Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing the Perfect Pitch

I first wrote this post several years ago about my first ACFW conference. As the annual conference draws near, I thought it'd be fun to revisit this post. I hope it's helpful to those of you who are preparing pitches for those agent and editor appointments!


Be honest. In the middle of the night, during conference season, you've had nightmares of Chip MacGregor telling you he thinks your concept is totally dull and an impossible sell. Nooooo....

Face-to-face rejection. It's every writer's worst nightmare.

I vividly remember my first pitch. It was the 2010 ACFW conference, and I had an appointment with Ami McConnell. Yes, I've always had lofty aspirations. My appointment was the first one after lunch, and I made a point to leave lunch early to join the line of other panic-striken writers. Suddenly the ability to even remember your name had become an asset. "What do you write?" One of us would ask each other. "Who are you pitching to?" The answers were different, but the look in the eyes was (and is) always the same. I like to describe it as that feeling you got waiting outside the principal's office. Even if you knew you had done nothing wrong, he would find something. The assumption was, these people are waiting for us to fail.

That's problem #1.

Editors and agents do not want to see you mentally and socially flailing. Well, at least most of them don't. Just kidding! Remember that these people are in the book business. And the book business doesn't work too well without authors. There's no reason to be afraid. You're looking to enter into a partnership. That's all there is to it. I know it feels like they have your every dream in the palm of their hands, but really, those are in God's. And He has a much better idea who your book will best fit with anyway.

With that in mind, I've created three lists of three things that should help you get your pitch prepared for conference season. I hope you find them helpful!

3 Things to Do Before You Leave Home:

  • Research. Nothing is more embarrassing than pitching your YA manuscript to a publishing house that is currently only buying Amish historicals. And believe me, editors don't like this. If you were them, would you? Do research on your target editors and agents before you leave so that your pitch comes across as intentional. Even just browsing through a publishing house's website and reading a couple of their books can go a long way.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Yes, I know this makes you feel silly. You will feel even more ridiculous if the first time you pitch is in front of your dream editor.
  • Reread your book. If the appointment goes well, an editor or agent is likely to ask you more about the story, but there's no way to really predict what they will ask. In order to keep your answers as natural and eloquent-sounding as possible, before you leave, take note of your major plot points. If someone were to ask you about the major conflicts in the novel, the dark moment, or the character arc, would you be able to answer? What if they asked you what you ultimately hope readers will get out of your book? Why you are a good fit for their publishing house? If you are prepared, your answers to these questions can make you seem golden. 
3 Things to Do During Your Appointment:
  • Be professional. Oh my goodness, I am always amazed by how many people ignore this one. You should treat your appointments as if they are a job interview, because--let's face it, they are. That means even if the appointment does not go as you'd hoped, you still have an opportunity to leave a good impression. Next year's conference might seem like a long time away now, but next year, you'll wish you hadn't burned a bridge.
  • Take a deep breath and introduce yourself. Jumping into your pitch and rattling it off like a 10th grade oral book report project is not a good strategy. You want your appointment to be a conversation, a chance to get to know an editor or agent. Slow down, introduce yourself and maybe even tell them what you write or offer a one sheet before you jump into your longer pitch. Otherwise it's too much for them to process.
  • Take cues from the editor or agent with whom you are speaking. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and politely tried to end it with nonverbal cues, only to have that person continue talking about themselves with no end in sight? Don't be that person in your appointments. Give the editor or agent a chance to think and ask you questions. Remember that your book idea is new to them. They need at least a few seconds to process it.
3 Things Your Pitch Should Include:
  • Goals/forward motion. This can be anything from a new job to a heroic quest to save a princess, but it should be clear what your main character is working toward.
  • Conflict. Conflict is usually the most interesting part of the story, so this is your chance to really "pack a punch" so to speak, with your pitch. Be sure you are very clear what your character has working against her, and don't shy away from using external conflict. "She feels hesitant about dating him," is not a strong enough conflict to sustain a book-long project. "He put a restraining order against her because he thinks she's stalking his children" is a different story. Got your attention, didn't it? (Side note: if any of you have written stalker romances, my apologies.)
  • A compelling hook, using your writing voice. You need a wham! moment to stand out amongst the hundreds of other pitches these people have to hear throughout the day. Sometimes using a question works well. Other times it's just in the phrasing. I would recommend having someone you trust, like your critique partner, work with you on this. Ideally, you want your wham! moment to correspond with your biggest source of conflict. And even beyond that, be sure it reflects your voice. This is the first chance you get to showcase your writing voice, so make it memorable.
You also want to remember to keep these short. It's a good idea to develop both a short pitch and a longer pitch. And when I say "short pitch," I mean short. We're talking, 7 words, ideally. Your longer pitch should be around 3 or 4 sentences. The short pitch should be just long enough to really catch their attention, and then the longer pitch develops the main conflict a bit more. But even the long pitch should not tell your whole story.

