Six Sentence Sunday – 10/21/12

Welcome to #SixSunday!

NEWS: This week MUST LOVE BREECHES won 1st place in FF&P’s On the Far Side contest in the time travel/steampunk/historical category and a full request from the judging editor. It also finaled yesterday in the Windy City Four Seasons Contest, paranormal category.

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. I’m skipping a couple of lines from last week’s entry. Setup is that he’s just rescued a lady from a frightened horse on the busy streets of Mobile and the heroine witnessed it and in the part we’re skipping she exclaims how heroic he’d been. This is in his POV and he’s the first speaker:

“There was nothing heroic at all in my actions. Please, do not read more into it. It only required a calm demeanor and a firm hand.”

This didn’t seem to dispel her misconception. She only smiled, which lit up her whole face, her eyes dancing merrily. “You are too modest, sir, I know your game–I’m onto you.”

As always I welcome constructive feedback.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Confessions of a Contest Whore…

Hi, my name is Angela, and I’m a contest whore.

It’s taken me finding an agent to finally break this habit I started  less than a year ago. I thought I’d parse what it’s been like and things I’ve learned in case it might be useful to others.

To give a little background, I entered my first contest in December (didn’t final) and have been ridiculously addicted ever since. I’ve only participated in RWA (Romance Writer’s of America) chapter contests, and for those unfamiliar with this unholy round, local and special interest chapters of the national organization hold contests whereby for a fee, you can compete with other authors in your category, get feedback from judges (usually some of them are published authors), and if you final, get your MS in front of a coveted agent or editor. Sometimes you can win things other than a certificate and kudos (money, extra pitches at contests, pendants).

So, I happily began marking my little Men of the Stacks calendar at my writing desk with deadlines and forking over the $20-$35 entry fees, nervous and excited. In the beginning, I didn’t expect to final, I was mainly doing it for the feedback and to see how I fared against other unpublished writers. I still remember my first final notification. I had just checked into my room at the hotel in New Orleans for FF&P’s Fantasy on the Bayou writer’s conference (March) and looked at my email on my phone before getting freshened up for my FIRST PITCH EVER. And there was a notice that I’d finaled in Washington, DC’s Marlene Contest. I was stunned and overjoyed and also SO GLAD of the confidence booster as I embarked that weekend on so many firsts (first writer’s conference, first time pitching to an agent, etc). It told me that I was not crazy for embarking on this writing thing.

Other finals followed, as well as many other times where I fell short (sometimes by one spot) and didn’t final. The finals told me the first one wasn’t some fluke like I’d secretly suspected. Over the summer was a day where I finaled in two, bringing the total number of contest finals to seven. I remember thinking, okay, not only were the others not a fluke, this must mean something. As of today, MUST LOVE BREECHES has finaled in ten contests (and won one of them so far), and STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY (which I’d just started entering) has finaled in one (haven’t heard back yet on the few others it entered).

So what have I learned through this madness?

Entering contests is a good trial run at receiving reviews

You will get tons of feedback, sure, but it sure as heck won’t be consistent. I’ve literally had judges in the same contest mark the same sentence as either needing to be cut, or as one of their favorite lines. I’ve had judges say they hated my heroine, and others that loved her. Same with the hero. What this has taught me is that I can’t please everyone. This has been good practice for what it’d be like if I ever get published. I can’t argue back with the judges, even when they’re wrong (yes, they can be wrong). Just like reviewers might be. I can’t get mad if they scored me low because they just don’t like time travels. Just like reviewers might not. I can’t get down every time I don’t final and/or get a low-balled score. Just like I can’t with reviewers.

One tactic that came out of this was that I realized that having a strong voice could hurt me with some judges who just didn’t like it, period. And their score would skew my final score. So then I began to only enter contests that dropped the lowest score when my goals changed from wanting feedback to wanting to final.

