Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Devil's in the Details: The Difference between Fine and Fabulous in your Manuscript

As Pitchwars submission day looms nearer, I find myself thinking about what makes a manuscript sing when I read. What makes me perk up and say "oh this writer has it" versus "this is good, but I'm not quite feeling it." True for me, and I'm sure all of the mentors, is the excitement of these days leading up to submission day. It's kind of like speed dating on Twitter, but here's the thing, as fun and interesting and awesome as each of you are, the pick will really come down to the manuscript and your words and the marketability of your story.

So, if you've followed the mentors' wisdom of "Is your manuscript truly ready" then here's what I bet you have going for you:


  • Grammar, spelling, and mechanics. The basics you've got down pat.
  • A pretty decent plot line. You have a solid beginning, middle, and end that make sense.
  • A main character we can travel with.
Assuming, you have all of the above, what are going to be the things that set your manuscript apart. 



  • A good handle on showing versus telling (Monica B.W. wrote a good post HERE)
  • Well-rounded characters. As fun as stereotypes are to write (raises hand - I love making bad guys so bad they're ridiculous), characters are far more interesting when they're nuanced. If you watch Justified (if you do, we can be friends) - both Raylen Givens and Boyd Crowder are great examples of characters who are neither all bad or all good. Also backstory plays a role, think of Draco Malfoy, the favorite platinum blonde you love to hate. When you know his life, the pressure and prejudice he was raised with, you can, if not forgive him, at least empathize. PRO TIP: I create backstory for every single one of my characters. At times, NONE of it ends up in the book, but it helps me write them real.
  • Plausible motivations. Sometimes when we write and we need a character to get from point A to point B, whether emotionally or physically, we throw our writer hands up in the air and go "Oh, I'll just do this." Fine for first drafts. Mine are filled with ALL CAPS PLACEHOLDERS THAT SAY THINGS LIKE YOU WILL REVISE THE SNOT OUT OF THIS MOTIVATION. But by this draft, it should be pretty smoothed out.
  • A nice blend of exposition to dialogue to interiority. Hunger Games is a great example of this. My recommendation? Go through the first couple of pages with three highlighters. One for exposition, one for dialogue, one for interiority. See how it balances.
  • A cool setting. This could be your cousin Ephau's single wide trailer. But if we get a clear picture of the wood paneling, the collection of Velvet Elvis paintings, the vase of fresh flowers he buys every week at the SuperFoods, all of a sudden it's more than just a trailer. PRO TIP: Every detail you put in your setting should be a stage for either character or plot.
There's more, there's always more, but I'm going to move on to talk about marketability. This is the part that sucks. Here is a real live quote, about a real live manuscript I once had submitted to editors:


This story has such a compelling premise, and a truly unique world which I can tell Jaye put a lot of thought into constructing.  Roan’s emotions feel very authentic, and I found myself really rooting for her.
However, I’m afraid it’s not an ideal fit for me.  The truth is, Penguin already has so much dystopian on our list that for us to sign up more, it’s got to be just staggeringly unique and totally unlike anything else in order to compete for the marketing muscle.

And this is another part of the truth. PRO TIP: Publishing, especially big 5 publishing, is a business. Plain and simple. It is about the money. You may have the best damn sparkly vampire book ever written, but right now, if Big 5 is your goal, it probably isn't going to happen. Yes, it sucks. It bites, it's horrible. But you know what, I haven't given up on the manuscript referred to above. It was subbed to a small group and it's not dead to me. One day, I'll pull it out of a drawer, revise it yet again, and try to sell it. But the thing is, marketability does matter. And as mentors, we want to pick mentees who HAVE THE BEST CHANCE RIGHT NOW of getting picked up by an agent. So we're going to pay attention to agent wish and editor wish lists as well as our own. It may be the deciding factor in some cases, and we may pick manuscripts that aren't our personal favorites in lieu of picking one that has a better chance of agent action. Because we want our mentees to GET ALL THE REQUESTS!

Hope this helps and have a great Thanksgivukkah!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Some Random Jro Trivia for Pitch Wars participants

My pre-teen sulk was perfected.

