#Pitchwars isn’t a contest, it’s an opportunity

I’m not an exceptionally experienced writer. I have one manuscript under my belt and two halvsies. But I’m fairly experienced when it comes to contests. I’ve entered a few.

In fact,  I’ve entered 12 writing contests in the past year. They’re usually run by the RWA but I’ve entered three that were on a worldwide level ( Myslexia, A Woman’s Write, and Ya.Authors.me). They have a few differences, but they all have one thing in common. There is a distinct winner.

“That’s how a contest works,” you say, and ready yourself to move on.

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You don’t need to waste your time reading things you already understand.

BUT WAIT! I have a point, I swear!!!!

Guys, #Pitchwars isn’t that type of contest. Pitchwars is an opportunity. If you play your cards right, you will walk away with something beneficial, even if you don’t get picked by a mentor. That is always a win.

So, let’s list a few of the benefits of this contest, besides the ever- envied Mentor.

  1. A Beta Reader.
  2. A Critique Partner
  3. Query Edits
  4. AUTHOR SUPPORT
  5. The experience of rejection
  6. The experience of acceptance
  7. A measurement of how far you’re willing to go

Guys, this industry is rejection. It will only make you stronger.

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Okay, that’s a little bit of stretch, but you get the idea.

As an author, you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s part of the deal. I learned that lesson very quickly when I lost my first contest. I didn’t even make it to through the first round, and I got a nasty critique letter that didn’t sugar coat the truth. It was painful, but you know what? It was the best thing that ever happened to my writing. I will forever thank the judge who took the time to be brutally honest, and for adding that the reason she was so harsh was because she saw unstructured talent.

I took the advice and rewrote, and things started changing for me. My first final was elating, but the truth is my biggest win was that first loss. Without that failure, I would never have learned the value of a negative critique. It taught me to look at my writing with a critical eye; there is always room for improvement. It taught me to straighten up and deal with the tough stuff because no one is going to hand me a map that leads to greatness. If  I want this, I’m going to earn some scars, which is okay because they make my skin thicker.

When I entered #Pitchwars, I didn’t see it as a contest. Pitchwars was a giant vat of opportunity I could submerge my writing into if I was willing to get the pages of my manuscript wet. The ink might run, and some lines might be lost, but the pretty skeleton of the story would remain.

So I threw myself in. It’s a little deeper than  I anticipated and the water is rough, but there are plenty of fellow writers around me and we are swimming together.

I’ve found a critique partner or two, possibly three! I’ve had my query ripped up in the best way. New sets of eyes showed me flaws I could never see, and now I have the ability to patch up the issues. All in all, I’ve gotten better.

Ladies and Gentlemen, that is a win.

I hope you all find your win, too.

Keep writing,

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The Publishing Industry is Subjective

If you are a writer who’s ever pitched a novel, or simply googled insight into the publishing industry, chances are you’ve heard this before.

I know I’ve heard it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve even accepted it. But it wasn’t until this past week I truly understood it. The following experience gave me a different view on those words.

About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to judge the first round of a writing contest. It was a simple “answer these questions, see if you qualify, and you can judge” sort of thing, but I was still looking forward to it. I couldn’t wait to see what the contest process was like from the other side! I opened the entries with excitement, read through them, made notes, and instantly attached to a certain story.  A week later I reread my samples, focusing on the technicalities and quality of writing. I carefully considered, tried to provide helpful feedback, and sent my judged files back to the contest coordinator with a sense of satisfaction. My judgments were fair. Every score I gave could be justified (at least by me!).

But here’s the crazy thing-

I didn’t give my favorite story the highest score.

Why? Because technically, it wasn’t the best. The highest scoring story flowed better. The sample was flawless. There were no mistakes, no awkward phrasing, and no grammatical errors (that I picked up on). It was simply  well written.

However, something about the second ranking sample spoke to me. The characters grabbed me, and the story drew me in. I wanted to read it.

