Fast Pitch!

Well dear reader, I’m back from LDSPMA 2022. There’s a lot to talk about. Today we’ll talk about one of the most valuable activities at a writer’s conference, doing Fast Pitch.

What is it?

What’s fast pitch? In the writers’ conference context, Fast Pitch is kind of like speed dating. You sign up for a ten-minute slot and talk to an editor or agent. Usually, you spend three minutes or so doing your pitch and (hopefully) spend the rest of the time answering questions from your chosen editor or agent.

Why does it matter?

When you’re doing fast pitch, you have access to an agent or editor. That means you can slip past the slush pile and talk to someone who can help you get your book published. You’re getting a response (“yes, send us the manuscript” or “no, we’re not interested”) in a few minutes rather than six months or more.

How hard is it?

It’s a challenge. There’s a lot of work involved. But, if you do it right, if you plan and execute well, you can really reap the benefits.

The worky-icky part is you have to fit your idea (the story of your story), your manuscript length, where you are in the process, your comps, and why you’re the right person to write the book into something you can calmly and clearly communicate in less than five minutes.

It’s serious work. But it’s also a great opportunity.

Pitching a book and getting accepted is definitely a way to ‘win’ the conference. And it’s only one benefit of attending!

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Good luck with your writing. I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return (Part 3)

In the previous parts of this discussion, we’ve collected a pile of research and refined it. Now, we’re going to use that pile to build our writing.

There are many writing and citing styles out there, and a plethora of subjects and subject matter to work with. There are many reasons for writing and many audiences to read that writing. It’s hard to advise you at this point. But there are three things I can tell you.

Know your audience (and why you’re writing to them)

Your audience is coming to whatever you write with expectations. You need to know those expectations. Writing your doctoral dissertation, the same way you write a children’s chapter book or picture book won’t get you very far (unless you’re studying the writing of chapter or picture books…). Writing your fantasy novel in the same style you would an accounting textbook is probably worse.

While we’re doing our research, it’s worth doing a little research on our audience and what they want. That might mean checking publisher requirements, picking up a style manual (and reading it), considering the people on your thesis/doctorate committee, or even reading a book or two in your genre (gasp!).

You also ought to think about why you’re writing to them. What is your purpose? Even non-fiction can be considered a story. But why are you writing to the people you’re writing to?  

  • If you’re writing to entertain, definitely stay away from that accounting book.
  • if you’re writing to inform, have good information in your text.
  • If you’re writing to convince… Well, we’re back to knowing your audience. Convincing a boss to hire you is a different thing than convincing a professor you’re ready to graduate. And neither one is the same thing as convincing kindergarteners to brush their teeth.

Allowing for your own words

This series has been about collecting research and using it in your writing. Don’t forget your own writing. Usually, we’re using research to support what we mean to say. We’re using it to build our ideas and arguments (hopefully the logical kind). The folks we’re quoting may be experts in their fields, but we’re the expert on what we’re trying to say (if those other experts were experts on what we’re trying to say, they would have said it already).

That means we need to pay attention to our writing and not let our voice and meaning to be lost in a slush of quotes and references.

Citation, it’s not just a good idea

Quoting and citing other people in our writing is good practice. Stealing their ideas is not.

This is an area where our writing style matters. We need to know how to reference other people’s work without looking like we’re trying to steal their thunder. It’s pretty simple (as much as any complex behavior can be simple):

  1. Be aware of the things you borrow from others (even indirectly).
  2. Mark those things appropriately in our text
  3. Attribute the marked text appropriately for the style we’re using. (Trust me Chicago and APA ain’t the same thing…)

It’s not just an “honesty thing” either. Proper citation shows we’ve done our research and know what we’re talking about. It makes us look better while acknowledging the original authors. It also supports our case if someone tries to plagiarize from us…

Writing can be challenging. Doing research for our writing is a challenge all its own. But, if we want success, it’s worth doing and worth doing right. It’s something we can all learn more about (Like seriously… I’m attending a conference session on research for historical fiction about two hours after I write this…).