In stalking looking at other mentor's sites, I realized I didn't give you much trivia, so here goes!

I can touch my nose with my tongue. 

I once worked for a company that had non-gambling poker tables set up at bars for people to play but THEY COULD NOT BET. Most annoying job ever. 

I'm a biologically half-Jew (whole according to the Torah - mom) who grew up Episcopal, going to Passover at my aunt's house and attending Catholic high school. I still pray but mostly out in the woods and to something greater than me that I cannot name (because I'm not really down with the whole white-bearded man in the sky routine but I'm okay if you are - I'm very faithful about faith). 

I like pesto. A lot. 

I'm not a gamer. I'd rather read or bake or take hikes or ride horses.

I'm not a superhero fan (except for Wonder Woman and Cat Woman who kick ass). 

I tend toward quirk like Wes Anderson films and my favorite type of party is one with a project, like an annual Peep carnival party I go to where we drink and build scenes with Peeps. Best. Time. Ever.

I love Lady Gaga but I also love the Avett brothers. My musical taste is sort of like my religious upbringing. (Electric Guest is a new favorite - Trouble Man - best song Evah!)

I think Disney princesses are the ruination of young girls' minds. Yeah, so I'm sort of a feminist. (But I love a good male protagonist) 

I do LOVE Firefly, Game of Thrones, the old Star Trek and the new, Harry Potter (Ravenclaw, represent!), Justified!. Give me nineties movies and I'll give you gold. 

I loved Banksy before he came to NYC last month. My phone cover is one of his pieces. I love the concept of art for the masses (Bread and Puppet theatre anyone?)

I'm a liberal. There may be other l words that apply to me, as well. ;0)

If I could be a current actress it would be JLaw because she says it like she needs to. 

I live in 14 acres in rural western NC which is sort of wacky considering it is the peg that is in the buckle of the Bible Belt, but there's an awesome artist's community here because of Penland School of Crafts. I have 4 Morgan horses, a goat, 3 cats, 4 dogs, a guinea hen, a Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster, and 3 old hens that don't lay anymore. No partridges but there are a couple of pear trees.

Want more? Ask a question below and I'll give you an answer :)
Want to jump to my wish list? CLICK HERE.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Are Online Pitch Contests for You? Prepping for PitchWars and Should You Enter?

This is my first year as a mentor for Brenda Drake's PitchWars contest and already I can feel the buzz of excitement and anxiety in the air as I follow the #pitchwars thread on Twitter. Because I've been in the shoes as a contest participant before (not PitchWars but others), I thought I'd share a few thoughts.

Are Contests For You?

Is your manuscript truly finished? As tempting as it may be to fling that Nano project to the winds, it's probably not going to stick. In my own process for No Place To Fall, I went through a rough draft, my first pass draft, front line CP who did chapter by chapter, beta readers, and agent R&R's before I signed with Alexandra. My first draft wasn't ready and it's the rare writer's work that will be. For myself, I wouldn't want to enter a contest like PitchWars if I hadn't had a few other sets of eyes on my work first. If you feel like your manuscript is truly ready, then YES!

Can you handle rejection? Because here's the thing. Readers are subjective. Agents have personal tastes, good days, bad days, bad hair days, whatever. Same with PitchWars mentors. You may have a perfectly good manuscript but YOU CAN'T KNOW what other candidates are showing up on the same day as you. So if you can approach it with a zen attitude of "hey if this works, great, if not, move along", then YES, you are ready.

This is about a mentor/mentee relationship. Can you work with another writer? Do you thrive on feedback and suggestions or do you bristle at the mere thought of someone thinking your work isn't perfect? There's no point in entering if you're not willing to take and act upon sound advice. (But you also need to be true to your vision - and the relationship should be a two-way conversation)




That's what it really boils down to. And if you can say yes to these questions, then why not go for it? What I love about PitchWars is that all rejection takes place off the airwaves. No one has to know you've entered, no one has to know if your mentors passed. But if chosen, either as the pick or as an alternate, it's an opportunity to get your work in front of agents quickly.

