Pitch Epiphany

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 12:24 pm
lizvogel: What is this work of which you speak? (Cat on briefcase.) (Work)
In my efforts to get back in the query trenches, I'm looking at an agent who has a long and unnecessarily-detailed (yet oddly appealing) submission form. One of the several things she wants, in addition to query and synopsis, is a one-line pitch.

Now, I've never had a good short pitch for Highway of Mirrors. The plot is highly dependent on a lot of character and backstory stuff, and it doesn't reduce down to a sound-bite in a coherent and appealing way. It would be much easier if I was pitching ...And The Kitchen Sink, which I've been known to describe as "a rollicking space-opera adventure filled with everything from ninjas to grues to a cyborg platypus." I'm fond of that pitch; it gives you a good idea right up front of what kind of book you're looking at, and if you want more details, you can always ask.

And then it hit me: That pitch for Kitchen Sink says nothing whatsoever about the plot. You can infer a little about the sort of plot from "space-opera adventure", but who does what where to whom? That's for the follow-up discussion, which is what a short pitch is supposed to encourage. And that's okay, because Kitchen Sink is not a plot-driven book. If you enjoy it, you'll enjoy it for the characters and the settings and the jokes about plural nouns. The plot holds up reasonably well, but it's primarily there as a framework to hang all the other stuff on.

And the same goes for Highway of Mirrors. Okay, not the grammar jokes. But it is not a plot-driven book either; what it's really about is the characters, their interactions, and the MC's ethical dilemma. But popular wisdom declares that you have to talk about the PLOT!!!, so every attempt I've made at a short pitch for HoM has been an attempt to summarize the plot in one sentence -- and not only does that tend to come across as confusing and/or stupid, it does nothing to tell you what makes the book worth reading.

So what do I think the point of HoM is? How about: "A spy on the run from her own agency has to compromise her ethics, her marriage, and even her daughter -- to protect her daughter." That could use a little fine-tuning, but it's much closer to why I care about this story in the first place than anything else I've tried. And if you're the right reader for this book, it might just be why you care about it, too.
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So, there was 4th Street.   cut for length... )

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This is just here for the record; not much to show for the past couple months.


Haley novel = 38 (I managed to work in a line I really liked and hadn't previously been able to find a place for.)
original short stories = 15
Total new words in April = 53

Queries sent = 1

Looking back at goals, I did get my taxes done. And the flu is gone, though there is a trace of a lingering cough that I'll be very glad to see the back of.


Falling From Ground = 40
original short stories = 184 (incl. more clown history!)
Total new words in May = 224

There were also a couple quick edits on ...And The Kitchen Sink that didn't actually change the word count.

Short stories submitted = 2

What can I say? I've rather had my mind on other matters lately.

I'm not setting targets for June, either; still getting my feet under me from real-life matters. I've an unaccustomed amount of critiquing to do; got the stuff for the library group done just in time, and now there's the 4th Street workshop coming up. I have been fiddling with some living-room fanfic lately, which is a nice low-demand way to ease back into writing. And I poked at Green Ring a little the other night.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat as necessary.

Happy New Year

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 08:30 pm
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Yep, calendar's turned again.

2013 was a pretty good year, all told. There were some rough spots, sure, but 2013 did not drop any major bombs on me in real-life terms. The cats are well. I tried some new things (construction contract, running), and generally they were good. I started getting back into the swing of DIY and other projects; nowhere near up to my old endurance levels, but a marked improvement.

And the writing's been going well. I won the ISFiC Writers Contest, which marks the first public recognition my writing has garnered. I got the much-stalled Haley novel moving again, with good prospects for getting it finished this time. I've been making progress on the wordcount and querying goals, and I've submitted some stories. Oh, yeah, and I finished a novel! I nearly forgot about ...And The Kitchen Sink; a year is a long time, y'know?

So yeah, all things considered it was a pretty good year. I could do with some more along those lines.

For 2014, I intend to finish the Haley novel. Between novels, or at other lag times, I should remember that prompt fic is a good thing. And other than that, keep on with the wordcounts, the querying, and the submitting.

Keep trying things. Keep writing. Keep learning.

Make that...

Monday, May 13th, 2013 11:34 pm
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Done? What's that?


Monday, May 13th, 2013 06:11 pm
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I have tweaked the last beta-suggested tweak, pulled the last tape flag. ...And The Kitchen Sink is officially done!