Do your research, dear reader. Do it well. And, I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return? (part 2)

Last time we talked about the first step rough processing part of doing text-based research. This week we’ll talk about the next step of the process. We’ll process the metaphorical ore into the verbal/textual metal that we’ll incorporate in our writing (the part we’re talking about next week…).

I don’t want to scare anyone, but it’s time to do some reading. And yes, Johnny, I know you had to do some reading to get to this point. Before we’re done, we’ll read some of our material a second time, a third time, and possibly several iterations after that.

Picking out the best bits

At this point, we’re forming an idea of what we want to say. We’ve met a lot of the pieces we need (there may be more, but we’ve got a lot of them in front of us already). Much of our gathering work and hopefully our first pass reading is done. We’ve rejected the material that clearly doesn’t fit and collected the stuff we want to use.

Now the job is to dig into that material again. This time we’re not interested in a general “this article is good.” This time, we’re looking at the specific parts that are good. We’re making evaluations and decisions.

Are we dealing with primary sources or is the author quoting someone else? If they’re quoting someone else, do we also have the original in our stack? Can we find the original if we don’t have it?

Does the material support what we’re saying? Does it present an alternative view that we’ll need to explain (Don’t toss those out!)? Does the author point us toward other questions we need to ask?

If there are alternate views or additional questions, we’re better off addressing them than trying to hide them. Hiding them or avoiding them leaves us open to questions we might not want to deal with later. Dealing with them now shows that we’re knowledgeable in the area and strengthens our case.

Is the information really relevant? If we’re writing a paper about the nutritive value of oranges (the citrus fruit) we probably don’t need a lot of information about orange peppers or carrots. We definitely don’t need to talk about “don’t shoot me” orange hunting vests.

Do we have more information about a particular area or item than we need? We might keep the extra arround around, but we don’t have to use all of it.

Highlights and notes in the margin

So far, we’ve been talking about reducing our list to the sources that we really need or want. Eventually, we’ll have reduced the list of sources to the ones we want, but we’re not done. We have the sources, but are we going to use the entire book/article/blog post/whatever?

Eventuallylater, it’s time to mark things within the text. There are many tools to do this: highlighting, underling, comments, and others. I recommend you experiment and find what tools and methods work best for you.

I also recommend that you use a combination of tools and methods. Sure, underlining or highlighting marks the part you want to refer to. But they don’t tell you why you wanted to refer to them. Comments or notes in the margin will do that. Comments and notes also help you draw connections to other sources and your own ideas. They can help you draw the conclusions that you need to make. But they won’t tell you which specific sentence you want to quote,

The idea here is to mark and connect with the specific pieces within your research that you actually want to use. And then, go through that stack one more time, looking for holes, places where you have too much to use, themes that resonate but you haven’t put into your own words yet, and other treasures you might have missed in earlier searches.

By this point, we’ve done a lot of work. We’re almost where we need to be. Next week we’ll get into the cutting, fitting, and mixing the research we’ve found with our own words.

It’s a challenging process, dear reader, but it’s a key to good writing. Good luck in your writing (and research) dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Sometimes good things come in “Oh crap, what did I get myself into?” packages…

Next month I’m going to a writing conference (I might have mentioned that). I decided that I’m pitching a non-fiction book at the conference. Initially, I decided to finish a chapter before pitching, with the rest to come. Well, that’s been pushed to three chapters (and of course the pitch!). I really need these three in a decent state so I can feel confident in my pitch. And, even more so, because completing these three gives me the best understanding of the book for writing and delivering the pitch.

I’ve also received an honor that’s also a bit of a ‘tactical problem’. They’ve asked me to be the marketing and sales manager for the 2023 conference! Unfortunately, that means combining the job I was doing, another person’s job, and part of a third person’s job into a well-focused six-person team’s job (me and five other people). I’ve got a lot going on right now.