Entering contests is good practice for evaluating feedback

With this varied feedback, you quickly start to learn how to evaluate feedback and whether you should heed their advice or not. The absolute WORST thing you can do is make every single change that every single judge suggests. First off, it would be impossible because they can be contradicting another judge. Second, they don’t know your whole story and your characters and sometimes you have to trust your gut. Finally, they could be flat out wrong. And I don’t mean subjective, I mean literally. I had one contest where the judge gave me a 3 for grammar and punctuation (3s in contest lingo is 3 out of 5 and indicates that the entry requires major revision before sending to an agent or editor). Confused I looked at my entry and only three things were marked. Not only was it a tad excessive to give a 3 for three errors in a 50 page entry, but all three were wrong! The lady didn’t know her grammar. Being thorough, and a little insecure, I double-checked my grammar sources. Yep, she was wrong. One of them was for a sadly dwindling form of grammar–the subjunctive mood. Some of you might say, well it’s a tad formal nowadays to use it, but the part she marked was from the hero’s POV and he’s an educated man in the early 1800s, so dangit, he’d use subjunctive mood. I won’t lie, sometimes when reading feedback, I gave the computer screen the finger. But I chalked it up to toughening up my writer’s skin and as a growing experience. Many times I got invaluable feedback that really helped me see what I was or wasn’t doing.

Entering contests helps you network

Sometimes judges will leave their name, or will contact you after you send your thank you. I’ve had many who have told me they want to be notified when (and believe me I ate up this optimism as they seemed to have more faith than I on this outcome) it’s published. I duly added them to a group in GMail I created for that eventuality, if it happens. I’ve struck up email correspondence with some. I’ve had others recognize me at conferences and say nice things. Look, this journey is hard, so every positive experience you, er, experience, is something to be savored.

Entering contests builds your bio

I listed my contest finals not only on my About page, but also in my query letters to agents.

Entering contests can open doors

I got a request for a full from an e-publisher (I didn’t send it though as I was pursuing agenting first) who was judging the final round in one contest. In another, an agent was judging in the initial round and told me in the last comment in my MS that if I was still seeking representation to contact her. After a while, I started feeling the pinch financially of entering all these contests. Coupled with already getting invaluable feedback, I changed my goal to who would judge final rounds and I began to only enter those contests whose final judges I wanted to be in front of.

Entering contests can help impose discipline

Having deadlines to make cannot hurt you at all. It will help get you used to revising in a hurry to make a deadline, or to plan ahead, etc. Regardless, you work out your system in this setting rather than with an editor.

Entering contests can help train you for the submissions process

Each contest has different rules for formatting and for what to send and how. Just like agents and editors. Some contests won’t refund you the money if you don’t do it right. You learn what standard manuscript formatting looks like and to read instructions carefully. Just like you’ll need to do when querying.

Entering contests can buoy you

All of us face doubts about our writing–whether we’re good enough, whether it’s pure crap, whether it’s superficial drivel. Getting comments from judges who absolutely loved your story and your characters can give you the boost you need when you feel yourself slipping into self-doubt. I literally had last-minute, grave misgivings about querying in September. I’d done everything I needed to do and it was time to query, but I had a panic moment where I seriously worried if it was ready. I worried about sending the partial requests I’d gotten at RWA because if it wasn’t ready, I’d just blown it with those two agents. Same with any others I queried, as many nowadays ask for the first 5-10 pages. I DM’ed my writing buddy Jami Gold on Twitter and she stepped me back from the Self Doubt Cliff and reminded me of my contest finals and win. I seriously had to tell myself that yes, okay, those meant something. It gave me the confidence to go for it.

What about you? This isn’t a pure confession as I haven’t revealed how many I entered, but are you also addicted to these things? Did you learn anything I haven’t covered? Did you also get conflicting feedback? How did you handle it?

Six Sentence Sunday – 10/14/12

I’m back after almost a month! I missed y’all!

NEWS: I landed an agent! I actually had three offers! I want to thank all of you who have regularly commented since I started doing #sixsunday almost a year ago. Your support kept me thinking positive even when I faced rejections! Some of you even helped Beta! THANK YOU! This doesn’t necessarily mean a publisher will buy it, but I’m one step closer….

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. I’m skipping to the next day and we’re finally in Rawley’s POV. He’s outside standing in the rain after calming an agitated horse and our heroine arrives, breathless (It’s been a while, but here’s a link to an earlier SSS entry where Rawley gave the heroine a scandalous peek at his neck when they first met the previous day, so as to put his reflections about his disheveled state in perspective):

Her hat, a frivolous contraption, sat at a jaunty angle on her head. His fingers itched to push it up to sit properly. Over all, she held a large yellow umbrella, protecting her from the blasted rain. He shoved fingers through his wet hair, inwardly cursing to find himself again in a disheveled state before her. The same unsettling feeling as yesterday overtook him, as if his body couldn’t determine if it was about to step off a cliff or fall into a luxuriant, buoyant cloud.