What’s really puzzling is if I were to summarize the story lines, the highest ranking book had a better plot. More happened. It moved at a quick pace. But there was something about the second place book I loved. I don’t know what it was. I can’t explain it. It simply connected with me.

As I ponder this experience  I’m blasted with an understanding I thought I previously grasped, but obviously didn’t.

The love of a book is subjective.859697

My judging experience opened
my eyes to a new side of things. I’ll probably need to reread this post in the future to remind myself, but I finally understand. If  I were an agent, I wouldn’t have requested a full for an arguably well written book, simply because it didn’t speak to me.

This taught me how important it is to find people who connect with your work.  If my writing is good, and I constantly strive to improve my craft, eventually I will find the right people to help me get my book out there. A big part of success is commitment.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. jessica grace kelleyt signature

Until then, I’ll keep writing

 

 

 

My journey to becoming a Published Author

 

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A year and a half ago I was sitting on my couch with my best friend  (AKA husband) passionately displaying my dissatisfaction about a book series I just finished reading.  The ending was, in my opinion, poorly executed and didn’t give the characters justice.

“I could write a better ending than that!” I proclaimed, tossing my wine glass up to the sky.

“Then do it,” Ryan replied.

I laughed at the suggestion and we playfully brainstormed book ideas, most of which were horrible. One stuck with me though, and this character wouldn’t quiet. I opened my laptop at 2 am and wrote this strange, dark character’s story, entitled The Cleanser. It was the first chapter of what would become my debut novel, The Mercy Killers.

I can honestly say I had no idea what a life changing night that was for me.

I wrote like a madwoman for 5 months, then my husband came home from deployment and I put the half finished manuscript away. I wasn’t sure what  I was doing, was this only for fun? Was this something I wanted to pursue?  I wasn’t under any delusions of what being an author truly means.  There is always a chance an author can make it “big” but being an author more than likely means pouring your soul into a manuscript which may never see the light of day, and if it does it can take years of crawling through the trenches to get it picked up. I have two small children and a husband who is often absent because of his job. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to something that draining for the possibility of no pay off.

But the story wouldn’t go away.images (1)

It was always in my head, building, creating this giant world, and as time passed I realized I needed to write this. Even if nothing came of it I wanted to write it because it brought me joy. So I pulled out the book and finished it.

 

When I typed that last sentence,  it became clear writing was my passion. In some ways it always had been.  I have stacks of journals and songs to prove it.  But this book was somehow different. This made me excited and brought me peace (you can read more about my reaction to my finished manuscript here.)

I didn’t know what to do next, so I blindly entered contests because  I was told they could provide valuable feedback. I entered a few and received some excellent advice.  I learned how to hone my skills, and I completed my edits using the lessons  I gleaned from the contests. I placed  well in them, which helped my confidence.

So now I possessed a completed manuscript! What next? I knew I needed a Query letter, so I signed up for a Query Class. I also tried my hand at a pitch contest, #Pitchmas (read about my experience here, it was eye opening.) The pitch contest went well. I ended up with quite a bit of interest.

That was a shock.

I prepared myself for the trenches.  I was ready for tons of rejections and piles of agent queries that went nowhere. I ended up with solid choices. I did receive a few rejections, but even the rejections didn’t have the horrible bluntness I heard about. Most were incredibly positive.

“Sorry,  I can’t take YA. Could this story be for an adult audience?” ( No, it is NA/YA) .

“I love the first chapter, if the majority of the narrative is from that POV I am interested” (It wasn’t, so we didn’t pursue a relationship.)

“Love your voice! Do you have anything set in the current time period? I am looking for Urban fantasy.” ( I have a voice!?!?!)

I was shocked.

I was overwhelmed.

This was not what I expected.

I did my research, read through my options, and took the advice I was kindly given by the experts who  offered it. I settled on an offer that seemed clean to me. I sent it to my lawyer, who promptly agreed the contract was clean, didn’t have hidden clauses and the royalty agreement was fair.

However, this contract was through a small start up publisher which hadn’t even released a book yet. Signing with a new company was a risk, so I didn’t sign right away.