Because I’ve got a lot going on, several other projects are getting the “can I have a minute?” treatment. I didn’t want the blogs (or you, dear reader) to be one of those things. So, instead of just putting posts off till next week I wrote this post to let you know the stuff I’d been planning on posting will be up next week.

Seek that which is good, dear reader. Learn and grow. And, I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return? (part 1)

I’m working on a book chapter this week, with a word target of 10,000 words. That works out to be about 20 normal pages or 40 manuscript pages (give or take because… you know… formatting…). Not the biggest thing I’ve written, but not the smallest either.

In preparing to write the chapter, I’ve worked my way through 2,000 pages of reference material. One of my friends (and the accountant part of my brain) pointed out that I’m getting a one percent return. Well, actually it’s less than that and more at the same time.

It’s less because a one percent return would mean I just plonked out 20 pages worth of the 2,000 pages I read. That would be plagiarism and I’m not into that. Since I need to fit my own words in there, I read 2,000 pages to get maybe 10 pages worth of stuff.

But, it’s more because those 2,000 pages provide me with the material I need to write my own words and get them published. In the end, I’m only using a fraction of what I read, but I’m using it to create something new, something that supports my goals and objectives in a way regurgitating the previous material alone doesn’t.

A different kind of work…

Doing research is hard. In fact, in some ways, it’s harder than it used to be. Back in the old days (when I rode my mastodon to the university every day) I had to go to the library, collect a stack of bound journal volumes, and then go to a photocopier to make copies. After that, I had to read the articles I copied (not always easy) and extract the information before I could use it. And that’s not counting the work to find the articles.

Right now, in 2022, I haven’t had to photocopy an article in years. I don’t need hiking shoes and a luggage cart to find the information I need. I can find it electronically, but that’s where things get complicated and today’s work gets harder. There are a lot more sources out there. We don’t have to hand lug stuff, but we definitely have to achieve clarity about what we’re looking for and what sources to trust.

Defining what you’re looking for (even if you’re not sure what it is!)

As we start our search, we might not know what we’re actually looking for. If we knew, it would be much easier to find our information. But knowing what we’re looking for, the actual points and quotes we’re looking for comes at the end of the thought process, not the beginning.

So, we start by creating some broad and general definitions (“I would like to talk about what the word magnify means in a scriptural sense.”) and cast a wide net. We look over what we’ve got, and start deciding (“Three sources are all citing one original source. Since what I want is the bit that they’re citing, I’ll drop all three and go with the original if I can find it”).

Next, another iteration of refining, which allows us to further home in on what we’re looking for. We may also find that we need to “open another can of worms” by expanding our search into new areas. That’s ok we’re learning what it is we need to learn.

We’ll repeat the process with these new searches, but remember two things: 1) we need to keep our focus and remember what it is we’re working on and looking for (it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole) and 2) eventually we need to tie all the stuff we’re collecting and using into one coherent story (even if it’s non-fiction…)

It’s a complex process, and we haven’t even gotten to where we can use the stuff we’re finding. Miners and refiners of metal have to separate the ore from the host rock before they can refine the ore (and they usually have to refine the ore before they get a chunk of workable metal). We’re doing the same thing. We’ve collected some material and are separating it from the host rock (all the other information and “stuff” that’s out there.

In the next part of this series, we’ll move on to refining the ore, extracting the bits that matter from our research. And then (in part three) we’ll move on to actually “using the metal”, meshing the research with our own words to create something greater.

It’s a challenging process, dear reader, but it’s a key to good writing. Good luck in your writing (and research) dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

There’s still time… But not much!

If you’re reading this when the post went live, we’re about two weeks into the virtual conference/pre-conference for the 2022 LDSPMA conference. There’ve been some interesting sessions. I’ve learned a thing or two and took part in discussions on manuscript prep, book design, and how to handle “fast pitch” situations in selling the things we write.

There’s more to come in the next couple of weeks, including sessions on pitching fiction and nonfiction work, query letters, marketing and critiques. And after that comes the main (live) conference .

