Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Novel Pitching Notes

Snark alert! I thought I would say this up front so those of you who don’t want to read snarky comments from an editor can find something else to read.

Still here?


Here’s the deal. I want to publish your novel as much as you want me to publish your novel. Pitching isn’t hard, though you might be nervous about doing it. Most authors are lovely, and, even if their pitch is less than stellar, or their writing isn’t spectacular, I can usually tell that they are genuinely doing their best. I love authors like this.

Occasionally, though, and much more often than I’d like, there are oblivious people who send me things which aren’t ready for publication. There are people who send me exactly the same submission that I rejected last week. C’mon people, really? Do you think I won’t notice? Especially after the third time?

There are also people who apparently think the pitching process is not worth their effort, and somehow they seem to expect me to comb through their crap and extrapolate the necessary information I need to make an informed decision about their work.

I won’t.

I just delete these at this point and don’t bother to respond. Anything else is just a waste of my time, and my staff’s time. If they don’t take their work seriously, why should I?

Now, if you are still reading, then you must be one of the lovely authors. So let’s talk about the pitch. Okay?

Why do pitches matter? They matter because acquisition editors, publishers, and agents get tons of emails. The submission process is designed to allow the recipient to get to the important stuff quickly. If all the submissions are set up the same way, the reader has an easier time of it. A clean, well written pitch written by someone who followed directions is a good sign, and the agent or editor will pay more attention to that well-written pitch.

Note that each publishing house has different requirements. Read the directions on how to submit to them. That’s half of it. Seriously. Just follow the directions, and alter your submission according to the requirements of each publishing house.

Tell the recipient of your submission things like: the title, the word count, the genre, and a bit about you. Include your actual pitch. Include whatever pages are listed in the directions. Say thank you. Send.

It’s not hard.

Well, waiting for the response is hard. Yeah, but get used to it.

The most important part of submitting your novel for publication is making sure your pages are the best they can be. A good story, is a good story, and it is the main thing I look for. The second most important part of submitting is coming up with the pitch.

What’s the pitch?

The pitch is a two to three sentence summary of your novel that includes whowhatwhy, and why not. The pitch includes just enough information to intrigue the decision maker. Note that a pitch is not a synopsis which contains all the action, plot, main characters etc. and includes the ending.

There is no specific formula for creating a pitch, but the following may help.

When [1] happens, [2] wants [3] because [4], but [5] must first be overcome before [6].

1 = inciting incident

2= protagonist

3= story goal

4 = motivation of main character

5= obstacle / conflict

6 = Ending

Here’s an example from the Wizard of Oz:

When a tornado deposits a girl in the Land of Oz [1], Dorothy [2] needs to find the wizard who can help her get back home [3] because her aunt is sick [4], but first Dorothy must defeat the wicked witch who wants back her magical shoes, which Dorothy is wearing [5]. When the wizard can’t help her, Dorothy discovers she has the power to get back home, where she has everything she’s ever wanted [6].

You should know your novel well enough to come up with a pitch. If you don’t, then it’s not ready for publication, and not ready to be submitted. Don’t send it. You are wasting your time. More importantly, you are wasting my time.

Next week I should be over my snarky moment and we’ll get back to genre specific topics.


Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Science Fiction Notes

As we continue our exploration (no pun intended, or maybe it is…) of genre specific topics, our focus this week is science fiction.

SF usually deals with topics and ideas set the future, such as science, technology, space travel, time travel, extraterrestrials, and the like. The ability of the writer to create a world which allows the reader to suspend their disbelief is paramount, but like all fiction, writers must infuse writing craft elements or readers will put down the book.

Take special consideration of point of view, description and scene setting, tone and mood, character and motive, plot and structure, and dialogue when plotting out your novel. The SF novel should be about something that happens to someone somewhere, otherwise what is the point?

What makes for good science fiction? This is a tough question to answer, but I will throw some ideas out there for consideration.

