So the idea of Pitch Wars is basically pairing unagented authors with a more experienced author to tackle improving their manuscript before submitting to agents. (extremely short version there)

In years past, hopefuls selected the mentors they thought would be a good fit and submitted their query and first chapter to them. You had a limited number of names you could choose, but the mentors were allowed to do some swapping behind the scenes – so you could, theoretically, end up with a mentor you had not chosen.

This year, there will be no behind-the-scenes swapping of submissions. So, as a hopeful, you’re stuck with the four (or six if you donate, or win extra submissions) you selected.

Which brings me to the madness…

I keep thinking I have the list narrowed down to six names. Then something changes. Currently, I’ve got eight possibilities. Three are pretty much a given. Which means I’ve got three slots left, but five names with which to fill them. I’ve read the mentor wish lists umpteen bazillian times. I’ve Tweeted at them with questions and clarifications. I’ve scoured their blogs, and read sample pages from their books. And I’m still no closer to cutting two names than I was when I started.

So I decided to check their favorite books. Maybe getting a feel for the stories they like to read would help narrow my choices a bit.

Brilliant idea.

Or not.

One of my top choices, one I thought was a hands-down-gotta-sub, lists a book as their all-time, absolute, love-it-to-death piece that I not only cannot stand, but I find repugnant beyond words. As in, everything about it makes me cringe. As in, it is everything I do not like about a genre I normally love. As in, it represents some of the most unhealthy, codependent, romanticization of abusive behavior I’ve ever scene. As in, it makes 50 Shades of Gray seem like a good romance.

Cue freak out. Cue panic moment. Cue frantic scrambling to decide how important this information is and how to weight it in my choices. I mean, this mentor is one of my top choices otherwise. Harrumph.

Enter salvation from the PW community in the form of words of calm and wisdom from other hopefuls, and a few mentors.

Deep breathing ensued. Analytical thinking resumed, replacing the blindass panic of moments before.

OK. I can deal with this. It’s not a big deal. It’s just one little factor among many. And not everyone has the same literary tastes.

Crisis averted, but it still doesn’t help narrow my damn list down any!

On the plus side, one mentor who I adored beyond all possible belief (and whose favorite books I also love), but thought was not a good fit for my manuscript turns out to be more open than I’d thought, and is now among my top three.

Happy dance.

IMG_2922I’ve spent most of my career as an editor. I know damn good and well the work a writer turns in usually goes through multiple rounds of edits before it approaches publishable status. Still, as a writer, there is that little ego trip that says, “No, this is my creative baby, and it is perfect, just the way it is!”

Yeah, well… Bull. Shit.

This time last year

I stumbled across a Twitter-based writing contest called PitchWars. Having just put the finishing touches on a romantic thriller, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. Shocker, I did not get selected. Cue mild disappointment.

But the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

I connected with a wide range of other writers. I learned some valuable lessons on craft, and about social media. And I got some really killer advice from a couple of the mentors.

Yep. Even though I didn’t get selected, two of the mentors were fabulous folks who offered me some individual feedback on my submission.

The things they said were both humbling, and encouraging.

The good:

Great voice, solid writing, a good opening, and an interesting premise.

The bad:

The MC needs to be more personable up front, we need to understand more of the antagonist, and don’t be afraid of taking the story into really dark places.

The ugly:

The premise, while good, was not unique enough in a glutted genre like romantic thriller/suspense, and the query needed serious help.

Rework, Rewrite, Revise

I took my 80,000 word story and reworked it following that advice. I had beta readers give me feedback. I redid the query. Eventually, with my word count sitting at 84,000, I started querying.

Mostly I was ignored.

I got a few form letter passes. “This isn’t right for us.” I got very few requests for more, all resulted in a no.

The standard advice is: if you’re not getting requests, there’s something wrong with your query. If you’re getting requests, but no takers, there’s something wrong with your manuscript.

Well. Shit.

I tabled it. I thought about it. I debated self publishing it. I debated a lot of things. Eventually, I picked it back up and reworked the query yet again. Then I got a couple of critique partners and reworked the entire manuscript, again.

I was all prepared to do another round of queries.

