Re: Being an editor for Pitch to Publication

While I’m still finding my blogging voice, I’m going to jump right in to each topic as loosely as I can. I’m wickedly uptight about a lot of things regarding my writing, so I’ll be sharing my impressions, thoughts, and feelings about each new topic in an informal, casual way as I’m getting my feet wet.

I first subbed to Pitch to Publication in Spring 2015 with a work in progress (WIP) that had only been through a few months of revisions after I finished writing it for NaNoWriMo2014. And boy was it bad! I used to write with third person omniscient point of view (POV) with heavy head-hopping and telling, dragging down my characterization and plot. I spent the rest of 2015 hiring editors and developing my voice in third person limited POV. I was shocked and disheartened in Spring 2016 for my second time entering Pitch to Publication with this manuscript (MS) because I got the exact same feedback this year as the previous year.

What it took a few P2P editors to get through to me was that I had an audience problem with my novel. I took the time to rework it from young adult (YA) fantasy to middle-grade (MG). With the MS MG, I won the very next contest I entered and was encouraged to get querying by judges of the next two contests. While bittersweet at not getting mentors out of these other contests, it was great to hear I had nailed the MG voice and that my book would stop getting rejected for being written to the wrong audience.

When this Fall’s #P2P16 approached, I asked to join the editing side of the contest, grateful to the editors who helped me and wishing to give back to the writing community.

I was seriously nervous to be on the editing side, so I may have gone a bit overboard trying to get my name out there with giveaways and big promises. I was thrilled to get any subs at all, let alone more than 50. While I’ve been pleased with my choices of one YA winner and one MG winner, it killed me to have to pass on so many other projects.

Right after winners were announced, my computer was fried, and it took almost a month to get a system up and running. Feedback is still trickling out to my subs each week, and my goal is to get to everyone before the Christmas holiday.

For #p2p16, I was only accepting MG and YA age groups, looking for stories mainly in the speculative fiction genres of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, with romance acceptable for YA. Overall, I was excited by the submissions I received–only two were from authors with works that were either the wrong age group or a genre I specifically wasn’t accepting.

The most common element in subs I passed on was pages that opened too slow or in the wrong place. While this is highly subjective, and while another editor may have felt differently about the same entries, what I mean is this: When I opened up the pages, I wanted a solid sense of setting, a clear idea of who the main character was, and then for something to happen. It didn’t have to be an action scene or necessarily contain the inciting incident in the first five pages, but I was looking for something relatable to be happening.

To that end, I will end today with a little bit of information and tips I’ve picked up over the years about opening pages:

First Lines–First lines have to do a lot, from establishing voice, seating the story in a certain genre and for a target audience, and be compelling enough to make someone want to read the second sentence. With so much riding on those opening seconds of reading, I understand how much pressure you might be feeling about your opening lines. I didn’t put too much emphasis on opening lines for this contest, but I did give props to authors who nailed their first lines. Each of these authors relied on tight wording, sensory details for setting, and a touch of characterization, with no gimmicks at all.

Voice–Voice is probably the most teased about element in contests, and books seem to either have a good voice or they don’t. What constitutes a good voice? For one, is must be appropriate for the target audience. Does it contain words and phrasing that takes a reader’s breath away? It must compel someone to keep turning pages long past bedtime, or to at least have that kind of draw. Any voice that can do all that is a good voice. And it’s not that you have a good voice or you don’t so much as it might be that you’ve developed yours or you haven’t. It took me a couple years to find and develop my voice, but I feel it was well worth the paid freelance editor critiques I bought and with doing many hours of writing exercises for voice that I found on the web.

Setting–The setting ought to contain sensory elements to establish POV while physical details seat the reader in the time and genre. Opening pages need only enough setting for the reader to picture where the main character is and what he or she is doing. You don’t want to bog down readers with setting details  (Except maybe epic fantasy readers. We’re a strange breed that loves books the size of houses. If we could sustain ourselves on juicy setting details and worldbuilding, I’m sure we would.) because setting is not plot. No, really, SETTING IS NOT PLOT.

Characterization–You know who your main character (MC) is, what she loves, who he hates, or what they want in life. How succinctly can you describe your MC to readers, and can you reveal who they are through dialogue and actions? You can tell us your MC thinks her boyfriend is honest, or you can show it by having him say, “Yes, that dress makes your butt look big.” And how your MC reacts to that honesty will speak volumes about her character.

Plot–The query needs to hint at the plot, the synopsis needs to detail the plot, but in the opening pages, all the plot I really need, what I think most people need, is the plot of the opening scene/chapter. Each scene needs to have clear goals, needs to move the story from one point to another. An opening scene can be an argument with parents or siblings, a confrontation at school or work, or any number of other events you want to open your MS with, but no matter what, and opening scene must have a point.  If I get to the end of a 5-page sample and have no idea how the opening scene relates to the character or the story in a meaningful way, then I (very subjectively!) think of that opening as slow and/or uninteresting, or it may be starting the MS in the wrong place.

Choosing winners for #P2P16 was hard because I’ve been on the other side. I know how let down I felt getting passed over by every contest in 2015 and the first half of 2016 with my NaNo14 WIP. I’m grateful beyond words to have been chosen as a #P2P16 editor and to give back to the writing community by sharing what I’ve learned during my first couple decades of writing. I hope to continue working on this side of future Pitch to Publication events and perhaps other large, writing community events as my publishing career advances.

Thank you for reading, and thanks especially to the hosts, editors, and subs to October’s Pitch to Publication 2016.

Thanks for visiting today. My words won’t always be great, but they’ll always be mine.

-C

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