Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why I don't talk about writing in "real" life

Friend: Hey, how's that book thing coming along? 

Me: Oh, really great. I just finished edits and now I'm querying. 

Friend: I thought you were editing before? 

Me: Well, I was rewriting last time I talked to you. Is that what you mean? 

Friend: …

Me: Well, I mean, rewriting is major stuff, big changes, and then I had to proofread those changes, make sure everything looks good. 

Friend: Oh that makes sense. … So, is it going to be published? 

Me: I'm querying right now. 

Friend: … Just … like, waiting? 

Me: *stifles a sigh* Yeah. Basically. But I'm starting another book next week. 

Friend: Why next week? 

Me: It's National Novel Writing Month. 

Friend: What?!

Me: It's just an event where people try to write a whole book in November, cheering each other on, competing to see who can write the most. 

Friend: Why November? Just so you can have the book published in the spring then? 

Me: Never mind.  The book is great. Everything is great. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 7 Rules of Twitter Pitching

Today was another twitter pitch party, and another day of people everywhere celebrating one another's work. However, it was also a day of people everywhere headdesking as they watch others spoil the fun for everyone.

I'm not the world's expert on this, and I'm obviously not an agent. But I have participated in a few of these, I've read all the rules carefully, and I've gotten a disproportionately large number of requests from these pitch parties. Plus, I'm a total twitter-addict and I feel safe in saying that I understand the "rules" of twitter and twitter parties.

1. Don't tweet all of your successes on the hashtag. 
You can tweet that you got some bites, but don't tweet every single success. One tweeter sent out a tweet every. single. time. she received a request from an agent, and she did it in rapid-fire succession. It looks like you're gloating, and it spams up the tag.

Be excited, tweet off the hashtag (just don't put the # in front of the tag, for example), DM a friend, email, text, call, whatever. Just don't be a Gloaty McGloater Pants and spam up everyone's feed. You're making it harder for agents to see other tweets.

2. Make sure your story, and the stakes, are clear.  

You do not want people to read your tweet-pitch and say, "What?!"
Some examples:

"Joey must decide if his shoes are important enough to stop the war against the elves. #Adult #Romance"

"Teenage witch Angie accidentally invents a new super robot and then falls in love with it. #Adult #Thriller"

These are made-up examples, but I promise you, they are no less confusing than a lot of the tweets I see on pitch parties. Yes, your pitch needs to be catchy, but it also needs to make sense. I promise, something that makes sense will trump a catchy piece of nonsense any day of the week.

Here's an example of what your pitch should look like:

Stakes are clear: girl needs to save her brother and overcome a family curse. The words "quest" and "curse" lead me to believe this is speculative fiction of some kind, though the author goes on to clarify that it's magical realism. It's succinct, it's clear, and it makes you wonder how the problem can possibly be solved.

3. Your category needs to be clear. 
If you're pitching in an all-adult twitter party, then you better be writing adult fiction. If you're pitching in an all-YA twitter party, then you better be writing YA fiction. Same goes for those "children's" pitch parties that accept all PB/MG/YA pitches - don't pitch an adult fairy tale and insist that it's "good for all ages".

DO NOT pitch if you don't meet the qualifications to pitch. Nobody will believe that your 17-year-old protagonist is so mature that she's really a New Adult character, or that your 24-year-old mother is so fun and ironic that teens will love her and you'll sell like crazy in the YA section.

Know your category and stick to it. Another pitch party for your category will come around, don't worry :)

4. Your genre needs to be clear. 
If you genre is not clear in your pitch (more on that in a second) and you have the extra characters, please, please add your genre to the tweet. Abbreviations are fine. Fant = fantasy. UF = urban fantasy. Para = paranormal. R = romance. Thr = thriller. Lit = literary. You get the idea.

If you're pitching genre fiction, your genre should be pretty obvious from the words you use in your pitch. This won't always happen of course, but it should happen more often that it does. Words like "magic" and "sorcery" and the names of fantasy creatures like fairies, wizards, unicorns, centaurs, dragons, and elves tip us off that the story is a fantasy. (If it's not high/epic fantasy, you can specify urban fantasy with a quick "UF" at the end of your tweet). Vampires and werewolves are obviously paranormal, and you don't need to specify it. Time travel, robots, cyborgs, spaceships, and such all signify science fiction. If you use one of those terms in your tweet, you don't need to label the genre, it just takes up characters in your tweet that you can put to another use.

Pitching a story that sounds like science fiction but then tagging it with #Romance doesn't make you sound like a genre-bending genius, it makes you sound like you don't know what you're doing. You probably DO know what you're doing, so make your pitch reflect that.

5. Follow the rules. 
This really should go without saying, but alas. It does not.

If the party hosts ask you to only pitch once per hour, that's your limit.
If there are category qualifications, or genre specifications, follow them. Don't pretend you wrote a science fiction novel when the most "science" in your story is the cell phone your main character uses to text her boyfriend. You're just wasting everybody's time (including your own).


There are unspoken rules in every twitter pitch party:
Don't favorite tweets unless you are an agent or editor requesting work.
Don't post fake pitches unless you tag them #FakePitch. I know. It's fun. But don't ruin the tag for everybody.
Don't post unless you're ready to submit TODAY.
Don't tweet directly at an agent or editor.
Don't promote other stuff on the tag. That's called spam and it sucks. If you have relevant information, post that, but don't post links to your books or promote giveaways or whatever.