Instead, I did more research. I spoke to the owner, who was  honest and helpful. I read success stories and stories of failure, some through small pubs and some through the big five. I sat down and tried to figure out what I wanted.  I researched pros and cons of the big five versus a small pub and I seriously considered signing with the new publisher. After all, contracts are hard to get, and  getting looked at by the big five or an established independent publisher can be tough. It wasn’t like a big agent was going to randomly knock on my door!

I entered a contest called the YA! 2015 Authors.me competition on a whim. I had no idea how much exposure I would receive, nor did  I have a real grasp on who would be reading it.  I did well, in fact I won the whole shebang ( WHAT!?!?!) and a few weeks later I had two different individuals within the literary community approach me with some great advice and interesting proposals.

It was a little overwhelming.

The small publishing house contract was still on my desk, carefully arranged and protected in an envelope, postmarked and addressed.  It was ready to go, but I hadn’t been able to actually sign it. I don’t know why. I had every intention. But every time I picked up the pen this quiet voice would whisper, “Not yet.” I was certain the voice was insane, because book deals are hard to come by and I was lucky to have a publisher who was as devoted to what I wanted as this company was.

You see, I’ve never been a very brave person. I’ve always taken the safest, surest route. This small publisher was safe, and I liked who ran it. I liked the authors. I liked everyone. But all of the feedback from different sources was forcing me to look at what I really wanted out of writing as a career, and my goals became clear.

I wanted to be a hybrid author. I wanted to try to shoot for the stars even when the deck is stacked against me. If I failed, fine, but at least I tried. So, I did a very terrifying thing.

I walked away from a sure thing. images

Was that the best decision for me?

Only time will tell, and probably quite a bit of time. The publishing industry tends to move slow.  I will likely experience some rough moments. I may end up with a small publisher, after all many of them are very good at selling a certain genre. If we are a good fit I will be over the moon. Now, I understand what I am looking for.

Was I scared?

Absolutely. I still feel a little sick thinking about it. It was a hard decision for me to come to, and it hurt because I had come to genuinely care about the people who ran the small publishing company. I was also working on a second book which was perfect for them and needed the type of platform they could provide. Severing our relationship didn’t just mean pulling The Mercy Killers, but it also meant pulling a chance for The Seductress too.

Still, I walked away.

My big, terrifying journey starts here. A journey I could have finished already, and maybe  I should have. I know I’ll  likely receive rejections before I find what I am looking for. But I think intuition is important, and a famous quote echoes in my head whenever I start to doubt myself.

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Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite books. It was rejected 38 times.

Stephanie Meyer struggled to get an agent, she was snubbed 18 times, and then went on to get rejected by over a dozen publishers.

The Help got rejected 61 times. Stephen King had a spike of rejections on his wall.  Meg Cabot had an entire bag full of them.

I don’t know if I will ever be as great as the people  I’ve mentioned. I understand it’s not likely. I do have passion. They obviously have talent, and mine remains to be seen. I think it’s there, I just need to hone it.

If I receive 300 rejections? I’ll submit 301 times.

Until then, I’ll keep writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#pitchMAS – How I got likes!

So there’s this book pitch contest called #PitchMAS. Maybe some of you have heard of it?

IT’S HUGE!

PitchMAS is  run by Jessa Russo  and Tamara Mataya around Christmas once a year. It’s free. It’s a good opportunity. I finished my novel The Mercy Killers recently, so I figured I’d give it a shot.  I e-mailed my submission.  Here it is, and it wasn’t great.

 A young gypsy girl trades freedom for protection from a disease-ravaged world, but not without sacrifice. When the plague’s cruel ending threatens her sanctuary, only one man can help. Problem? He was the sacrifice.

I didn’t make the top 50.

I wasn’t surprised. I’m not great at pitching, so I figured I wouldn’t make it. Pitching an entire novel in such a restricted format is not an easy feat. I read the winning pitches and I was impressed! I could see how they used each word to their advantage. I learned from it and decided I would try again during the #PitchMAS party!