What you want to happen in an ideal situation is for your short pitch to lead to your long pitch, which then leads to a one sheet or even a proposal request, and then to your book.

A note on pitching etiquette: Sometimes it can be hard to determine when it is and is not socially acceptable to pitch. Generally, most people tend toward one side or the other. If you're an introvert, you might have to get a little out of your comfort zone. If you are an extravert, you may need to tone it down a little. Remember that editors and agents are human, which means they all have different preferences and moods. If someone is on their cell phone engrossed in what looks like a very serious conversation, or an agent is having a one-on-one with one of their authors, please do not interrupt them. It's considered rude and will really work against you in the end.

That said, on the other hand, agents and editors know you have come to the conference to pitch to them, and some will deliberately hang out in public areas so they can get to know potential authors and clients. In some cases, it can bode well if you recognize your dream editor or agent because it shows you have done your research. You've paid a lot of money and put a lot of effort to come to this conference, so if a good opportunity presents itself and seems like it may even be a God-thing (i.e. you end up on the elevator at the same time), it may be best to seize the chance while you have it.

Here's a normal way to have that conversation: "Hi, I'm Delilah Dopplerfritz. Aren't you _______?" "Yes, I am. Are you enjoying the conference?" "Yes. I'm glad to run into you because I was hoping to have a chance to pitch to you this weekend. Do you have a minute to hear about my book, or are you in a hurry?" "Sure, tell me about it. But make it quick." (Insert pitch.)

It's always a good idea to ask if they have time to hear your pitch if you're not in a formal setting like an appointment or their appointed lunch table. And if they say they don't have time, don't be offended. It's not you. They are busy people!

Above all else, be yourself. You are selling yourself as an author just as much as you are selling your book. Remember that, and it will be easier. 

Your turn! Do you have any pitching advice or funny stories to share? Do you have a pitch you would like input on? Feel free to share it and get the group's feedback!


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preparing for ACFW & Other Writers Conferences

Attending a conference is nerve-wracking.

Let’s face it, you’re taking huge risks by going.

You’ve invested a lot of money: registration, hotel, airfare, some meals, and other incidentals. You’ve invested who you are – by attending you’re joining the ranks of those who have moved from wanting to write, to those who have taken steps to actively chase a dream. You’re risking your heart because you’ve gone public with your dream.

Bundle that with the fact that you might not know many people and you might be pitching the book of your heart to an editor and agent, and suddenly your stress is through the roof.

It’s okay.

Sit back, take a deep breath, whisper a prayer for peace and help.

You’ll be okay.

As someone who’s been in your shoes, and helps those first-timers attending ACFW each year, I’d like to offer a bit of advice.

Pray, pray, pray. If God has lead you to attend ACFW or another writer’s conference, then He has a purpose and a plan for your time there. It may not be what you intend. But pray and ask for His will to be done. Ask for opportunities to serve others – nothing better to take your thoughts off your fears than to focus on others. And ask Him for peace to carry you through the days.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. ACFW has a conference blog that is packed with fabulous advice on everything from how to get from the conference to the hotel, where to find food for Friday’s free night, and how to get ready for that editor appointment. Take advantage of that repository of advice. Get your one-sheet ready if you have time. Polish that first chapter, and have it in your bag for appointments. Have business cards to leave with those you meet. Get your toolbox loaded and ready.

Research, research, research. Take the time to know what the houses you are pitching are currently publishing. How does what you write line up with that? Is it a new niche? Different from current authors? Etc. Google the editors so you can learn what you can. Same with the agents. Some of the agents have blogs. Read them. It is a wealth of information not just about the industry and their firms, but also on personality. You can tell so much from how a person writes for a blog.