And, I think agents pay closer attention to contest requests than slush requests. Why? Because they know other agents are reading, too. And that, my friends, is a very powerful reason to be brave.


Now, here are some tips on what I'll be looking for. 

  • good writing mechanics
  • the ability to show, not tell
  • voice, right off the bat
  • a sense of space and time and what I can expect within the first page
  • something that snags me immediately
What will make me request more pages?
  • All of the above
  • Plus, a character that I care about.
  • Or a world that intrigues me.
  • Also, gorgeous sentence structure.




Friday, November 22, 2013

A Conversation with Kristen Lippert-Martin, Author of TABULA RASA

Hello and Howdy - If you stopped in for PitchWars, HOORAH! Take a minute and read this interview with the lovely Kristen Lippert-Martin (@klipmart) before jumping down to the next blog entry. Her thriller, Tabula Rasa, comes out next fall! Whoot!
Kristen Lippert-Martin, author of Tabula Rasa

Hi, Kristen! I'm almost nervous to have you on my blog. You seriously raise the funny bar. So I've got to know. Your debut novel, Tabula Rasa, is a thriller. Please tell me your wicked sense of humor shines through in your characters!

Here's the thing, thriller and funny don't necessarily go that well together because you're trying to build tension, not deflate it. So it was a real challenge to keep my inner wiseguy in check, especially when I was creating Sarah's (my MC) voice. Sarah does a few things that are unintentionally funny, but she's the first character I've ever created who does not use humor as a defense mechanism. Of course that left me with a problem: What to do with all the leftover wisecrackery that builds up in my blood stream on a daily basis? I ended up dividing it between two other characters, one of whom is the villain.

Yep, I can see how that would be tricky. But a wise cracking villain is awesome! Which begs the question, who are some of your absolute favorite fictional bad guys?

Gosh, I must admit that I have a soft spot for the Wicked Witch of the West. I mean, dude, she's waited and waited forever and those ruby slippers were all but hers and then some upstart farm girl drops out of the sky and JUST TAKES THEM? What is that, I ask you?

I also like Hans Gruber from Die Hard, mostly because, duh, Alan Rickman is awesome and I also appreciate a nattily dressed villain with a great b*tchface. I like villains like Khan from Star Trek, Tom Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Voldemort, and that badass Queen Alien from Aliens. These are people (or giant lizard creatures) who don't see themselves as villains at all, and in some alternate, twisted tale could be considered the hero. They're just quietly going about the business of world domination and some lesser somebody/jerky kid with green eyes comes along and messes it all up for them. TOTALLY NOT FAIR AT ALL.

Poor little alien lizard lady :0(, and Alan Rickman, Yes! I love him. So speaking of awesome characters. Which comes first for you, characters or plot? How did Tabula Rasa come together?

It's so hard to tease character and plot apart, but I will say that TR is the first time I consciously set out to write a certain kind of book, in this case, an action-thriller. I guess making that choice created certain creative parameters to start from. I guess that's what genre does for you, gives you some rules to follow initially. 

From there, I got this image of my MC tied to a chair with restraints. I had to figure out who she was and how she ended up in these circumstances. I decided she was an angry person who couldn't remember what she was angry about or what she could do about it even if she could remember. She's beaten, she's given up, she's kind of indifferent to being alive at all, really. It was hard to balance her moody introspection with the action-oriented story I'd imagined, but I guess that became the challenge: How do I get this character, who seemingly doesn't care about anything, to stand up and fight for her life?

Man, that sounds like a potent character arc! That balance of inner arc to outer physical arc is one of my FAVORITE things about writing, and a thriller that does it well...golden. Now I'm even more excited for Tabula Rasa. Which brings up the obvious question, what other YA genres are you interested in exploring? Any cool new ideas in the brain closet?

As a matter of fact, my WiP is a YA fantasy, and I've never written fantasy before. Some days I wonder if I've gotten in over my head. Other days I'm certain I've gotten in over my head. But it keeps things from getting stale. I figure if I'm having fun writing something it'll show in the story.

