Month: December 2013

What A Year!–Overdosing On Words

2013 is over. Where did the days go?

For me, 2013 was the year of the short story.

Different writers will focus on different projects at different times in their careers. Since I had a manuscript out on submission and took on an internship for a literary agent, I didn’t want to get pulled in several different directions. Instead of trying to write another manuscript without my full attention, I chose to focus on shorter projects. To be honest, this was the first year I took writing short stories seriously. I’m glad I did.

Ten. That’s the number of short stories I’ve written since June. Some were for blog anthologies, some were submitted to various magazines, and others were submitted for print anthologies. I’ve had some successes, a rejection or two, and a few stories are still under consideration. It comes with the territory.

The Sirens Call e-magazine is Labor of Love’s new home. It was the first short story I wrote and it was also the first published. Zombies rule!

Jolene and Kristen were kind enough to include Nothing But Net in their blog anthology, The Dark Carnival, over at Pen and Muse. Chynna-Blue challenged me to write in a genre I had never written in before with The Midnight Type’s, Santa Clash Project. My Christmas themed murder mystery, The Crimson Snow, can be found there.

While I’m still under consideration with a couple more short stories, I can share that I’ve been named as a finalist for Project REUTSway’s Grimm and Chilling Tales anthology. I’m one of thirty five other finalists who will either be featured in the anthology, or as part of their blog series. My story, The Dragon’s Tinder was a week one top look. I’m truly honored to be considered among the top thirty five best submissions. Thank you, to REUTS publications!

You can find the official announcement here: http://blog.reuts.com/introducing-project-reutsway-2013-finalists/

As I wait for word on various other projects, I’m grateful for all the opportunities my short fiction has afforded me. Creating short stories has kept my creative juices flowing at a time when I wasn’t sure which direction to move. Reading submissions for my internship took up much of my time. Writing shorter pieces made more sense. I’ve met some great new people as a result.

Even though I didn’t accomplish my initial goal of completing two additional manuscripts this year, I created a handful of short stories and submitted my ass off. I stayed busy, moving forward. Just because I didn’t meet my initial goals doesn’t mean this year was a failure. While it’s nice to have goals, we must sometimes be fluid. Things won’t always work out as we envisioned them. As long as we can continue to make progress, it shouldn’t matter how.

I learned plenty about not only the craft of writing in 2013, but also some of the business side. Working closely with a literary agent opened my eyes to many things. I learned why an interesting and engaging first chapter is essential if we want a chance at signing with a literary agent. Time is precious. If we can’t quickly capture their attention, and hold it, they’ll move along to a project that will. I also learned that a good first impression does matter. A cover page, properly formatting your submission, and overall neatness often stood out. Nine times out of ten, if a submission had formatting issues, the quality of the writing had issues as well. I also learned passing along my thoughts as to why certain submissions should be rejected made me feel like crap. Yet, I also learned how to turn those feelings off as I picked submissions apart. It’s a skill I’ve incorporated into how I receive critiques/feedback. Nothing should be taken personally.

There may be some more news. However, I can’t share anything with you just yet. Rest assured secret things are happening behind the scenes. As soon as I’m able, I’ll let everyone know. Believe me, keeping secrets is tough. Another skill I learned from my internship.

Remember, there’s no going back. We can’t turn back the hands of time to try and fix something. Be confident in not only your writing, but yourself. Nobody can tell the kind of stories you tell. Instead of wondering if you’re good enough, know that you are. Take every opportunity that you can. Nothing will fall from the sky and into your lap. It only takes one “Yes” to change everything. You’ll never get there if you freeze at the starting line, wondering if you’re going the right way. Don’t let others influence which step you take. Forge your own path. Whatever you decide to do, own it. Get your swag on.

And now for my song of the year. Sick Puppies released a new album earlier this year, titled Connect. The first single was There’s No Going Back. It’s about not letting the past define you. Learn from it. Push forward. Move on. If we spend all our time looking back, we’ll never see what’s before us. I can’t think of a better song to represent my 2013.

2014 won’t know what hit it! Let’s go get us some!

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Writing Through Rejection

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”–Michael Jordan

I don’t know how the rest of you feel about having a piece of your writing rejected, but I find it invigorating. Instead of feeling down, I take it as a challenge to write something better. It’s my motivation, my drive.