A good SF writer creates a world that seems authentic. This may require research into technology and science. Don’t be scared. If you look for it, you can find cliff notes on all kinds of topics. But do your homework. The technology in the created world should seem plausible and realistic. I am not saying that writers shouldn’t or can’t invent some technology for their story, but if they do, it is best to take the time to figure out the details of the technology so that it seems real. The technology may need some explanation so the reader can understand it, but this should happen without coming across as a humongous information dump. No information dumps, please. Info dumps are boring.

The use of magic in SF should be limited, if it is used at all. Magic is for fantasy. Technology and science are for SF. This is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

The SF fictional world should also be complex and multi-layered. It should have a history and culture all its own. The world might or might not include non-human entities, but if non-human entities exist in the world they should be well-crafted. Each character should have a backstory even if the writer does not use that information in the novel. The backstory will help the writer to create characters with more depth. These characters can be human-like, or completely alien, but each character needs their own motivation and reason for being on the page. If the world is future earth, the writer should communicate the differences between the now earth and the future earth. But again, no information dumps. Info dumps are boring.

The plot should by dynamic and intriguing. Conflict must happen. Something must move the characters forward through the story which pushes the characters to grow and change.

SF, like other genres, has plot tropes. When in doubt, do some research and learn the tropes. Unlike romance for example, SF tropes can become cliché and overused. Readers want innovation. If you are not sure which plot tropes are cliché, take a wander around Google and look for SF plot tropes. You will find long lists of tropes. Clichés are not necessarily bad, mind you. Tropes are there for a reason. Just find a trope you like and twist it into something new and unexpected.

Find a theme. Speculative fiction lends itself well to exploring themes, and SF especially so. Theme in SF is usually hidden beneath the story elements and structure, but is important for pulling off a great novel. Think artificial intelligence, or the end of the universe, religious ideas, gender issues, or the effect that technology has on us as a whole, or whatever is important to you as a writer. The possibilities are endless. Infuse the theme in the story.

SF is a complex genre, and there are sub genres of SF. Regardless of what genre you are writing, take the time to learn all the elements writing craft. Writing craft is the thing that makes readers turn pages, and buy more books. And that’s not boring at all.


Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Fantasy Novel Notes

I was chatting with fantasy author Carol Berg earlier today. I asked her about issues that new fantasy writers have.

The thing I see new fantasy writers do a lot is spend so much thought on world building that they ignore adding any depth or logic to their characters. When I am critiquing for writers workshops, I see lots of stock characters, who demonstrate little emotional variety or depth. (They are always angry, always brave, or always evil.) These characters’ actions seem unrelated to personal goals or motivations, and thus demonstrate no internal logic.

This comment reminds me that writing craft is writing craft regardless of genre.

The fantasy genre usually includes some magical or supernatural elements set in imaginary worlds. Usually, the characters in that world are beings from mythology, or they possess the ability to perform magic, or have some supernatural talents.

Fantasy, though, is not just about the world, or about the magic. The fantasy novel is about the overall story, the characters, and the plot. And like other stories and other genres, writers have to consider the story as a whole and ask themselves questions like:

• What is the story about?
• Whose story is it?
• Who is the protagonist?
• Who is the villain?
• Who is the viewpoint character?
• Where does the story begin?
• What is the inciting incident that propels the story forward?
• How does the inciting incident relate to the end?
• Where does the story end?
• What happens in the middle?
• Who is this book for?
• Are there expected tropes with this story type?
• Does the world make sense?

When writing fantasy, it may be best to plan out your plot, and create your magical world before you start writing. You will need to know all the details in advance. The magic should also have some limits to allow for conflict and suspense. Yes, these rules of magic are important and should be communicated to the reader. But, don’t focus so much on the rules that you exclude other important story elements like story arc, and internal and external conflict.

It is easy for new fantasy writers to get caught up in world creation. Fantasy writers create histories, geographies, customs, creatures, and rules of magic. But, they also must make something happen on the page. Characters have to grow. Bad things should happen to create conflict. The story has to be about something.

In other words, it’s not all about the world. It’s about the characters and what happens to them, just like any other novel in any other genre.