and enter up to 4 amazing giveaways. That's right - 4!

This is the letter Misty sent me (and you!) for today's blog stop after I stomped my feet and demanded a deleted scene...uh, I mean asked for one all humble-like.

Misty Provencher

My Dearest Kat,

Of course you’d want to see the deleted scenes.  *face desk*

Here you go, my dear friend, one of the oodles of piles of my foolishness that got torn up, revamped, rehashed and thrown right out of Keystone. This is a scene in which Nali & Garrett are at a house (it was a house with apartments before it was the Hotel Celare) and this is a little deeper into the FIXI company that organizes and stocks the homes of the Ianua when they move. It’s a company run by an Ianua member, but staffed with Simple employees and they work almost the way I imagine witness protection works. They’re all covert and have incredible files and they send their people in and POOF!  Instant, livable abode.

By the by, Cora’s mom was originally employed at FIXI and I also had a horrendous scene in a later re-write in which Cora came over and dropped off Nali’s things. That was scrapped too. (You’re welcome.)

So after you are done reading my foolishness, I’d like some answers from you guys (
this means YOU).  What I want to know is this: how many scenes do you guys trash? How much of your book do you ditch before it’s done and in the box? Keystone set records for me, in terms of rewrites and slashed scenes, so how about you? Tell me your horror stories!


When I click the off button on the phone, Garrett looks up. 

“Wild, huh?” He says. 

“Yeah.” I agree. “They stocked the fridge too?”

“Open it.” He says. I cross the tiny living room and swing open the white door. There is more food in there than my mom and I have ever bought for the two of us. “You might not like it at first. Everything’s organic and most of it is whole food, but that’s how the Contego roll. You’ll see. The better you eat, the easier it is to train and…well, fight, if you have to. I can teach you how to cook it all.”

Out of nowhere, I don’t know even know why, but everything seems to pick this moment to start sinking in. I’m Contego. It’s not some heroic novelty anymore. I’m going to be living in this tiny apartment, worrying about Garrett leaving forever to look after some Core, eating green things and training for real fighting that could get me killed. Dead has a whole different meaning to it when it feels like an actual possibility. 

The fridge shelves get blurry and Garrett is standing close enough behind me that I swear I can feel his skin and that just makes everything worse. I close my eyes for a minute, wishing he would just forget about the training thing and take hold of me like I want him to. Lean in and kiss off the tears before they splatter. His fingertips would erase everything else, I know it. But what he does is clear his throat and take a step backward.  I suck in my lower lip. 

“It’s going to be a big adjustment.” He says softly. I just nod. “But we’re going to be fine, Nali.” He says and I nod again, biting down on my lip this time as the tears graze my cheeks on the way to the floor. I sniffle once.

“Come here.” Garrett says. I think he’s going to hold his arms out to me, to break this stupid rule that holds me at arm’s length, but when I turn, he’s standing in the hallway with the doorknob in his hand. He frowns when he sees my eyes overflowing. “I’m not leaving. But I’m not going to risk your strength for training either. Sit down right there.”

He points to a spot inside the door frame and I sit. He steps out and closes the door, careful of my jutting knee. The last thing I see is him looking down at me, with a smile that I’m sure is meant to heal me, but it breaks my heart. I want to haul the door open. Throw myself at him. Tell him I don’t care if I’m so weak that I can’t stand on my own two feet in the morning, but I’m distracted by the sound on the door. He drags his knuckles softly down the other side until I know he’s sitting too, at the same level as I am, with just a thin wood door between us. 

“Can you hear me?” His voice filters in through the crack.

“Yes.” I tell him, leaning closer.

“Good thing the doors are as thin as the walls, I guess.” He laughs on the other side.  “We’ll have to remember that.”

My stomach spins deep in my lap. I release my lip from my teeth and whisper into the door jamb. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that it’s easy for everyone else to hear everything going on.” He whispers back.  “Between two people.”

I wipe my eyes with the collar of my shirt. I am glad he can’t see me blushing and floundering to think of something romantic to say…something other than every stupid thing that keeps popping into my head. 

“Are you still there?” He asks. 

“I’m here.” I say.

“It’s pretty overwhelming, isn’t it?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“Am I embarrassing you?” 