I’m not the kind of guy who sits around and wonders why certain editors rejected certain stories. It’s their job to find stories they believe will be the best fit for them, their anthology. Subjectivity is a very real beast. Certain editors may love something another couldn’t run away from fast enough. It’s the nature of the business.

Through my writing journey I’ve learned not to take anything personally. Critiques, rejection letters, or anything many other writers generally consider in a negative light. Each step of the writing process has positives if we’re willing to look. We have to be open to anything that can improve our writing, even rejection.

Writing isn’t easy. Each of us is left to our own devices and must find our own way. Some will succeed while others will fail.

Nothing is more humbling than falling flat on your face. You can either lay there and wallow in your misery, or you can learn from your mistakes and push forward.

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”–Michael Jordan

I’m a sports fan and many of the all-time greats held a desire to be the best. They were uber competitive. Michael Jordan immediately comes to mind. He worked tirelessly to be the best player he could be and always felt there was room for improvement. He would look for things, didn’t matter how small, and would challenge himself to improve.

As writers we’ve got to find the same kind of desire for improvement.

Michael Jordan was demoted from his high school basketball team to the JV squad as a sophomore. He could have thrown in the towel, given up. Good thing for basketball fans he didn’t. He used that rejection to fuel his competitive fire. He worked day and night tirelessly improving his skills. Eventually he got to the point where his skills were undeniable and no coach would question them again.

Writing will challenge even the most positive people. There will be days when we wonder if we’re good enough, if writing is worth the trouble anymore. Maybe a critique hit a little harder than it should have, maybe we’re feeling crushed under the weight of  three million literary agent rejection letters, or maybe your latest short story failed to make it into an anthology. Rejection, in whatever form, tends to sting some.

If we take a step back and look objectively, we’ll understand that rejection is a valid part of the writing process. How we handle it is what matters.

Challenge yourself to get better. Improve your writing skills until others have to take notice. Evolve your writing skills until they’re undeniable.

I choose to see each rejection letter as an opportunity taken, another connection made. Even though things didn’t work out the way I would have liked, an editor/agent took the time to read something I created. How cool is that? Sometimes connections are formed in ways we may not see/understand at first glance.

My point is rejection only hurts as much as we allow it to. I don’t see rejection in a negative light anymore. It’s all a normal part of the writing process.

Besides, we can’t control other people’s tastes. All we can control is how well we write. If we create the kind of fiction we’d love to read and are passionate about those same stories, eventually the right people will take notice. Trust that somewhere out there someone will love our stories just as much as we do. If that’s not motivation for writing, I don’t know what is.

As long as we understand how difficult breaking into publishing can be, and we constantly strive to improve, we’ll get there eventually. We must keep writing. Quitting will only deprive the world of our awesome stories. Keep improving. Keep writing. Make the publishing world take notice. It can be done. Bookstores are full of books written by people just like us.

Don’t think about what may, or may not, come. Just do it.

I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot…when you think about the consequences you always think of a negative result.”–Michael Jordan

Song Of The Week: Right Back At It Again, by A Day To Remember

Before I was a “writer” I taught myself how to play the guitar. I was seventeen and full of different emotions I didn’t know how to express. Music helped give me a release. It has been an important part of my life ever since.

Certain bands appeal to me more than others. I realize we each have different tastes. With that being said, I believe good music is good music regardless of genre. The same goes for writing. A good story is a good story no matter what genre, who penned it.

I try to bring a “musician’s spirit” to my writing. That spirit of not listening to the naysayers, persevering despite the odds. There’s a band called A Day To Remember who I believe embodies this spirit. They have a new album (Common Courtesy) and single out now, called Right Back at it Again. It’s about going for your dreams/goals no matter how shitty the journey may be. As I continue on my writing journey, it’s a message I need to hear every so often. There are days when I doubt not only my writing skills, but who I am as a person. Am I doing everything I can? Am I really giving my all? Is this story as good as I can make it?

We all deal with doubt different ways. Whenever doubt starts creeping into my thoughts I put some music on. Sometimes I sing. Really loud. It helps clear all those bottled up emotions, all the doubt.