In some ways I think the world-building in a fantasy might be easier than figuring out how to make a thriller convincing and suspenseful - oh, who am I kidding it's all difficult! And fun! Anyway, thanks, Kristen, for stopping in for a chat and now it's your turn to add to our Exquisite Corpse game! Please add your own sentence to the following paragraph (or start a new paragraph if it's time!).

Thanks, JRo! 

Exquisite Corpse:

Yesterday, at the asylum, Johnny got lost in a hole. One moment he was occupying stall #6 of the third floor boy's restroom, the next he was gone, nothing but a flush and a startled scream in his wake.  Briefly, he wondered how he'd talk himself out of this mess when they found him...if they found him. But a howling sound suddenly echoed through the surrounding darkness and he knew; there wasn’t time to worry. He'd landed on his hands and knees on a stone floor covered with a foul-smelling, slimy liquid that made him glad he'd skipped lunch. When the howling sounded again--this time much closer--Johnny scrambled to his feet. 

He felt a blast of hot wind. No, not wind. Breath. He turned slowly, hoping that he was wrong, but he knew what he would find, what he's always been warned about but never believed truly lived in these dark recesses. A pair of eyes emerged from the tunnel, dark and somewhat bulgy. The beast snorted. It's tongue hung from the corner of its mouth. It was the biggest WerePug he had ever seen, and worse, it looked hungry. 

Next week I'll be on a Thanksgiving blog break, but be sure and stop back in for my chat with Leigh Ann Kopans on December 5th when we talk pub decisions and world-building. And a giveaway of your choice of her 3 books!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pitch Wars Is Here!!!! And I Want You to Pick Me!



Not sure what Pitch Wars is? Click HERE!
Hello! I’m supposed to razzle & dazzle you and make you beg to be my mentee. But here’s the deal, I’m begging you to pick me! Why? Because nothing is going to make me feel more fantastic than having a chance to give back to this amazing community of young adult writers.

But First, Have you seen the list of fantastic agents???? SUPER WOW!!!

1. LouiseFury – Bent Agency 
2. SuzieTownsend – New Leaf Literary 
3. NicoleResciniti - The Seymour Agency 
4. JohnM. Cusick – The Greenhouse Agency 
5. SarahLaPolla – Bradford Literary Agency 
6. VictoriaMarini - Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency 
7. JessicaSinsheimer - Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency 
8. Pamvan Hylckama Vlieg - Foreword Literary 
9. QuinlanLee - Adams Literary
10. JenUdden – Donald Maass Literary Agency 
11. EmilyKeyes – Foreward Literary 
12. Brianne Johnson – Writers House 
13. CarlyWatters – P.S. Literary 
14. LanaPopovic and Natasha Alexis - Zachary Shuster Harmsworth 
15. MollyJaffa – Folio Literary Management 
16. EvanGregorgy - Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency 
17. Stefanie Leiberman - Janklow & Nesbit
18. Rena Rossner - The Deborah Harris Agency





So, who am I? I’m Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro, which is what most people call me. I’m a writer, a public high school art teacher, an animal lover, and an avid reader. My writing is fueled by coffee, chocolate, and laughter! My debut novel is a young adult contemporary set in the mountains of North Carolina (where I happen to live!). It’s about family and mistakes and truth and longing.  But mostly it’s about Amber Vaughn who dreams of singing on stage but whose circumstances keep getting in her way. And let’s not forget the cute boy with the banjo. (No Place To Fall - Harper Teen 2014)

I don't have a degree in writing or even English, but I've been at this for a while now, including an entire editorial process with my editor at Harper Collins. I've seen one CP get two huge book deals, another sell her own memoir to Sourcebooks, another sell a YA trilogy, a non-fiction book, and a NA series all in two years, and two more get agented, who are now out on submission. I'm a firm believer in the power of opening yourself to feedback! So yay you for risking this!

What do I like in writing? I like fully realized characters, VOICE, and big hearts and pretty words.  Think commercial fiction with a literary bent to the writing. I love characters who grapple with the question of life and how to best live it. I also love setting as character - transport me! Make me live in your world! And smart humor makes me weak in the knees. 

So what's on my wish list? It must all be Young Adult.