Yes, dear reader, some of the virtual sessions have already happened. But that doesn’t meantime’s run out. All of the virtual sessions have been recorded. If you register for the conference you gain access to the virtual session recordings, including the ones that’ve happened already, from the moment they’re posted (two business days after the session happens) until the end of the year.

That means you can watch (and rewatch) the sessions even if they happened before you registered.

If you write, and I know some of you out there do, a conference can be really helpful; not just with information, but through the contacts and friendships you can make. The LDSPMA conference has great stuff for music folks, artists, and filmmakers too. And, if you do it right, a conference can be a lot of fun.

Check out the website. And, I’ll see you next post.

Pushing farther, reaching higher…

In the beginning, there was the goal. And the goal was to write 1,000 words per day. And the goal was good.

But there came a time when the goal was too easy. NANOWRIMOs had been won. Blogs were under way. Stories and even books had been published. A goal of 1,000 words was easy. But the goal was 1,000 and so, after a thousand words, people quit.

And they, the overseers of goals and achievers in writing, wanted more. The goal was to be raised. The number of the goal would become 1,500, and 1,500 was the number of the goal!

But… All was not well. Those who did the work complained. Some days, 1500 wasn’t enough, there was more that could be done. Other days there wasn’t enough time, 1,500 words wasn’t realistic. And so, a decree went forth. The goal would be an average of 1,500 words per day. Everyone was tracking the numbers anyway, so an additional calculation didn’t seem problematic and the goal became more flexible as long as the average was kept.

But it was not enough. The work did not go forth…

The goal setters in their wisdom had allowed any words to count toward the goal! That meant the goal could be achieved without progress being made. And so, once again, the goal was changed…

Some people are passionate about word count goals. Some people hate them… Some people succeed with them, and some people use them to look very busy while producing nothing. The point of an effective writing goal is to move the work forward (I’ve got an example of how my most recent goal does that over on Words Mean Stuff ). Writing goals are valuable, but they don’t have to be word count goals.

In fact, a word count goal may only be successful if you have a clearly defined project to work on. Otherwise, you may work a lot to produce a little.

If you’re going to use writing goals, consider one of these alternate options:

  1. A planning goal. For example: “today I’m going to outline chapter 6,” or “this week I’ll do the writeups for my major characters.”
  2. A unitary goal. For example: “I’m going to write a short story this week,” “today I’m writing that query letter (or blog post),” “This week I’m editing chapter 4,” or “I need to get that abstract done! So that’s what I’m writing today.”
  3. A research goal. For example: “I’m going to get into the database and pull all articles on ASMR written in the last year,” “I’m going to get all the articles collected into one file and build a spread sheet so I know what I have,” or “I’m going to find five examples of castles that would be good settings for my story (that way I can design my own fictional castle next week…)”

Big goals like “I’m going to write a novel,” need to be broken down into manageable steps. Nonspecific goals like “I’m going to write today,” can be too easy, or totally impossible depending on how you phrase them.

A clear specific goal that helps you understand what you’re going to do, why you’re going to do it, and allows you to wrap your mind around how you’re going to do it is your best bet. That’s the one that’s going to get you through.

A “words per day” goal isn’t wrong, dear reader, but goals that actually help you write are the ones you want. Those are the ones to seek after.

Good luck with your goals, dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Beta readers

I’ve got projects approaching completion. Or at least I think they’re nearing completion.

Where they really are is ready for me to show them to someone. But does that mean I’m sending them off to a publisher? Nope, not if I’m smart.

Does that mean I’m showing them to an editor? Some stuff, yes. Some stuff, no. Either way, I’m taking one more step before I get the professionals involved…

It’s time to unleash the beta readers!

What (and who) they are

Beta readers are readers who are (hopefully) in your target audience; or at least audience adjacent. They’re a sample of your prospective readership who can give you feedback and reactions to your work.