“No.” I laugh it. That’s because I mean yes. Thinking of Garrett that way isn’t something I usually do with him. I mean, I might do it with my lips on his to give him an idea or behind my eyes where he has no idea, but mostly, I think of him that way when I’m alone. But to think about him…and me…together…with him…embarrasses me completely. Which he’s managing to do beautifully right now, with a door between us and nothing touching but our voices.

“Good.” Garrett murmurs. “So what are we going to talk about?”

My mind races, but I can only think about what I don’t want to talk about. I’m about to start stuttering when Garrett saves me.

“Are you getting excited about training?” He asks.

“Excited? Yeah, I guess.” I say, even though I mean to say, I’m terrified. I’ve got no idea how I’m going to do this. “Are you going to be there?”


“Great.” I say. I hope my voice doesn’t sound as crooked as it feels coming out of my throat.

“You’re nervous.” He says. “You don’t need to be, you know. I’ll be there and Zane’s an awesome teacher.”

“Zane?  Zane’s the one teaching me?” 

His laugh rubs circles on my back. “The Middleditches are the most accomplished in Cavis combat…”

“What does that even mean? A Cavis? And are you trying to tell me that Zane is going to be responsible for teaching me something important?” I think of white-blond Zane in his skinny jeans, humping the library window. I lay my forehead against the door.

“Doesn’t seem right, does it? But it’s true. It’s a Middleditch thing. A Cavis is a weak point. They show up in your energy field and just taking a jab to one - you could feel it for days. Or it could be lethal.” There is a soft thump on the door as if he is lying his forehead on the other side of mine. “That’s why you’re getting in the best hands we’ve got. The Middleditches have handed down their training for generations. Zane’s dad taught him and Zane has taught tons of us. There’s not one Middleditch that’s ever been brought down by a Cavis. You don’t know how amazing that is yet, but it’d be like being able to fly. Cavi are the easiest way to take down an opponent and they are the easiest way to be taken down, so Zane is going to show you how to find them and how to hide yours.”

“Sounds cinchy.” I say into the crack in the door.


“Do they have Cavises on the other side?” I ask. 

“They come with having human bodies.” He says it as if he’s sorry. “But there is energy and other ways, Nali.”

“That’s for Contego, though, right?” My throat is sawdust dry. “My mom’s just an Alo.”

“And so is your father. And Wal…your grandfather is Alo but he’s skilled. He trained and learned everything he could about defense, you know. For the Alo, that’s extremely rare. He’s an incredible man and he knew so much, I don’t think for a minute that the two of them aren’t going to be able to bring your dad back.”

“I don’t care if he comes back.” I whisper. “I only care that they do.”

“I know.” Garrett’s voice is thicker than the wood. “We’re going to find your grandfather’s memory, Nali.  I owe it to you and your mom and your grandfather too. But even Wally wouldn’t be down with letting you go after his memory without any training. We’ll get you going as soon as we can.”

“When can I start? Tomorrow?” 

“Tomorrow’s school.” His chuckle is uneasy. “But we’ll start training this week.”

“School?” I groan and tap my forehead against the wood. He can’t be serious. “How am I supposed to do school along with all of this?”

“You’ll be surprised at what you can do.” He says. But what I can do isn’t what I want to do. 

“It’s not that I can’t,” But I’m thinking, how am I going to when I don’t want to? “But it’s more important that I help my mom. And I have to be able to defend myself. I don’t see how calculus is going to help me right now.”

“It will though.”

“How can you possibly believe that?” 

“Because finishing school is long term. Finding the memory and learning how to fight, I swear we’re going to do both, but you’re going to have a life after them. I don’t want it to become your whole focus. People can get lost in things like that. You’ve got more to do in your life even after we get your grandfather’s memory back and you’ll have to be ready for it.”

“I think school should wait until I’m sure my mom’s okay.”

“She’s going to be fine.” 

“But I don’t know that.”

“You would,” His voice filters in through the door and the frame. Something brushes the door on his side. His fingers, I think. I imagine them on my skin. “Have faith in me.”
“I do.” I tell him and I brush back. “Completely.”

