Friday, September 22, 2017

SPEED by BB Easton - An Author Worth Studying

So, every so often I get ARCs of books. Some are great. Some are so-so. And some I pester the
author for months prior to the ARC release until they get so irritated with me that they give me one just to shut me up.

Three guesses which kind of author BB Easton is to me. First two don't count.

Here's the thing though, BB is different to literally every other author I read. Her content is more graphic, her characters more broken, and her story (her life?) so removed from my own experience, that on the surface of things, we shouldn't get along. (Side note: BB is hilarious, generous, and well worth getting to know, whether you read her books or not. Seriously, she's good people--and GREAT writing. But I digress...)

I stumbled on 44 Chapters About 4 Men a year or so back and downloaded the sample expecting to roll my eyes and move on.

I did not do either of those things.

I devoured that masterpiece of a memoir and literally cheered at the end when she talked to a friend about writing novels based on the characters and events described. Literally. I cheered. Because here's the truth: BB is writing in a way, and for reasons, that this world needs. (I should also note that this book is not for under 18s, or the faint of heart...)

In 44 Chapters she wrote her own story, in all its ugliness and beauty, and somehow forced me and my firmly One Man for Me heart to fall in love with no less than four men in the course of a single book. (Well, three and a half, really. But we'll get to that part later.)

In Skin, she took me places I never thought I'd go (this one really isn't for under 18s) and in Speed she brought closure to the part of me that hadn't been able to let Skin go for the many, many months between its release and Speed.

I joked with BB that, between receiving the ARC for Speed and finishing the read I had four whole days of not aching for a new book of hers to read. Except, it wasn't a joke. I live with this little hollow corner in my heart while I wait for the next book of hers. Not kidding. And yet, if you described these books to me without me having read them, I'd say "No, thanks."

I'm addicted to BB and her books because they tell truth. Her truth. Sometimes that truth is horrific. Often it's hilarious. Sometimes it's achingly beautiful. But always, always, it's real.

So my challenge to you, especially if you're a writer who struggles to connect your work emotionally to the reader, is to read BB's books (start with 44 Chapters and read them in the order they were published. Trust me.) Her work is a stunning study in emotional authenticity, and making the scary, painful, or hard feel real. You will live in her skin, and you will beg for more. (And she's offering a chance for you to win the book for free.)

If you want to read my review of Speed you can find it on Goodreads or Amazon. But here's a spoiler for you: IT'S FIVE STARS FANTASTIC. Read it:

Title: SPEEDAuthor: BB EastonGenre: New Adult Romance

Because BB Easton had so much fun writing her bestselling, award-winning memoir, 44 CHAPTERS ABOUT 4 MEN, she decided to give each of her four men his own steamy standalone! SPEED is the second book in the 44 Chapters spin-off series—a gritty, taboo love triangle overflowing with dark humor and tangible teen angst. It is based on a true story.

After her possessive, psychopathic, rage-fueled ex, Knight, joins the Marines, sixteen-year-old BB is left trying, and failing, to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart. It isn't until she meets Harley James—an easy-going, tattooed mechanic with a face as angelic as his habits are sinful—that she learns how to live again. How to laugh again. But will she learn to love again? Over Knight’s dead body. 
Buy Links: 
Paperback: https://goo.gl/3XTDU8 

BB Easton lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia with her long-suffering husband, Ken, and two adorable children. She recently quit her job as a school psychologist to write stories about her punk rock past and deviant sexual history full-time. Ken is suuuper excited about it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I See You, Pitch Wars Hopefuls. I Really Do.

Last night and this morning I spent a lot of time sifting through queries for Pitch Wars hopefuls. At some point I read a query that just didn't gel for me. It had elements I'd asked for in my wishlist, and the writing wasn't bad. But it didn't engage my imagination or heart, and I couldn't really tell you why. I simply didn't feel the story. So, I sorted that query into the "Not for Me" pile.

Then it hit me.

I sat back, blinked and realized I'd just said no to an author who'd done nothing wrong.

Now, I didn't make that decision blithely. When I'm evaluating dozens of pieces of work, I become aware of a spark--this intangible thing that makes me sit up and take notice. And feel excited. Or, conversely, when a query or first chapter lacks that spark. It becomes fairly easy to identify what's going to bake my cookies.

But I do, absolutely, 100%, empathize with the authors on the other side of this process. I've been there. I've got countless rejection emails in my files. And rejections from my own agent, and publishers, and bad reviews . . . I get it. It's hard and it hurts. You want everyone to love your baby.