Back at the university, getting other grad students or friendly faculty to read things over was a good idea for article submissions or conference proposals. As a writer of YA fiction, I have a couple of avid readers in the YA audience that I run things by before I do that “one last time,” editing that precedes sending things out to agents, editors, and other professional types. Usually there’s someone around who’s willing, credible, and trustworthy. You just have to look.

In fairness, you should probably be willing to return the favor for beta readers, especially in a professional setting.

You should also understand what beta readers aren’t.

What they aren’t

Beta readers aren’t professional editors. Some of mine are fantastic, but they’re not paid editors. If you want editing support, call in an editor, not a beta reader.

Beta readers also shouldn’t be fanboys (or fangirls, or fanwhateverdescriptionisinthisweek). You want people who will give you genuine feedback about the story and their interaction with it. If your readers are just cheerleading, they’re not helping you.

Usually (in my world) beta readers aren’t paid, not in money at least. You might exchange something, beta reading for beta reading, beta reading for help of some other kind, et cetera. But you’re not looking at a paid service (If I’m paying for someone to go over my stuff, it’s an editor or some other pro…).

(Two reasons) why they’re important

So, beta readers are just randos you let look at your stuff?

No. That’s not it at all. As I’ve said, beta readers are generally people in your intended audience. They’re going to give you feedback about the work and their experience reading it. They’re not professional editors or designers (generally they’re not even sales people), but they represent the people you’re trying to get to read your stuff.

That means what you should get back from your beta readers is a sample of how your intended audience reacts to your material and what they think about it. These are the people you want to read your stuff, so maybe you should pay attention to what they’re saying.

Beyond feedback, there’s at least one other major reason to work with beta readers. It’s natural to have anxiety over the things we write, but too much anxiety can be crippling. Working with beta readers can help build confidence in what we’re working on while helping us find the stuff we should worry about and need to fix.

It also helps protect us from those nasty surprises that turn up if we just send stuff off to publishers without thinking. Beta readers are that second (and possibly third, fourth, fifth…) set of eyes that help us make sure that we’re on the right track and ready to move forward with our writing. They’re a valuable help and worth working with.

Well, dear reader, I have stuff to get to my beta readers. If you write, write your best. And, I’ll see you next post.


Challenge accepted. And offered!

I’ve set a challenge for myself. Starting this month, I’m going to put out a story a week in addition to my other work.

Back in the old days, in 2015, when I started this, I set a goal to write 1,000 words per day. Well, after seven years, seven NANOWRIMO wins, a few books published, and two blogs, I can say 1000 words is no trouble what so ever (for me at least).

Last year I shifted my goal to averaging 1500 words per day. The change encouraged me to write more and accounted for days when life was happening. Unfortunately, I kept the premise that any words written counted toward the goal. The goal was pushing me to write, but not necessarily to finish anything…

So, the new, new goal is to average 1500 words per day that contribute to significant writing projects, and to publish a story per week in addition to my other writing.

One result of this push is that you’ll be seeing more stories here (in addition to ones I’m submitting elsewhere).

Pushing ourselves helps, dear reader. We don’t want to over-extend. But we don’t want to under extend either. Using wisdom and pushing ourselves just enough in the right way helps us through.

I’ve accepted my challenge, dear reader. And now I extend one to you. Push yourself constructively and then follow through. Good luck dear reader, and I’ll see you next post.

Life as a new kid (writer edition…)

I looked at the post I just wrote for Words Mean Stuff and said, “you know, this kind of applies to breaking into writing too…” So, here’s a challenge dear reader. Look at this post. Read it. And think about how it applies to us in the writing world. I can think of at least three or four ways, but I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment if you like.

Life as a new kid

In my part of the world, the new school year is less than 72 hours away. So, I’ve been thinking about the new-move-ins and my experience as the new guy…

Breaking in is hard

It’s hard. It is. Even moving into a new neighborhood in the same town can be a challenge. Things will be different. You might not get all the signals, or all the jokes. The relationship maps, group maps, and general way things work are different.

You’re going to have to learn a new way of doing things. You may need to shift your thinking.