Now that you've read this brilliant deleted scene, you can imagine just how AMAZING the words are that made the cut. You can get your copy of KEYSTONE in these places:

Amazon UK   ~   Amazon USA   ~   Smashwords

AND - as if this awesomeness wasn't enough - Misty has 4 fabulous giveaways you can enter!

Giant E-book Giveaway #1

E-book Giveaway #2

$25 gift card

Box of YA books

And don't forget to comment below :)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Hook, Line & Sinker contest!

I have some exciting news to share with you... Are you sitting down? Are you ready? You, in the back there, put your coffee down, this is go time!

The all too brilliant Deanna Romito, your very own Fizzygrrl, Summer Heacock, and moi (Kat Ellis) are banding together to do our very own contest: Hook, Line and Sinker!

*waits for applause and cheering to subside*

That's right kids, on October 13th the entry window opens at 11AM EDT! Take your entries to the appropriate blog based on category. Dee is hosting Middle Grade at, Summer will be hosting the party for Adult at and I'll be hosting Young Adult right here:! There'll be details on what your entry should include COMING SOON.

And here is where it gets real, yo. We have agents coming to play.

Oh yeah, that's right. Real, live, top drawer agents will be coming by to make requests!

Now, we can't tell you who just yet, but we will say that you can't count them all on one hand...

Excited? GOOD! Follow any of our three blogs for more details as the contest date draws closer.

Psst. We'll also be giving you a chance to win a free pass to the second round. Stay tuned . . .

This is going to be a blast and a half and I hope to see you all there!

Monday, 10 September 2012

TMI Monday - Contests, Middle Earth and White-Noise-Level Excitement

This week has been a bit hectic. Thanks for agreeing to take 6 things straight out of my brain (what do you mean you didn't agree to this..?)

  1. I'm so, so excited that I'll be running a brand new contest with my pals Summer Heacock (@fizzygrrl) and Deanna Romito (@writeforapples) in a few weeks' time. You may have noticed the little fisher dude button in the right pane - this is just a prelude. A PRELUDE, I SAY. 'Twill be massively fun, has a great twist on the usual pitch-to-an-agent contest format, and there will be more details forthcoming very soon.
  2. Next year, I'm hoping to attend World Fantasy Con in Brighton. I mention this now as I've been stalking the site, watching great authors sign up to attend and sit on panels, and I look at the list and think, "I might be on that soon." Very much an EEEEP moment for me! I haven't been to a real writing con before (except for an open-to-all affair at the beginning of London Book Week a couple of years ago), and it just feels crazy to think that I'll be attending one as an agented author. *Happy dance.*
  3. Because E has signed us up for Netflix again, we've been watching a few zomcoms of late. Check out Doghouse, Zombieland and Idle Hands if you fancy a decent zomcom (or are bored).
  4. I fell out of bed this week for the first time since I was a kid. It was caused by a middle ear thing (SO nearly typed "middle earth thing", which would have been infinitely more interesting and surprising), but I still felt absolutely ridiculous and did the obligatory check that nobody's watching and/or filming glance around the room. Proud moment.
  5. This autumn is shaping up to be a pretty exciting time all 'round. Not only is there the Hook, Line & Sinker contest coming up (as mentioned in #1) but I have my Big Florida Adventure coming up, and my novel, PURGE, will be going out on submission at the end of September. I know this is a time when normal, sane people start to freak out, but I don't seem to be able to get past the point of being thoroughly, white-noise-level excited. More on this in a separate post, I think...
  6. TRANSPARENCIES is coming along nicely, and I'm about halfway through the first draft now. This is a recent addition to my WIP playlist:

Questions, comments, requests for the meaning of life etc. are welcome in the comments box. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Does your writing have voice?

While I was tweeting my reactions to the slush during Pitch Madness, the words 'great voice' popped up a lot in my tweets. But then a response about how voice in writing seems like some magical, elusive thing had me thinking about what voice is, and how you can tell if your writing has it (great voice, that is). So I thought I'd write this to try and a) make 'voice' seem less like a vague concept which might disappear on a gust of wind, and b) say when and why it's such a big deal.

I remember when I first heard the word 'voice' in relation to writing, and I thought WTF? Do they mean the dialogue?

Uh, no.