The bottom line is, though, that as a mentor I can't take everyone. I can't read every manuscript to dig for hidden gems. I have to trust my gut about what's going to feed my energy (mental and physical) as we walk through this process.

But here's the good news: I literally haven't read a single query so far that's bad. The quality of these submissions surprises and excites me. Because I know, even if I'm not the right mentor for these projects, someone else might be. And even if no mentor chooses them, there will be agents out there that are engaged.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: If you submitted to me, thank you. I'm genuinely humbled that you trust me with your work. If I reject it, I don't do so lightly. And I don't take any pleasure in removing you from this particular game. Please, don't let yourself decide that if I (or other mentors) don't pick you, your book is finished, or you're a failure. It purely, simply, isn't true.





Monday, July 24, 2017

Quick Links to All the Pitch Wars Info

I know there's a lot of information flying around out there this year, so if you want quick access to all my info, use these links:

1. My Bio and Wishlist (with links to all other YA mentors at the bottom.)

2. My Ask Me Anything thread on the Pitch Wars Forums. 

3. The breakdown of my selection process and what criteria I use when reading submissions.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pitch Wars #SaltyCrit - Query Mentor Critique

(If you're looking for it, you'll find my Pitch Wars bio and wishlist here)

A couple brave souls agreed to have the critiques they won from me last week posted on my blog. Let's give them a hand, shall we?



Here's a query from one of your co-hopefuls!



Seventeen-year-old, art obsessed Ros swears she’s hallucinating when an eccentric witness’s footage shows her beloved father as he’s yanked inside Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. So, when Interpol comes knocking, asking questions about her missing art dealing father—the only family she ever had—her heart wrenches, and she refuses to tell the authorities about viewing the strange abduction, fearing they’ll lock her up.

Okay, so premise-wise, this sounds fantastic. But I have a big, big, big question: Why would she not just show the Police the footage? Since that would, at the very least, let them see that she's not hallucinating, but has this abduction belief based on something tangible. I fear we may have a significant problem here, but I'll keep reading to see if it applies.

One detail note which may/may not apply: There's actually four versions of Scream, only one of which is in the US. It would be worthwhile to identify if your protag is in a different country than the US.


On a field trip to the Louvre, she takes matters into her own hands, seizing the opportunity to poke around for unsettling shifts inside other paintings, willing to do anything to uncover a way to retrieve her father. 

So, she is in a different country than the US? You'll need to indicate that at the beginning. International settings are important to some agents, and add flavor, regardless. It's a plus. 

My question on this blurb point, however, is that if she's willing to do anything, why did she have to wait for a field trip? Why wasn't she actively pursuing access to the paintings? And none of the versions of Scream are at the Louvre, are they? So why would she go there? Why not go to wherever she saw her father be abducted? That would be the logical goal. 


When movement within the Mona Lisa catches her attention, she locks eyes with a guy about her age inside the painting holding a photo belonging to her father. The young man reaches out to her, and when they touch, she’s transported into the famous art piece. 

So, I love, love, love this idea of being transported into the paintings. In terms of a query however, you don't need to say "a guy about her age". You can just call him a guy, or a strange man, or whatever. I assume he's going to be a love interest (yay!) 

In terms of the actual writing, rather than "the young man reaches out to her", which is kind of distant and lengthy, I'd go simple and more tactile with something like "When the two touch, she's transported . . . " or something like that. Queries don't have to tell all the detail. We'll see in the book how that happens.


Ros asks him to guide her through a maze of masterpieces to save her missing father. 

Again, there's nothing wrong with this, but it lacks punch. Try something like "With NAME as her guide, Ros must navigate the maze of masterpieces in search of her father." (We already know he's missing.)


While exploring, she always finds herself one step behind a shadowy figure lurking within the labyrinth. She must survive and outwit his barrage of traps disguised in each painting, preventing Ros from escaping.

I think you've missed an opportunity here to give us a really clear picture of the conflict. Mainly because you're telling, rather than showing (which is sometimes necessary in a query, don't get me wrong). But in this case I think you'd really open this query up if you gave an actual example of the person and kind of things she has to outwit--especially if they're very imaginative, or compelling. My advice would be to provide the name or nature of the villain, then take the approach of, "But Ros is forced to endure ACTUAL OBSTACLE at the hands of NAME OF VILLAIN," or "The search becomes deadly when Ros is faced with ACTUAL EXAMPLE OF OBSTACLE," that sort of thing. Like, be specific. 


If she fails to rescue her father before her adversary ensnares her in his ultimate trap, she’ll become art herself, entombed like her father in a nightmarish still life, forever.