Music is a cherished piece of who I am. Just like writing has become a cherished piece of me as well. Mixing these two passions was a no brainer. But it’s the musician’s spirit, defying what others think you’re capable of, that I bring to the writing table. Fighting on despite the odds. Fuck Han Solo not wanting to know the odds. I want to know how bleak things are. It’ll make finally overcoming those same bleak odds that much sweeter.

So when the doubt creeps in, put on one of your favorite bands/songs. Sing along with the lyrics. Give voice to your fears, doubts, and reluctance. Let them be part of what drives you forward toward whatever your goals may be.

Don’t let the doubt drag you down. And if you do fall, get up and get right back at it again.

You can find out more about A Day to Remember by following this link to their official website: http://www.adtr.com/

Book Review: Portent, by James Herbert

Portent was my first read by legendary author James Herbert. While I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of his work, Portent was a mixture of good and bad for me with a direction that pulls readers all over the place while never really coming to a logical, and believable, conclusion. The premise seemed top notch–the world’s weather takes a turn for the worse and her citizens must scramble to understand why. It’s too bad Mr. Herbert seemed to zig when he should have zagged as the second half of the book didn’t read like it belonged attached to the first half. With that being said, there were aspects of this book I enjoyed. Unfortunately, there were just as many aspects of this book that I didn’t enjoy.

PortentFrom the publisher:

First there are the lights: strange, alluring, eerily beautiful, floating up as if from the heart of the planet itself. Then, moments later, the disasters: coral reefs exploding into shrapnel, cloud banks bursting with torrential floods, killer hailstorms, tsunamis, vicious flash fires. From San Francisco to the Indian city of Varanasi, from the gentle Dorset hills to the Great Barrier Reef, the earth is spewing destruction and humans are dying hideous, excruciating deaths. For climatologist James Rivers, it seems almost as if the planet itself is angry. And then he meets the children and he learns that the horrifying truth exceeds even his most unthinkable private terrors…

Come into the light…all are welcome…

Mr. Herbert paints a vivid picture of the end of the world. His descriptions were often lucid and crisp, bringing beauty to these natural disasters. The plot starts out simple enough as strange orbs of light are seen before each natural disaster. The meteorological experts of the world scramble to discover the cause of these strange occurrences. Our main character, Jim Rivers, a British climatologist, finds himself on a forced vacation due to stress instead of doing what he does best. This made no sense to me whatsoever. One of the world’s experts on climate is forced to leave as the proverbial shit hits the fan. Huh? And that’s where I think Portent fails, the pieced together feeling plot.

I enjoyed most of the natural disaster scenes. In fact, many of them read like self contained short stories in the midst of Portent’s main plotline. They were often a welcomed change of pace. From the depths of the ocean, all the way to the Scottish Highlands, Mr. Herbert places his readers in the middle of the action. These well written sections often stood out as crisply written and helped bring a planet wide sense of doom to a story that needed to feel as big as possible to work. Readers will believe the world is changing from the inside out. Well done.

Much of the first half of the book read like it was building toward something. It was easy for readers to see how scientists took a stab at understanding these strange occurrences. It’s too bad the author didn’t keep readers on that track. Without spoiling too much of the book, I’ll say he tried to make these occurrences more personal by giving opposing forces of good and evil names and faces. It was a stretch at best and, in my opinion, took away from the wonderfully written first half of the book. It almost seemed like he didn’t know how to explain the weather, or how to wrap up the plot, and came up with something that felt out of place.

I also didn’t care for how often readers were reminded of how skeptical certain characters were about certain things. It seemed to pop up over and over again, and at inopportune times. Then we get to the point where a character who believed most of what was going on all along suddenly had trouble taking that last little step in believing everything. It just didn’t make any sense and left me frustrated.

The pacing also suffers. Whole sections left me wondering why the author chose to explore backstory when action should be taking place. Toward the end of the book, when our heroes are told to go somewhere as fast as possible, only to stop and try to plead with the powers that be about what’s really going on with the weather made no sense at all. The last hundred and twenty pages of the book became a chore to get through as it felt like characters were running in place. The sense of urgency was established, yet no one seemed to be moving with any urgency at all.

