Friday, July 4, 2014

What can Dan Brown do for you...?

I just received, and promptly deleted, another"Newsletter" from folks at YouWriteOn who are relentless in their pursuit of...something. What that is, I don't know. Their hard-to-resist-invitation read:

Read six pages of A Kill in the Morning (by Graeme Shimmin) for the opportunity to win a critique of your opening chapters by an editor from Transworld, publisher of Dan Brown.

Somehow I managed to resist it but it did set me thinking. Even if this were true - and YouWriteOn folks love to stretch the truth until there is but a tiny grain of something resembling reality left - what would you, as an author, hope to gain from this? If your novel is really so good that no agent or editor would be able to resist scooping it up, then you'd not bother with folks at YouWriteOn. You'd be already a Transworld author unsurpassed. If it's merely average, then no amount of editors will help you reach the coveted published-at-Transworld status. 

If anything, having a novel that has not found a home - and I presume here that you shopped it around for a while - read by an editor at a publisher's house, will just confirm the novel's "not-for-us" status and such mediocrity will spread like all rumours that you don't want to travel. Editors do communicate with each other (somewhat) and there is a chance that what one editor read and politely commented on (which is worse than an outright refusal) will find a way to another editor, and another, and another, etc. In essence you'd have doomed your novel's chances even before it got a chance to see many drafts and emerged something strong with a publishable potential.

Thinking that editor from Transworld will open up doors for you is just...not even a pipe dream. It's just plain unrealistic. The only one who can and will open up doors for you is you - and maybe one or two close relatives if they're in the publishing field but that's it. Thinking that any editor-read of your novel will actually give you something useful is...equally unrealistic. The editor might, just might give you one or two lines of encouraging fluff but that's about it.

You might think that you're making "connections" but honestly, you're just giving the folks at YouWriteOn what they need for their promo purposes (not of any work that's yours) and that is "widely-read" tag they will use in promoting their own interests where the author's name and publisher's name stand out as something that is actually partnered with YouWriteOn. In reality, nothing could be further from truth.

Read six pages - and then answer questions via link. How do you know that your answers will remain your own or that you will be credited with whatever review you will write of those 6 pages? If you write something clever, YouWriteOn will appropriate it and use it to shine its false light far and wide. How do you know that your answers will be "submitted" to the contest? Do you know who are the "tech-collectors" of link-question-answer material online? Are there any to begin with?

Oh, there will be a winner but it will be someone who paid YouWriteOn to publish their novel and the author will "advertise his/her good fortune" far and wide. Will there be an editor who will allow the world to know his/her name, and see what they said about whatever first chapters they critiqued? I rather doubt it. Some author who published with YouWriteOn will no doubt crow about his winning edit but I don't even think it will go that far.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against marketing illusions like this one. Many other writing sites propagate them. I'm just trying to understand why would any author who hopes some day to publish his work(s) want to get his chapters edited by any editor at a major publishing house without having a book contract with the said publisher.

Now, if YouWriteOn's "prize" in this read-first-six-pages and answer my questions was a Transworld book contract, endorsed by one of the Transworld editors, then I'd pucker my lips, whistle and turn green with envy. But the only editor I want to read my next novel is the one who acquired it for his/her publisher - in most cases it would be the Senior Acquisitions Editor.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Winning Pitch - The Heirloom coming in 2015 from Vinspire Press

This is the pitch that took more than a year to write. It is a synthesis of no less than 24 synopses, premises and pitches. This one is less than 350 words long.

The Heirloom

Thirty-two year old Dr. Amelia Rimgold is about to testify in a generic drug fraud. Two days before she's to go before the House Committee, she's shot during an intermission at the New York Fowler's Opera. The hit man takes the victim's antique gold locket.  He has a collection of such souvenirs, 'commemorating' his jobs. The locket is an heirloom and once belonged to the victim's ancestor, Rebecca Taylor, executed on September 22, 1692, in Salem. Rebecca had pressed the locket against the octagonal seal on her death warrant and cast her only spell – to protect her female descendants from the kind of persecution and injustice she had suffered at the hands of the cruel and the ignorant. The heirloom does its job and Amelia survives.

But the young scientist still has to give up her life and identity, and becomes the FBI's witness-in-hiding. The hit man, hired by a cartel of pharmaceutical companies, moves on to his next job when the gold amulet begins to exert its power over him. The locket wants to return to its rightful owner. The owner is obligated by the ancestral legacy to keep searching for her heirloom. Trying to convince the FBI agents that forces beyond scientific understanding are at play, Amelia realizes the locket won't let her stay in hiding, as the FBI insists. Even though it means confronting her killer, she chooses to be a part of the hunt. When her FBI contact, Rick Brannigan, takes his bowling buddy Ted Bester to the Maryland sea coast, the last thing the Agency field operative expects is to meet a woman publicly buried as an assassin's victim.