Again, all the right elements, and great stakes, but the phrasing lacks punch. Try something like "Then Ros learns that unless she can (do X), NAME-OF-VILLAIN will entomb Ros and her father forever in the nightmarish still life of the paintings." Or something along those lines. Like, give us a picture of the choice or obstacle she faces and what the stakes will be if she fails.


VANISHING POINT is a YA contemporary fantasy complete at 74,000 words and has series potential. It would appeal to those who are fans of Brenda Drake’s, Library Jumper series and Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I’m a member of SCBWI, a 2016 Nightmare on Query Street mentee, and have also attended LDSTORYMAKERS conference for the past four years.

Ah ha ha! I see what you did there! These are great notes under the circumstances, but be aware that agents will be less impressed by competition mentorships (except for Pitch Wars, of course, which has developed something of a reputation *Insert Winky Face*.) They'll like your comp titles and professional affiliations more.


Thank you for your time and consideration.

SUMMARY:
I have a hunch that the writing behind this story is much stronger than the query. You definitely understand what the important elements of a story are, and where they need to be communicated here. So that's the hardest obstacle overcome.

Unfortunately, I know if agents read this they would have the same concerns I do that there might be issues with a passive protagonist, or passive writing. But your premise is great, so I suspect you'd get requests anyway. So you need to make sure your pages sing. And, if applicable, switch the focus of your query markers at the beginning so Ros sounds like she's pursuing her father's case, because the Police have dismissed her, rather than that she's waiting around to get somewhere where she might be able to look into it, and letting someone else call the shots. 

I believe if you actioned the notes I've offered here, it will combat that. But if you choose not to, maybe Google "passive versus active writing" and get a feel for what you can do to adjust your phrasing as it's currently written. That will help also.

Either way, good luck!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pitch Wars #SaltyCrit - First 500 Words Mentor Critique

(If you're looking for it, you'll find my Pitch Wars bio and wishlist here)

A couple brave souls agreed to have the critiques they won from me last week posted on my blog. Let's give them a hand, shall we?




The first is a YA fairy tale retelling from the irrepressible (and very funny) Amelia Hollingsworth. She's @AmeliaHWorth on Twitter. And you can find her blog here where I believe she'll talk about the process of being critiqued, and the revisions she undertook based on this advice.

Now for the critique!


CHAPTER 1

"A spell from the North by the looks of it." Cook’s hands shook as she gathered a few tarts, some cheeses, and a loaf of bread. She took the dish cloth draped reliably over her shoulder and laid it in the center of the table.

I love being dropped into the action without preamble, but because Cook isn't your MC, I think you either need one sentence immediately before this putting Kate in the setting (Like, she's looking around to see if anyone is looking for her, or maybe standing in the kitchen at a fearful loss, which also lets us see where she is), OR you need Kate's immediate emotional response to Cook's words with the same kind of setting details. You have all the right character details, but we're getting them in an emotional and setting vaccum until we get a couple paragraphs in. Setting is CRITICAL to your opening sentences.


Kate’s voice was tight between her sobs. "Can it be undone?" She watched Cook wrap the lunch in the cloth.

"Black magic can always be undone, Katy." Cook's fingers fumbled as they tied up the parcel. She placed it in Kate’s open hands.

In everything above, give us a touch of sensory detail—the callouses on Cook’s hands, or the smells of the kitchen.

Perhaps Kate feels cold and you can give us her pebbled skin, or something like that? 

Whatever it is, don’t wax lyrical. But drop in one detail with each blocking action to make it all feel real.


"How?" Kate asked.

"I don't know,” Cook said, shaking her head. “You'll find a way, though. I'm sure of it. But now you need to run." Cook took Kate by the shoulders. Tears threatened to run down her cheeks and fear creased deeply in the wrinkles around her eyes.

These details are telling. Instead, show the glint of a tear slipping down her cheek, or the tightness around her eyes that are normally so warm.


"You're not safe here. You need to run now. Far away. Understand?"

The hot summer air swelled inside the kitchen.

While I think I know what you're going for, I'm not sure, which means I can't feel it. Better if the heat begins to suffocate her so she can't breathe, or the smell of the damp stone turns her stomach. Make it clear, and sensory. Do you see what I mean? Figure out the most powerful sensation of the moment, and describe it through Kate's skin/senses.


Annie bleated softly at Kate’s side. The smell of the surf lingered in the air, and the sound of the waves hummed in her ears.