But if you've ever read an Austen novel and been able to imagine perfectly the smirk on the face of one of her heroines as she delivers a subtle but devastating assessment, that's because you 'hear' it in the voice. If you read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting and suddenly find yourself thinking in a Glaswegian accent (and using the c-word where normally you'd just pause for breath), that's because you've been drawn into the voice. And if you've read Chuck Palahniuk's Choke and suddenly realised you were rooting for the sex-addicted con man, you'll know what a sneaky, powerful thing great voice can be.

But what exactly is voice

Here's my understanding of it:

If your novel is in 3rd-person, the voice of your novel is the style, personality and attitude you give your writing.

If your novel has a 1st-person narrative, the voice is the phrasing and speech patterns of the narrator.

That's pretty straightforward, right?

What is “voice” in writing and how is it created? Why is it important to add voice to your writing? (Danny's Symbolic)
CC image by Danny Getz

Whether voice is great or not is a bit subjective *cold shiver*, but I think a reader can still identify great voice without necessarily connecting with it.

For example - I'm not a MG reader. I doubt I've read a published MG novel since I was that age myself. Just not my thing. But I've read quite a few samples lately *cough cough* which were MG, and I could still see great voice in the writing. Or not, in some cases. But whether I like MG or not doesn't actually matter. It matters whether an agent who reps MG or someone picking your book up in a bookstore likes the voice in your MG novel because they're your target readers.

It's the same as with the 3 examples I gave above - ask a hundred readers if they liked the voice in Emma or Trainspotting or Choke and you'll get different responses. Austen, Welsh and Palahniuk aren't going to be everyone's favourite authors. Doesn't mean they don't all have great voice.

Not connecting with a voice doesn't mean it's not there - and that's the really tricky part. The part where if you get an agent's response that they "just didn't connect with the voice" and you think but all my CPs said it had tons of voice...

Head in Hands
CC image by Alex Proimos
...the agent's response doesn't necessarily mean your writing isn't full-to-the-brim with it. It may be that the voice in your MS just isn't one that particular agent likes.

The thing (and you can start throwing things at me now) is to keep going until you find the one who does like the voice in your MS, and all the other components which make up your novel. This might be the thing which makes your novel from the POV of a sociopathic serial killer draw people in. (Dexter, anyone?)

I read an article which said that voice is something a writer develops over time. I don't know whether this is true or not. I've read a lot of MSs by first-timers that I think have fantastic voice. And some where the voice isn't stand-out. But again, that's just my opinion. But I can see, especially with authors who publish a series of books, how they find a voice that works for them and their readers and stick with it. At least for a while. Then maybe they go off and write a book for adults about a town council election with nary a wizard in sight...who knows. Maybe the voice stays the same, maybe it falls flat, or maybe it changes and is still great voice.

Voice, if you get it right, is what will make a reader feel like they know your characters and the world you've created, and were there when the story unfolded. It's the suck you in element that makes you forget you're reading, and can make an otherwise horrible character sympathetic. Most of all, it's what might just get you a "WOW" when the reader closes the book.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wading through the Slush Pile

I was lucky enough to be chosen by Brenda Drake to read through the slush and help sort it into the yes, no and maybe folders for Pitch Madness (don't know what I'm talking about? Check it out here.) There were SO many fabulous entries, it was an easy click to send loads to the YES folder. But there were also a lot that just didn't hit the mark, and made their way into the NO or MAYBE folders.

Of course I'm not going to give details on specific entries, but these were the overall, common reasons that I had for sending an entry to one folder or another.