Relax, relax, relax. ACFW, at least, is one big family. You may not think you know anyone, but you’re wrong. You’ll spend the conference giving and receiving hugs from folks you’ve met on the loop or first timers loop. Reach out to others with a smile, and they’ll be delighted to reciprocate. At my first conference, the friend and I who had driven down together grabbed a gal who was flying solo for lunch. Before conference officially began, we’d connected in a very cool way.

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. By serving others you will find yourself relaxing, meeting others, and having a great time. There are so many ways to do it that don’t take much from you, but help the conference run efficiently and smoothly.

Rest, rest, rest. Sometimes you just have to skip a workshop because you’re brain is on overload. Or you can’t fathom the thought of another meal surrounded by people. That’s okay. Escape to your room. Put your feet up. Take a bath. Read a book. Do whatever it takes to recharge. We understand.

And at ACFW don’t forget the prayer room. It is open all the time, and the perfect place to escape when you’re rattled and overwhelmed.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Writing as ADVENTURE...and What to Do When It Stops Being One...

This weekend was one of the best of the summer for my family. We attended a Young Life family camp here in Virginia with church friends.

It was a Christian camp that included the Gospel message, great meals, and lots of outdoor fun activities.

Some of these fun activities included: a rock climbing wall, a ropes course, a zip line into the man-made lake...and lots of surprises.

God has been teaching me this year to embrace adventure in my writing life and in my day-to-day life. Its an uphill battle for this gal who prefers everything planned and scheduled and is not a fan of surprises.

My question is...are you still viewing your writing life as an ADVENTURE? If not, WHY? And how do you get yourself back on the path to excitement?

Here's what I learned about the writing life at summer camp....

1) Rock Climbing: The writing life can be a struggle and requires hard work and training. The view from the top makes it all worth it.

"I didn't make it to the top," my daughter's friend exclaimed in frustration.

But I'll bet she will make it even farther next year.

Push until all of you is sore. But the ability to climb is built in the times of weight lifting, running, building endurance for the way up.

To get that moment of adventure looking down from the top, what can you do now?

-Persevere. Keep going even when rejection or other's opinions seem to build up a wall.

-Day-to-day: Each day builds you up for the top. But remember when you are on the top, the view is beautiful but God calls us to the humility of coming down once again.

Don't live for the peaks in your writing life, dreaming of the day when an agent or editor calls you or you win a contest. Live in the daily adventure of building up your writing muscles 1K words at a time. Its not about the race to the top, its about the climb.

2) Ropes course: Everything is easier with a little help from your friends. Slow and steady keeps us ready.

Another important element in our writing adventure is enjoying those he's put in our path and being humble enough to learn from them.

Ropes course makes me a bit shakey. The truth is I get a bit nervous with walking on narrow beams and shaky boards.

-Steady, girl! Keeping our foundation in Jesus keeps us strong when we feel our strength fading or when a tremble comes on.

And remember sometimes we might FEEL that way, but we just keep on going in spite of our fears trusting in the God who walks on water and calms the stormy seas.

Pray, pray, pray about your writing life. Put Jesus first in all your life so you can have a Godly response when trials come into your writing life.

-Have a little help from my friends. Being humble enough to ask for help and willing to use it is essential in the writing life. Our friends are the ones that keep us on the adventure helping us to keep going. Try to find at least one who is supportive of your writing journey, it sure helps with endurance.

3) The old pie in the face trick. Put others first in your writing journey and be willing to find adventure in their adventures.

One of the most fun parts of Young Life camp for the kids was a special carnival they set up one night in the front yard. Impressive feat as the workers set it up during the time we were in worship. The kids earned tickets which they could either redeem for fair food such as fried dough and snow cones OR (the more palatable option) the opportunity to throw a pie in their parent's face. My son and daughter chose the pie, so both my husband and I were covered in whipped cream by the time the night was through. It was lots of fun in a strange way!

-Take a stance of humility in your writing journey. Be willing to put others first, esteeming their journey and their work above your own. Be willing to take a pie in the face and find the fun in it. Putting others first can be fun when you see the joy in their eyes as they rise.

4) The whirlpool: More effort yields more fun in the end and relax and enjoy the journey.

Both tiring and relaxing, creating a large whirlpool in the outdoor swimming area with everyone's participation was fun. You have to push hard against the tide, there were times when I thought I was going to lose hold of my 7-year-old son who I was pulling along. Its hard work pushing against the current. But then comes the fun part. Swirling and floating along the vortex created by all the effort.