This is really close. But be specific. Instead of "smell" and "sound" replace with "salt" and "pound" or something like that. (and in my opinion, you want to give the sound/sense of the sea before this so it's part of the setting details right at the top because you can work with that a lot to ground the reader).


Away. Far away from ocean breezes and white sand. Far away from her mother and stepfather. Far away from the warmth of Cook’s kitchen and the comfort of the court. And farther away still from her stepfather's influence and friends. Away. Until the memories of home—and the stories—were all that remained. Kate nodded.

All good stuff that hints at the conflict.


Cook let go of Kate’s shoulders.

Telling again. Let the rough skin of Cook's palms catch on the fabric of Kate's sleeves as her hands slip away (or whatever). The point is, make us feel it rather than just understand the blocking.


"I'll find another lamb to serve for dinner. That should buy you a little time—”

Annie bleated impatiently.

“A very little time,” Kate repeated aloud.

Is Kate repeating what Annie the goat said? If so, make that a little more certain for the reader. You can do that by having Kate look at her with a nod, or something to acknowledge the animal so we know for sure what's going on there. If not, then the use of "repeated" is confusing. Just have her answer without a tag, or the tag could be "agreed" or something like that.


Memories unraveled with use. Poor Kate had used the memory of their flight from home until it was a threadbare story that haunted more than it consoled.

I understand that this is important, but I don't understand what it's actually saying. Is it literal--that memories are a tool she uses for magic? Or figuratively something she uses as a coping mechanism? This needs to be very clear. Especially this early, your world building is crucial. If memories are how she fuels her magic, you need to state that outright. Every moment the reader is trying to figure something out, they aren't falling into your story.


“I’m sorry, Annie.” The white lamb stood in the mountain road, chewing on the hem of Kate’s cloak. “Our story is so thick sometimes…”

Wait, I’m confused. I thought they were in the kitchen? And I thought Kate was talking to Cook?


Annie stared up at Kate with her obstinate, big brown eyes.

“I get lost in it.”

The lamb tugged at her rope and bleated angrily.

Kate ran a hand through her tangled tresses. “Yes, I know you don’t like the rope. But as I said before, it’s for appearances only. I promise.”

This is one of those moments dialogue has the right content, but is phrased in a way that feels unrealistic. Give it some thought: We rarely say to someone else "I know you know this thing but I'm going to tell it to you anyway." When we know someone knows something, we either don't refer to it at all, or only obliquely. So that phrase "I know/you know" is a huge red flag to me that THE AUTHOR NEEDS TO TELL THE READER SOMETHING HERE. The fix is simple though. You can trust the reader to understand if you SHOW it. Have the lamb butt the rope with her nose, and Kate respond as if that was the words "I don't like this." So, Lamb butt rope with nose and bleats angrily:

"It's only until we get to X, Annie. People will ask questions otherwise." (Or something like that that's accurate to what you want the reader to know.) With a simple sentence you can clue the reader in to Annie being different, Kate understanding her, and that they have a relationship much more of equals than of master/property.


Annie snorted and headed straight across the lawn toward the manor. Her hooves carefully picked out the driest tufts of grass.

“You have to promise not to give us away,” Kate told her. “You remember our plan?”
Annie looked back at Kate, and bleated. The rope was now taut.

This is all the right indicators, but it feels a little too pointed. A touch too obvious the author’s talking to the reader. Consider what you’d actually say/do if you were in her shoes and din’t know you had an audience? You’d probably mutter something about not giving us away, or scold. But presumably they’ve had this conversation already, so “you have to promise” and “you remember…?” sounds a little forced. Try to make it more organic and trust the reader to understand what you’re showing them.


“Yes, I’m coming,” Kate said. She stood up and shook the dust off her trousers and cloak.

The manor house, planted stoutly at the end of the lawn, would have been considered a castle if it had taken more architectural risks. A palace perhaps, if it had more finesse and subtlety. But the lines of the manor paralleled the plateau and hugged the safety this rare bit of flat land offered.

"Slow down, Annie." Kate tugged on the rope tied around Annie’s neck.

Because we have a cut off, you might already have done this in the upcoming material, but after “land offered” I’d put in Kate’s intention. You’ve just given us a nice block of setting so we know where we are. Now show us what Kate wants, where she thinks she’s headed, and why. Character intent and motivation drive your story. They have to be the launching point for everything else.


SUMMARY:

There’s some really solid writing and story elements here. It’s clear you know your characters and what they need to be doing/showing the reader. While I’ve nailed you on the sensory detail, it’s because the rest is strong. So now you need to finesse the characters and action you have with stronger setting and character intent. I think if you work on that throughout your manuscript, you’ll be surprised how much stronger it gets, even without any changes to plot or character arc.