The YES folder
  • Great voice - if you were following my tweets as I went through the slush, you'd have seen these two words pop up a lot. Voice is what draws me in, makes me care about the MC, makes me keep reading and forget that I'm reading. Yes, I'm talking suspension of disbelief and all that. If an entry had great voice but a pitch that was just meh/so-so, voice won. If the premise was something I'd seen before a bunch of times, voice won.
  • Fantastic premise - this is what would make me sit up a little straighter and grin like a character from Southpark. Fresh, new idea that had me wondering about the story before I even started the 150? Yes, please! Of course, this needed to be backed up by the 150, but if I went in wanting to like the excerpt, that's always a plus.
The NO folder
  • Not following the rules (for example, exceeding the word count in the pitch) led to a very sad, automatic no for a few entries. These sucked the hardest.
  • Flat, unpolished writing - if my attention was grabbed by the pitch but lost within the next 150 words, the entry wasn't strong enough for me.
  • Vagueness - a LOT of entries went down this road. "Zippy lives a normal life until he realises he's a goblin. As if this doesn't suck enough, his life becomes a twisty, spirally thing that he needs to figure out OR ELSE." In fact, the 'or else' is more than a lot of pitches included, stakes-wise. 35 words is a teeny-tiny number to pitch your novel with, so make every word count. The pitch is what makes theoretical book-buyers pick up your book and want to read it. The first page is what makes them KEEP reading. But you won't get to the point where you grab them with the fabulous voice of your MS if the pitch is blah. The fact that your book is about a mermaid/alien/squirrel called Dave isn't what makes your book unique. It's not enough to make someone want to spend a whole novel's worth of time finding out the real hook. Tell them up front what choice Dave the squirrel has to make, and the possible consequences for poor Dave. N.B. "Dave must choose to kill every squirrel in the forest or choose to move to a new tree" isn't really a conflict - the choice is obvious. Keep the conflict REAL, even if your MC is a squirrel.
The MAYBE folder
  • If the voice was good but not great, and other elements hadn't quite sold the entry for me, it got sent to the maybe folder for a second opinion.
  • If the genre or premise just wasn't something I was interested in, I sent it to the maybe folder. This made it too subjective for me to make the call fairly.
My main focus when going through the slush was getting as many great entries through as possible, and being as fair and objective when making decisions as I could be. I know how hard it is to not get through to the agent round in a contest, so I didn't send any entries to the no folder lightly.

I'm hoping the tweets and this post about the slush-reading have been helpful, and feel free to ask me any questions or add comments in the box below.

And above all else, CONGRATULATIONS to the fantastic entries that will be going through to the agent round! You're getting the chance to pitch to an amazing group of agents (*cough* especially my agent, Molly Ker Hawn. *cough*)


Monday, 3 September 2012

TMI Monday - Slush and the Feral Writer

Ordinarily I give you 6 randomisms from my week for TMI Monday, but this week has been purely about the writing: working on my new MS, and reading through stacks of entries for Pitch Madness. So this week, I give you only TWO.

SLUSH...(seems like a green word, right?) I was lucky enough to be picked by Brenda Drake to read the slush for the latest Pitch Madness contest, along with 5 other slushers you can read about here (I'm in GREAT company!) I'll write a post about the whole experience after the contest, but for now I just want to say how FANTASTIC the entries have been so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing who goes through to the agent round. I know how much effort goes into writing every word of every manuscript, pitch and query. I also know it takes guts to put your work out there by entering a contest like Pitch Madness, so I'm rooting for everyone who goes through to get ALL the requests! Check out the #PitchMadness hashtag on twitter if you'd like to read some of my tweets and tweets from the rest of the slush readers.

FERAL WRITER...I took last week off the day job to make some progress on my WIP. I'd set myself the goal of hitting 40k by Sunday night (last night). I did not hit it, but I did write 35k and (as I may have mentioned already...) read a rather substantial amount of slush. So I'm calling this a win, seeing as I started my week off with only 8k in the writing bank.

What I was most surprised by this week was how quickly I turned into some feral writing creature, occupying the couch in sweatpants and no make-up. It got to the point where I had to leave the house on Saturday and SEE PEOPLE and I'd forgotten how to apply my make-up altogether. I went out looking like I'd been attacked by graffiti bandits. But it was all in the name of writing, right?

Honestly, I needed this last week to concentrate on my writing. I'd hit a major wall trying to multitask too many things - writing, revision on another MS, beta reading, as well as blogging, tweeting, and all the other little Time Eaters a writer has to deal with. This was why I let my CPs know a few weeks ago that I wouldn't be reading for a while, and why I booked the time away from my day job (yes, I love that my day job falls into the category of Time Eater.) And now that I'm back into the writing swing, I can slowly let those other things back in. Gradually.

So this is what my week has been about. Happy Monday!