For now, of course. I know better by now than to say a novel is ever truly done. But it is time for me to set it aside and move on to the next thing.

For the record, that was three months for the first draft, and another three months for revisions (adding scenes, de-bracketing, beta-reading). That latter more represents a lot of waiting and flailing about than the actual amount of work involved; the first draft is probably about a 95% match to the for-now-final. 86,438 words, for those who are counting. I am happy with it. And this proves I can turn out a solid novel in six months -- probably less if I had to.

I need a "Woot!" userpic. Woot!

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Saw Mary Robinette Kowal's local book-tour stop Tuesday night. It was an excellent presentation, and jam-packed. (Puppetry! Books! Regency dressmaking! I don't believe the woman sleeps.) Both Without A Summer, which I haven't gotten to yet, and the fourth book, out next year, sound like they're going to be a lot of fun.

Afterward, I had a chance to speak to her briefly about pitching. MRK is something of a genius at this -- seriously, "Jane Austen with magic"? How great is that? Four words, and you know exactly what you're getting into. I'd been hoping she might be talked into doing a pitching workshop at a certain upcoming convention, but alas, it is not to be. She did kindly take the time to offer some advice, however. She made some good suggestions, among which was to focus on the "gee-whiz" factor, the thing that made me excited about the story. This is advice that I've heard before, and for various reasons it doesn't apply. In the spirit of showing willing, however, I gave it another try, and may have at least figured out why this excellent suggestion doesn't get me any forwarder.

See, the other common advice for pitching/summarizing is to practice with other media, books you've read or movies you've seen that you're really excited about. And I'm terrible at that, too. Seriously, if you ask me about, say, The Avengers movie, what you're going to hear about is how there's this great fight scene with excellent use of small-unit tactics, and Cap showing actual leadership and personnel management skills by tasking each of his team members in ways that play to their strengths.... are your eyes glazing over yet? What you're not going to get is any idea of the plot, or any kind of overall impression of the movie -- not even any notion of what kind of movie it is, beyond the kind that has a really cool fight sequence in it.

And in trying to pitch Highway of Mirrors, I have much the same problem. Thinking about the things that got me excited about writing the book, I come up with (1) the theme of conflicting loyalties, and what happens when someone tries to stay loyal to multiple forces that are pulling in different directions, (2) the idea that two people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions, without either of them being evil or stupid, and (3) the moment when the main character realizes that in order to stop the bad guy, she's going to have to run her own daughter as an asset -- in short, she's going to have to do the very thing she's been fighting all along to keep him from doing. The first two are thematic matters, much too vague and generic to use in an elevator pitch. And the third is back to the same problem that I have in trying to pitch The Avengers, an isolated scene that gives you no sense of what the rest of the book is like, and that probably loses a certain amount of its own impact in isolation.

Now, I'm not completely hopeless; in talking with the housemate, I've figured out that I can probably pitch ...And The Kitchen Sink as "the Avengers in space", though I do have to specify that I mean the old British TV show The Avengers and not the superhero movie. But Kitchen Sink is a much simpler book; it's a fun, quirky sci-fi adventure, not a... well, if I could describe Highway of Mirrors that easily, I'd have half the battle won. The basic scenario of Highway of Mirrors just does not readily reduce to a pithy sound-bite. It doesn't help that the concept is one of those things that could either be really cool or really stupid, depending entirely on how it's done. I've yet to come up with a means of conveying that I've done it the really cool way, which means that my pitch generally leaves people attacking the concept instead of asking follow-up questions. Not fun, and not useful to me or anybody else.

So, how about you, oh reader? When you're telling somebody about a story with the idea of getting them to read/watch it, what bait do you use?

April Word Count / Goals

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 12:52 pm
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First, the word counts. For there were words, even if that wasn't the goal-marker.

Kitchen Sink: 3554
other: 426
Total new words in April: 3980

Huh! That was a lot more than I expected, on Kitchen Sink. And that's net; there was a lot of cutting in there as I flailed around with the bits-added-in-later, and I was braced for the result to be pretty low. (For the record, gross was 4308, not that that counts.)

This is why word count is a useful metric for me, for all its occasional frustrations.

The "other" was a short-short, original prompt-fic; I'm not sure it's publishable outside of the Podunk Library Newsletter-Gazette, but I like it. :-) Am wildly relieved that I can still write a short-short, after all this noveling.