Revisions Round Two

Then I realized Pitch Wars was right around the corner. Well, it was good last year, why the heck not?

Another round of revisions and tweaks came about courtesy of the advice shared on the Twitter feeds during the lead up to Pitch Wars.

I completely trashed and rewrote my query letter after a series of critiques and exchanges. Then I tweaked it, revised it, and rewrote it again.

We will not even discuss the tortured hell that is a synopsis.

No, really. We won’t.

I added nearly 5,000 words to my manuscript, cut nearly 10,000 words, then added a few thousand back.

Final word count is currently at 85,000.

The Results?

Well, we’ll see how Pitch Wars 2016 goes. I’m hoping to land a mentor this time through. If not, I’ll take whatever advice I get and continue polishing this manuscript until it’s as shiny as I can make it, and then send out some queries.

But what about the story?

Well… I’d like to think that I held onto the good, improved the bad, and prettified the ugly.

My main character got some major overhaul work done, and she’s now far more relatable far earlier in the story.

We get to know the antagonist a bit more as well, even though we may wish we didn’t.

Which brings me to the dark places… I went darker and creepier and opened doors I wasn’t sure I wanted to open. But y’know what? The story is better because of it.

As for the unique elements? I’m hoping that by taking the story into the deeper reaches of a dark and screwed up mind, I’ve hit that target. While the story could still be called a romantic thriller, I think it’s far closer to a thriller, that happens to have a romance.

And the query? Well… we already know that got completely redone.

In the end… we’ll see. And once again, Pitch Wars has been an overwhelmingly positive experience that has improved my skills as a writer.

Now excuse me while I get back to proofreading everything. I’m on deadline.


Last year right about this time, I had just put the finishing touches on a romantic thriller. It’s a dark and intense story and I love it. I decided to be brave and entered into Pitch Wars, a Twitter event geared to connect writers to mentors, and eventually put a more polished piece in front of agents (OK, that’s an extremely condensed version of the cool thing that is Pitch Wars, but you get the idea.)

While I did not get selected as a mentee, I did have an absolute blast participating in the submission rounds. I also connected with quite a few other writers and got some amazing critique along the way. A couple of the mentors were kind enough to offer some critique, even though I wasn’t selected. Many, many, many thanks for that!

I tweaked the story and decided to do a limited round of queries. I got a little interest – a few requests for partials or fulls, but mostly a lot of silence.

I debated going the small, indie press route, or self publishing, but I’ve been down those roads. While I won’t say “never again”, that’s not my goal.

Nope… my goal is an agent, followed by a traditional publishing house.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.

Clearly, I needed to change something. But I wasn’t sure what. I tabled the project for a bit, but the story wouldn’t let me go. I came back and tackled some of the uglies that I found… Then I got smart and asked for help.

I was lucky enough to find two amazing women who agreed to be critique partners. Both offered me some useful insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The manuscript went from just over 80,000 words to 84,000 words, then to nearly 89,000 with the revisions and additions. Then more revisions and subtractions brought it back to around 84,000 words.

I can honestly say it’s better now than it was last year… Is it perfect? Nope. In fact, I’m going to be spending the remaining time leading up to this year’s Pitch Wars going through the entire thing to refine and polish, proofread and tweak.

While I hope to be selected as a mentee this year, I know that I will gain valuable insight, make amazing friends, and great connections no matter what. I know it will be fun, challenging, and enlightening; that I will grow as a writer. And I know that when it’s all over, I will sigh and miss the flurry of activity and the camaraderie… and I will be looking forward to next year’s Pitch Wars.


It’s that time of year again… Pitch Wars!  (certified GIF-free post – but I do have a slideshow!)

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I participated last year with a manuscript that I thought was ready to go… yeah, I was mistaken. I shelved that story for a bit and worked on some other projects, but the story kept nagging me. So, I hauled out that story and dusted it off (digital cobwebs are the worst!) It’s gone through some minor tweaks and one major overhaul (massive thank you shouts to the two ladies who kindly served at crit partners and beta readers, and gave me some amazing tips!)

So… let’s see… a bit about me…

What am I pitching?