The ending was laughable and left me shaking my head. It seemed too convenient and didn’t fit in with the beginning of the book. To that point, Portent almost reads like two different plot lines smashed into one–the first being about the world wide weather disasters, and the second being about the caretakers of the planet (good vs. evil).

I did, however, appreciate Mr. Herbert’s message that us humans need to be more responsible with our planet. He doesn’t beat readers over the head with it, but, rather, lays it on them slowly, and with purpose. I like books that get you thinking.

All in all, Portent was a decent book that never really establishes its identity. Is it a book about natural disasters? Is it a book about the end of days? Is it a book about the forces of good versus the forces of evil duking it out for control of the planet? The answer to each of these questions is “yes.” And I think that’s a major problem. Without a solid direction, readers are left to wander through a saggy plot line on their own. It really is a shame because Mr. Herbert’s writing can be quite spectacular at times.

What I liked:

  • The story ideas. Mr. Herbert uses natural disasters in a cool way and utilizes orbs of light to precede them. This makes for some great “oh shit” moments. When readers stumble across an orb of light, they know something bad is about to happen.
  • The scope. Readers really do get a sense of destruction on a global scale. Mr. Herbert takes readers to places like Sri Lanka, India, and even Los Angeles. It’s easy for readers to believe every citizen, of every country is affected by these natural disasters.
  • The beginning. I was easily drawn into Mr. Herbert’s world with crisp descriptions and solid action. I wanted to know what happened next.
  • The message. Mr. Herbert did a nice job with his (mostly) underlying message that people are bad to the planet. I didn’t mind, and appreciated his fictional warning. (I say mostly because the last page is a direct finger wagging.)

What I didn’t like:

  • The meandering plot. It never really felt like Portent had a specific identity. Readers are tugged in several different directions and by the end of the book are left trying to piece together what kind of story they just finished.
  • The ending. I skimmed much of the last hundred pages. Too often I found a lack of logical thinking with these characters. Characters would often do the opposite of what readers were led to believe they should be doing, without a logical explanation.
  • The characters motivation. There were times where characters should have been scrambling to get places, yet showed no sense of urgency. If somebody told me to get home before my loved ones were harmed, I would get home as fast as I could. Not these characters. They made a stop to talk about what’s been happening first, even though the fate of the world may rest on their shoulders. Too often character’s reasons for their actions didn’t make any sense.
  • The pace. There are times where this book slows to a crawl as characters rehash their doubts about things they’ve already expressed doubts about. This happens over and over again. We get it, you don’t know if you believe what your eyes just saw. Long stretches of character introspection kill the pacing.
  • The good versus evil aspect. I can’t delve too deeply into this. I will say that it came across as laughable and unbelievable. It was supposed to be whole factions, on a world wide scale, yet we only get a handful of players to follow. It never felt like a viable piece of the plot, and seemed like a convenient way to wrap up the already broken plot line.

Overall: I’m giving Portent, by James Herbert, two and a half out of five stars. Portent is an average book that could have been so much better. While the natural disasters were crisply written, much of this book felt disjointed due to a lack of a solid identity. Mr. Herbert had some great ideas that never really panned out. In my opinion, if he would have focused on one major plotline instead of several, this book would have read much more smoothly. Repetitious sections of characters questioning their beliefs really bogged the pace down and painted them in an annoying light. Unless you’re a fan of Mr. Herbert, or apocalyptic fiction, you may want to steer clear of this one.

Book Review: The Suicide Collectors, by David Oppegaard

I realize it’s been a while since my last book review. I have been reading. I simply didn’t have many good things to say about what I’ve been reading. That all changed two days ago when I opened this book. To be honest, I haven’t sat down and read a book this quickly in good, long while.

The Suicide CollectorsFrom the publisher:

The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead.” In the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored that a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there.

Death is sweeping across the world and people are killing themselves…except Norman.

The Suicide Collectors isn’t your typical end of the world tale. Something called “The Despair” is sweeping the planet. People find themselves despondent, depressed, and have lost the will to live seemingly overnight. Large groups of folks take pills, share a gun, or jump off buildings. Eventually around ten percent of the world is left. I found the premise for this book to be refreshing, even if some people may find it a little depressing.

