Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comp Titles Are Helpful

The theme of this month’s blog post is pitching. But I’m writing about Twitter pitching for my post. Like with #pitmad, #sffpit, #dvpit. Twitter pitching can be intimidating. You’re only allowed 140 characters a tweet, and it can therefore be difficult to capture the uniqueness of a 200 to 300-page manuscript. Although writers shouldn’t let the challenges of pitching stop them from participating in Twitter pitching contests. It’s important for writers to get used to putting their work out there.

Comp titles are an easy way to convey a premise. Yes.  Comp titles can be difficult because of worrying about a comp title being an outlier. And I’ll be the first to admit how I don’t usually include comp titles in query letters. I struggle with coming up with good comps even though I read current MG and YA fiction. Yet comp titles cover a lot of ground in a short amount of space. It’s also okay to use a television show or movie if it fits. I’ll even give you an example of one of my pitches I’ve used for a YA Fantasy novel that has gotten a few likes in Twitter pitching contests.

This is one pitch using a comp title: “ABC's REVENGE + Contemporary Fantasy setting. 17 yo Darren falls for the enemy's son while avenging his parents' deaths. #YA #LBGTQ #DVpit.” Using ABC’s Revenge is a good example because the novel (CROSSING DESIRES) is revenge driven. Combining the revenge premise with setting also helps. Doing so lets me quickly convey the contemporary fantasy world of CROSSING DESIRES without me worrying about explaining the complicated worldbuilding in a short pitch. My pitch is only one example, but it’s simple, which conveys something a pitch needs. Conciseness and clarity is important (even in a 140-character pitch). Vagueness doesn’t help. There needs to be some hint of conflict. Anyway, no need to stress about pitching. “Good” pitching takes practice like writing, and gets easier.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pitching your novel

So, it's just around the corner...Pitch Wars! Hurrah! This annual contest is great, so it means you have to get your pitch in order. However, Pitch Wars isn't the only contest that runs through the year. There are floods more, from Sun vs Snow, #PitMad, #KidPit, #DVPit, and so the list goes on. Because there are so many, this means that a writer needs to prepare a pitch. Actually, they'll need to do more than one, as there are various types of pitch:

1) A Twitter pitch - 140 characters or less, including the hashtags (usually including the contest hashtag, the age category, and sometimes the genre if it fits).

2) The elevator pitch - this gives a little more room to expand your pitch and add in some details.

3) Your query letter - this is where you can get into a little more meat - basically, it should read like the blurb of the back of a book.

Now, I'm not going to be greedy and talk about how to do all of these pitches myself, as I'm sure my fellow YATopia bloggers are going to have some super good advice to give you. But let's have a look at the Twitter pitch.

Lots of writers panic over a Twitter pitch. 140 characters, you shout? But hey, you took some of those away when you added the hashtags! I don't have 140 characters anymore. Good point. However, it is what it is, and we writers just have to get creative - because that's our job. When it comes to writing a Twitter pitch, most people have seen the general layout:



When CHARACTER learns/does/discovers CATALYST they must overcome OBSTACLE or STAKES.

There are plenty of other versions of these Twitter pitch formats. However, there are other ones that do well, too. For example, you can do the comp title pitch. Word of warning: Don't pitch two titles that are too similar (e.g. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS meets BEFORE I DIE). This doesn't show your market as the books are too similar. You need to show something fresh. For example: BONE GAP meets GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE (I'm not sure how that could be written, but if you have written that, it's going to catch someone's eye!). You also need to be careful of using comp titles that are too big (e.g. HARRY POTTER meets THE HUNGER GAMES). This is the equivalent of saying "my book is going to be a huge best seller and make lots of money" in a query letter. Your book may very well end up being that, but for now, keep it realistic. Otherwise, you'll make agents shy away.

The other thing to remember is to add a hint of what is unique about your book. What is the wow factor? What has your book got that everyone else's doesn't have? Now this is hard, I know that. But think of books like THE SCORPIO RACES for example - vicious sea horse races to the death? Wow. Or THE LUNAR CHRONICLES - science fiction fairytale retellings? Uh, double wow. This is super important, because you need to hook your agents trolling the contest feeds,

When it comes to pitching on Twitter, take time to think about your pitches. Don't just throw one together without much thought. Boil down your book to its essence. What is it your book is about? Not all the subplots. Not all the characters. Not all the generic "or the world will end", or "she will lose her true love". Give the agent something to catch their eye. "Children fight to the death" (we all know what that book is).