Adult / Thriller

The Lies We Tell – I’m still straddling the fence on whether to call this a thriller, or a romantic thriller, or a romantic suspense. Either way, it’s a bit on the dark side. And a bit on the twisted side. And it’s got some sexy goin’ on.

A former police officer with some serious commitment issues finds evidence pointing to a serial rapist on the loose, but her digging means she may be next on the victim list.

When she meets a noted forensic psychiatrist, she’s got more on her mind than the case at hand, but he’s not interested in her no-emotions approach to relationships.

Who the heck am I?

Despite my love of too many ellipses, overuse of dashes, and tendency to start sentences with conjunctions, I spent most of my career as a magazine or newspaper editor. These days, I’m a freelance writer whose work covers everything from home decor to adult sexuality, politics, women’s issues, and just about everything in between.

Outside of work, I love to cook and frequently entertain. I also make wickedly good, and wickedly sneaky cocktails. I’ve recently started working on getting back into shape, so the family diet has changed significantly as I try to craft healthier dishes that are still delicious.

I’m mom to two kids and two step kids – two in college, one in the military, and one still deciding what he’s doing with his life. I’m wife to an awesome hubby who supports me in my crazy pursuit of fiction writing and puts up with my cooking experiments with remarkable patience.

What else? Coffee addict, lover of good chocolate, owner of a more than occasionally foul mouth, city dweller, and oh so much more.

What do I like to read?

A little bit of everything. Trite, but true. I’m a sucker for a good, classic horror story and I blame Stephen King for my deciding to pursue writing fiction (I still love reading his older stuff). I grew up reading James Herriot, but I never wanted to be a veterinarian (perhaps because I grew up on a farm). I loved Harry Potter, but have little interest in most middle grade or young adult books. I recently went through a kick of reading a bunch of romantic suspense, now I’m leaning toward things heavier on the crime and thriller end (bonus points if it’s also sexy).

Is there more?

Sure, there’s always more… I’m a prime example of how you should never judge a book by its cover. I’m easy to get to know… find me on Twitter (@Rochelle_Karina), or on Facebook if you’d like to know more. I love connecting with new people and making new friends from all walks of life!

One last thing… good luck to all my fellow mentee hopefuls! Just participating in the selection process last year was fun, challenging, and incredibly helpful! I’m already Twitter stalking the mentor list, and can’t wait to see how things go this year.

And don’t forget to add your bio!

Or you can use this handy little thingy….

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

What is a “crit partner”?

Google the term, or the unabbreviated “critique partner” and you’ll see a confusing list of definitions, and places to find fellow writers eager to pair up with a crit partner.

In my eyes, and those of the folks I most frequently work with, a crit partner is usually a two-way relationship that involves mutual sharing between fellow writers. Beta readers are a totally different lot, and they deserve all the praise and thanks in the world, but a good crit partner is a match made in heaven. A bad one… well… you can imagine the opposite.

Just like any relationship, the terms of what makes for a good crit partnership are not set in stone. Each writer has their own needs and preferred ways of working.

Things to know before you seek out a crit partner

  • Are you ready for critique?
    If you think your manuscript is well polished and shiny and ready to go, and your crit partner disagrees, how are you going to handle their opinion?
    If you know you’re in the rough stages, and your crit partner suggests something isn’t working, can you step back and view your baby through their eyes?
  • What do you want from a crit partner?
    Are you looking for developmental edit work? Finding and fixing plot holes? Do you want a line-by-line critique, or just a general idea of how things flow and feel? Want input on what works and what doesn’t?

Things to know about a potential crit partner

  • Are they familiar with your genre, and do they like it?
    It’s not going to help quite as much to have a crit partner who loves cozy mysteries reading your erotic thriller. Think about that for a minute.
  • Do you respect their opinion and/or work?
    If you think their work is not for you, you’re not likely to value their opinion. Make sure you look for crit partners whose thoughts you actually care to hear.
  • What do you each want from the partnership?
    If your partner thinks this is a mutual exchange and you go in thinking it’s a one-way street, you’re going to clash pretty quickly. Talk before you trade and make sure you’re both on the same page about what you do and don’t want from your crit partner.
  • What level of honesty do you want, and can you offer?
    Some folks need their critique coated in sugar, and that’s fine. Others take it straight up, thank you very much.
  • How do they want their notes? How do you want your notes?
    Not everyone uses the same software, and not everyone is familiar with “track changes” features, or comfortable following comments. Which method works for you, and is your crit partner willing to give notes that way? And vice versa.

