Favorites of 2016

I managed to reach my goal of reading 50 (published) books this year.

(I find it necessary to clarify that these are published books only because I do read a lot of unpublished work for my critique partners, beta buddies, Pitch Wars mentee, and other writer friends. Often, these books would hit my favorites list as well, if they were published.)

Granted, some people have goals that blow my mind (200 books in a year? How is that even possible?), making my meager 50 seem like chump change. But still. It's a number I'm proud of.

My favorites? Good grief, there are so many. At one point it seemed that I gave everything I read 5 stars on Goodreads. And I meant it. 2016 was filled with some great, great books. Here are my top 10 fiction favorites, with a bonus non-fiction that I couldn't resist adding.

 
I'm not usually a fan of high fantasy, but occasionally, I'll get the itch. And man, oh man, this book was exactly what I wanted. CROOKED KINGDOM and its predecessor SIX OF CROWS was one of those wild rides that I couldn't look away from. I went out and bought all the fantasy I could find after reading this.

I'm not usually a fan of high fantasy, but occasionally, I'll get the itch. And man, oh man, this book was exactly what I wanted. CROOKED KINGDOM and its predecessor SIX OF CROWS was one of those wild rides that I couldn't look away from. I went out and bought all the fantasy I could find after reading this.

My favorite love story of 2016 by far was THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR. I actually hugged this book when I finished the last page. Totally not lying.

My favorite love story of 2016 by far was THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR. I actually hugged this book when I finished the last page. Totally not lying.

 
Dude. You will FEEL the 1920s in your soul after reading this book. Plus, it's got magic, underground gin joints, wise guys and Irish mafia. What more could you want? 

Dude. You will FEEL the 1920s in your soul after reading this book. Plus, it's got magic, underground gin joints, wise guys and Irish mafia. What more could you want? 

Dude. Talk about epic love stories. THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD was one of my first reads of the year and it has still stuck with me as if I read it yesterday. What a beautiful, beautiful story.

Dude. Talk about epic love stories. THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD was one of my first reads of the year and it has still stuck with me as if I read it yesterday. What a beautiful, beautiful story.

 
 
The greatest feel-good story of 2016 for me was HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE. Also, an adorable romance.

The greatest feel-good story of 2016 for me was HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE. Also, an adorable romance.

 
THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS chronicles the minutes of gripping fear for four different characters during a school shooting. I cried and cried and cried. That's all I can say. Also, Marieke Nijkamp is one of the coolest, kindest, warmest, and most welcoming authors in the writing community. That she's found success with her debut makes this read so much sweeter.

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS chronicles the minutes of gripping fear for four different characters during a school shooting. I cried and cried and cried. That's all I can say. Also, Marieke Nijkamp is one of the coolest, kindest, warmest, and most welcoming authors in the writing community. That she's found success with her debut makes this read so much sweeter.

 
 
FIRSTS was, coincidentally, the first book I read in 2016. It was all at once hilarious, sexy, sad, and important. I loved its messages of sex positivity and valuing oneself.

FIRSTS was, coincidentally, the first book I read in 2016. It was all at once hilarious, sexy, sad, and important. I loved its messages of sex positivity and valuing oneself.

AMERICAN GIRLS is an analysis of the crazy LA/Hollywood world of vanity. It weaves everything in with an analogy to the Manson Family desperation and craziness. Couldn't love it more.

AMERICAN GIRLS is an analysis of the crazy LA/Hollywood world of vanity. It weaves everything in with an analogy to the Manson Family desperation and craziness. Couldn't love it more.

 
 
THE PASSENGER was my favorite adult fiction of 2016 by a mile. It has the high level of suspense as in GIRL ON THE TRAIN, but with tons more twists and turns. You don't know what's coming next, all the way through to the final page. I enjoyed it so, so much.

THE PASSENGER was my favorite adult fiction of 2016 by a mile. It has the high level of suspense as in GIRL ON THE TRAIN, but with tons more twists and turns. You don't know what's coming next, all the way through to the final page. I enjoyed it so, so much.

And my bonus non-fiction favorite of 2016......

All the feels. ALL THE FEELS. My emotions were all over the place while reading THE NEST. I was so invested in these crazy, flawed characters. Also, loved the shout-out to my hometown in the book. 

All the feels. ALL THE FEELS. My emotions were all over the place while reading THE NEST. I was so invested in these crazy, flawed characters. Also, loved the shout-out to my hometown in the book. 

 
Every YA writer should read this book, regardless whether  the book they're writing involves sex and/or sexuality. Also, every parent of a teenage girl should check it out. It was thoughtful and eye-opening.

Every YA writer should read this book, regardless whether  the book they're writing involves sex and/or sexuality. Also, every parent of a teenage girl should check it out. It was thoughtful and eye-opening.

A Few Words On Creating A Pitch

With the next quarterly #PitMad event happening tomorrow, I thought I'd pull together a list of some useful blog posts and articles on the art of creating a short pitch. Because it IS an art, and it is a skill. But more importantly, it is a skill that can be learned. Yes, some people do have an instinct for it, while others stare at a blank Word page, wondering if another cup of coffee might pull the jumble of thoughts in their head into a streamlined, sensible, coherent, attention-grabbing pitch. And truthfully, even if you are someone who doesn't ordinarily struggle with pitch-writing, you might experience a block on the project in question. Some projects have a more readily identifiable hook, while others are hard to pin down. But with hard work, practice, and some research, you can do it.