She stepped close, admitting him to her protected space.

As always I welcome constructive feedback.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Six Sentence Sunday – 9/16/12

 Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in Heart of Denver’s Molly contest in the paranormal category! I also finally finished polishing the sucker and sent it out into query land–fingers crossed!

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. Everyone, including the new boarder Dr. Rawley, is sitting down to dinner. They’ve been eating and talking away for a bit when their automaton butler comes in to announce breakfast instead of dinner. The heroine’s brother Robert was asked if he could fix it and he makes a bad pun about his mechanical left hand. This picks up exactly where we left off:

Everyone else groaned at the poor pun, but Adele flinched, horrified he could joke about the loss of his hand. She turned back to Dr. Rawley and asked, “Why did you cross the Atlantic if you’re not the adventuresome sort? And why Mobile?”

The door shut behind Robert and Walter, and she relaxed a fraction.

Her father interrupted. “Adele, let the poor man have a proper supper without you badgering him.”

As always I welcome constructive feedback.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Six Sentence Sunday – 9/9/12

I’m back! Dragon*Con was a lot of fun, and will try to post an update soon. Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in FF&P’s On the Far Side contest (time travel/steampunk/historical category) last weekend, and this weekend, it came in first in the Celtic Hearts Golden Claddagh contest in the paranormal category!

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. Everyone, including the new boarder Dr. Rawley, is sitting down to dinner. They’ve been eating and talking away for a bit when their automaton butler comes in to announce breakfast instead of dinner. The heroine’s brother Robert was asked if he could fix it. This picks up exactly where we left off:

“I’ll see to it right now. I’ll just get some of Camilla’s delicious pie to fortify myself.”

“I thought you were an archaeologist?” Dr. Rawley asked.

“You were not misinformed, however, I do like to keep my hand in all things mechanical.” Robert winked and held up his mechanical left hand.

As always I welcome constructive feedback.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Pull Out Those Pantsed Weeds in Your WIP

I’m now a Plantser (someone between a Plotter and Pantser), but for MUST LOVE BREECHES I pantsed it all the way, baby! (Pantser refers to someone who writes by the seat of their pants with no pre-plotting). Anyway, that means there’s LOTS more work on the revision side (one of the reasons I tried pre-plotting STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY).

Today I want to focus on those little seeds you plant while you’re pantsing, because sometimes they surprise you and grow into wonderful expressions of theme, or subtext, or great twists in plot. But then there are those seeds you plant, with the same kind of hopefulness, that just… well, sprout up as distracting weeds, hiding your characterization, plot, theme and more.

The problem comes in the early stages of revisions in that some of those weeds don’t look like weeds yet. Just like real weeds where you hover over the unidentified green sprout, pondering if you should yank it out–what if it’s a …? You do the same when reading and rereading your WIP. Some you even cultivate, realizing their potential and you’re quite pleased with your subconscious. Some you tweak a little and even beef it up, hoping it will work.

But the old adage is so true: setting your WIP aside is essential to discovering what really needs to stay. I hadn’t read MLB through since probably May? I’d stopped my querying and sent it out for another round of Beta reading and over the summer I’ve made some revisions. I’m now rereading for revision smudge (thank you Janice Hardy for that apt phrase) and also just trimming and analyzing everything as to whether it needs to be there.

And boy has that break helped me see things that needed yanking! I thought I’d share one such section I came across this week to serve as an illustration of what I mean by a pantsed seed that grew into a weed.

I had a reflective/passage of time scene early on where the heroine wakes in a panic because she can’t remember who the President of the US would be in 1834 (she’s traveled back in time) and she might be expected to know it. So she methodically gets out pen and paper and works forward from Jefferson and backward from Lincoln and works it out, but it gave her a little scare. Anyway, it was something that obviously sprang to mind as something that one might panic about and so I wrote it into my first draft (seed). Maybe someone discovers her list! And she’s having to explain how she knows of future events! None of that ended up happening when the first draft was completed. On revisions, I liked how it revealed a bit about her situation and her methodical side, but I recognized that it needed to have more relevance and so had it come back in a later scene where Mrs. Somerville (who is sheltering her) is confronting her about something else and the heroine sees it’s visible and it ups the tension in the scene. Will Mrs. S see it?