On Friday morning I woke up and posted the first two pitches that came to me on my twitter feed, sporting #pitchMAS and my genre hashtag.

There are worse things than dying from the Plague. You could survive it and be forced to become a Mercy Killer #YA #NA

 

The Governor’s son has a new GF. She looks sweet, but she isn’t. She’s a mind reading blade-wielding gypsy with a dark past #YA #NA

 

I walked away for a few hours, refusing to obsessively refresh twitter all day. I’m not an amazing pitch doctor and I know it. Why stress?

I was talking on the phone with a close friend when I decided it was time to check my feed. I had a few notifications, but I didn’t get excited. It could be anything.

I received 4 likes.

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What!?!?

For those of you who don’t know what that means, 4 agents/ editors “liked” my pitch enough to request my query.

I lost my mind!

I wondered if I was seeing things. Was I reading the twitter feed right? Was I on the right page? DID THEY DO IT ON PURPOSE!?!?!?! My friend who was still on the phone thought something was wrong.

“What is it Jessica? Are you okay? IS THERE BLOOD!?!?!?!”

No blood. Just confused joy.

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You see, I just finished my novel. I entered into a few contests,  signed up for a query class which starts in January,  and started on the novel’s sequel. I created a rough query letter a week prior to try my hand at the process, but I hadn’t done anything with it. I wasn’t expecting anything. #PitchMAS  is a big contest,  many authors participate, and I am very unseasoned.

I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, so I threw up another #pitchMAS tweet-

Greylin is a Socialite, promised to Attica’s next ruler. She hides telepathic abilities and skills with weapons.Why? #NA #YA #R

I received three more likes, two by editors.

Okay! This was really happening!

Overall, I received 6 partial manuscript requests. I spent the next 24-48 hours getting my submissions ready. I was so grateful I already possessed a basic synopsis and query letter! I strongly encourage putting together something as soon as you complete and edit your novel, just in case!  I tried to craft each submission to the Agent/ Editor requesting, and made sure to follow the submission guidelines the best I could. I am not a practiced query writer, but I gave it my all.

About a week went by, way to soon to hear anything.  An average turn around response for a partial is 30-60 days. So when I woke up with two full manuscript requests from two separate publishing companies, I made sure to read both e-mails twice so I could be 100% positive I was reading them correctly.

Did they mean to send this to me? Were they serious? DID THEY DO THIS ON PURPOSE!?!?

Are you noticing a trend?

So…I sent my manuscript in!

I won’t lie, my manuscript wasn’t perfect. The story is finished (except for a few tiny tweaks I keep obsessing over, but that’s normal, right?) and edited to the best of my ability, but there are bound to be mistakes in a 100k word manuscript. I was nervous, but I hit send.

I understood it takes a while to hear back from publishing houses. I wasn’t expecting anything.

I swear, not expecting anything works!!!!!!

I received my first “we are interested in publishing your book” e-mail a few days later. I am currently staring at a contract with my name and my novel’s title printed at the top. tumblr_ms73weyqJ91sbx8xco1_500

I don’t know if I will sign it (although I am very strongly considering it), my lawyer is looking over it (I don’t have an agent! I just wrote some tweets!) and I want to talk to my hubby bubby about it face to face, but the publishing contract exists! This is amazing to me!!!!!

GUYS!!!! I WROTE A BOOK AND PEOPLE DON’T HATE IT!!!!!!!

I won’t be making any rash decisions about my novel this week.  I asked the publisher for a certain amount of time to consider everything and get my ducks in a row, and they kindly obliged. The firm is new and fairly small right now, but I believe in small beginnings.  After all, I’m just an Accountant/house wife who got bored while her husband was deployed, couldn’t find a book that hit the spot, so I wrote one!

Everyone starts somewhere.

My book started at 2am on a sleepless night when one of the characters insisted on being put down on paper. My writing journey was wonderful and came naturally. I wasn’t sure how my journey to publishing would start.

It looks like it started with #PitchMAS and a little fantasy!!