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