I hope this is helpful, and I hope I get to see more from you in the future. Thanks for being such a great sport!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PICK ME, PITCH WARS! My YA Mentor Bio and Wishlist

YOU GUYS! IT'S PITCH WARS TIME!

I'm Aimee L. Salter, the author of Every Ugly Word (an Amazon #1 Book for Teens) and Dark Touchboth through Alloy Entertainment's newest traditional imprint. I'm a YA mentor, and I can't wait to fall in love with your book!

This video gives you a pretty clear idea how I work, what process I'll take a mentee through, and what's important to me. But before you spend the time with that, scroll down. Below this video is a list of things I don't want as a mentor. If your manuscript or process fits that list, then you can move on without me wasting your time!



I'm committed to offering as much information to potential mentees as I can at each step (including letting all applicants know if they're in the running before the announcement date--keep reading to see how). But I don't want to waste your time if we aren't a good fit. So first, let's figure out if you shouldn't apply to me:

I'm *NOT* the mentor for you if:

You're querying . . . 
  • An adult, NA, or MG novel. (I will consider YA with NA crossover.)
  • Anything with a tragic ending (All the Bright Places ruined me.)
  • Anything with a character battling cancer (too close to home in my personal life.)
  • YA Horror (or anything with more than a couple scenes of gore.)
  • YA Mystery/Thriller/Suspense (only because I don't have enough skills to help with plotting.)
  • YA High Fantasy or Science Fiction.
  • YA Historical--with the exception of Regency Romance (See below for more info).
  • YA Speculative Fiction--with the exceptions of romance-heavy paranormal, or magical realism (see below for specifics, but be certain that I'm not the mentor for urban fantasy/creature-centric worlds.)
OR: 
  • If you're a committed pantser who doesn't like to outline, plan revisions, or use craft/structure to mold your story. Because all of my advice is going to center around how your novel can be refined by established story development techniques. (Check out some of my old blog posts on story structure and character development to see what craft approaches I advise writers to use to refine a story). 
Still reading? Awesome! Here's a little get-to-know-me video. But if you can't watch, don't stress!

All the information you need about my wishlist and preferences are written below. And I'm happy to take questions in the comments, or on Twitter (I don't bite, promise.)


I *AM* the best mentor for you if:

You're querying . . . 
  • YA Contemporary Romance, including those with NA crossover. (My favorites are The Sea of Tranquility, My Life Next Door, and Saint Anything.
  • YA Dark Romance Think Heather Demetrios's Bad Romance, or a firmly YA version of the Dusty duology, Innocents and Delinquents. (If you're not clear on what defines Dark Romance, check out the free Kindle sample of my book, Dark Touch. In short, it's when romance drives the plot, but the character(s) are dealing with extreme issues which are depicted in the story--abuse, addiction, crime, etc. NOTE: To be a romance, it can't have a tragic ending.)
  • YA contemporary "issue books" My favorites are my book, Every Ugly Word (though I may be biased), We Need to Talk About Kevin, 13 Reasons Why, and All the Rage by Courtney Summers. An issue book should have something to say to help readers understand an important issue, without preaching. Personally, I like to see a romantic sub-plot. But I will accept issue books without one.
  • YA Magical Realism I write these too! Read the free kindle samples on my books to get a feel for how magical realism works, (in short, it's set in the real world with a single, fantasy or magical element--usually a magic or power only accessible to the protagonist). Yours doesn't have to work like mine for me to enjoy it. Another excellent example is mentor Katy Karyus Quinn's Down with the Shine.
  • YA Paranormal Romance where the characters live in the real world, but there's a magic or power wielded by humans, not by creatures or fantasy elements. Good examples are Beautiful Creatures, or The Love that Split the World. (I am not the mentor for your creatures--vampires, werewolves, shifters, dragons, etc--however I will enjoy humans wielding dark powers as the antagonistic force).
  • My outlier is YA Regency Romance It must be genuinely witty, a la a YA version of Julie Anne Long's Penny Royal Green books--my personal favorites are How the Marquess was Won, I Kissed an Earl, and To Love a Thief. This is a harder sell, so don't send these to me unless you've really done your research, your manuscript is very polished, and your voice is funny!
  • Romance-centric anything as an #ownvoices, or young writer (under 25 years old). I'm always eager to assist these writers. So if you fit one of those categories and your book is a romance (i.e. the romantic relationship drives the plot), or has a strong romantic sub-plot, please send it to me!
AND:
  • You're an author who genuinely desires to work hard on a technical level to refine and improve your story. To my mind that means you regularly invite constructive criticism from people who aren't friends/family, and seek out opportunities to learn about the craft of fiction. Your book has been critiqued before, and you know the value of having someone else identify story flaws.
If you're still reading because you and your book might be a fit for me, give me a few minutes to tell you about myself, and why I can help you:


