Pitch Contest Etiquette

I joined Twitter last year in the middle of the summer storm of pitch parties and contests. I know. I’m a bad millennial. Anyway, I joined Twitter so I could participate in said pitch parties and contests. My manuscript needed a lot of work, and some of the writers I met during the chats for those pitch contests became my critique partners who helped me see that. But I also learned some key things about pitch parties in general.

Every new baby writer makes mistakes when it comes to pitching their manuscript. Thanking an agent for their rejection on social media? Yeah. I did that. I was genuinely thanking them because they at least took the time to look at it and respond. Still. Awkward. But it’s letting those mistakes become habits that linger long after you stop being a “baby writer” that’s a problem. So as we gear up for another summer of pitch parties and contests, let’s review some of the rules of etiquette of Author Twitter.

  1. Be at least a little professional. Yes, it’s fun and good to joke around with other writers. It’s encouraged. But be aware that what you say, even as a joke, can and will be seen by people who you are hoping to work with in a professional capacity at some point. I’m not telling you not to be yourself, but be your semi-professional self.
  2. Don’t whine. You didn’t make it in the contest? Celebrate the winners in public. Convey your disappointment in private. Your CPs, your friends, your support system. They will understand. If you whine and cry on the hashtags, it looks bad. If you can’t handle rejection at the contest level, how will you handle a book that doesn’t sell? This stuff matters.
  3. Celebrate the successes of others. Someday that could be you with your name on a list of winners, or on that press release. You’ll want people to be happy for you. Be happy for them. Yes, even if you think your work is better than theirs. This isn’t kindergarten. You don’t get to stomp your feet and scream about it not being fair. It isn’t cute when a five-year-old does it, it’s worse when an adult does it.
  4. Be considerate. You don’t have triggers, painful secrets, or anything you’re scared to talk about? Congratulations. Other people do, though. Don’t belittle anyone. Don’t be that jerk.
  5. When you’re wrong, apologize. We all make mistakes. Just own up to it.
  6. Don’t hit on people like a creeper. Enough said.
  7. Do your due diligence. If you ask someone a question that can be answered by a simple Google search or by checking the event’s homepage, you not only look lazy but like you expect other people to do your work for you. If it is something you need clarified or help to find, that’s one thing. Don’t be afraid to ask anything, just make the effort before you ask someone else to do so.
  8. Don’t brag. Or humble brag. You are always allowed to be excited about your successes. Celebrate. Don’t gloat.

This list isn’t comprehensive. It’s also not written in stone. But, in truth, most of these rules can be summed up by saying “Don’t be a jerk.” It’s that simple.

For those of you who are about to jump into the wonderful world of pitch contests this summer, good luck! And welcome to Author Twitter!

The Value of a DNF

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had DNF’ed several books that week and ended up writing a review on one I revisited instead of something new. Last week, I didn’t write a review because of several more DNFs (and also because my anniversary was in the middle of the week and I chose to forego my review writing time to celebrate).

I’ve put down a lot of books without finishing them lately. At least, it feels like a lot. But this is coming from someone who, until about six months ago, would finish a book no matter what–barring any triggering issues. I always felt like I owed it to myself to see if the book got better. I needed to know for sure how it ended. To DNF was to give up. I’m not a quitter.

I’m still not a quitter, but I do place a little more value on my time. I wrote that post last week about finding a balance. Learning to appreciate a DNF is part of that balance. It took me a while to realize this, but it’s true. When I DNF I’m not giving up. I’m placing more value on my time than on the rest of the book. It might sound harsh, but it isn’t.

To DNF a book is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s an opportunity.

Stick with me here.

As a writer, if someone DNFs my work it tells me something. Immediately, I know that there is an aspect of the story that isn’t working. I may have to ask questions to find out what, but knowing there is an issue is valuable information. The questions I ask will help me understand whether it is a small issue, a much larger one, or something beyond my control (e.g. just not their cup of tea). Whatever it is, it’s something I didn’t know before.

As a reader, if I ask some of those same questions I can learn a little bit more about:

1 – Myself. If it just wasn’t my cup of tea, why did I pick it up in the first place? What drew me to it? Is there a subject matter or style of writing I’m gravitating towards? A trope? A twist? Or, am I overwhelmed and a book that normally would have been fine is a turn off because the subject matter or main character are hitting a little too close to home right now?