I started summarizing for this pitch and ended up with a 4-single spaced synopsis. A week later that was whittled down to 2 pages. Then I used those two pages to come up with a 500 word pitch. Then I let it simmer for a while but I was not idle. I wrote whatever came to my mind as an "insert" into the last-written pitch. This went back-and-forth for nearly a year before I had a dozen pitches, each less than 350 words and from those I culled what you have above.

Writing summaries, synopses and pitches is very difficult. I find it MORE difficult than writing the actual novel. And each time I come back to a pitch that I left "perfect" I find it lacking. 

No matter how unappetizing, a writer MUST learn to write a succinct, effective and captivating pitch. Don't be afraid to "bolster" your story - if everything is not larger-than-life then the story is not interesting. Whatever you choose to hi-light -- motivation, adventure, suspense, horror, murder, tragedy -- make sure it's sufficiently "larger-than-life" but also make sure you pick only ONE aspect. Do not throw in everything that features in your novel and that drives the characters. Pick the strongest aspect and work it with "interest-catching-big" words. 

Successful Pitches - Mistress of Deceit

Mistress of Deceit - coming in 2015 from Eternal Press.

Winning Pitch

Ambrosia Severn is a gifted but insecure young doctor who has fast-tracked to recognition and academic prestige. She takes a beach-vacation in upstate California and while beach-combing, she sees a naked man walk out of the surf. She had left her cell phone at the villa up on the cliff overlooking the beach, and the only weapon she has is her new metal-detector for treasure hunting. Running is definitely an option but the orthopedic surgeon in her knows that the best collection of limbs and musculature she’s ever come across would outrun her in seconds. She settles for standing still, hoping that she might talk her way out of the situation.

A few hours later, across the dinner table she’s not only facing Niven, the stranger who walked out of the surf naked but a horrendous decision. Niven has just asked her to choose between giving up her life’s work – her achievements, place in the medical research community, her father and her identity – or die.

He is a descendant of Quen star-lords stranded on Earth thousands of years ago. He must protect the beautiful but temperamental young doctor and find out who wants to kill her. His mission directive is simple. Nothing else is because unknown to him the one who wants to kill Amy is Niven’s betrothed. And while some women turn into dragons when they see their fiancĂ© escorting a gorgeous and sexy young woman, Niven’s fiancĂ© really is a dragon.


The above brief synopsis took nearly a year to write - it is a synthesis of many, many synopses and pitches that eventually all ended up in front of me and I went pick-and-choosing sentences - literally - from each to put together what you see above. 

Write a pitch for your novel once a day - or at least once a week - and then after you have about five-six of them, put them on paper, put them on the table in front of you and hi-light what you think is effective in each of them. Then string together those sentences or ideas. You will have to re-position within your frame for clarity and effectiveness, but in the end you will end up with a solid pitch.

Pitches that resulted in publisher's contracts - The Witches of Calamora

This is a "pitch" that I sent out when I was shopping out my latest YA novel, "The Witches of Calamora."
Whiskey Creek Press/Wee Creek Press picked up the novel and I just signed the contract.

I am constantly looking at sites that offer yet another version of a successful pitch. And I have to say, there is no quick and dirty way to write a winning pitch. Whatever is out there, is a mere template - and it is NOT a fill-in-the-character's-names type of template that you could use to "fit" your novel into it. Any template out there is just for you to study, analyse and then try to come up with your own version of it that would apply to your novel.

The Witches of Calamora

We’re all aware of the current interest in YA novels such as Beth Revis’ “Across the Universe,” and also her “Shades of Earth.”  The story in “The Witches of Calamora” is also carried by two characters – teenagers Kitaya and Karin – who are brought together under inhospitable circumstances and slowly forge a friendship that springs from their mutual need to find their place in a vast galactic society that will always be suspicious of those whose brilliant mind and mental talents set them apart from the rest of the populations.  Karin is defensive, angry and relentless in her quest to exact revenge on those she holds responsible for the loss of her family. Her genius intellect helps her hide the flaws that have shaped much of her personality.  Kitaya is younger, more forgiving but paradoxically enough, she was born with the mind whose powers and capability could one day eclipse even those of the frontier gods. And what the frontier gods could do to the galactic human tribes is just too fearful to contemplate.

Much like in Jessica Khoury’s novel, “Origin” the energy beings who have taken on a human form choose to live in a jungle. Their dilapidated fort is as deceptive as the Witches themselves.

Kitaya’s sheltered upbringing, exceptional mental talents and elite education should have assured her a place amongst the frontier gods. But one wrong word and everything she has is taken away. Her mind is blocked, her memories are erased and she is brutally cast out into the world that is more alien to her than the world of the frontier gods would be to the galactic human tribes.