-More effort yields a great time! Creating the whirlpool like a book is tiring work and work that requires help. You can't create one on your own, the more people the better. Just like the more eyes on your book, the better the end result will be. Sometimes you must move against the current, doing what is best for you individually. It is hard work to be a writer, and even harder to be a Christian writer. We must swim against the tide hard and not give in to temptation to follow the world's ways.

-Relax and enjoy the ride. At the end and even at some points during our journey it is time to relax and remember why we chose this writing thing in the first place. Writing is exciting and fun! If you stop viewing it that way, maybe you need to take a break to work on something new to renew your joy.

Julia Reffner lives in central Virginia. She is a writer and reviewer for Library Journal magazine. At the site Wonderfully Woven she writes about her faith and life on alternating Thursdays. She is active in ACFW as a Carol Awards Assistant.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Backpacker's Guide to a Writer's Conference

I am sure you are seeing a trend here on the Alley, lately...We are all about the ACFW conference! Actually, from what I can tell, the information we bring here applies to writing conferences in general. This is going to be a pretty practical post, one that I feel comfortable writing after attending ACFW for five years and getting ready to go to my sixth conference next month.

Besides bringing a passion for your story and the writing craft, there are a few "musts" that you should tuck into your luggage...ahem, or backpack...before heading to that next conference.

1. Business cards-  These are such a great tool to have for networking. Not only do you want to exchange business cards with industry professionals, you want to exchange with new friends and colleagues. I have a pile of cards from over the years, and I love looking back through to be sure I connect with those I have met at the next conference. At ACFW, you get a spiffy lanyard with a name tag that will have a pocket to keep your cards in, as well as any that you collect. Be sure that you reload each night of conference so you'll be prepared to hand them out the next day!

What to think about:  

Brand/look: Think about brand--what impression do you want people to get about you at
Last year's card
first glance?  I want my brand to be classic, approachable, and timeless. According to all the cards I have collected over the years, having a picture of yourself is always good. I would be sure to use one that is professional, or professional-looking. I think a card with a casual but professional pose, in a natural landscape helps portray my brand. The one I used last year is the same photo (or from the same sitting) as all of my profile pics across social media. It is important that you are recognizable, and using a similar picture will help... from hardcopies of your business card and one sheet to a blog,  a twitter account, and a Facebook profile when you are "looked up" post-conference.

Content: genre, tagline, blog/website, social media connections, agent. Don't crowd it too much with text. Actually, my card from last year might have too much on it. You can also consider using the back of the card for contest wins, or even the pitch of the book you are promoting. I would definitely suggest that less is more. 

Need a place to get professional business cards? I always use VistaPrint. And usually, I will download my own design. This year, along with one sheet designs, I have my first business card customer! I am going to design her cards so they are exactly what she hopes to convey about herself as an author. 

2. One Sheets- A one sheet is great to have in your appointments with editors and agents.
You can use it as a "cheat" sheet when pitching your novel to them if your nerves are crazy, but most of all, you can set the feel of your story with graphics, tagline, pitch, and a back cover copy. Also, your bio and that "profile" pic that makes you memorable.

What to think about:

Graphics vs. Text balance or flow:  You want to portray the feel of your novel, but not overwhelm the page and make it difficult to read the text. Click here for a past post about creating one sheets yourself.

Which ones to bring?  If you have one sheets from past novels you've written, but are pitching a different novel...BRING ALL OF THEM! During my second conference, I had a stellar one sheet for my current novel at the time--it was the first novel to actually place in a contest. Well, after getting the dreaded advice "this will never sell" that first day of conference, and after bawling my eyes out, I picked myself up, grabbed a different novel's one sheet, studied it quickly, then began to pitch it. And you know what, it drummed up interest. I am so thankful I had that one sheet with me!

Need a one sheet designer? I have been busy preparing one sheets for fellow ACFW'rs, and have a few slots left. Check out my blog here, to learn more about what I offer.

3. One Page Synopsis and Sample Chapters- Sometimes you won't need these, but many times you will. Especially if your story grabs the attention of an editor or agent. At all but one conference I have attended, an appointment included an editor or agent reading my one page synopsis, and even part of my first chapter. BRING THEM...POLISHED, just in case! I have even heard of professionals taking the chapters to read later in their own time during the actual conference. 