Sit down with your CPs and brainstorm. Root through your query letter for ideas. Re-read your book and pay attention to your core theme. Look through your synopsis. Do whatever it takes. Catch an agent's eye, and you're one step closer to becoming a published author!

Most importantly though...have fun!

Good luck Twitter pitch warriors!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Agentopia: Joanna MacKenzie

Welcome to the July edition of Agentopia! This month Joanna MacKenzie from Nelson Literary Agency is in the spotlight.

About Joanna:

As a Chicago-based agent, I am excited to join the Nelson Literary Agency team and to expand my list in both adult and YA. I’m looking for the epic read that, at its center, beats with a universal heart.  In particular, I’m drawn to smart and timely women’s fiction, as well as absorbing, character-driven mysteries and thrillers – both, ideally, with a little edge.  I have a weird obsession with, what I call, “child in jeopardy lit” and can’t get enough kick-ass mom heroines.  On the YA side, I’m interested in coming of age stories that possess a confident voice and characters I can’t stop thinking about.
Originally from Poland, and by way of Canada, I’m all about narratives that deal with the themes of identity and the immigrant experience as well as those that delve into all aspects of the relationships that make us who we are – parents, siblings, best friends, and first love.

What is on your wishlist?

Oh, man, I’m going to try and keep this answer short and succinct.  I’ve always been drawn to stories about the relationships that make us who we are - they don’t have to be positive or long lasting, but rather transformative.  I’m thinking about stories like I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson or Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I’d love to find a “stay up all night reading” sister story.  As someone who was born in one country, moved to another, and now makes her home in the US I’m into anything that deals with the immigrant experience and to that end I’d love to find the YA version of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I’m also a huge Veronica Mars fan, so anything with a gritty sleuth is a must for me.  Also on my #mswl is the YA version of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.


What is a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

It’s always hard for me to read that the author believes their work is 100% unique - so much so that they can’t come up for a comp title.   

Do you google authors and if so, what are you looking for?

I do google authors!  I’m looking for someone who is engaged and professional.  I realize that sounds broad, but I like going to someone’s feed and seeing that they’re talking about what they’re reading, for example, as opposed to criticizing other authors.  I’m a firm believer in the importance of building a community online - one that is positive and constructive and helps to build readers.  I’m always looking to work with authors who want to be partners in their success and who are aware that how they present themselves online is part of that. 

For more info on how to query Joanna, check out her submission guidelines.
Follow Joanna @joannamackenzie 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Bestselling YA Author Eliza Nolan

Eliza Nolan

It is with great pleasure that YATOPIA welcomes Amazon bestselling author Eliza Nolan to the GUESTOPIA slot today to help celebrate the release of her latest book!

Eliza Nolan was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She lived in Charleston, South Carolina, for a few years, after which she returned to icy Minnesota, where she now lives with her two unruly cats in a house smaller than your closet.

She is an avid reader and writer of YA. She has ghostwritten a novel or two, but also writes her own stuff, and is finally publishing her debut young adult urban fantasy novel, Phoenix Awakens.

Is this your first published book?

This is my fourth published book. The first two were ghost-written. This is the second one I’ve written for myself and that I can claim as my own work. It is the second in the Phoenix series.

What’s it called?

From The Ashes (The Phoenix II)

Which genre?

YA paranormal/urban fantasy

Which age group?

It’s great for tweens, teens, and adults who read YA. 12+

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s book 2 in what will be a three book series.

Are you an agented author?


Which publisher snapped up your book?

J I did!

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

Every single step. Which is both wonderful and overwhelming. Self publishing, when done well, is a very time consuming process. Hiring designers and editors, learning how to grow mailing lists, and setup advertising is a full-time job.

Do you have another job?

LOL, yes. I work at a university in administration 9-5. J

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

I had a few requests which all resulted in rejections. I didn’t query long, because I understood that agents weren’t looking for YA Paranormal. I saw my other writing friends doing well self publishing, so I decided to take the plunge.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on

The idea for the series came ten years ago, after I finished the Twilight series. I enjoyed Meyer’s story, however I was saddened by the trend of YA paranormal (at the time) to give the boy’s all the power and strength. So I decided to write my own story.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

Phoenix Awakens (Phoenix I) was written without a plan. I pantsed the whole thing. From the Ashes had a loose outline. Every book is different for me.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?