Be willing to adapt

I’ve moved over the years, and watched other people move. The ones that have the hardest time are the ones that won’t adapt; the ones that want to make the new place just like the old place, even though the realities of the place are different. And sometimes even though they are fleeing the old place because of the way things were working.

If you’re new, take a little time to find out how things work, and why they work the way they do. A time to make changes may come, but understand what’s going on and why before you mess with things too much (there’s a reason there surfing isn’t a big sport in Idaho…).

We’re better off changing the way we do things than trying to change everyone else. We’re more able to make those choices and changes. We control ourselves, not the people around us. And we can decide which changes fit with who we really are.

Changing our ways and adapting can be hard. Successfully and productively changing others is even harder if we’re unwilling to do our own work.

But stay who you are…

But you don’t have to change everything. Who you are, who you really are, the powerful child of God with your own thoughts and opinions, shouldn’t be suppressed.

Yes, learn new things and learn how to operate in your new place. But don’t change who you are just because people tell you to. Never change who you are just because people tell you to. Genuine change has to come from within (the corollary is, don’t expect other people to change just because you tell them to…).

Adapt to your surroundings? Yes. Change who you are because the kid down the street says so? No. We are becoming better than we’ve been before, not serving the whims of others.

Never resist change stupidly. But don’t give up who you are (who you really are). Make purposeful choices in how and why you change, but never give up who you really are.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. I’ll see you next post.

Perspective: in real life and in story

How we look at things is important. As storytellers (and there’s room for storytelling even in non-fiction…) the perspective we speak/write from impacts the story we tell. It affects the information available to the narrator, the reader’s ability to associate with the characters in our story, and the nuts and bolts of how we structure and write our story. As writers, or just people trying to get along in a world full of people who ain’t us, understanding the perspectives of people around us is valuable in marketing, persuasion, and making things happen.

Perspective in story (the kind that helps us tell the story)

There’s lots of discussion about perspective (aka point of view) in story. Holy wars have been (and are being) fought over whether first or third person is best (and that’s ignoring the second person rebels!).

There are those who will tell you the hero/heroine must be the one to tell the story, and other people who’ll insist writing from the perspective of a side character gets the job done.

Things get really scary when polyphonic stories come up. Suddenly there’s more than one perspective operating in the same story!

I tend toward the polyphonic style myself. But I won’t tell you that’s the ‘one correct way’ to tell your story. Nope, I don’t think it’s true. I definitely don’t think it’s the best advice. The best advice (as I see it) is to experiment and find the best point of view for your story and use that.

Of course, taking my advice requires thinking about things from more than one point of view. You know what… that’s an excellent skill to use in real life too.

Perspective in life (the kind that helps get the story read)

In real life, everyone has their own perspective. Even identical twins don’t see things perfectly the same. Understanding that other people have their own perspectives, and maybe even understanding those perspectives (as best we can), makes a real difference in getting things done.

Sure, some people try the Karen path (even people not named Karen…); they demand to talk to your manager; they expect us to make exceptions for them; they try to make their way through hardheadedness and screaming. But it’s not an effective path. Refusing to see other perspectives isn’t all that successful on a long-term basis.

This is not saying that you have to give in to those other perspectives. If your reason’s good enough and right enough, and the aim is worthy enough, stay the course and move ahead. But if you take the time to look at the other person’s perspective, at least you understand why the @$@#@!!! others are insisting on the things they are.

There is great power in understanding other people’s perspectives. If you understand other people’s perspectives (and your own goals), you can do a little thinking beforehand. You can package and present things in ways that look and feel better to the other person. That makes getting what you want easier.

Beyond the pre-packaging, you might find commonalities between what you want and what the other person wants. You can use those commonalities to build a shared foundation. And then, you can use your understanding of what the other person wants to negotiate a solution that works for everyone involved…

Perspective is useful. Understanding different perspectives allows you to see new angles and new things. It doesn’t mean you have to change your perspective, but it gives you more information and allows you to make better decisions in story and in life.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. What’s your perspective on perspective? Leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.