4. A nifty organizer for all your stick in your "backpack"...or in the ACFW bag they give you at the beginning of conference (and, usually you get a notepad and a pen too!). Here is the one I use. It's spiral bound, and has several dividers for my different novels' one sheets and materials. I print out my elevator pitch and stick it outside the divider pocket so I can practice.

I am sure there are several other things that people fill their bags with that week of conference. I even know one amazing gal who brings a whole container of homemade chocolate chip share. Yes, I will trade "backpacks" with her any time!

Are you a first-time attendee? Do you have any questions? Have you been to a writer's conference before? Do you have any suggestions?

Hope to see you in a few weeks!

Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Friday, August 21, 2015

So You're Headed to Your Next Writer's Conference...A Guest Post by Andrew Swearingen

Take a deep breath. Stay calm. Don't throw up.

This became my mantra at my first writer's conference, recited over and over like The Little Engine that Could.

Your first conference can feel like your first day of high school. Shuffling around with your binder full of paperwork. Scanning the sea of people, looking for a familiar face. You're trying to find out where your classes are, but you'd settle for finding the bathroom.

And then you come to the appointments. Weeks of compressing your beloved novel into a three page proposal, revising your chapters trying to make them “sing”, and practicing your pitch over and over again...and it all comes down to a series of 15 minute appointments.

Somehow you make it through. You do your best, take your lumps, and hopefully you've learned something you can use to improve your craft.

So...skip ahead six months to a year later. You strut in to your next conference having injected everything you've learned into your book and you're ready to impress somebody. And like the start of the second year of high school, you definitely know more that you did, but you don't quite know everything yet.

Everyone talks about the anxiety of going to your first conference, but having recently attended my sophomore conference, I can tell you that the second go round is no cake walk either.

Here's some stuff to remember for your second conference and beyond.

1.) Higher Highs. Lower Lows.

You're no rookie. You've pitched to an agent before, so you feel confident enough to jump right in. And it's a great feeling when that hook you worked on for months grabs an agent's attention the way it's supposed to. also means you crash and burn that much harder when your awesome pitch fails to get catch the agent's fancy.

I had both of these experiences in the same day at the last conference I attended. No joke. I went from Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic yelling “I'm the king of the world!” to...well, something more like Leo at the end of the movie.

Falling flat on your face never gets fun, but wallowing in it won't help. Get papers together, pull yourself back up, and don't let one set back spoil the rest of your conference.

2.) Do your homework...again.

You probably already have a proposal, synopsis and other materials from your last conference, take the time to look over it again anyway.

You should always be growing in your craft as a writer, which means you'll probably catch something you can improve. Find a stronger verb for the beginning of your hook. Remove an unneeded sentence of two from your synopsis. Go ahead and practice your pitch to your friends again, just so you're well practiced.

Even if it's only been a couple months since you last used them, a quick once over can't hurt anything.

3.) Know Who You Need To Talk To. It's fun seeing friends at these conferences, but you are there to make connections and network with people. Agents. Editors. Other writers. Whoever it is, you need to implement some “strategery” about how you spend your time. It's not a bad idea to have a list, written down or just in your head, of people you need to talk with before the conference ends. This means you may have to cut short a fun chat with one of your crit partners when you see a chance to strike up a conversation with your dream agent.

This also means knowing when not to talk to someone. Don't be the guy who pitches his story in the restroom. Just don't!

(And if the whole “list” thing sounds exclusionary, don't worry. If it's your second conference, there's a decent chance you aren't on very many people's lists either.)

4.) Be a Friend.  Part of “knowing who to talk to” should include taking some time to just be helpful for the people around you. After my bombed appointment, I moped over to one of my crit partners, saying “I think I need a hug.” (Thanks Sarah!) These are the kind of moments good friendships were made for.

Find some poor freshman and take them under your wing. Help calm some frazzled nerves before an appointment. Be there to celebrate when an agent asks to see their full manuscript. Sit with a friend after they just bombed a pitch. Sometimes you don't need to say much. Just be there.

5.) “It's a marathon, not a sprint.” Yes, it's a cliché, but it's overused because it's useful. Conferences are an exhausting couple of days for all of us. So remember....Pace Yourself!

Some people can go the whole conference on no sleep with just a Red Bull and a package of Pop Tarts. Some people. If you're the kind who turns into a zombie without your 8 hours of sleep, then get your time in during the day then retire to your room so you can get that beauty sleep.