Both girls are survivors with bloody pasts that prevent them from dealing with their trauma. The thirteen year old Kitaya’s weapon is silence, while fifteen year old Karin hides her wounds with genius intellect and scathing sarcasm. Kitaya has pedigreed roots but she was born in the Rimworlds, a savage stellar region that no one wants to see on the cosmic charts. Karin has ancient roots but a tragedy that orphaned her as a child is preventing her from achieving her full potential.

The youngsters’ struggles and hardships, as well as victories over adversity, are given the necessary context whenever the story is carried by their adult caretakers, the self-styled frontier gods. The strife, bickering and malice within their own ranks continue to threaten the fate of the children. 

Do research a few novels that are similar to yours - whether in genre or character's motivation, or history, or behaviour - whatever - but do find a few that are like yours and then compare. Naturally, pick well-known novels or outright best-sellers and fearlessly compare yours to them. Hi-light similarities but be subtle such that you will also hi-light differences that will make your novel more interesting. Don't ever say "better" or anything along those lines. Interesting, fresh, challenging, newer, a different twist, etc, etc. Never put down a published novel, especially one that is a best-seller.

Mention conflict in your novel right off the bat. That's important - conflict, strife, hardships and resolution. Don't give away the ending but do give a hint as to how your characters will be affected and changed by the conflict - whether it's adventure, or suspense, or intrigue - anything that drives your plot. Look up a list of words that you want to use in your pitch and then use them throughout the synopsis. Don't be shy using words like "gripping, spectacular, horrors, adversity, tragedy," and any other hard-hitting word that gets the attention - of the reader and the editor.  

Whiskey Creek Press - another novel contracted

Whiskey Creek Press' Senior Acquisitions Editor, Melanie Billings, emailed me - out of the blue - that the Wee Creek Press, which is the YA line of the parent, would like to publish my first YA novel, "The Witches of Calamora." I'm very excited because I plan to grow up my characters through at least 2 more instalments.

Melanie Billings
Senior Acquisitions Editor  
Whiskey Creek Press

The "Witches" is my first YA novel and it's been in the works for a very long time. I mean you can do only so much between writing thrillers, romance and  suspense; working full-time and taking care of the family. It's science-fiction/fantasy and  the plot synopsis is:

Winter Stars: The Witches of Calamora
YA high magic-fantasy 76,000 words

Thirteen year old Kitaya doesn’t remember living anywhere else but inside the great and forever-changing messy yard that is encircled by a massive wall. Her teachers call it the Calamora Fort. She calls it a home but her friend, Joshua, calls it prison. What the jungle tribes call it depends on whether the frontier gods allow them to see it or not. She knows her parents died when she was a baby, but not who they were, where they came from and that they were murdered.

Her family consists of four hundred and forty three old, bald women with silver eyes and Joshua, two years her senior. The Treetop Witches seeded Kitaya’s mind with kernels of their magic when still an infant. Chances were that nothing would happen, but Kitaya surpassed all expectations. Joshua, however, is an average human boy who is turning into a young man. He too is an orphan but he has never cared much about finding out his roots. The childhood playmates have grown up and lately they like to argue far more than play games. They also don’t make up with just a hug but also a kiss. It is the most dangerous situation that the Witches have ever dealt with.

When Kitaya finds out that the Witches have started to erase Joshua’s memories and seed his mind with new ones that would not reveal their existence, she is angry. Why can’t she have dreams of her parents too? But when a malicious Witch who is scheming to become the new leader of the Order, lets it slip that the girl’s teachers have identified her as the seed of a new magic order the teenager realizes that she will never leave the fort in the middle of the jungle on a dusty little world on the Rim, while Joshua is being sent away.

She can’t stop her teachers from taking away the boy she loves. Her magic is not strong enough. She pleads with them to at least leave Josh the memories of her and their time together. When they refuse, she decides to put a twist in their plan to send Joshua to his kin in the human colonies. All she needs to do is steal his dormant body, hide it with her personal energy cloak and float it through the jungle to intercept the human recon party that finally came after thirteen years to see why a once thriving trading world has all but disappeared off the star charts.

She is not afraid of the predators that live in the jungle. She has learned to take over and subdue their animal instincts. What she doesn't know is that a time-quake has produced an alternate past. There is a whole new set of predators in the jungle and none of them take prisoners.

The Whiskey Creek Press/Wee Creek Press will publish the novel in e-book format but there is a trade paperback option, tough the author must commit to purchase 50 copies. Some might think of this as a catch, but I always buy at least 30-50 hard copies form the publisher, at discounted author's price, to use in my marketing promotions. Goodreads, for example, won't allow e-book format give-always though for the life of me I don't understand why. Flats are a great way to reward your reader and infinitely cheaper to mail out.

Just the other way I was mailing out books from my last contest, trade paperbacks of course, and the one to India cost me nearly $30 to mail out. Considering the e-book retails on Amazon for $6.99 and in hard copy for $14.99, the mailing is a highway robbery.