So, this morning I woke up to drama.

Not a big deal, really. These things happen. People disagree, and thanks to the nature of internet communications, miscommunication about those disagreements happen.

The issue was handled and no one seems the worse for wear… but any time something like this happens, it makes me examine my own communication and word choices.

A reader took exception to the tone of one of my posts, and a particular phrase I used to preface that tone. The phrase was “mom mode”, meant to be a humorous jab at myself because the post that followed was part cheerleader, part kick in the ass to fellow writers involved with a particular contest. The post came about after several conversations I had with others regarding public negative and unprofessional behavior on the part of some participants.

Perhaps it would have come across better had I prefaced the piece with my curriculum vitae and explained my credentials (I won’t go into details, but you can get an idea here). Perhaps it would have been better to call it “blunt mode”, or “ass kicking mode”.

But I chose “mom mode”. Why?

Because I am, by nature, a teacher and encourager. And because, in my world, “mom” is the person who loves you, wants the best for you, and is willing to say the sometimes hard things to help you be your best. And because I was being silly… Because I am a peer to fellow participants. I am not their teacher. I am neither their manager nor their mentor. But I do have relevant experience.

While I will happily apologize if I unintentionally offend someone (and I did), I will not engage in public arguments. Polite discourse, courteous discussion of disagreements – perfectly fine. There is no way to please all of the people all of the time, or to 100% guarantee that you never offend anyone.

So… if anything I write makes you wonder who the fuck I think I am… Or pushes the wrong buttons… Or causes you to stop listening/reading because of the way I said something… I’d like to know. Politely and preferably privately (I am damn easy to contact). Because I welcome an intelligent and thoughtful conversation on the subject. Maybe you’ll change my mind, and maybe I’ll change yours – or maybe neither…

Either way, doing so privately avoids potential misunderstandings and social media explosions. And really, I prefer to restrict my explosions to movies and fireworks.

Technically, this post is aimed at Pitch Wars participants, but really, it applies to any writer—whether participating in a contest, querying, or what.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the process, to focus on your own journey and experience—especially in a contest like Pitch Wars. Which means it’s also easy to forget that you are not alone, and you do not live in a vacuum.

Which means what, exactly?

Ready for some tough love? Well, it’s coming. Don’t worry, my usual peppy cheerleader stuff will replace Mom-Mode later. Sometimes, you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.

Your “job” as a writer is not over when you type “the end” at the bottom of your manuscript. Nope. Not even close. You’ve got a long way to go baby, and while there are people who will help you along that way, a lot of the work is on you.

Yes, you.

You are going to have to research agents, and write query letters, and jump through hoops, and say please and thank you. Eventually, you’re going to have to revise and rework, and deal with other people’s opinions on your writing—and find a way to mesh them together with your vision.

You have work to do. You have a role to play.

And it doesn’t involve passively sitting back and asking others to do it for you.

Y’know how it’s best to avoid passive voice in your writing? Well, you need to avoid being passive in your journey as a writer as well.

Have I pissed you off just a little bit? Or a lot a bit? Are you feeling indignant?

That was not my intention, and if you are feeling that way, I suggest it’s likely because you’ve been guilty of being just a little bit passive.

Now that you’re choking on the bitter, here comes the sweet.

You’ve done something awesome!

You finished a novel. You took a risk and shared that work with a stranger. You put yourself out there. You brought characters and places and events to life—you created something from nothing.

How awesome is that?

Celebrate it! Jump up and down, shout “woohoo!” Have a drink. Whatever it takes to mark the occasion.

Now don’t stop there.

Do you have another story in you? Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep working on your craft. Read, then read some more. Write and share with other writers—people who are not close friends or family. Tell another story.

Because that’s what writers do. We tell stories.

And if you don’t get in? If you sub to agents and get rejections?

Chin up. It happens. Go back and read the last couple of paragraphs.

This business is full of negatives—waiting, and not knowing, and hearing no-no-no. It’s full of uncertainty and things that make you question your skill and your purpose.

So what?

If you want your novel to see the light of day, these are things you’re going to have to deal with. Not everyone will love your story. And that’s OK.

Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep working on your craft… you get the idea.

Now, some Pitch Wars specific advice that you can pretty much apply to almost anything in life:

  • Remember mentors are human. They are people, with jobs and lives just like you. They’re stressed about deadlines, and finding the ONE manuscript they’re going to love for the next two months. They’re also volunteering their time. Please be courteous, kind, and appreciative of their efforts.
  • Hold up your end of the rope. Remember, you have a job to do. Take responsibility for your own participation and progress. Get involved with the community, double check those spam/junk folders, respond promptly to any emails you may receive, and keep an open mind. Be ready to work, and work hard.
  • Keep it positive. Y’know, stay classy. Stay professional. However you want to put it. Commiserate with close friends or critique partners—privately. Complain all you want—privately. Think of your public presence as a brand—because that’s exactly what it is.

And now for the hardest, most difficult piece of advice: HAVE FUN!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled happy, perky, pep-talking friendly neighborhood cheerleader and fellow Pitch Wars hopeful.

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.

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”…