What I Can Do For You:

1. You'll (yep, that's my blue word) know ahead of the announcement if you're in the running to be my mentee (or not)

I'll be on Twitter a lot as I go through the process of narrowing down my pick. Yes, I'll tease, especially with queries. But I'll also offer solid, practical advice to help all potential mentees

Once I narrow my choice to 2-3, I'll be corresponding with those people to ensure I've got the right vision for each project. 

I'll announce on Twitter as soon as I know for sure my mentee is in that pot, and I'm not requesting any further materials. So if you follow my feed, you'll know if I'm going in a different direction before the announcement date. (Or, if you're under consideration, you'll hear from me directly). 


2. I have studied the craft of fiction, so my critiques aren't guesswork--but I respect that it's your book, and your vision:

Fear not! I won't steal your creative mojo. I've just learned that all stories can be improved by known strategies, and all of my advice will revolve around the structures and techniques I've learned through study. Check out the first 500 word critiques on my blog for some indication how I would work with your manuscript.
    I plan to do at least two rounds of review with my mentee (an over-arching edit letter, followed by line edits.)

    THINGS I'M GOOD AT: 

    - Pacing
    - Character development.
    - Romantic plot/sub-plot development and pacing.
    - Emotional connections with the reader.
    - Plausibility. Or the lack thereof. (I have a finely-tuned BS-o-meter. You won't get thinly veiled plot vehicles, or unrealistic character reactions/motives past me).
    - I'm also a naturally wordy writer who's learned to cut-down word count without losing story.

    But, the good news is, I won't just identify the negative, I'll also highlight what's working.


    3. I'm in this for the long-haul, and I'll always be honest with you

    We'll need to work really hard if you want to take the next step in your career. We'll set agreed deadlines for revisions, as well as refining your query. But I'm also here for you down the road with advice on everything from how and when to nudge agents holding your material, to how to conduct yourself on social media in a way that will appeal to publishers. 

    If we work together, I will do everything in my power to help you, even if we aren't successful through Pitchwars. 


    4. I understand what it feels like to be where you are, and I will be your cheering squad: 

    I was a Pitch Wars mentee and didn't get in.

    I got an agent in 2010--who left the industry in 2011. I got another agent in 2012 who later became an internationally bestselling author and stopped agenting. 

    I got my first publishing contract as one of three flagship publications for Alloy Entertainment's new PbA imprint in 2014 (then got a contract for a second book with them which was released last year). But I haven't had a new book out in over a year. 

    I know the ups and downs of this industry, (my own, and others with different stories) and I'll share my knowledge and experience with you. My advice will always be geared towards helping you take the next step--or finding someone who can, if you go further than I have!

    If you still have questions or need clarity on any of these points, I'm answering questions on the NEW Pitch Wars forum! My "Ask Me Anything" thread is here. Or you can tweet me.

    (Scroll down for query advice, or for the other mentor links to move on to the next blog.)

    I think that's everything! Jump on my Pitch Wars forum post linked above, or tweet me with your quesitons (I'm @AimeeLSalter - don't miss the "L" in the middle, it's easy to do). I'm here to help!

    And whether we work together or not, I'm really glad you're a part of Pitch Wars, 2017. It's an AMAZING community, and you're going to grow as a writer because of it.

    God bless,

    Aimee


    Query advice:
    The best query gives me a stunning blurb of no more than 250 words, followed by a brief summary of what is important to you in a mentor/mentee relationship.

    A "stunning" blurb, in my opinion...

    ...WILL: Introduce protagonist, antagonist, what's at stake, where the conflict lies, and ends with a sense of specific, impending doom. (i.e. I should be able to describe what will happen to the character if they don't succeed in their quest--or if the antagonist succeeds in theirs.) 

    ...WON'T: Try to introduce the whole cast, explain deeper themes, or summarize your twist ending. And definitely isn't vague.

    Example of vague, "Sarah's darkest secrets rise as she grows closer to Ethan and threaten their relationship . . . " Example of not-vague, "Sarah's trauma over the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father makes intimacy with any man feel impossible . . . " That's not a great example, but it gives you an idea of what I mean.)