Well, no, she doesn’t. And in this last pass, having let my manuscript lie fallow for several months, I had the distance to see this little element for what it is–a weed. Yank! Nothing ever comes of that list and that extra bit I added in revision to justify the existence of the initial seed was false tension since nothing happens. It cluttered up two scenes and added about 300 words to my MS. That might not seem like a lot, but anything that doesn’t serve the purpose of your story only adds clutter. And readers don’t want clutter.

I think the moral is: yes, it really DOES pay to let your manuscript sit, the longer the better, even though you really, really, really want to send your baby out into the world. Resist. There could be weeds lurking in it.

What do you think? Have you experienced something similar during revision? How did you recognize it for what it is?

Six Sentence Sunday – 8/26/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in Utah’s Heart of the West contest over the weekend!

Also, I will not be around next Sunday as I’ll be in Atlanta for Dragon*Con. Hopefully. Tropical Storm Isaac is making this iffy (I live in Mobile which is inside the warning cone). If I’m not, it’ll mean it’s hit us and I probably won’t have power, so will miss y’all anyway! I’m going to try and visit everyone in the early a.m., as I need to spend most of today preparing for possible Hurricane Isaac. Keep everyone on the Gulf Coast in your prayers this coming week…

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. This skips to the next chapter, when everyone, including the new boarder Dr. Rawley, is sitting down to dinner. They’ve been eating and talking away for a bit when this happens (Robert is the heroine’s brother):

A metal clanking noise sounded in the hall, and Walter, their automaton butler pushed through the double doors.

“Breakfast is served,” its tinny but serious voice incorrectly intoned.

Her mother groaned. “Robert, can you please see to Walter? This is getting old.”

Robert stood quickly.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. I’m not sure I have the timing down right to make it clear what the butler did wrong, so any suggestions for improvement is welcome! Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Six Sentence Sunday – 8/19/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

Today’s Six Sunday is picking up where we left off last week with STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. Loki returns Rawley’s cravat that had flown away when Rawley landed in his hot air balloon, leaving him indecently clothed and giving the heroine her first peek at a man’s collarbone. Loki is a monkey and he’s wearing oyster shell armor, and Rawley asked if Loki was wearing oyster shells. This picks up with the heroine answering:

“Indeed, sir, it’s his armor and most prized possession.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Intriguing.” He stood and wrapped the cravat around his neck several times and knotted it with an indifferent style. Now he was decently clothed. Drat.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Six Sentence Sunday – 8/12/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

I am so sorry I never got around to visiting everyone last week. I underestimated how much RWA drained me. I promise to go around today!

Today’s Six Sunday is picking up where we left off last week with STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. Loki returns Rawley’s cravat that had flown away when Rawley landed in his hot air balloon. Loki is a monkey and he’s wearing oyster shell armor, so that you know what Rawley means at the end:

“What have we here?” Dr. Rawley squatted in front of Loki and held out his hand. Obligingly, Loki placed it in his palm like he was bestowing a great and delicate treasure. “What an obliging creature. Thank you, little sir.”

Dr. Rawley gave Loki a pat on the head, and asked, “Are these… oyster shells?”

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Six Sentence Sunday – 8/5/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. 

NEWS: MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in Georgia’s Maggie, and also Greater Seattle’s ECO contest! That makes 7 contest finals to-date!

Today’s Six Sunday I’m picking up roughly where we left off a month ago (!) with my steampunk romance STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY. Rawley has landed in a balloon, and his cravat has scandalously flown away during the landing. Adele is mesmerized by the glimpse of sexy neck and collarbone. I’m skipping a line or two where she notes with interest that he’s blushing. The first to speak is Rawley, who has caught her staring:

“Your father?”

She started. “Oh, yes, of course.”

“Nteech scrrrtch.”

Adele looked down. Loki tugged on Dr. Rawley’s trouser leg, his cravat waving in the monkey’s tiny fist like a flag of surrender.

As always I welcome constructive feedback. Thank you!

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week!