Now, the actual goals as set:

- Finish the sub-plot and related elements in Kitchen Sink: Done.

Would have liked to have gotten the beta-edits done as well, but that would have required getting it to my beta-reader more than four days before the end of the month. Even so, that's done to about the two-fifths mark.

- Query at least one agent a week: Done, -ish. It wasn't one agent each week, but there were four weeks in April, and I queried four agents (Well, with a little fudging on the calendar, but given that for one of the agents, every listing I found had different submission requirements, I think I'm entitled to a fudge factor.), so good enough.

Note to self: When setting goals for next April, I must remember that taxes exist.

As for the non-writing goals, I did get the car seen to (which is why I'm not doing anything else for a while; ouch$). Or mostly, anway; there's a follow-up thing that I'll take care of next time it's in for an oil change. I did not get the new userpic made; the item I want for the base picture is remarkably hard to photograph well, and will take much more fiddling with than anticipated. Or maybe a better camera/photographer.

Goals for May:

- 5000 new words. Doesn't matter on what, though I started a new story last night that seems promising.

- Finish beta-review & edits on Kitchen Sink. Basically, get it really and truly Done, at least for now.

- Continue querying on Highway of Mirrors, at least one agent per week.

- tentative goal: Start getting back into the Haley novel. It's been on hiatus for various good reasons, but one more good reason and it's going to start looking an awful lot like an excuse. Time to put it back into production. Minimum quantifiable: Reread the existing chapters, make any remaining tweaks for the new plot and/or notes about things that will have to be handled differently.

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Okay! I've finished the line edits, tweaked what I can tweak, and now it's in the hands of the beta-reader. This is another level of done, but this one feels more done-ish. Now to see what my beta has to say, and then see if I can't get this sucker polished off.

The finishing-up stretch of a big story is always a bit odd, no longer fully immersed in the writing but not yet able to dive into something else. It leaves me a bit at loose ends, for the moment.

Sinking up

Thursday, April 25th, 2013 01:06 pm
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In the past few days, I've finished the last scene to be filled in on ...And The Kitchen Sink, which was possibly even more anti-climactic than the other fill-ins. That's okay; it's not the climax. All these scenes loomed large because I'd left them open in case I needed to Do Something with them, which meant I felt like I ought to Do Something with them. But for anyone reading them without that background, they should work just fine as the small transitional pieces and/or bits of color & characterization they've turned out to be. I didn't hit the 500 words per day quota on the last couple of days, but that's all right; it's served its purpose.

I still need to add a brief reference to the pirates. Writing the relevant line isn't a problem; I've already got several to choose from. Finding somewhere to put it may be the hardest thing I do on this book.

I'm now in the midst of a final read-through and line-edit before I hand it off for a proper beta reading. Having a hard time keeping other voices out of my head during this process, particularly the kind that like to promulgate rules for their own sake. This is not a rules-following piece of prose, and it's not supposed to be.

Also, line-editing is tedious, and I'm out of practice. ;-) This may call for the same grab-self-by-scruff-of-neck-and-throw-self-at-work that the original writing did.

Also also, I think the word "done" has so many flexible meanings when it comes to a novel that I'm disinclined to apply it. Have I really gotten that jaded already? :-)


Sunday, April 21st, 2013 01:15 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I seem to have wrapped up the sub-plot for Kitchen Sink last night. My anticipated 15,000 word mini-adventure has turned out to be a 3000 word couple of scenes, which has left me a tad discombobulated. On hashing it out with the housemate, however, I've concluded that expanding it would be the wrong choice. It'd be fun to see these characters go off and play, but it would undermine several developments later in the novel, and the new character I'd have to introduce would end up overshadowing the main villain in the end. So no, it's not just me copping out and going for the easy solution; it really is better for the book.

This morning, I took care of the mysterious package contents that have been lingering in writerly limbo. Between them, these were my loophole for any plot threads that I needed to tie up or (more likely) backfill, but it turns out I connected everything fairly effectively without them. So instead I put in some jokes about bureaucracy. ;-) Works for me.

I've got one mostly-characterization scene left to fill in, and a couple of tweaks here and there, and then this thing should be ready for a proper beta-reading.

For those who find process interesting, a week in the life of a writer )

Meanwhile, I've been so focused on my writing quota this week that I completely forgot I have a query quota to fill! Last week's query ended up getting done the following Monday due to virulent Sunday-night inertia; this week's may get rolled over due to, well, oops.