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    Monday, June 5, 2017

    FINAL Pitch Wars Mentor Critique 22 - First 500 - YA Fantasy

    To skip directly to the material and critique, scroll down to the star divider line. If you'd like to know how I break down a critique, and what I'm looking for, keep reading:

    To help the authors as much as possible, I've critiqued their full first chapter, however I'm only sharing the first 500 words as these can get quite long.

    When critiquing a first chapter, (especially the first 500 words), I'm always searching for these pieces of information. A great book can include all of them right up front. Sometimes one or two need to take longer. But in the first page, or two at most, I should see at least three of these:

    Who is the focus of the story?
    Where are they?
    When is it (i.e. what era--is it today? two hundred years ago? not sure?)
    What are they doing?
    Why are they doing it

    And in the first chapter, if not the first 500 words, I want to know what the character's initial goal is. That goal will likely change as they learn more about the situation they're falling into. However, right up front, the character always needs to want something--desperately. And the author needs to communicate to me what that is, and why they might not get it, as quickly as possible. Because that's what tells me why I should care about this story.

    I'm looking for technical expertise--does the author know how to set up a scene? Do they understand backstory and when to include it (and perhaps more importantly, when not to). Is their writing tight and polished, or are there a lot of unnecessary words? Is the author falling into purple prose (over-writing in an attempt to sound good, but actually creating a sense of melodrama which will turn many readers off).

    Beyond that, I'm looking at how I respond as a reader. Am I intrigued? Do I care? Do I want to keep reading?
    So, with all those elements in mind, here we go...

    ********************

    ORIGINAL MATERIAL:

    Not even the summer rain in New England was warm. I was soaked to the bone, chilled through completely. As the reality of the choices before me weighed down on me, a jolt of panic hit me, shivering through my every cell.

    It had been over a month since my mother or better yet, the incubator kicked me out in a drunken rant. I could continue going from couch to couch, or I could head to Boston, where Ms. Mullers, a teacher I’d known my whole life, promised I could receive the help I needed. The terror had not quite settled in yet, sitting instead on the precipice, where it been for the last week. I pulled out my phone and leaned over it, desperately trying not to get it wet. It was already falling apart.
    It was 10:45 p.m. and Tracy, my best friend since the third grade, still hadn’t shown. If she didn’t appear in the next few minutes, I was getting on the Peter Pan bus.

    The bus station was old; it had not been remodeled since the 1950’s. Large, rusty holes gaped in the awnings hanging from the back of the building over the front of the buses. The rain poured through them, giving no cover from the weather. A single streetlight on the side of the bus station blinded me, so I shielded my eyes searching for any signs of Tracy. All the windows in the surrounding buildings were blacked out.  

    “Izzy,” Tracy called as she stepped out of the passenger side of her brother Eric’s car. She hurried towards me, slashing through the rain puddles.

    “Really Trace? You had to involve him?” I huffed under my breath with what I hoped looked like a smile.

    “If that smart ass grin has anything to do with me being late, blame Eric,” she said when she reached me.

    “I wasn’t sure you were coming.”

    “Izzy, I wasn’t missing good-bye. You’re my best friend.” Tracy took a white envelope folded in half out of her back pocket. “This is from Mom and Dad. They don‘t like this, but they want to make sure you’re going to be okay, plus they paid off your phone for the year.”

    “Trace,” I tried to interrupt her, but it was no use; it never was.

    “This is from me. It’s no big deal, but it’s something you can use,” she said as she handed me a small wrapped package. Tracy twisted her neck toward Eric “Um…” She sucked her lips in with a gulp of air. “Eric wants to talk to you… Alone.” Tracy’s face scrunched up.                          

    She knew how I felt about Eric and all that went with him. Did I even want to talk to him? Yes!

    “Okay.”

    Tracy’s arms wrapped around me and I wasn’t sure I was going to let her go. But I had no other choice. My other option wasn’t a choice; it was hell. I had to move on and Tracy knew it. She knew if I didn’t get out, I’d be dead in a matter of time.


    CRITIQUE (My words in red font)


    Not even the summer rain in New England was warm. I was soaked to the bone, chilled through completely. As the reality of the choices before me weighed down on me, a jolt of panic hit me, shivering through my every cell.

    In concept and content, this is a solid opening. However, it’s over-written. Trust your reader. Your words are coming across as over-dramatic, rather than simply dramatic. Stark will work. Don’t push yourself. Consider what words you’d use if you were thinking to yourself about how cold you are. I doubt “my every cell” would be on the list. And statements like “the reality of my choices” have the weight by themselves. You don’t have to add “weighed me down” to get the idea across. In fact, the sentence is more powerful without them.


