Writing Goal for 2020: FOCUS!

Those who know me best can tell you that I can get a bit distracted (probably an understatement) by my many writing ideas. I have at least one new book idea a day, and it can be hard to resist the urge to start writing it. This is especially true in November when National Novel Writing Month rolls around and I want to participate by writing 50,000 words of a new novel.

This year, I’ve decided I will not write any new books! I have several books, from picture books to adult novels, in the revising stage. I’m not talking books that I’ve written three chapters of and abandoned — I’m talking full manuscripts of which I’ve written complete first, second or even third drafts! Many just need polishing to be ready to submit to agents and publishers. This is ridiculous!

I need to finish them. Therefore, my primary writing goal for 2020 is to finish the books I’ve already written. Nothing new until those are done.

There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s picture books. This year, I’ve joined the 12×12 Challenge. I will write 12 picture book drafts this year as part of that program, and will continue to revise the existing drafts I have (with the help of the many great members of that group).

I think that with focus and hard work, 2020 will be a great year for me professionally! What about you? What do you need to do to get your manuscript(s) publication ready?

Twitter glossary page updates and explanations

Twitter is an author’s paradise. Authors, agents, editors, publishers, and other lit influencers make ample use of Twitter to share priceless advice, wish lists, trends, podcasts, blogs, new releases, and so much more. There’s a strong indie publishing scene, too.

When you first start, Twitter can be hard to navigate. The tweets are constant, endless, and the 280 character limit prompts many people to use acronyms and word melds that you may not recognize or know how to put to use.

I created a Twitter glossary over a year ago to help writers navigate the fast-paced world of Twitter. Writers can even use the glossary outside of Twitter, too. Many of the terms are used on agent websites, author blogs, podcasts, and many other places.

I hope that writers have found the page helpful over the past year plus, and pop back over any time they saw a term they didn’t recognize. I, too, pop back once in a while to update the glossary with new terms as I discover them.

The glossary will always be a work in progress; it will evolve as the Twitter Lit world does. I invite you to make suggestions if you see a term not listed that you think should be.

That said, you should note that I’ve excluded the following from this list:

  • whole words related to writing that anyone can just stick a hashtag in front of (e.g. fiction, writing, etc.)
  • word melds with obvious connotations (e.g. fictionwriting)
  • handles (e.g. @____) because I couldn’t possibly begin to list all the people writers should be following on Twitter

You can browse the Twitter Glossary anytime by clicking here.

10 Tips for Pitching on Twitter

Every time a pitch party happens on Twitter, whether I’m participating or not, I scroll through the feed. I love reading and learning from the amazing pitches!

I also see writers making rookie pitch party mistakes. Since my Pitch Party list is the most popular page on my website, I thought it would be a good idea to write a short guide for how to pitch on Twitter.

NOTE: I’ve used the word “publisher” in place of “editor” in this post for clarity only. Typically, the job title of the person from the publishing house reading a tweet will be Editor.

10 PITCH PARTY PARTICIPATION TIPS:

01. RULES. Every pitch party is different. Seek out the relevant website and/or Twitter account for the pitch party you want to participate in and read the rules carefully. Follow them exactly.

02. TIMING. While you’re reading the rules, take special note of the time the pitch party begins and ends, and to which time zone it refers. Too often I see pitches an hour early or on a different date entirely. Most agents and editors only look at posts that fall within the allotted time frame.

03. HASHTAGS. Include the pitch party’s hashtag (with the correct spelling) and add any additional hashtags that are relevant. Again, look at the pitch party rules because they usually provide a list of additional hashtags you can (and perhaps should) use.

04. PERSPECTIVE. Write your pitch from your own perspective, not your character’s. You are selling your book like you would on the back cover, and in traditional publishing these are almost always written from an outsider’s point of view.

05. COMPS. Include the title(s) of one or two recently published books to give the agent or publisher a sense of the genre, style, and/or tone of your book. Do not phrase your comp as “the next [blockbuster title here]”. Write comp titles in title case and your manuscript title in all caps to make it stand out.

06. STAKES. You only have 280 characters, and several of those are devoted to details like hashtags and comps. Use the rest to make sure your stakes are clear. Stakes are what the character might lose if they fail. This is the crux of the conflict in your story. World building and interesting character details alone don’t make a story; you need conflict!

07. EDITING. Examine every word in your pitch and decide if you really need it. You only have a small amount of space to say a lot, so it’s okay to take a few grammatical shortcuts so long as your pitch flows and is clear. The bonus here is that if you prove yourself to be a great editor, agents and publishers are more likely to want to work with you.

08. INTEGRITY. Don’t spam the feed and don’t try to use the hashtag for anything other than its intended purpose. If you abuse the hashtag, you will get blocked by agents and publishers, which means that even if you learn your lesson and want to participate in future pitch parties, they still won’t see your posts. They won’t even know they’re missing them.

09. PATIENCE. Some agents and publishers don’t start reviewing the feed until later in the day. Some don’t get to it until the day after. Keep your pitch up for a few days at least. If you get a request, link to the tweet in your submission; it could be weeks before they review your submission and they’ll appreciate the reminder.

10. PERSISTENCE. You may not get a request your first time out. Don’t dismay! You may just need to tighten your pitching game a little. Maybe your comps weren’t a good match. Maybe you spelled the hashtag wrong. Maybe you were a little too wordy. Learn by reading other people pitches and seeing which ones got a lot of requests. Read guides like this on how to write a great pitch so that next time you’re more likely to get a request.

