Pitching Your Stories

This comes to you a little later than hoped as, like many it seems, we have been a little laid up with colds and flu over December and then we hit the madness of Christmas and the New Year.  Speaking of which, Happy New Year and hope 2017 will be a happy, healthy and productive year for all of you.

Anyway, I had earlier promised to post some highlights of my recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference so I thought I would start with pitching, especially as this also ties in nicely with recent Twitter pitches that I have taken part in over the past few weeks.

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At the conference I attended a pitching session with Benjamin Scott who said that ‘our goal in pitching is simply to excite another person about our story… whether an agent, editor, parent or reader’.  Simple, huh?  Why is it then that as soon as somebody asks what our book/story is about, many of us struggle to summarise it, or can turn into gibbering idiots?  (I find the latter tends to happen to me, especially when you throw an agent into the mix!)  He continued that ‘the expectation should be that sounds like an interesting idea, tell me more’ notthis is going to get me an agent, publisher, make me the next JK Rowling.  These lower expectations immediately lessen the pressure.’

Pitching is therefore just presenting your work in the best possible light for maximum excitement, but you should bear the following in mind;

  • You can choose to pitch – it’s never compulsory
  • Relax – having a prepared pitch makes it easier to relax
  • Versatility – a good pitch is useful for many things
  • Creative aid – when constructing one it can act as a great developmental tool as it helps identify what’s at the heart of your book
  • What is the peril, the conflict, and the consequences?

Conflict is the beating heart of the story and what happens is an expression of the conflict.  So avoid listing what happens, e.g. ‘Steph goes to her brother, then her mother, and then the bank to borrow money.  Lastly she goes to a drug dealer,’ and focus on the conflicts at the core of the story instead.  Avoid using bespoke and confusing story language, distill the best bits, ignore the subplots and try to focus on the heart of the story.

A good pitch should introduce the main protagonist, give an indication of target audience and genre, lay out the core conflict and leave people wanting more, i.e. what is happening, to who, and why?  What is at stake?

Also perhaps, is it similar in style to any other books on the market?  Or can the writing style be likened to other authors (this can be particularly helpful if it is similar to another author you know the person likes, or perhaps already represents).  One technique can be to use XXX meets XXX, something which is also apparently quite popular when pitching scripts to Hollywood.

You have probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ concept, where you should be able to summarise your book in the short space of time it would take to ride in a lift between floors (in the unlikely event that the agent/publisher of your dreams just happens to get in the lift with you).  This is similar to a paragraph synopsis, which I’ve also seen some writing competitions ask for alongside your writing sample.

To challenge yourself even more, it seems that Twitter pitches are becoming more common as well.  These are organised events with a designated hashtag where you have to tweet your pitch in around 136 characters (to leave sufficient room for the appropriate hashtag), and where agents and publishers are able to dip in and out and favourite any tweets that grab their attention.  This is in effect an invitation to submit directly to them and skip the dreaded slush pile.  A recent example was organised by Emergents CIC Ltd and XPO North in Scotland, with the hashtag #xpo (followed by the appropriate letter for your genre of book).  Or look out for #PitchMAS, which takes place each December and was set up by two US authors.  It’s a long-shot, but if you don’t put yourself out there then you never know!

Now, back to the conference.   I’m not holding myself up as an expert by any means, but thought you may be interested in seeing what I came up with during the breakout session.  In general it seemed to do the job, with both Benjamin and our surprise guest, Imogen Cooper of the fantastic Golden Egg, giving me decent feedback and encouragement.

The Maze Runner meets Alex Rider in a contemporary upper MG thriller featuring a sinkhole, a sinister cult and a secret bunker of trapped children.  When disillusioned 15-year-old Will sees a sinkhole appear in their living room and swallow his twin brother and sister, this is no simple freak of nature.  Sunk! is a story of siblings, where one is being hunted above ground and the others are trapped below the earth.  Where can you turn when you’ve been betrayed by those you trust the most?

I’ll leave things here for now but will lay out some valuable words of wisdom from one of our keynote speakers, Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, in my next post.

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SCBWI Conference & Harry Potter

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A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Winchester for my first ever Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference and I’m still buzzing!