You introverted writers may need to duck out for a bit just to get a moment alone with your thoughts. That's fine. Do what you need to do to keep your sanity. Then get back out there.

And on top of all that, do try to Have Fun!

Not only is it a great chance to hangout with friends and other crazy writer people, but also a conference can be extremely stressful. Get a good laugh in, if for no better reason than to get out the jitters.

You'll make it through everything, somehow, having done your best again and taken your lumps again, and hopefully you're still excited to get home and put what you've learned into action.

Andrew Swearingen is a blogger and aspiring Sci-fi writer, living in the hidden kingdom that is Southern Illinois. He  spends his days working for a landscaping company, occasionally working as a substitute teacher, serving in his church's kid's program, and has on several occasions saved the city from robot invasion.

(One of those isn't completely true, but we'll let you guess which one.)

He blogs at and tweets as @WittySwearWords.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why Voice Matters

There was a point in my writing life, early on, that I despised any mention of the word VOICE.

Agents and editors at conferences were all like, "We're just looking for that voice, you know?"

No. No I don't know, is what I and MANY others wanted to reply.

VOICE as it pertains to speaking we can kinda understand. It is the pitches, the rasp, the tone, the dialect, the lisps, all rolled together into a unique voice that is all that persons.

Some voices, let's face it, are easier on the ears than others. It's why some people get voice-over gigs or acting gigs or are able to read for audio books. It's also why some people just---shouldn't.

But unless it is an audio book (which rarely is the author's own anyway), how does voice play into books when you can't hear anything?

Logical minds like mine want to know.

Recently, I read a book. It was a really good book, I read it all the way through in like a day or two, which is rare for me these days due to time constraints. But I soaked it in and missed a LOT of sleep to finish it.

A few days ago, I picked up another book. Same genre. Same very unique, historical time period. Different author. I'd heard RAVE reviews about the book and was really excited to read it.

But I struggled through the first chapter. It wasn't bad. Actually, she is a brilliant author and the story seemed intriguing.

The writer in me took a step back and compared the two.

The difference between the two was VOICE.

The first book was very jagged and sharp. The descriptions were vivid and held punch. It was fast paced and reminded me of a symphony playing a fast-paced piece with huge cymbals and crashes and clangs and loud crescendos and when done, the conductor turns around to take a bow, his hair all a mess from all the crazy playing. It wasn't the story that created this feeling, not all together anyway. It was the usage of words used by the author.

The second book was soft. The descriptions were fluid and languid, beautiful and flowing. Instead of crashing cymbals there where soft dings of a triangle during a ballad that, while it might have gotten serious and faster at some points, the music never lost its softness. Again, it wasn't the story that was soft (it actually was a bit scary and rough at times!) it was the authors voice.

Your voice is what makes your writing unique. It is neither good nor bad. However, the more your voice stands out in a crowd, the more likely it is to catch an eye of an agent, an editor or a reader.

Can you change your voice?

I honestly don't think so. Or at least, I don't think you SHOULD. You are who you are and its how God made you. And that is good. But just like you can go take voice lessens to strengthen your voice, to get your body used to hitting notes spot on, we can take our voice and hone it, add layers of harmony to it.

I made this very poorly done visual because... I'm a visual person, so maybe it'll help someone else too! I showed, kinda like you would see on a sound graph, the two different writing styles I mentioned above. Both of them are unique and different. But both have normal versions of their voice, then toned, amplified, more recognizable versions of voice.

So how do you tone your voice, you ask?

Just like in singing, I think PRACTICE is the number one key.

Get professional HELP when needed. This might be a crit group or an editor or even just immersing yourself in some great writing books.

I also think RECOGNIZING your voice is helpful. Are you an alto or soprano or bass? (I'm not really a singer... so I THINK those terms are right! ha!) Read other books in your genre, then after some distance from your own writing, read your book again. What tones do you hear that are similar and which ones are different? What makes yours stand out from the others? Does it stand out in a GOOD way or a BAD way?

And okay. Some of you are thinking this right now and so am I so I'm just gonna throw it out there.

What about the tone deaf?

You know... the ones who sit behind you in church and screech their heart out but not even one note is on key and you think a dog just howled off in the distance somewhere?

There will... be on occasion... some writers who are tone deaf. They love writing and putting words on paper and it looks and sounds majestic to them but everyone who reads it thinks -- oh dear.