How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone? I revised From the Ashes twice before letting Alisha Bade—my friend and the voice on the
Phoenix Awakens audiobook—take a look. It just made sense to share it with her since she’s also invested a lot in this story. J

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

I didn’t query this one, however, I have many critique partners and beta readers. I also have it professionally edited before I publish.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

From the Ashes went through about seven drafts before I published it. My first book went through WAY more.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Not too much. There were some setting changes and a character or two who didn’t make the cut. J

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Oh yes. But the things I’d change are small, and the readers want that second book. At some point, you just have to call it.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Plotting. I love throwing obstacles in front of my characters to see what they’ll do.

What part do you find hardest?

I struggle sometimes with character portrayal. I know exactly who they are in my head, but my editor and critique partners are the ones who always remind me to share their nuances with readers.  

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I’m very deadline reliant. If I have a deadline I’ll push through.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

I currently have three projects going. All in different stages.  

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think you can be born a great storyteller, but the art of writing does have to be learned. We aren’t born with language, but some of us learn to use it more quickly. More gracefully.

How many future novels do you have planned?

I have the three I’m working on, plus a fourth idea I can’t wait to get started on.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I currently only write novels, however, I’m thinking about writing a serial.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Being able to share my stories with everyone is the best part.  

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Join a critique group. I love learning from my writing friends.

And one that doesn't.

I can work with an outline, but it can’t be too detailed. I need the story to be able to go off course when it wants to.  

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

It takes place in Charleston, SC, where we’ll see some of the characters from book one again and maybe a few from book two.

Awesome! Huge congratulations to you, Eliza, on the release of FROM THE ASHES. For anyone who would like to find out more about Eliza and to follow her journey—and read her fantastic series (book # 1 is just 99c now!)—these links will help!

Phoenix Awakens ($0.99 through July 3):
From the Ashes:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Writer's Summer Checklist

To wrap up June's theme of Those Summer Nights, here's a writer's summer checklist to help inspire you to write throughout the summer. Save this page, Pin it, or print it out so you can keep track of what you've done, and then come back at the end of summer and share what you did.

Take a notebook with you, get creative, and let these prompts inspire your writing!

1. Have a bonfire.

2. Go to the beach.

3. Try a new food.

4. Hike a rugged trail in your bare feet.

5. Do a random act of kindness.

6. Go camping.

7. Catch a sunrise or sunset.

8. Grill.

9. Go on a road trip.

10. Have a picnic.

11. Have a conversation with a stranger.

12. Go kayaking.

13. Play in the rain.

14. Meditate.

15. Go for a mindfulness walk.

16. Go to a farmer's market.

17. Learn a new skill.

18. Ride your bike somewhere new.

19. Go to yard sales.

20. Tour a farm or garden.

21. People-watch in a crowded area.

22. Join a club.

23. Swing on a playground.

24. Go fish.

25. Rest in a hammock.

26. Find animal tracks.

27. Ride in a boat.

28. Ride a horse.

29. Climb.

30. Do something that scares you.


Jessie Mullins is spending the summer with her husband and their adorable toddler. Her favorite summer activities are camping and eating too many s'mores. You can find bookish things on her author Facebook page or check out her mommy blog on Facebook.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Kidlit Author John Clewarth

John Clewarth

It's GUESTOPIA time again! And this month, we welcome...

John Clewarth loves to read scary books and watch scary movies. He has a scary wife and two tall, hairy sons, who could very well be werewolves. So, naturally, he writes scary books for kids!

And off we go with the interview...

Is this your first published book?

No, I’ve had two novels published previously, under the Mauve Square Publishing banner: Firestorm Rising (mg) and Demons in the Dark (teen)

What’s it called?

This one only has a working title at the moment, as it is still in the drafting stage, before I start badgering agents.

Which genre?

Supernatural horror

Which age group?

Young Adult

Is it a series or standalone?

I’m aiming for this to be part of a series; though the story itself is very much a complete tail in itself, the ending leaves a definite doorway for a sequel (said he, mysteriously!)

Are you an agented author?

No. I’ve previously self-published but I intend to get this one agented.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

No one yet – as I said, it’s in the drafting stages at the moment. I was going to publish it myself but I’m really keen to be part of a team that can help the book reach its wider audience. If it’s good enough, it will break through in time.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

I enjoy being – and always have enjoyed being – fully involved in the process. For me, it’s fascinating and almost magical to see the journey of the story, from its conception in my fevered brain, to the polished, finished article.