    It had been over a month since my mother or better yet, the incubator kicked me out in a drunken rant. I could continue going from couch to couch, or I could head to Boston, where Ms. Mullers, a teacher I’d known my whole life, promised I could receive the help I needed. The terror had not quite settled in yet, sitting instead on the precipice, where it been for the last week. I pulled out my phone and leaned over it, desperately trying not to get it wet. It was already falling apart.
    It was 10:45 p.m. and Tracy, my best friend since the third grade, still hadn’t shown. If she didn’t appear in the next few minutes, I was getting on the Peter Pan bus.

    This is good! Your voice shows without melodrama, and the choices/stakes are here. Well done.




    The bus station was old; it had not been remodeled since the 1950’s. Large, rusty holes gaped in the awnings hanging from the back of the building over the front of the buses. The rain poured through them, giving no cover from the weather. A single streetlight on the side of the bus station blinded me, so I shielded my eyes searching for any signs of Tracy. All the windows in the surrounding buildings were blacked out.  

    This is a really solid setting description. I’d move it right to the front because it grounds us, then move into the cold/choices paragraph (pared back). I think you’ll be surprised how much more compelling it is to a fresh reader who doesn’t know your story, because it makes them feel like they know where they are immediately, which helps their brain fall into the story more quickly.


    “Izzy,” Tracy called as she stepped out of the passenger side of her brother Eric’s car. She hurried towards me, slashing through the rain puddles.

    “Really Trace? You had to involve him?” I huffed under my breath with what I hoped looked like a smile.

    A teenager would more likely use “bring” than “involve”. Be really careful with your word usage in YA if you want your characters to feel authentic to the reader.



    “If that smart ass grin has anything to do with me being late, blame Eric,” she said when she reached me.

    “I wasn’t sure you were coming.”

    “Izzy, I wasn’t missing good-bye. You’re my best friend.” Tracy took a white envelope folded in half out of her back pocket. “This is from Mom and Dad. They don‘t like this, but they want to make sure you’re going to be okay, plus they paid off your phone for the year.”

    “Trace,” I tried to interrupt her, but it was no use; it never was.

    “This is from me. It’s no big deal, but it’s something you can use,” she said as she handed me a small wrapped package.

    Aren’t they standing in the rain? Make this all really grounded by showing them squinting against raindrops, her pruned fingers as she reaches for the present, etc.


    Tracy twisted her neck toward Eric

    Consider what a twisted neck looks like, and how different that is to turning her head. Don’t try to get clever with body language. Just tell it like it is so the words aren’t noticeable.


    “Um…” She sucked her lips in with a gulp of air. “Eric wants to talk to you… Alone.” Tracy’s face scrunched up.                          

    She knew how I felt about Eric and all that went with him. Did I even want to talk to him? Yes!

    “Okay.”

    Ooooooo, great romantic intrigue.


    Tracy’s arms wrapped around me

    You missed an opportunity to ground the reader here—if her clothes are wet and she’s cold, she’s going to notice her clothes plastering against her, maybe feel nervous about her friend getting wet, but also welcome the warmth.

    and I wasn’t sure I was going to let her go. But I had no other choice. My other option wasn’t a choice; it was hell. I had to move on and Tracy knew it. She knew if I didn’t get out, I’d be dead in a matter of time.

    “In a matter of time” sucks the power out of the statement because it makes the ending vague and possibly avoidable. Stop the sentence at “dead” for maximum impact.



    SUMMARY:

    Your opening paragraph does your writing an injustice. You’ve got solid writing here and, though you’re missing some chances to make the most of maximizing the power of your opening, all the right elements, conflict, stakes, and character intent that are so much harder to teach than line editing your own writing.

    Be encouraged: You don’t need to change any of these pages, just cut back on melodrama, and use more setting detail to make it all feel real to the reader.

    A couple chapters in, once the reader’s fallen into the story and feels like they’re coming to know your protagonist’s voice, there’s less need for consistent setting/sensory detail. But right at the beginning, when the reader is still aware of reading, you need really succinct, tangible details to bring the reader’s brain into that sweet spot where the world and people feel real and they forget they’re reading and are just seeing it all play across their mind.

    It won’t take much work to make these opening pages pop and serve that purpose for you, so don’t go overboard in your revisions! If you can offer more sensory detail, and pare back on purple-prose, you’ll have very strong opening pages. And because I’ve read ahead I know it just keeps getting better from here.

    Well done!