Things to know when you get a critique, or when giving one

  • Critiques are opinions.
    Sure, sometimes it’s on a factual matter, but really, this is one person’s opinion. You don’t have to agree on everything, but be respectful about it. The same is true whether you are getting or giving a critique. This is an opinion.
  • Be nice.
    Whether you’re giving critique, or receiving one, be nice. Even if your crit partner isn’t. Why? Just because it’s the nice thing to do.

When things aren’t going well

Sometimes it happens. You find a crit partner, and only after getting started realize this isn’t a good partnership. Or maybe you’ve changed genre or writing style. Or they’ve changed. Or… whatever. Life happens.

Reasons don’t really matter when it comes to a break up. Be respectful, be courteous, be kind and above all, be brief.

If there are problems that you believe are fixable, talk to your crit partner about them. It may be a simple misunderstanding of expectations. If you don’t believe they’re fixable, then it’s time to move on, nicely.

A simple, “I don’t feel our crit partnership is working out” or “I’m going to have to back out of our crit partnership” is all it takes.

Christopher Keelty posted this and it looked like fun, so… Figured I’d take a break from the mind-numbing and maddening task of revising my query letter for the umpteenth time, second (hundredth) guessing my synopsis, and scouring my manuscript for trash words, typos, and technical glitches.

Want to know more normal stuff? Go here.

Where were you born?

San Diego, California – in Balboa Naval Hospital

Where did you grow up?

The property was surrounded by stuff that looked like this.

Lots of places, mostly all over Southern California. But the majority of my youth was on a rural property in the high desert in eastern San Diego County.


There’s four of us… one sister missing.

Yep. All older than I am. Three sisters (living), and one brother.

What’s your favorite drink?

A glass of wine with dinner. A margarita on a hot summer day. A cosmo if I’m not sure of the bartender. A gin and tonic when I want something simple. And when the mood strikes, I can be talked into trying all sorts of interesting “girly” cocktails.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Yeah, I like to entertain.

Wow, that would be a long list. I love to cook and entertain, it’s a rare week when we don’t have guests for dinner at least twice. The family likes going to the Renaissance faire, and the fairy festivals, and Artscape, and the book festival, and… OK, we like getting out and doing things.

Do you speak any languages besides English?

Fluently? No. I have retained a tiny smattering of Spanish, can generally understand (but not speak) some French, and I’m currently learning Japanese.

Do you have any tattoos?

One. It looks like a henna tattoo and goes from my right shoulder down my back to low on my right hip. More coming as soon as I decide what I want to add to it.

What am I pitching?

DARKNESS is a romantic thriller – a former police officer with a troubled past sets out to find a serial rapist. There’s danger, excitement, love, and sexiness. And a seriously twisted character (or two).

Other Stuff?

I have a slight thing for shoes. Specifically, high heels.
I make a kick-ass pecan pie.
Yes we do Ren Faire. My son, daughter, me, and hubby (l-r)
And Pride.

Rochelle Karina_Headshot_BandW
This is me…

I actually became aware of Pitch Wars two years ago. The first year, I realized it was going on after the submission period had ended. Last year, I didn’t have anything anywhere near ready to go.

This year, I have two possible pieces. Insert happy dance here. So, I reviewed the list of mentors. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Twice. Three times.

Then I realized the real action was happening on Twitter. A forum I am notoriously bad with. Oh dear. Maybe I should skip it. Never mind. I’ll go about querying and all of that in the regular way. Ho hum. Then I realized something else. Something very important. I was being stupid. Absolutely, completely and utterly stupid.

So I dusted off my Twitter profile. I reread that long list of mentors. It wasn’t too hard to narrow it down. One piece is a dystopian sci-fi with a strong romantic element (officially one potential mentor). The second is a romantic thriller (officially five potential mentors).