Do you have another job?

I do! Oh boy, yes. I’m a full time teacher. I teach English to 10-13 year olds. It’s highly-demanding but highly-rewarding too. Of course, it does mean that my writing time is a bit more limited than it is for some writers – so I guess I’m a bit vampyrrhic in my writing habits (nocturnal that is, not biting necks…)

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Not on this one as it is still not quite ripe, but I had my fair share before self-publishing my first two. I’ve learned a heck of a lot from that – and since that.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

A snail was making its steady path in my garden and it left the inevitable slime trail behind it, in its wake. Innocent enough, but my mind transplanted that trail into the conception of a story idea (and a darn scary one at that!)

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

Sounds terrible, I know, but I didn’t plot or plan at all, in the beginning. The first 15,000 or so words gushed (as if from a slashed artery – mwa ha!) on to the screen; that gave me a really solid bedrock upon which to build.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into

Unfortunately, work conditions and commitments altered (there’s a horror story wrapped up in there somewhere!) for a while, and I had a hiatus from the story. I regathered my momentum a couple of years ago, recovered the mind-scent, and the story layered itself beautifully.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

One draft! That someone was my very good friend and sister-in-words, Annaliese Avery – and I am strongly tipping that you will be hearing a lot more of her in the very near future.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

Annaliese was/is my critique partner – but others are currently in the process of beta-reading for me.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

It’s on draft 3 at the moment.

How many drafts until it was published?

Not too many more, I hope!

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

A number of things has been tightened up – POV, pace, characterisation – but the basic idea that Sid the Snail gifted to me remained pretty much intact.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

No. It sounds clich├ęd but it would be kind of like sending one of your children for cosmetic surgery. I love it just the way it is (he sings to the gently-lilting tune of Barry White).

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

The bit where people go, ‘Hey, John, that’s really good!’ Now for the sensible answer: really, I find the easiest part, the beginning. It’s all so pure and fresh and eager for life!

What part do you find hardest?

Re-drafting. Yep. Definitely. But the benefits are undeniable.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

With the day job, I have to walk away at times – or I’d be a wine-stained heap of gibbering loveliness. But once I get stuck in, I tend to keep pushing the barriers until they see my way of thinking!

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

I had a sequel to Firestorm Rising in progress, whilst writing this one, and I have two super ideas for middle grade novels with an adventurous but humorous edge. Could anyone offer me another 4 or 5 hours in the day, please? 

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

It can be both, I believe; though being born with a talent must always be a bit of an edge. I mean, there are so many dimensions to writing. These days, the writing curriculum is definitely geared towards grammatical correctness, rather than creativity and imagination – and those latter two are probably the hardest to learn.

How many future novels do you have planned?

Four at the moment – including the sequel to this one, the sequel to Firestorm Rising, and the two middle grade ideas. Thing is, more ideas keep scratching at the door each day. A nice problem to have though, that!

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I love writing short stories, when I get chance. I’ve got one coming up in the summer, Amelia’s Labyrinth - as a podcast, from I’m really looking forward to that – and I hope listeners have a good, spooky time with it!

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Getting out and about and meeting happy readers, signing books, sharing the whole fantastic experience.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Getting up early and getting the writing done before the family are up and around and the world has woken. It’s great to get a good stint in whilst the energy levels are good!

And one that doesn't.

Set word counts. Because of the nature of my teaching job, I can’t guarantee to myself that I’ll get a certain amount done each day. I always try to do at least a little each day though, and some days the flood gates fly open.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

When a freak electrical storm hits an island, a long-kept secret surfaces. One that changes the destiny of the lives of a group of teenage friends. And there’s that slime trail too… Best read in broad daylight. But more fun in the dark.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

Q. So how do you feel now that you have won the Waterstone’s Book of the Month award?

A.  Fantastic!

Awesome! Thanks for joining us, John. And, here are our future congratulations for winning that Waterstone’s Book of the Month award!

If you would like to find out more about John and follow his journey, then these links will help.


Twitter:  @johnclewarth

And, YAtopia readers, come back in a few days as we have an AMAZON BESTSELLING YA AUTHOR joining us on the Guestopia slot to talk about her brand new book!