REMEMBER: If you never get a pitch party request in your entire life, it doesn’t mean your story isn’t worthy. There are dozens of reasons why you might not have gotten a request and many of them have nothing to do with you or your story. You can always submit through the normal querying process. That’s where the majority of traditional publishing deals come from.

Quiet summer, busy fall for pitch parties

After a quiet summer in the Twitter pitch party circuit, things are heating up again. The always popular #pitmad is just two days away, with many more great pitch parties on its heals, including #DVpit, #PBpitch, and #faithpitch, to name a few.

For those who don’t know, a Twitter pitch party is a way to jump the slush pile queue, in a sense. Agents and editors participate in these pitch parties as a way to scout for new talent and/or books that they feel could be a good fit for their list. If an agent or editor hearts your pitch, that means they want you to send them a query. When they are waiting for and expecting your query, they’re more likely to read your pitch before the other queries in their slush pile.

It’s a worthwhile experience for any querying writer, even if you don’t get a heart. Why? Because at the very least you’ve written and polished an “elevator pitch” for your book and have a chance to see the reaction. Writers and other supporters can retweet (never heart) your pitch to show support, and that’s a good gauge for how effective your elevator pitch is.

Seriously, if you have a manuscript ready to query, you have to give a Twitter pitch party a try! You can find many success stories on Twitter from writers who participated in one or more pitch parties and who now have an agent or a publishing contract.

Ready to get started? See what’s coming up in my updated Twitter Pitch Party list.

A Checklist for Querying Picture Books

No matter what type of book you’re querying, it’s a TON of work to put together a query package. There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to find the right agent for your manuscript, but when it comes to picture books, there’s even more to consider.

I’ve been deep in the query trenches for several of my picture books texts this year. It’s a rollercoaster of excitement and disappointment, especially since I keep thinking that I’ve found the right agent to pitch, only to realize as I’m putting the email together that I missed an important detail that makes them not…pitchable (for lack of a better word). I wasted a lot of time digging deeper into the profile of an agent who wasn’t even open to queries, or my type of manuscript.

To save myself some time (and heartache), I created this handy checklist to make sure I’ve checked all the boxes before I start putting together the query package. Now, I’m sharing it with you so you can do the same.

Does the agency accept unsolicited queries?
Many literary agents are independent contractors, but they still work for a agency and are subject to the rules of that agency. Before doing an agent level search, check the submission page of the agency they work for to see if the agency even accepts unsolicited queries. I start with my List of Literary Agencies Around the World, click on them one at a time, and check their submission page before I start researching the agents that work there.

Does the agency generally represent children’s literature and/or picture books?
Even if an individual agent is open to picture book queries, you may not get very far if the agency overall does not generally represent kidlit. The agent may like your book, but usually they have to convince their agency it’s worth investing time and energy in getting it published. If the agency doesn’t seem to have recently found a home for any picture books or other kidlit, it may not be worth your time querying any of their agents (even if the website doesn’t directly state they don’t rep those books).

Do any of the agents at the agency represent picture books?
Even if an agent represent children’s literature, they may not represent picture books. Picture books are a very niche category of literature because of their format and illustrations. Many (even most) agents that represent children’s literature do not represent picture books. I try not to query any agent that doesn’t specifically state they are looking for picture books, or whose list of represented titles do not include picture books, because more often than not, I’ll be wasting my time.

Is the agent open to submissions? 
This may seem like an obvious question with a simple answer, but it’s actually the most tricky answer to find. Even if the agent’s profile on the agency website doesn’t state they are closed to queries, they may still be closed to queries.

Agents don’t generally have much control over the content on their agency’s website. Instead, many agents have their own website apart from the agency, and they post the most up-to-date information about themselves there.

Other agents are very active on Twitter and will update followers there instead. Look at the agent’s pinned post on Twitter, or read their username or bio to see if they’ve indicated their open or closed status there.

Agents with a Manuscript Wish List or Publisher’s Marketplace profile may have a open or closed status indicated there, but these profiles are sometimes out of date, so it’s best to rely on the agent’s website or social media updates. The latter are more likely to have been updated recently.

If the agent’s open/closed statuses don’t align between sites, be sure to check the date of the post to see which was posted most recently.

Finally, if the agent or agency uses Query Tracker to accept submissions, make sure to visit their Query Tracker page because often that’s where the status will be posted. You’ll follow the link ready to query only to find that the agent isn’t included in the dropdown menu of available agents on the agency page, or a large “_____ is currently closed to queries” at the top of the agent’s Query Tracker page.

Does the agent accept queries from only author/illustrators?
Sometimes, an agent accepts picture books, but only from author/illustrators. If you’re submitting a picture book text without illustrations, or illustrations without text, make sure the agent accepts this type of submission.

Is the agent looking for picture book manuscripts covering your topic or in your style?
Sometimes, agents are looking for a really specific type of picture book manuscript, and yours is simply not the right fit. Check the agent’s website and Twitter feed for these instructions. For example, they may only be looking for picture book biographies, or they may not be looking for picture books with animal protagonists. A couple extra minutes of research may save you a lot of time putting together a query package for an agent that’s just going to say no.

Is your manuscript a good fit for the agent’s manuscript wish list?
An agent’s manuscript wish list (MSWL) is a list of specific topics or styles they are itching to represent. An agent’s MSWL may be posted on their website, on the Manuscript Wish List website, and/or on Twitter (using the #MSWL hashtag). While it’s not always a must to check an agent’s MSWL before you query, some agents are only open to queries for manuscripts that fit their MSWL. Keep a close eye on agent MSWL’s because your manuscript may be just what they’re looking for.