It doesn't mean there is zero hope... but it probably. Regardless, writing is good for the soul and can be super cathartic. So I say WRITE away oh yea tone-deaf writers, just like those sweet, sweet singers. Just---don't expect to be called up on stage for a solo :-) :-) :-)

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of  
Sandwich, With a Side of Romance,  
A Side of Faith
A Side of Hope.

She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Writer's Catch 22-An Epic Situation

Writer's face many moments of not knowing what to do. 
One is deciding if the book is ready for 
an agent, editor, or publisher.

Pushing "send" to an editor/publisher/agent is like walking into a room so dark it feels like a wall is in the way. No light seeping into the narrow space whatsoever. If you take a step forward you'll bang your foot. Who knows what all is in the room? 

Was my story really at its best? Or best enough to get noticed?


Ten months ago I met with an agent at a conference. Ten of my fifteen minutes revolved around the pitch I'd prepared. I looked at the agent and wondered what to say in the remaining five minutes. Inside my folder was a sheet of paper with one story idea--only a paragraph long. That's it. The idea literally popped in my head the Sunday before. In all the hurry to get ready, I printed out the paragraph and stuffed it in the folder.

I get rather tongue-tied when speaking to individuals with the power to say yay or nay. A regular Rain Man. This time, I pulled out the paper and set it on the desk facing the agent. "I have this other idea." I didn't give her a chance to read the paper. Words, ideas, excitement burst out my mouth. I gestured with my hands and no doubt with my face.

The agent listened intently. Her face matched the expressions I projected. When I stopped she paused for a second and said, "Write the book."

"Okay, I will," I said.

And I did.

*The story tumbled onto the page like a snowball soaring down a mountainside. At the end of 75,000 words I reread the first pages and thought, "Nope, needs to be in first person."

*I rewrote the manuscript in first person and loved the clarity it brought to the story. Hint  When we change our minds like that, switching third person to first person and vice versa, it involves much more than switching she to I and her to me. Every word needs to be reread to conform the story accurately.

*I submitted each chapter to my ACFW small crit group. Their eagle eyes detected content issues, grammar issues, spacing problems, etc. I addressed every single one, 
  *sometimes deleting the suggested words, 
  *sometimes changing the words to a synonym, and 
  *sometimes choosing to leave the words.

*While waiting for chapters to be crit, I wrote a full-page synopsis and several other short versions, including a twenty-word pitch size, edited them then set those aside.

*I entered this work in two writing contests. The story was a finalist in one!

*Next I submitted each chapter to a college English student. Her age was a special perk because she fit in the upper range of my target reader. I met with her many times discussing issues. What a godsend!

*While she worked on chapters, I edited the synopsis and the short versions again and worked on marketing.

*With the manuscript in pretty good shape, I sent copies to beta readers who were in the range of my target reader. I received corrections and positive feedback.  

*While waiting for more responses, I sent my manuscript to my kindle. This enabled me to see the story in book form. This fresh look helped me see corrections missed by others. 

I realize this seems like a lot. I confess, I am like a newbie with an energy drink in my system.

To me the work was worth it. I really wanted to invest my time into this story because it seemed to be THE ONE that might succeed.

I wrote an email to the agent from the conference and explained all I had done to prove my sincerity. I included chapter one and the synopsis. 

...But I didn't press send. I stared at the screen. 

Suddenly a sense of doubt and fear overwhelmed me. But--I'm a risk taker. 

This didn't make sense. I did chores around the house while the email sat open on my laptop. I only get one chance with this story and this agent. I reread my message and made a few corrections then walked away again. I can't send it yet. There must be more I can do before I let it go!

I talked with my husband, barely sitting on the edge of the sofa, and asked him to pray with me. When he finished with "Amen", he said, "Send it. You've worked on it all this time. It's ready."

I walked back to my laptop and stared at the black screen for several minutes then clicked the space bar to brighten the image. 

I inhaled and wondered what on earth I was doing. Satan pushed his ugly foot in the way and tried to hold me back. But my husband had prayed for me. 

I dragged the cursor over the word send...then pushed.

One of these times I'm going to have the rest of the story for you. Pepper had her first book published. Amy will later this year. Krista and Cara led the pack. Who knows? Maybe...

What questions do you have?
How can we help you?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Photo Courtesy: - modifications made for this purpose

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter