Make Your Pitch Perfect

Writing Song of the Day: “Misery” by Maroon 5

As Pam mentioned we attended a two day conference this past weekend and we learned lots. So, today I’m going to share with you points from a session I attended on pitching your manuscript.

Katherine Sands, an agent at Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, led a session on how to pitch your work so that an agent will be ready and willing to read it. She started the session by pointing out the most important tip for pitching:

“Get others excited about what’s exciting to you!”

Pretend that you are going to tell someone about your favorite movie- you wouldn’t say “Uh, well…that movie was good because…it was a movie that had cool people in it and a lot of action and…well, you know it’s set in a historical time period and stuff…” (okay, this is really how I used to talk about my manuscript In Limbo- but I’m learning. I promise!) Once you are excited enough to make others excited about your work you then need to know the key points to hit when you have three to five minutes of an agents or editors time. Sands says to think of this process as a movie trailer- you usually see the setting, meet the main players, and learn the conflict.

Sands sums up this process with the three P’s:

Place- where is your story set? What time period?
Person- who is your main character?

Pivot- what is the climax/turning point or problem in your manuscript?

When answering the above questions, Sands says to act as if you are blind and deaf to your story because that’s how an agent/editor is going into reading your work. They do not know the story like you do, so pull yourself away from it and give as many details as you can… in the short amount of time that you have.

Finally, when putting together your pitch you want the person listening to be able to get the three P’s and be able to repeat it back to you. Sands suggests practicing your pitch with a few friends in order to get it right.

***ALERT***

Never, NEVER, say “there’s nothing else out there like my book,” OR “my manuscript/book is going to change the world.” For some reason agents/editors really don’t like it when we’re narcissist.

Now that you’re equipped go and practice your pitch and let us know how it goes!

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RTW: Best Book Read in September

Reading Song of the Day: “Secrets” by One Republic

The lovely ladies of YA Highway are taking a trip again this week, and they want to know the best books we’ve read in September. Here we go!

Pam’s Thought

Wow, I must sound like Ellen Hopkins’ personal promoter (which would be an AWESOME job, btw) because–for the second time in a row–I’m choosing another one of her titles. This time around, I have to go with the one and only Glass.


This is the sequel to my other fave, Crank, and I cannot say enough about this author and this series. Ms. Hopkins has revealed before that these stories were inspired by her own daughter’s bouts with drug abuse, and I have mucho respect for her to share these stories with us. Being both an aspiring author and a professional school counselor, I know how therapeutic writing can be.

Glass continues Kristina’s journey after she’s had her baby and tries to keep away from the “monster.” I don’t want to give away anything, but let’s just say she has a tough road ahead of her. Once again, Ms. Hopkins style of writing in narrative verse gets you right inside of Kristina’s head, and you won’t be able to put this book down. Seriously. I think I burnt cinnamon rolls because I couldn’t stop reading. I’d definitely recommend this for all of you contemporary YA lovers out there.

Quita’s Thoughts:

I will keep up with the stalker train here. Hey, if you didn’t know this is what Pam and I do- we stalk okay, deal with. I am choosing Maggie Stiefvater’s Linger as the best book I read in September. I chose Shiver (the first book in this three part series) before and even though I thought that book was pretty good, I was uber shocked and surprised when I got into Linger.

Linger continues the story of Sam and Grace, the couple who fell in love while Sam was a wolf. I know, I was a like- huh?- when I first heard about this series, too. But the way that Stiefvater writes makes it feel normal. So, Sam and Grace are still in love and you think that’s all you’re gonna get with Linger…well, you’re wrong! Stiefvater introduces the reader to two more character’s POVs. A rocker named Cole who is my new character crush, and Isabel (the bratty rich girl) gets their own voices in Linger as well. It’s interesting to read how Isabel views things as she deals with what happened to her brother. And it’s neat to read the voice of Cole as a new werewolf who wants to stay a wolf- the complete opposite of what Sam wanted in Shiver.

I could go on and on…but we would love to hear what the best book was that you read in September-that way we can add to our ever-growing to be read lists. Pam, we’re gonna need a bigger bookshelf 🙂

Make Your 1st Pages Do the D&%# Thing!

Writing Song of the Day: “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz”

This past weekend, Marquita and I had the pleasure of attending the Hampton Roads Writers Conference in Virginia Beach. We sat in on lots of cool sessions–which we’ll be sharing with you guys in days to come–but our favorite would have to be the First Pages Critiques. In case none of you have ever had a chance to attend one of these, this is where first pages are read aloud and a panel of experts share what works and doesn’t work. Everything is done anonymously, so we don’t know whose opening is getting butchered–unless someone starts getting all fidgety (lady sitting next to us making crazy doodles on your notepad, we TOTALLY know you wrote that memoir).

At the HRW conference, they had two of these panels–one featuring authors, such as mystery writers JB Stanley and Judi McCoy, and one featuring agents, such as Jeff Kleinman (Folio Management), Katharine Sands (Sarah Jane Freymann Literary), and June Clark (Fineprint Literary Management). While we were barraded with TONS of useful info, here are the top Do’s and Don’ts for making your first few pages truly pop:
  • DO begin with action or some sort of conflict. Make your readers want to turn to the next page.
  • DON’T pull away from the action with back story. This yanks readers out of the moment.
  • DO get rid of extra words if they don’t build or reveal character, or further the plot. Remember how many manuscripts agents and editors have to read each day, so make each word count.
  • DON’T use large paragraphs. White space is your friend.
  • DO know that repetition works well in children’s books.
  • DON’T lecture children. Showing is always better than telling them how they should feel.
  • DO establish opening like the beginning of a movie. Start broad and then narrow the focus.
  • DON’T ever start with a dream or your character waking up–unless it’s crucial to the plot like Wake or the ever-cool Inception. Too quote one of the experts: “You’re boring when you’re sleep, and so are your characters.”
  • DO understand the motivation of your protagonist. If your main character doesn’t care about anything, why should we?
  • DON’T overload us with character traits at the very beginning. Readers should learn these quirks gradually.
  • DO remember the three basic qualities that every agent looks for: voice, writing, and character.
  • DON’T use bland verbs. Instead of “walking,” why not “strolling” or “strutting”? Instead of “running,” why not “charging” or “stampeding”?
  • DO make sure to proofread your work. You don’t want to miss out on the chance of becoming the next Suzanne Collins just because you left out a period or didn’t indent your paragraphs.
  • DON’T get discouraged. If agents/editors aren’t biting at your first few pages, try something new. Start with a different chapter, or even consider a POV change.

This was a lot to take in, but it’s made me reconsider my own openings. Have you ever fell victim to one of these Don’ts? If so, what did you change to make it a Do?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Writing Song of the Day: “What About Your Friends” by TLC

We sometimes put ourselves in our writing, right? That means we draw from previous experiences, get inspired by people we meet in real life, or even make characters say things we wish we had the guts to say (I still want to tell certain people to shove it, but I digress). So if we “write what we know,” would we actually be friends with any of our characters? That’s the question the wonderful ladies at YA Highway want to know.

Pam’s Thoughts:

As some of you may know, I’m working on the fourth major revision of my contemporary YA novel, Wants. This story follows four narratives: Savannah, the sometimes misunderstood bitch, Gavin, the intelligent loner, Austin, the jock-turned-bad bay, and Alicia, the insecure know-it-all. Out of all of these characters, I think Alicia reminds me the most of myself. When I was in high school, I had body issues–just like Alicia. I was the Black girl who listened to rock music–just like Alicia. And I sat in honors and Advanced Placement classes–just like, you got it, Alicia. So that means we would’ve been the best of friends, right?

Maybe.

While I think our similarities would have initially drawn us together, I think the best friendships are the ones you create with someone different from you. I’ll be honest–I would’ve HATED Savannah in high school. But I think we would’ve bonded if we had to sit next to each other in a class (this has happened to me before. I sat next to someone who I thought was “the bitch” in English class–and she ended up becoming one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met). As for the boys? I probably wouldn’t have spoken to them at all. Boys made me nervous in high school. So while I would’ve thought Gavin was cool, I wouldn’t have said anything to him unless he spoke to me first. Lame, right?

Quita’s Thoughts:

Hmmm, would I be friends with any of my characters? Well, let’s see- my historical YA manuscript In Limbo is about a fifteen year old boy, Sylvester “Syl” Houston, in the year 1918 who gets in fights, crushes on the cutest girl in school, and writes poetry- all while Spanish Influenza is about to take out a lot of the people that he loves. Would I have been his friend? Hells yeah! I loved hanging out with boys in school. And not because I was the biggest flirt or anything but because I got along better with boys- just being their friend. I also loooooved to write poetry when I was in high school so me and Syl would have bonded over that. But, I do have to keep in mind that Syl is white, and I am black…did I mention it’s set in 1918? We probably couldn’t have been out in public together. It’s a shame too, because I could have made him a better student–considering that I was the “cool nerd.” Okay, maybe not that cool but the popular kids did talk to me when they needed to copy my homework–that gives me some cool points, right?

I’m also working on a contemporary YA manuscript (one of my many new WIPs and shiny new ideas) about an outcast sixteen year old named Blake, who’s best friend (the school’s drug dealer) goes missing. Blake is strange–he says exactly what’s on his mind, he has a hook nose piercing, keeps his hair in his face, and worships bands like Atreyu and Megadeath. I would have pretty much stayed as far away from his as possible.