6. Support others
Retweet their pitches. Respond to their pitches with a compliment or a question. Follow somebody who made a pitch that you love. Lots of ways to share the love, and support is what makes this community so great :)


7. Make your pitch as "proper" as possible. 
I know. 140 characters is not a lot, especially when some of them are eaten up by the necessary hashtag. But PLEASE make your pitch as clean as possible. Substituting "your" for "you're" just because it's two fewer characters is not acceptable, and nobody will assume you're saving space. They'll assume you don't know the difference.

Use numerals if you have to, but only two describe a number of things. "2" instead of "two" is acceptable, but "2" instead of "to" or "too" is not.

Yes, this will require some tinkering, but it will be worth it. When others are shouting improper nonsense into the interwebs, you'll look a lot better by comparison.

Of course, this is all just advice, and you should treat it accordingly. But, I promise, I'm not trying to sabotage anybody or stop anybody from pitching. Quite the opposite: I want you to pitch, and I want you to do it well. I'd love to cheer you on as you make your way in this messy world of publishing :)

Go forth. Tweet. Pitch. And win the day.

Or something.

Edited to add Rule #8:
Do NOT, under any circumstances, tweet your pitch, and then spend the rest of the day tweeting "Scroll down to see my pitch." Or "Visit my website to see my pitch." No. You play by the rules, and you do not make agents and editors work for the opportunity to see your pitch.

Similar: Do not say "Request my work and then we'll talk about my pitch. It's too complicated for twitter."

Okay. Now you may go forth and tweet and pitch and win.

EDIT: The rules of how often you can pitch have changed. Please follow the new rules on Brenda Drake's profile. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nicholas Sparks, Sexism in Publishing, and Love Tragedies

I feel like I rag on Nicholas Sparks a lot, and I feel kind of bad about it. He's a person, and he has a passion for writing, and he has managed to make a very successful career out of his passion/hobby, which is no small feat. He's not a bad writer, and I want that to be very clear, right up front.

He's just kind of a douche bag jerk face.

This blog post started making the rounds, in which a writer describes her encounter with Nicholas Sparks at an event. In a nutshell, she asked him if he'd ever been described as a "chick lit" writer and if he thought his career would have gone differently if he was a woman. And he, of course, responded with compassion and understanding, bemoaning the presence of sexism in his industry.

JUST KIDDING.

He didn't do any of that. Instead, he insisted he didn't write "romance" or "chick lit" and that instead his genre was "love tragedy" (more on that in a second) and that women have "for some reason" been unable to break into his genre.

Here are the problems with this situation and how Sparks is a contributing factor:

1. He balks at the idea of writing "chick lit" or "romance" 
The fact that he is so offended  by the idea of writing for women is a huge deal. "What? Me? Write books for women? ICK." is basically what he says here. Notice that he doesn't deny the existence of chick-lit, or women's fiction, and therefore propagates the idea that these categories are completely legitimate.

I want to be clear: There is nothing wrong with chick-lit or women's fiction or romance. I don't love it, it's not my thing (neither is love-tragedy, but I digress), but it's certainly not inferior in any way to any other genre. If you think it is, you can stop reading now because there's very little you and I can agree on.

However. Chick-lit and New Adult are the exact same thing. Except one has been cast as "For Girls Only." The same is true with Women's Fiction and plain ol' Fiction. There's nothing inherently wrong with these categories, per se, but the problem comes in when we start to think of the "girl" books as inferior books, which Sparks obviously does. And a lot of other people feel the same way; Fiction is for men, who like to think, you see. Women's Fiction is for those pesky females who enjoy their feelings and junk.

It's a marketing thing, and I get that. But the more we are okay with people sneering at Women's Fiction, the more we assist in spreading the message that "girl" books are inferior.

2. He insinuates women are incapable of breaking into his invented genre
I don't know what "love tragedy" is and I've never heard the term before. Based on my experience with the English language, however, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's a love story in which at least one person dies or is otherwise traumatized. Based on my (admittedly limited) experience with Sparks' writing, that feels accurate.

But that leaves me wondering. Has no successful female author ever written a book that featured people who love each other, but something went horribly wrong for them? I mean, I know about Margaret Mitchell and Daphne Demaurier and Jodi Piccoult, but surely they don't count. After all, that's all Women's Fiction and not at all the same.

3. He invents his own genre
And this is probably the biggest problem of all. By inventing this genre to distance himself from the distasteful reputation of "girl" books, he draws yet another line in the sand of "us" and "them". Just in case any females were to be taken seriously as literary writers instead of girl writers, he's drawn another box to keep them out.

Look, I don't hate Sparks. I don't hate his writing, I can even say I enjoyed the two books of his that I read. They are not bad, and I won't pretend otherwise. Yes, he's formulaic, but there are a lot of writers of both genders and in all genres who are and I don't really care that much.

The problem I have with Sparks' comments is that they are indicative of a pervasive problem in the public's consumption of literature. I don't think it's wholly the fault of publishers or marketers or writers or consumers or distributors or anybody, but rather a lot of people making a lot of decisions based on a lot of things that they perceive other people are thinking or doing. But a lot of women who write literary fiction are shelved with women's fiction, and a lot of women who write fantasy are shelved with paranormal romance because there's a kiss between a knight and a queen and that makes it girly.

And make no mistake about it, Sparks writes Women's Fiction, and you can tell that based on who his fans are. I don't know a lot of men who ooh and aah over The Notebook or A Walk to Remember or Dear John or whatever other romantic cry fest he's churned out. He writes books for women and he makes gobs of money at it and I hate that he pretends women and women writers are somehow beneath him for it.