If you can make me feel like this, I want you!
I love contemporary fiction that involves a larger cast of characters. Give me families and parents. I also love a good romance. Serious subject matter is fine, as are LGBT characters and twisty thrilling plot lines. The hard stuff doesn’t scare me, but as you can see by the following list, I like a good summer romance, too. (Contemporary faves are A.S. King, Sara Zarr, Jandy Nelson, Nina LaCour, Holly Cupala, Sarah Dessen, Ashley Elston, Emily Murdoch)  I’m not wild about mean girls or snarky gossip style contemporaries or dark just to be dark (rather than tackling a real social issue), I’m probably not your best bet there. Smart with heart is my jam. Choke me up!



Does this need more words?
Zombies or really just any great Survival Tale- I freaking love a good zombie story. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Ashes by Ilsa Blick. I really do love zombie survival tales. But in this marketplace it's going to have to be stand out in some way for me to pick it. Some new take on this done trope. 


Give me a ripping plot like this baby and his balls!
In Science fiction/near-future - Sociological sci-fi (versus hard science sci-fi) - think Beth Revis’ trilogy or The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I love things that question political structures, medical issues and environmental issues (fracking anyone?) but I am super tired of the enslaved future woman trope where they have to marry a certain guy and it's like the future has harkened back to the victorian era for women. No. But most important is a sizzling fast pace and suspense and thrills that keep me turning the page.



Got horses in your fantasy novel?
Fantasy - I say this with a smidge of hesitation as I'm not a huge fantasy reader, but if someone has their sights set on me as a mentor, I'm open to a look-see. Books I've loved: Kristin Cashore's three books, especially Fire (I think because of the horses), The Scorpio Races (horses), City of A Thousand Dolls (which sort of breaks my rule above in Sci/Fi but...talking cats) - (I do love Game of Thrones but I've never read the books) if you've got a gorgeous world and characters I connect to and animals play a role in your world - thumbs up. I struggle with super high fantasy and crazy made-up names that are so odd they make me want to throw the book, I also don't love faeries or things that harken straight back to medieval times. Revised to add: Urban Fantasy ala The Mortal Instruments or Holly Black's White Cat series also floats my boat! I can't believe I forgot to add this. Magical Realism - is awesome. Although I think I've read it more in Middle Grade than in YA - would love the equivalent of Savvy or Scumble in a YA!!!!

I also like what's going on upstairs in the saloon - mix in some romance with your gun play!
I also love Historical, especially if it has a new twist to a much done time frame, but I love the old west, the civil war, WWII having to do with the camps (a gay Holocaust story! - yes!). I'm also open to something in an exotic locale. I can't promise to be a help on your historical facts, BUT if you’re looking for story, character, voice, pacing feedback, then YES! (Jennifer Donnelly is a favorite and I loved Jenn McGowan’s Maid of Secrets, Megan Shepherd's Madman's Daughter, and just had my mind blown by Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s In Me.)

If retellings, mythology, freaky/scary horror, and elementals are your thing, then I’m probably not for you.

How am I as a critique partner?
My CP’s often preface their e-mails with “I know you’ll be honest with me,” and that’s true. If I see areas that need work, I’m not going to skip it. But I’m not going to be an ass, either. I’ll point out your strengths and what is all “Heck Yeah!” and “Gorgeous!” but I’m also going to point out where you might think about reworking. My notes are often in forms of questions. I don’t want to tell you how to write your story, but sometimes I might want to get you thinking about things. I’ve just been through an amazing editorial process with my editor at Harper Collins, so I feel like I’m even better equipped than ever before to be your mentor.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I hope you pick me! There’s a bit more about me on my website, jayerobinbrown.com.  But truly, you can’t go wrong with anyone on this list. I look forward to reading your work! It's also true I only get to pick one of you, but I promise I will give each person feedback as to why I didn't pick them. And I imagine it may just boil down to market or personal taste because I feel pretty certain I'm going to be reading some AMAZING entries! FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES PLEASE VISIT www.brenda-drake.com.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Secret Word: it

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Secret Word: it
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