Back In The Saddle

Sunday, April 14th, 2013 11:59 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Brainstorming has been done, and I've made a start on the actual writing: only about 350 words, but it's enough to feel like I'm getting back in the saddle again. It took a while, but that was partly due to having to chisel a space for the new material to go, always a challenge for me. Thankfully I'd thought of the addition as a possibility when I was writing originally, so I'd left, not a gap, but at least a less-tightly-set area where I could wedge new text in with a minimum of dust and rubble.

As I feared, sitting down at the computer and screwing around, on the internet or off it, has supplanted the NaNo-established habit of sitting down at the computer and writing. So, starting Tuesday (tomorrow is for tree crews and taxes): 500 words a day, every day, until the subplot is done. And the other bits-to-be-filled-in, though I don't expect them to be all that large. That might just be enough to get Kitchen Sink done by the end of the month, and is a good habit to establish regardless.

The top and bottom edges of the laptop screen are full; I wonder if I can get some little foil stars that will fit on the sides?
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I've been putting off working on the subplot-to-be-added to Kitchen Sink for various reasons: first it was de-bracketing; then I decided I had to re-read the existing text to get back into it, and couldn't concentrate uninterrupted due to various RL things; then I realized I had to do my taxes. Now the month's nearly half gone, and I haven't even started. Which makes me feel bad, which makes me not feel like working on the subplot, which makes me feel bad, which makes me not want to work... yeah. And now the subplot is looming like this mountainous, unclimbable, impossible obstacle -- because obviously if it wasn't, I'd have done it already. Realized tonight that I am freaking the fuck out about the subplot not being done and how can I possibly manage it.

Stop that shit.

Have now reserved time with the housemate to sit down this weekend for a brainstorming session, to figure out just what does happen in the subplot, or at least enough to be going on with. I suspect that the subplot is one of those things that won't be nearly so bad once I get started; it only seems impossible because I haven't started yet.
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Finished de-bracketing ...And The Kitchen Sink yesterday! It didn't even take the all-day marathon on the last day that I was dreading; in fact, the last twenty pages or so fell down with barely a push. Seems the farther I got from NaNo, the less bracket-happy I was.

March's goal round-up:

De-bracket Kitchen Sink - Done.

Add sub-plot & other fill-ins to Kitchen Sink - not done. Originally these were the same goal, but I wanted the de-bracketing done before starting the sub-plot, and the one held up the other, so I'm counting them as two for current purposes. I was going to feel really bad about this (it's been on the goal list for two months now), but the de-bracketing turned out to be such a huge enough chore that I'm actually totally okay with getting one of the two done.

Finish the Highway of Mirrors synopsis - Done.

Query at least one agent - Done, and done again for good measure.

Do some writing, even if it's just fanfic - Done. My unofficial quota for this was 5000 words or the first "episode" of the current Doctor Who WIP, whichever came first. I finished the first episode, clocking in at 1928 new words. Works for me.

For April:

- Finish the sub-plot and related elements in Kitchen Sink. Yes, finally.

- Continue querying. At least one agent a week, I'd say.

And two goals that aren't writing, but are vaguely writing-related:

- I need a writing-related userpic. My Good/Bad meta 'pic is getting way overused. I have the idea, I have base pictures, I just need to put in a couple hours of dinking with graphics.

- Get the car seen to. I've been putting off what I suspect will be a rather expensive repair, which has been fine for the past few months, since even my day job rarely involves leaving the house. But if I don't get it fixed soon, it's going to start interfering with my ability to go to conventions and conferences. Which are a writing-related activity, which makes the car a writing-support issue, if you squint at it the right way. ;-)

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
February's goals weren't word-count goals. There were only sort-of goals at all, which may have been some of the problem. So:

Finish re-writing Highway of Mirrors synopsis: Rough draft done. I'd meant to get it done done, but I somehow lost track of the fact that the month was nearly over.

Start querying again: Not done. Obviously, since I need the synopsis for that.

De-bracket Kitchen Sink, add sub-plot: Really not done. In my defense, my alpha-reader is not in one of her lightning-fast phases, but also, de-bracketing takes an astonishing amount of time and NaNo-style writing leaves a lot of brackets.