I also like the way Mr. Oppegaard doesn’t take the act of suicide lightly. He handled such a delicate subject in a thoughtful way, going into philosophical explanations as well as the emotional damage it wreaks on those left behind. At no point did I believe he was taking things lightly. Most of these characters have lost loved ones to The Despair and we get to see how they struggle with that loss on a day to day basis. We also get to see the tug of The Despair on their souls–how at certain points they think about ending their own lives as well.

With only a handful of main characters, it was easy to like, and follow, them. Our main character, Norman, is just a guy trying to live. He’s seen the worst The Despair has to offer and still manages to somehow keep pushing forward. His attitude has a ripple effect on most of the people he meets on his travels. Along with his longtime neighbor, Pops, Norman sets out from Florida, traveling cross-country to Seattle, seeking a rumored cure for The Despair. Things don’t go as smoothly as Norman and Pops would have liked and they find themselves walking through Kansas where they meet an eleven year old girl named Zero. Zero has nothing left in Kansas and wants to see the ocean. Our three heroes head out together and even more bad things happen from there. The characters all struggle and are believable in those struggles. I thought they were all well done.

This is a dark book which tackles many grim subjects. Some folks probably won’t want to read about such a bleak society. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Mr. Oppegaard’s world. Other than a lag toward the middle, this book moves along at a good pace. You’ll be turning pages long after you should have closed the book.

I also really liked how the author kept much of The Despair shrouded in mystery. He gives readers enough to keep them going, but not too much to spoil anything. Anytime an author leaves readers with healthy questions, it’s a good thing. It’ll have them wondering about plot points long after they close the book.

The ending was borderline brilliant, in my opinion. I can’t really go into details without spoiling things, but there’s a bit of irony there. Simply put, it was excellent.

If you’re looking for a quick and engaging read about the end of the world as you’ve never seen it, then pick up a copy of The Suicide Collectors. Each page brings something different and exciting. Mr. Oppegaard takes readers on a grand and unforgettable adventure that’ll leave them wanting more. The end never looked so good. The Suicide Collectors is out now, so grab a copy today.

What I liked:

  • The Premise. It’s different, and well done. It’s easy for readers to see the author took a thoughtful approach to such a sensitive subject.
  • The Characters. I cared about each main character. The secondary characters were even memorable which is a testament to the author’s skills.
  • The Pace. Dude, this is one quick read. You won’t want to stop until the last word, on the last page is over.
  • The Mystery. What is the Source? Where does it come from? How can it be stopped? You’ll have to read, and even then you won’t have all the answers. I really liked that air of mystery surrounding why wholesale suicide starts affecting our planet. Readers get some answers and are left to piece together the rest. Well done.
  • The Sense of Adventure. By the end of this book, readers will feel like they’ve crossed the country through the perils of a collapsed society along with Norman. Our characters have purpose and understand what’s at stake if they fail. Not only is the journey grand, but it’s also memorable.
  • The Ending. Some people may not like it, but I enjoyed the sense of irony. I think it took balls to end the book the way Mr. Oppegaard did, and I applaud him for it. To be honest, it felt like a logical, and fitting, way to end this story.

What I didn’t like:

  • I’ve only got a few minor gripes with The Suicide Collectors. There’s a few phrases that feel overdone toward the beginning of this book. It also seemed like everyone had to tell their backstory and experiences with The Despair. Zero’s name, and the explanation as to why that’s her name, felt forced.

Overall: I’m giving The Suicide Collectors four out of five stars. Mr. Oppegaard spins an unforgettable tale about the end of the world in a fresh feeling way. He gives readers characters they care about and puts them on a grand journey of hope and survival. The fast pace will have readers hungry for what comes next and wishing for more time in Mr. Oppegaard’s world. If you’re looking for a thrilling, intelligent, and thought provoking read, then The Suicide Collectors is the book you’ve been looking for. Give it a try today.