2 – Editing. Okay, the book is something I would normally enjoy, so what’s the deal? Perhaps the book is too dialogue heavy. Or perhaps the interactions between characters are stilted. These are things that I might not have noticed as much before or at least been more forgiving of. But now, all I can see is a subpar editing job and it ruins my book experience.

3 – Self-care. My time is valuable. It’s also limited. I’m not going to waste it by making myself read something I don’t like. Especially not when I could be checking something else off my to-do list or getting some sleep. Or reading something that I love. Also, if there is something even remotely triggering, it’s always okay to put it down. I don’t owe the author anything.

4 – Publishers. If there is something glaringly wrong with or offensive in a book, I will look to see who published it. If it was self-published, that author will go on my mental list of writers to avoid. If it was published by a someone else, I’ll be more wary of their offerings going forward, since they didn’t see a big enough problem with the story to refuse to peddle it.

I’m sure given time I could think of other reasons that DNFs can be valuable, but I’ll stop here for now. What are some ways that you find a DNF valuable?

 

Finding a Balance

For most of us, writing is not our primary job. It is something we love and work hard for, but it isn’t what pays our bills. Or cleans the house. Or the other million and one things that make up daily life. For the majority of writers, writing is something we have to make time for before, after, and/or in between the other necessities of life. It can be difficult and daunting.

We give up our nights, weekends, lunch breaks, our children’s naps, anything that will give us a little more time at the keyboard. That doesn’t mean we don’t have families, friends, jobs, hobbies, chores, or special events that we can’t and won’t neglect.

And it doesn’t mean we should neglect ourselves either.

My writing is important to me. It’s a part of who I am. But it is only one part. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Beyond that, I am also someone who loves sports, board games, learning–and teaching–self-defense through mixed martial arts, and volunteering with local groups/organizations of my choice.

If I abandon the other things in life I enjoy, or my other responsibilities, I feel guilty and my writing suffers. If I neglect my writing, I feel guilty and my sense of self-worth suffers. I have to find a balance. It’s not easy. If ever I perfect it, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have to be intent on carving out time for writing and for the other parts of me. Because my experiences fuel my writing. And, frankly, sleep is non-negotiable. I’ve tried.

A lot of writing blogs I’ve read in the last few months have stressed the importance of taking a step back from your work during editing. Walk away from the project for a short while so your eyes are fresh when you come back and you’re more likely to notice things that escaped you before. Use that time in between to do something for yourself. Rent a movie. Run a race. Play a game. Take a long bath. Read something with no intent to critique or edit. Go to the gym. Do whatever it is that helps you feel human again.

You write, so you’re a writer. But it will never be the only thing you are. I’m sure even the overwhelmingly successful authors would say that they are more than their job. Don’t forget to let yourself be more. It’s okay to give yourself a night off once in a while. Your writing will probably be better for it and so will you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated. You don’t have to be superhuman to be a successful writer. Nobody will doubt your dedication if you go on a date with your significant other, go see a sporting event with your kids, or go to bed early. You’re allowed to be human. You’re allowed to be you.

Your writing will still be here when you get back.

 

#WriteClub Battles Have Commenced!

This is just a quick reminder that as of yesterday (4/16) #writeclub battles have commenced over on dlhammons.com! Monday through Friday for the next three weeks, two 500 word writing samples will be posted. You (yes, you!) vote for your favorite. It’s a great way to give feedback to writers and to be a part of the fun.

Rules:

  1. The writing samples are anonymous and each presented under a pen name. You may hype the contest, but if you try to get votes for a specific writer or their pen name, they will be immediately disqualified. The contest is about the writing, not about how many followers a person already has.
  2. You can vote once per battle.
  3. You cannot vote anonymously. The writers are anonymous, but as a way to enforce the “only one vote per person per battle” rule the votes can’t be.**
  4. Voting stays open on a battle for several days. If you have missed the first battle or know that you will miss another, no need to miss out. You can still vote for it when you get the chance.

**Each time you vote you will be entered to win a Barnes and Noble gift card, so you want them to know who you are.

How to Find (and Join) the Writing Community

I have said it before, but I’ll reiterate it now. I’m still new in the writing world. In the last year, I have learned so much about crafting a story, but it wasn’t all through traditional writing resources. Some of what I learned came through trial and error. My errors were kindly and constructively pointed out by the wonderful people I have as critique partners, and am fortunate enough to call friends.