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on the various workshops and keynote speakers (once I’ve calmed down enough to be able to decipher my notes) and hope to share some of the useful tips and words of wisdom from what was a jam-packed weekend.

One highlight for me though has to be the Mass Book Launch Party on the Saturday night, where we were invited to dress up as one of our favourite book characters.  My first thought was perhaps Mary Poppins, but then the logistics of transporting the outfit, her bag and of course the famous parrot umbrella on an over eight hour train journey ruled that out.

Being a (Scottish) Harry Potter fan, my next option was very obvious.  Who else could I choose but Professor Minerva McGonagall?  As it turned out, I was in very good company as Harry himself was there, along with a couple of Luna Lovegoods, Professor Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Dolores Umbridge and even Hedwig! To make things extra special, see if you can work out who Professor Dumbledore is…

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(Clue – he is someone very instrumental in bringing the world of Harry Potter to us all)

 

My first time at Dundee Literary Festival

Last week, on the 19th-23rd October 2016, my home town welcomed back the Dundee Literary Festival.  This year it was special for three reasons:

  1. It was the festival’s tenth year in operation;
  2. It was the first time I had managed to attend as it falls during the October school holidays and we are normally away;
  3. My friend, Sandra Ireland, was featured talking about her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Skin’, alongside Shelley Day and her debut, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’.

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The Literary Dundee website says the following:

Literary Dundee is a cultural organisation, part of the University of Dundee, which celebrates readers and writers, and brings the best writers in the world to Dundee.

We support the literary community in Dundee through the Dundee Literary Festival (October), publications such as New Writing Dundee, projects such as the Dundee International Book Prize, and a series of year round events, including our Literary Lock-Ins, produced in partnership with bright sparks within the University and outside it.

What’s not to like?

I feel lucky to live in a place that is so supportive of literary pursuits and am embarrassed that it has taken so long to be able to attend some of the fantastic and varied talks and events over the period of the festival, some with fellow writers and some with my young children.

As well as Sandra’s event I also managed to attend a lecture on The Fall of the Tay Bridge with David Swinfen; a Memoir and the Art of Life Writing showcase with writers from the University of Dundee’s Continuing Life Writing course and their course tutor, Josie Jules Andrews; a talk by Scotland’s Booker Prize winner James Kelman about his new novel, ‘Dirt Road’; a fascinating discussion about Shirley Jackson (of ‘The Lottery’ fame) and Josephine Tey; and two events for younger people – a ‘Rock and Roald Dahl party’ with Matthew Fitt, who has translated some of Dahl’s books into Scots, and a ‘Create a Comic workshop with Jim Glen.  My two eight year olds had a blast.  Here’s a picture of Georgia with a certain recognisable DC Thomson character…

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I can’t sign off without mention of the Ex Libris Book Fair on the last day, which was a treasure trove for anyone with a love of the arts.  As an added bonus I met a fellow SCBWI member, Elizabeth Wein, who I only previously knew through the Society’s Facebook page, and it was lovely, as always, to put a face to a name.

All in all it was a fantastic few days and a new highlight of my year.  I think I have a bit of reading to do judging by my literary haul!

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hello again!

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Hi everyone, I hope all is well with you and that you have been very productive in your writing endeavours.  I realise it’s been a little while since I posted on here and apologies for the absence.  Sometimes I guess life just takes over and then, before you know it, the summer has gone and you’re sitting inside whilst it’s already pitch black outside and the rain has been falling all day!

I would love to catch up and hear any news from my fellow online writers.  For my part the summer has been a good one and I have been lucky enough to participate in a number of writing events, the highlight being a week’s Novel Writing course at Moniack Mohr near Inverness with Jess Richards and Rachel Seiffert as tutors.  What a luxury just to have the time and space to write, and what a fantastic venue and setting.  (I’m already planning a return visit next year!)

It’s here that I was able to spend more time on Sunk!, which is an upper MG novel that I started in the Spring, and which I am quite excited by.  It has taken me on a fantastic journey so far and, even though I think I know what’s coming next, I fully expect to hit a few surprises along the way.  I’m afraid that this has also been the main reason for my absence on the blog as, when I get a spare second to write, it seems to demand my attention.  I do plan to try and check in a little more often though and share/discuss all matters writing with people who I know similarly love the whole process.