A Pitch Wars Pep Talk From a Former Alternate Mentee

Since the list of writers chosen as mentees and alternates came out today, and since many writers weren’t chosen, I figured I should share the adventures of a former Pitch Wars alternate mentee. *drum roll* Yep, you guessed it. I’m talking about me. 🙂

Let’s rewind a year to last year’s Pitch Wars…

A few friends and I decided we would all enter Brenda Drake’s awesomely fantastic Pitch Wars. We polished both our pitches and manuscripts. We chose the mentors we felt best suited our manuscripts and sent our work off. Then we waited.

And we waited some more. I remember telling myself not get my hopes up, but I didn’t listen to that voice. I wanted so hard for my manuscript to be amongst the “chosen ones.” Then something wonderful happened. A ninja mentor sent me an email asking if any other mentor had requested sample pages, and if I could send her the first thirty pages of my manuscript. I emailed her back letting her know she was the first to show any interest and sent my sample.

After more waiting, the glorious day of finding out which mentees were chosen was unleashed upon the interwebs. I made it onto a team! That same mentor who asked for my sample pages, Suzanne Palmieri, chose me as her first alternate. We got along rather well. I even bought her fist book to show my support.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I want you to keep in mind Suzanne was a very busy woman. She had not one, but two books coming out in 2013. She had edits of her own to tackle. I understood, and was perfectly fine with the fact that she may not be able to help me as much as I would have liked. I think each mentee should be aware of how busy each Pitchwars mentor is. It’s not like they can drop everything and concentrate on just your manuscript. Each mentor will have a different process for working with their mentees. Respect and honor their advice, time, and energy. Make sure you thank them too. They all mean well and want nothing more than to help each and every person who took the time to submit to them.

Suzanne was very straightforward with me, which is something I crave. I don’t like things sugar coated. Give me the unabridged truth. I’d rather know exactly what someone thinks instead of wondering if they’re holding back. While Suzanne admitted she didn’t have much time for me, she helped me polish my pitch and 250 word sample for the contest. I was, and will always be, grateful. She also told me something I cherish to this day. She said I have what it takes to make it in the publishing world today, that my attitude was something special. Having a published writer tell me that meant a lot for a guy who didn’t fully understand how tough the submission process could be. Rest assured, I’ve since learned. Her kind words carried me through some dark times.

Needless to say, no literary agents nibbled at the wriggling worm that was my manuscript.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It did, but not as much as I thought it would. Subjectivity is a very real thing. Each agent has to pick projects she believes can sell. Not every project will fit in with their vision. Don’t take it personally.

What did I do after being rejected?

I went about trying to improve my writing skills. I had to dissect and analyze what I believed was holding my writing back. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my writing journey. One subject kept popping up: characters. Once I identified a list of problems, I set out to learn everything I could about them. This included critiques, books on the craft of writing, and basically reading anything I could get my hands on.

I quickly learned that there’s always something we can improve upon.

I went through my entire manuscript twice more, tightening the POV, characters, and (hopefully) the passive voice. What I had was much stronger. I created a much stronger query letter and set out to get my improved manuscript in front of potential agents.

As the rejection letters piled up, I knew something was wrong. Figuring out what, specifically, proved to be difficult. I believed in my story, still do. After seeing several literary agents comment how they didn’t want anything with vampires, I finally understood what was holding my manuscript back. I stopped querying literary agents. [Side note: This isn’t to say my writing is perfect. I understand there is no such thing as a perfect manuscript and mine is no exception.]

Remember when Suzanne said I had what it takes to make it in the publishing business? Instead of lamenting, I got busy looking into small presses. Today my manuscript is still under consideration…a year removed from Pitch Wars.

In June of 2013 I became a intern for a literary agent, reading and reporting on submissions. I decided to concentrate on creating short stories for the six month term of my internship. Ten short stories later, my short story, LABOR OF LOVE, was published in volume eleven of The Siren’s Call e-magazine. Several others are under consideration elsewhere. I looked at each new experience as a potential way to sharpen my writing skills.

The point is life goes on. Whether you’re picked or not, you’re going to wake up tomorrow the same person. I know mentees from last year who had agent requests and are still in the trenches, still unagented, and still unpublished. I know alternate mentees from last year who are still in the trenches as well. Some went on to bigger and better things. Some didn’t. There are no guarantees.

If I’ve leaned anything in the past year, it’s this: Nothing beats quality writing. And even then, you can still be rejected if the subject matter is a difficult sell.