Check out some of these articles. I've gone to many of these sites for inspiration.

Nathan Bransford: How to Write A One-Sentence Pitch

Brenda Drake: 35-Word Pitches and Twitter Pitches Simplified

Rachel Gardner: Pitching Your Novel 

Traci Chee: Pitch Structure 

Diana Urban: How PitMad Helped Me Get an Agent and Tips For The Next One 

Best of luck! 

As Pitch Wars 2016 Comes to a Close...

A Word to the Pitch Wars 2016 Mentees:

You made it through. You took the risk and brainstormed with your mentor until you wanted to throw the manuscript at the wall. You worked like a dog with the faith that your story would one day be better.  Some days you were so inspired you wanted to forget about daily responsibilities (and the notion of leaving your pajamas and laptop) and just keep revising. Some days you wondered whether this monster in your documents folder was an even bigger mess than it was before. But after all these ups and downs, you persevered. In the end you bravely showed the world your beautiful, polished creation.

Whatever the outcome in the Agent Showcase, whether you won the whole damn thing with twenty-something agent requests or walked away with zero…

you’ve already come out a winner.

I know, I know. It’s cliché. And I’m willing to bet more than a few of you are rolling your eyes at me. (How dare you.) But hear me out. There’s a reason such a dopey saying has developed over the generations. Because hard work really does pay off. There’s no guarantee when or how or if success will appear in the way you expected. But it really, truly does benefit you in the end. You’re better off than you were before.

Think of where you were prior to entering Pitch Wars. You were probably hopeful. Perhaps you knew your manuscript needed a boost but you were too close to it to figure out how to fix it. Maybe you were even a little discouraged with the thought of sending out cold queries for the slush piles. A contest like Pitch Wars could solve those problems. Or not. Contests can’t control how hard you work. You do that. And a contest certainly can’t control when or if you send out requested materials or traditional queries. Like most things in life, that’s all on you. Sure, this industry is fickle and hard to predict. But like all things artistic, you control the creating.

And here’s where you are today: You worked hard on this project and created something that you know in your heart is beautiful. You’ve gotten farther along in your journey than you’ve ever been before.

Congratulate yourself on the progress you’ve made. You owned it and you earned it.

The beauty is in the creating, not in the winning. Give yourself a minute (or several days) to marvel at this lovely creation you plucked from your head and sculpted onto a once-blank page. Perseverance and dedication got you where you are today in this first leg of your journey, and in the next stretch, it’ll get you even farther. I promise.

Crafting a Twitter Pitch

It may seem like an impossible task to boil your book down to 140 characters. But fret not. It's easier than you think, and it comes in handy when all those twitter pitch contests roll around. 

For starters, check out this great How-To article by Carly Watters of PS Literary. A

My own method went like this:

I took the pitch portion of my query (the "meat" of the story, minus the bio/intro stuff). I then cut, cut, cut, cut, getting rid of all the extraneous details, focusing mainly on important plot points, until I had a polished, shorter pitch. Say, about 50 words. I kept that in a separate file for future use. (Some contests will ask for pitches of different sizes, so it's good to have a variety stockpiled.) I then cut that 50-word pitch down to one or two sentences, making sure the conflict and stakes are obvious. (Also, saved that one for future use.) Then, I took my 1-2 sentence pitch and cut out all extraneous words and unnecessary junk (you won't believe what becomes unnecessary when you are desperate to fit only 140-characters). Again, make sure the core stakes/conflict is there.

By way of example, this is the twitter pitch that interested my agent in #PitMad:

Cass forgave her BFF for stealing her forever crush. But an impulsive kiss makes stealing him back an unforgivable possibility. 

Good luck!

Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis

I'm in the throes of drafting a synopsis at the moment, and I'm having a ridiculously tough time following my own advice, which is to relax and take it chapter by chapter. Currently, I'm feeling more frazzled than relaxed. I'm not normally a procrastinator, but man oh man, the thought of jumping back into my synopsis draft right now is unimaginable.

I think my problem is that I normally use my synopsis-drafting as a guide for working on revisions. At this point, however, I'm finished with revisions (for now!) and my current draft sits with my agent.

For those of you struggling with how to start the synopsis task, you might want to take a peek at my recent blog post at Writing With Mentors, where I hopefully will ease your fears.

And if you find any shortcuts (perhaps a Hogwarts-style spell or charm?), do let me know!

Check out Manuscript Wishlist!

My lovely agent, Jessica Sinsheimer, and a crew of talented industry friends worked their tails off to bring you an updated version of Manuscript Wishlist, the eponymous site featuring agent and editor interviews, a collection of #MSWL tweets, and various clever search engines for writers looking to optimize their querying experience.

A post of my own is featured on Manuscript Wishlist. Check it out! I hope you find my querying tips on organization useful. 

Additionally, here are some of my favorite resources for querying:

  • Query Tracker: an invaluable tool where you can keep track of your queries, and also chat with other querying writers by trading submission anecdotes.
  • NYT Bestselling Author Susan Dennard's "How I Got My Agent" series on her blog: Susan's tips are a comprehensive guide to querying, from the query letter to research to organization to the call. Highly recommend giving all four blog posts a read.
  • Publishers Marketplace: This one goes without saying. PM contains a wealth of information on agents, editors, and publishing houses. It's a great way to supplement your research.

Best of luck!