I have now become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and am looking forward to finding out more about the world of children’s books and meeting fellow children’s writers.  One such opportunity was a Book Bound Seminar run by Karen Ball, Sara Grant, Sara O’Connor and Jasmine Richards which a number of the SCBWIs attended and which was a really useful and fun day.

The next big push however is to write some entries for the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference in March, so I don’t see things slowing down any time soon.  But then, where would the fun be in that? 😉

So that’s me.  Hello again and hopefully it won’t be so long till the next time!

My experience as a writing competition adjudicator….

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I have just spent a relaxing few days in Crieff Hydro over half term break and have used the time to finish off adjudications that I am doing for the Angus Writers’ Circle flash fiction competition.  I have never adjudicated a competition before and I was a little hesitant to take it on at first as I wondered whether I was qualified enough to do it.  However, I am now very glad that I agreed to it as I have found the exercise to be quite an eye opener into just how involved and subjective these type of processes are, and I have also learnt a lot about what I like and don’t like quite so much in terms of writing style, which I’m sure I can also apply to my own writing.

Having entered a fair few writing competitions myself over the past couple of years, whether it be for the Scottish Association of Writers’ Annual Conference, or ones with my writing group, I have heard a lot of adjudicators say that it was difficult to come up with a final 3 (or 4 or 5) and that their top entries moved around a lot before they finally decided on the outcome.  Part of me used to just think that they were simply being polite/encouraging/motivational etc., however I can now totally see where they were coming from!  I have chosen a first, second and third place, with one highly commended and one commended entry and I think I am now fairly sure which entries will be in my top 5, but even now they are still moving around and it is very difficult to make a final decision and to just stick to it.

I read them when I first received them just before Christmas and have re-read them all a number of times since then.  I thought I had eventually cracked it, but then when I started to type up my comments for the various entries it made me look at them again in even closer detail (not just as a reader, but also as a writer), and things changed yet again.  It is also fair to say that most of the entries had something I liked, even if there were other parts of them that I was not quite so keen on, so the next time I am on the other side of an adjudication, I will have a far greater appreciation of just what is involved.

As for the outcome, I am due to give my verdicts this coming Wednesday and just hope that I will make the right choices.  However I think I feel more exposed than those who entered the competition in the first place! 🙂

And January’s winner is………………

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I am pleased to say that January’s winner, with her very authentic take on the writing prompt inspired by Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak midwinter’, is lassfromlancashire.  A well deserved win and, once I have liaised with her, I will get back to you with the writing prompt for February.  (Scary that we are into February already – where did January go??)

And November’s winner is………………

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I’m very pleased to say that the winner of November’s mini writing competition is Jane Dougherty with ‘In the fields of the flat lands’.  Well done Jane and thank you for submitting such a moving and evocative piece of writing.  I will get back to you in the New Year for the next writing prompt if that is agreeable to you, and in the meantime I hope you have a lovely festive season.

And October’s winner is………………

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After a close run thing, I am pleased to announce that lassfromlancashire is the winner of this month’s mini writing competition.  As winner she is now entitled to set the writing prompt for this month, and I will post it shortly so watch this space……

Hope you all had a happy Halloween – we did! 🙂

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And September’s winner is………………

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Congratulations to A C Elliot who has won last month’s micro flash fiction competition (and btw – can’t believe it’s October already!)  As winner they are now entitled to set the writing prompt for this month, so watch this space….

I will post the new prompt shortly once I have heard back, and thanks again to all who took part this time. 🙂

And July’s winner is………………

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Well, we have a bit of a problem…  For the first time since I have been running these mini competitions we have a draw, with Jane Dougherty and Jan Strickland both polling the same amount of votes.

As you may know, usually the winner is entitled to set the writing prompt for the next monthly competition, but we could have a fight on our hands! 😉

Jane and Jan – do you have any thoughts or suggestions?  Perhaps one of you could set the overall theme and the other come up with some key words or phrases or a beginning or ending or similar?

Have to admit, I didn’t have a contingency in the event of a tied vote. As such, please leave it with me and I will post the next prompt as soon as we have worked something out! 🙂

In the meantime, congratulations to you both.