No matter what happens with this year’s Pitch Wars, remember to keep your chin up. There are no shortcuts. It doesn’t matter who you know or how far you think someone can take you. As long as you enjoy the experience and connect with like-minded writers, you’re all winners. Go forth and write the kind of stories you’re passionate about. Create quality fiction. If you do, trust that somebody, somewhere will notice. I know I do.

My Pitch Wars experience was something I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. It forced me to identify what was really important in regards to my writing. I came to the conclusion that as long as I was happy with the quality of my words, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Getting to the point where I felt that way took many agonizing months. There is no magic formula anyone can follow to become a better writer, no magic potion we can drink. The only way for anyone to become a better writer is to keep writing…and learning.

So get out there and discover anything, large or small, that can improve your writing skills. Allow other writers to critique your words and learn which criticisms are valid and which aren’t. Remember that different things will work for different writers. Find your swagger. Once you do, you’ll wonder what in the hell took so long. And never, ever, give up! Fight on.

You can learn more about Pitch Wars here: http://www.brenda-drake.com/

You can learn more about Suzanne Palmieri here: http://www.suzannepalmieri.com/

Before You Query, Add A Cover Page To Your Manuscript

If you’re a writer, chances are you plan on submitting your work at some point. In the event that you’re submitting a completed manuscript, I’d like to advise you add a cover page.

Why should I listen to you?

Great question.

For the past six months I’ve been an intern for a literary agent. While I can’t go into specifics, I can talk about generalized topics. My task was to read submitted manuscripts and break down the strengths, and/or the weaknesses of each one. This involved detailed reports on things like voice, characters, plot, dialogue, etc. All in all, I read about twenty different manuscripts and came to the conclusion that a cover page is absolutely necessary.

Cover pages are often an agent’s, or editor’s, first glimpse at the querying writer’s submission. They give an air of professionalism. They say the querying author has done their homework and wants to be taken seriously. To put it plainly, they make the best first impression. Plus, if it’s been a while since the agent/editor requested the material, a cover page can be a good reminder of who you are and what your project is all about.

What is a cover page?

Other than putting my own cover page up, I found a great example from author, William Shunn. You can see his cover page by clicking on this link: http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html

A great cover page should include several things:

  1. Personal Info. Your name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and any applicable website. If the agent/editor finds something they like, they’re going to want to contact you. This info gives them plenty of choices. This info should all be single spaced and appear in the top, left-hand corner of the document.
  2. The Title of Your Submission. This should be pretty straightforward. The title should be centered and appear somewhere around the middle of the page.
  3. The Author. Again, this should be a no brainer. Skip a line between the title and put your name, or penname. Be sure to center this too.
  4. The Genre. This info serves as a reminder to the agent/editor. Plus, if they have assistants, or interns who read for them, this will give them some kind of clue what they’re about to read. Skip a line after the author’s name and center this info.
  5. The Word Count. Include the word count after the genre by skipping a line and centering this info as well. Again, this serves as a reminder to the requesting agent/editor.

I would suggest not including anything more/less in your cover page. Leave the accolades for the query letter if you can. Let the quality of your submission speak for itself.

Literary agents are notoriously busy people. They may request a submission but not get around to reading it for several months. Many agents employ interns/assistants to help keep their inbox in order. This means that the literary agent may not be the first person reading your submission. I know I wasn’t given the query letter to read before any of the submissions I read. Most of the time all I got was a submission with no additional information. This is why, I believe, a great cover page is a must have for every querying writer.

Along with submitting the standard agency report, I would also include a set of personal notes on each submission. The first thing I did was give my initial thoughts–including whether or not a cover page was included, any formatting issues, and overall appearance of the submission. I definitely noticed when there was, or wasn’t, a cover page.

Will a cover page make or brake your submission?

No. The quality of your submission should always speak for itself. However, the better submissions usually looked professional from a cover page all the way through to the last page. As we talked about earlier, a cover letter shows the submitting author is ready to be taken seriously because they’ve done their homework. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, appearances do count. Showing literary professionals we’ve taken the submission process as seriously as they do is the best possible first impression any querying author can make.

Put your best foot forward. Include a cover page.