We could write about this topic FOREVER! But we’ll turn it over to you all, instead. Would you be friends with any of your characters?

Little Known YA Wonders: Paranoid Park

Reading Song of the Day: “Runaway” Kanye West featuring Pusha T (The Clipse)
Pam did a recent post about not believing hype surrounding YA books and that got us thinking about lesser known/praised YA books. So, we wanted to do our part and highlight some of the fabulous young adult books that we don’t often hear about.
This week I am going to introduce you to Blake Nelson and his extraordinary novel, Paranoid Park.

You may remember that I chose this as my fave book of the month one time for YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. I gave a quick synopsis of the book during the above mentioned post but I didn’t get to love on it as much as I wanted to. Now that I have your attention my love fest will begin!

Paranoid Park starts off from a young male’s POV. The male (who is an avid skateboarder) writes in a journal/diary format with the date placed before each section (in the end we find out there’s a reason for this format). He lets the reader know that something awful has happened right away and then proceeds to recount the event and the days after. I wish I could give you spoilers– but you need to read this yourself. Basically, a tragedy occurs and the young male struggles with whether to tell what has happened or keep it all inside. And of course this tragedy is just a notch on his belt of teenaged troubles. He has his fellow skateboard loving friends to answer to as well as a girlfriend who feels that he isn’t being “boyfriend-y” enough. And to top it all off the girl who he grew up with is starting to become more interesting.

Blake Nelson’s (he has a goodreads account people!) writing is so engaging and authentic. The reader really gets inside of the head of the main character. I loved it so much that I quickly purchased two more of his novels Rock Star Superstar and The New Rules of High School, and I plan to get more- including an ARC for his newest novel- Recovery Road written in a girl’s POV.

Visit these sites to get more info on Blake Nelson and Paranoid Park (as well as his other books):

http://blakenelsonteennovelist.blogspot.com/
http://www.blakenelsonbooks.com/

BTW…Paranoid Park was also made into a movie directed by Gus Van Sant- I’ve yet to see it. Off to add it to my Netflix Queue. What do you think about our new series? Do you have any YA Wonders of your own??

Plot and Paper Project: Um, My Bad

Writing Song of the Day: “Fancy” by Drake ftg. T.I. and Swizz Beatz

So, you may remember Quita and I boasting about how we’re taking part of the Plot and Paper Project revolution. You know, that cool idea where writers actually write in a notebook instead of typing on a computer. And we were thrilled. We bought funky, Michael Jackson notebooks and cute new pens and our ideas started flowing, but our notebooks look like this:

And we feel like this:

Quita has really good excuses for why she hasn’t gotten to it. She’s taking like 50 history classes right now along with her creative writing classes. Not to mention she’s teaching full-time.

And my excuses are almost as good as her–but the truth is, I’m kind of still in love with my ex.

I’m not talking about all of the outstanding men I’ve date (cough-yeah right-cough), but I mean Wants, my first YA manuscript. I took some time away from it over the summer to “see other people,” and everything was great for a while. I started getting a new crush and it was so much to see where the relationship was heading…

But then I started submitted chapters of Wants to my writing workshops. And then I reread an email from an agent that requested a “revision and resubmit.” And before I knew it, Wants sucked me right back in and now I’m completely obsessed. It’s my first true love, and I truly believe the more I go back to it, the more better “we” can become.

Has that ever happened to any of you? Have you tried to take time away from a project but absence only made the heart grow fonder?

RTW: Going Back In Time

Writing Song of the Day: “Check it Out” by Nicki Minaj featuring Will.I.Am

Seriously ladies at YA Highway…did you ransack my laptop and read my manuscript In Limbo when forming this week’s Road Trip Wednesday question??? It really seems like it 🙂 Yep, you guessed it- it’s that time of the week again to road trip with YA Highway and this week they want to know what time period we would travel to for research if we could go back in history.

Well, I am a history teacher on the side so this is an easy enough question for me…but then it’s hard to choose! I heart studying Ancient Rome, Greece, the Civil War, and World War II- but would I want to experience any of this stuff? Uh…no.

So, I guess it makes sense to stick with the time period of my manuscript that I finished over the summer. In Limbo is set during 1918- at the tail end of World War One and when Spanish Influenza started to ransack American cities (especially Philadelphia where my novel is set). I would want to experience how normal every day things worked-like toilets, telephones, refrigerators, transportation. I can research all of that but it would be way cooler to actually be there.

We are so excited to hear where the rest of you would like to visit- who knows it might end up in my next WIP 🙂