But how do you find these elusive critique partners? You get involved in the writing community as a whole. Maybe for you that means using the MeetUp app to look for writer groups that meet face to face in your area. Honestly, that was not only a bit inconvenient for me but also intimidating. I’m a closet introvert. I seem really outgoing, but the truth is that people often make me self-conscious and after meeting up with a group–even people I know and like–I sometimes need a recovery period. So for me, the online writing community held a lot more appeal.

So where is this elusive online writing community? Where everyone else is hanging out in these crazy modern times: social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Basically, if you can think of a platform that has a tendency to eat away your productivity, writers are probably on it. There are tons of hashtags and groups to join.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but I don’t want to just jump in out of nowhere. That’s scary. I have nothing in common with these people.” Everybody starts somewhere. Yes, it can be scary, but the community is welcoming. You do have something in common with these people. You’re a writer. They’re writers. Boom. Connection.

If you’re still not convinced, why not look into some writing contests and competitions? Most of them have their own groups or hashtags that participants use to get to know each other and bond over the emotional rollercoaster you’re on together. Some of them don’t even require a full manuscript. For instance, the submission window for #WriteClub is open until April 1st. The only requirements are a 500-word submission and a pen name. That’s right, you can (and must) be entirely anonymous on the competition front. But that doesn’t mean you can’t join the hashtag (#WriteClubDFW) as yourself and bond with the other participants.

Don’t believe me? Check out the competition info.

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It’s that easy.

Or hard. I admit that I spent more time figuring out how to fit a whole scene into 500 words that I should have. It was a good exercise for me even if I don’t make the competition.

So find a competition, a hashtag, a group, something on whatever platform you are most comfortable. Connect with other writers. Make friends. Swap chapters, queries, synopses, anything. Critique. Get critiqued. Interact.

Don’t be afraid. We’re writers. We don’t bite. We just write about it.

Keeping Motivated

I’m a list maker. When I sit down to get things done, I prioritize by making a list of everything I need to do, most important goes first.

Spoiler Alert: I’m a mom, so sometimes the list doesn’t get finished. Kids need naps, snuggles, lunch, kisses for boo-boos, trips to the doctor’s office, outside play time, emergency toy surgery, etc. So the most important tasks get listed first because otherwise, I might not get to them.

I’m a writer. Being a writer means more than sitting at my keyboard hacking away. It also means I’m a reader. I have to read in my genre in the industry to keep up with the trends and find good comparative titles. I also read for my critique partners, because, well, it’s a partnership. If I want them to slog through my hot mess drafts until I can beat the prose into something palatable, it’s only fair that I read their wonderful works of art in return. I do book reviews, usually posted here on Thursdays. Thanks to NetGalley, I also do some ARC reviews so I can get a sneak peek at what’s debuting this year. And last, but not least, I do some beta reading too.

It may not sound like a lot, especially since I love to read, but the time adds up. And I still have to find time to get my own writing and revising done–not to mention all of the pesky things my non-writing life entails, like being a mom and paying bills.

It can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt it, though I doubt it, the feeling of having so much to do that I don’t want to do anything. When my to-do list is so long that my brain refuses to function and I end up stuffing my face with bad snack food and watching Netflix. Or falling asleep sitting up. Maybe both.

Eventually, though, I have to crawl out of my haze and get my rear in gear because that list isn’t going to finish itself.

In the last few weeks both my kids got the flu, so naturally, I got it too. My husband had to travel for work, so it was just the three of us in the house, sneezing, coughing, and fever dreaming up a storm. After we got better, the kids were on Spring Break–which isn’t saying much when they’re in preschool, but it still meant that I didn’t have my usual quiet work time during the two days a week that I usually do. Then my parents came for a surprise visit. And then my youngest had his first birthday so everyone came to visit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Now, we are all well, sanitized, and living on the leftover cake, so it’s time to get back to business. But the problem is that while all that was going on, my to-do list in the writing world didn’t get any shorter. It got longer. Things piled up. A lot.

But it’s time to crawl out of the haze. So what do I do?

I have to find the right motivation. I can’t get on my daily chat with my writer friends until after I finish [insert acceptable number here] pages of the reading I need to do today.

I finished that critique? How about a bite of cake!

Wrote the blog post that was due three hours ago? That deserves a cup of coffee at least. Even if it’s just Folgers.

I reworked the outline of my manuscript and found a way to up the stakes while fixing that character who wasn’t quite working anymore? I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and do something mindless so my brain can rest before it shuts down and resets to factory default settings.