City Life
This is my neighborhood…

Yep, guess which one I’m using.

Many potential mentees are posting their bios, wish lists, etc. Well, what the heck. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

My Dream List

Why? Each not only indicated an interest in the types of books I like to read (and write), but each exhibited a sense of humor, excitement, and high expectations.

And now I have a very long list of “I wants” to add to my Kindle!

What I Write

Fallen_150dpi_eBookIn the past, I might have said “a bit of everything”, but as I go along, I see a trend.

Most of my pieces straddle the line between thriller and romance. All of my stories tend to have strong female protagonists, and most include a distinct love interest that is a significant driving force in the plot. I don’t, however, write traditional romance genre.

After the HarvestI do delve into horror, and occasionally cross into chick lit territory, but even the dystopian sci-fi piece has elements of romance and a distinct twinge of thriller.

What am I pitching?

DARKNESS is a romantic thriller – a former police officer with a troubled past sets out to find a serial rapist. There’s danger, excitement, love, and sexiness. And a seriously twisted character.

What I Read

A bit of everything!

I’m particularly fond of Gaiman, Rothfuss, Koontz, and King. I recently discovered a weakness for Deborah Harkness, and I’ll admit I eagerly anticipate the next installment of Game of Thrones. I’m a fan of Tolkien from long ago, and grew up loving James Herriot. However, I was equally likely to be reading Poe or Lovecraft, and I still have a soft spot for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I like my vampires elegant, dangerous, and sexy. I prefer to avoid werewolves. In horror, I’m equally drawn to supernatural as to the more human horrors. And if we’re talking fantasy, I like stories that include magic as well as mundane.

What Else?

Game of Thrones buffet for 15...
Game of Thrones buffet for 15…

I am an avid cook, be warned, I tend to post food porn.

I try to keep a sense of humor in all that I do.

I have a rather serious love of shoes – specifically high heels.

I’m an opinionated brat at times, and my politics straddle the line between ultra-liberal and moderately conservative.

I’m currently writing for a variety of online sources (mostly under pseudonyms), while trying to find an agent for my latest novel.

And I’ll close with my usual list:

Smart, urbanite, foodie, funny, cook, passionate, political, irreverent, writer, photographer, busy, mom, wife, shoe fiend, fashionista, frequent hostess.

My “office”…

I’m a child of the ’80s – I had this on a button.

Here’s a huge shocker, my book contains some sex scenes.

I know, big surprise, right?

And I’m currently editing another book that contains (gasp!) sex scenes.

No, these aren’t erotic fiction, though I’ve been known on occasion to write erotica (and have even gotten paid to do it). These are standard fiction stories. Not even in the romance genre.

So I was more than a little interested when a fellow writer posted a link to this article on Facebook – Do condoms kill the mood of a book?

It was an interesting read, and the answers weren’t simple.

Neither of my stories include condom usage. However…

In Fallen, the characters do have “the talk” about STIs and sexual partners and make an informed decision about condom usage (or the lack thereof). In the current work, there is general talk of sexual safety awareness and routine testing, one character is mentioned as always using protection, but there is no specific discussion between the two characters who have sex. There’s no “should we or shouldn’t we” discussion, no “on page” disclosure of sexual history, etc.

I don’t really think about it as me choosing to not include condoms in these stories so much as me choosing to write the story without thinking about sending a message about safer sex. These are novels, not how-to manuals. I’m not writing thinly-veiled “edutainment” for the condom industry. I’m trying to write an engaging story, and sometimes those stories include sex. If condom usage were important to the storyline, I’d include it.

It’s an interesting thought process. If a novel includes a sex scene, should it also automatically include safer sex practices, or explain the lack of them? Does the genre of the novel make a difference? Say, one answer for erotica, another for historic romance, still another for contemporary romance, and a whole different set of requirements for young adult.

Does the level of explicitness make a difference? If we’re talking blow-by-blow description (pun so very much intended), should safer sex be there, but it’s okay to skip it if the story starts getting sexy, we know what’s gonna happen, then the next thing we see is the morning after?

These are the thoughts that occupy my brain when I really should be working on editing my book.