You have to find whatever it is that works for you.

Also, remember to forgive yourself when life interrupts and you don’t finish what it is you were in the middle of doing. Writing is work. It’s work we love, but it’s work. You have to find a good work/life balance. Don’t let your guilt over not finishing that chapter rewrite by today suck all the joy out of the new character arc you just came up with.

If you succeed at keeping the guilt at bay, write a blog post that gives me your secret. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

Writing Resources

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I’m a newbie in the writing world. I finished my first manuscript last year. I was so proud of it. It was so dear to me. It was a piece of me. All of my life I have wanted to be a writer, and I did it.

What then? I did some research about what it would take to get published. I found out about a few twitter pitch parties and contests. Even better, I learned about the special brand of torture called a query. I got some likes and got some kind and encouraging rejection letters. Most importantly, I connected with other people in the writing community.

I learned what critique partners were and found great people who graciously took up the burden of being mine. They helped me to see some things I had been blind to. I loved that manuscript so much because it was my first and it was a part of me, that I had no idea how bad it was. But it was.

Y’all.

Awful.

But I learned from it. I found some great resources online, some by accident and some from recommendations. Crafting threads, podcasts, free ebooks and online courses. I learned how to tell a story, how to kill your darlings, the three-act structure, the hero’s journey, and found some basic guidelines regarding how to write more inclusively.

Now when I sit down to write, it feels like a different animal than it was before. In some ways it’s harder because when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know how badly you’re messing up. But it also feels like I’m growing as a writer. Every time I sit at my keyboard and hack away, even if I end up deleting everything when I’m done, I’ve grown as a writer. Because I know why it needs to be deleted. I can hear my CPs in my head asking questions and know what won’t fly.

Do I catch it all? Of course not. I’m human. And still learning. But now I at least have some inkling of how much more I still don’t know. It doesn’t stop me from writing. I’m not waiting on that magic day when I’ve read all the crafting blogs, listened to every possible podcast, etc. I do have a life away from my keyboard, after all. Blasphemy, I know.

So I write. And I rewrite. And I edit. And I cut. And I promise my fiction is more polished than my blog writing.

Anyway, I thought today I would pass along some of my favorite resources. If you’re even newer to the writing world than I am, maybe they’ll help you as much as they are still helping me.

Podcasts:

I have only recently joined the podcast craze. I’m not the best auditory learner and I’m a mom of little boys. Life is crazy and my attention span is short. All that means that while there are some really great podcasts out there, my favorite right now is Writing Excuses “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” As the tagline suggests, each show is only fifteen minutes. This makes it a great podcast to listen to while scrubbing dishes or folding laundry.

Blogs:

As far as blogs go, I have several favorites, so I’m going to narrow it down. First, I’ve learned a lot from Writing with Color and refer back to it often. I highly recommend it. Also, you should let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of their recommended reading. Before you know it, it’s dawn and your kids are up, but you have zero regrets.

K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors is another great resource. She breaks things down in easy to understand chunks. She even has a series where she breaks down story structure using the Avengers franchise. So many light bulbs went off for me while reading that. I will note that most posts have a link at the bottom to listen to the podcast version, but so far I’ve stuck to reading.

Vlogs:

If you’re more of a vlog fan, Ellen Brock has some very helpful tips regarding editing. You can see her videos and read her posts on her site, so there it’s really the best of both worlds. The videos are all short, so much like the Writing Excuses podcast, they are great to watch in the few minutes you have between other chores or activities.

Classes/Webinars:

If you are looking for specific topics and can afford to pay for classes or webinars, I recommend The Manuscript Academy and the webinars offered through the Pitch Wars site. I have had a good experience with inexpensive courses from both of these sources. And the experience doesn’t stop with just the class. The Manuscript Academy also connected me with a Facebook group for other people who took the same class I did, offered a live Q & A with the author, a podcast, and the class video. The Pitch Wars staff offers ways you can interact with other writers on social media through activities like Pitch Wars Movie Night. They pick the movie and appoint the time, you watch along and tweet with them on the hashtag throughout the show.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It should be noted that I have a folder of bookmarks on my computer that is nothing but “Writing Advice”. It has five subfolders and I still have to scroll down to reach the bottom of the list. And that does not include the separate folder I have that’s just for podcast links.

Nerd and proud, y’all. Nerd and proud.

What are your favorite resources? I’m always looking for more tools for my writing toolbox.