Not on the goal list, but a noteworthy accomplishment anyway: Entered Big Deal Conference contest. Which included writing a blurb as well as selecting an excerpt, so some work there.

Total score 0.5 out of 3, plus 1 extra credit; not an impressive tally. I don't feel all that bad about it, though; the work that I did get done (the synopsis) is good work, and I think I may have broken a mental barrier with it. Plus, I did just finish a novel last month; one is perhaps entitled to a bit of a rest, after that.

Only a bit, however. So, March's goals:
- revise Kitchen Sink (de-bracket, add sub-plot, other revisions as necessary)
- finish the bloody HoM synopsis
- query at least one agent

Also, do some writing, even if it's just fanfic. Because I am a happier person when I am making new words.

Fashion Statement

Thursday, February 21st, 2013 06:17 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
There must be a word for that... and one of you probably knows it.

I need a word for a particular type of shoe. This would be a shoe that goes with an afternoon tea frock, worn by a character my alpha reader describes as "looks like Jessica Fletcher, fights like Emma Peel." It absolutely must be a shoe proper to the circumstances (afternoon tea in a private home, on the good china); it need not, and indeed should not, be a shoe subject to the vagaries of High Fashion. Stylish, yes; "fashionable", no.

This word, should you provide it, will be used in the following context: She bent to pull the mask from his face; he made to struggle a bit at that, but her []-clad heel on his sternum convinced him otherwise.

Goal Status

Friday, February 15th, 2013 01:22 pm
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So, I'm back from Capricon, and almost recovered. (Exhausted doesn't even begin to cover it.) On balance, it was fun, although both the consuite and the (lack of) writing track were disappointing. Gophered my legs off. Highlights were probably hanging out with people representing other cons, specifically the Cafe Capricon/MuseCon folks and the Minneapolis in 2073 bid.

Capricon was a goal-deadline, so let's see how I did:

- Finish rough draft of Kitchen Sink: done. It has an end. I tied up the dangling scenes that weren't related to the subplot-to-be-added, and made a start on de-bracketing.

- Revise "Off The Map": done. I had the interesting experience of going over all the workshop feedback and realizing almost all of it was wrong. Or rather, I don't think the things people were suggesting would have fixed the problem they were identifying. Putting in brand names, describing the kind of car, etc. was their way of asking to be grounded in the setting, but all those things would have come too late; I already had grounding-points half a page in, but by that point readers have made their own assumptions and will not be shifted. The grounding has to happen right at the beginning, before the reader has a chance to build up something else in their head. (Those suggestions would also have made it some other kind of story entirely, which is why I was kicking so hard.) I don't know if what I did instead will work (need fresh betas), but at least it's still the story I'm writing.

Status: Win!

Goal #3, which does not have a fixed deadline, is to get back on the querying horse. As happens every time I try this, I discovered I needed more prep work; the synopsis I thought was done... wasn't. Or, it is, but six bloody pages is just too long. I tried cutting it down, even got a fresh pair of eyes on it, but the result was thoroughly unsatisfactory and still too long. So I'm rewriting it again.

And out of desperation, I'm writing it backwards. I started with what I want the last line to be, then asked, "What has to happen for that to make sense?" and wrote that line. And so forth. It seems to be working; I'm at Chapter 8 of 15 (from back to front) and somewhere around the 500-word mark. (The same material was 1300 words in the previous version.) It may still run a bit over the two-page target when done, but a plot fueled by complex character motivations which are in turn fueled by deep backstory does not summarize easily.

Other than finishing the synopsis (tentative deadline = end of this month) and starting querying again, I do not currently have specific writing goals. This is a bad state for me to be in. I want to at least de-bracket Kitchen Sink before moving on; haven't decided if I should tackle the subplot as well, or rest it for a bit first. There's the Haley novel to be resurrected. Whither the writer?

A Real Boy

Friday, February 1st, 2013 06:05 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
The housemate took me out to dinner last night to celebrate finishing the (very, very rough) rough draft of ...And The Kitchen Sink. And she mentioned to the waitress, as one does, that we were celebrating and why. Which was good; I need to practice this telling people I'm a writer thing, plus I got to trot out the elevator pitch for the book and all that.

Later, I came back from the bathroom to "...and then ninjas break into their house, and..."

People were talking about my book. People who weren't me.

That was so cool!
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I have just typed FIN on ...And The Kitchen Sink!

I still need to de-bracket it, and go back and finish that one scene I left hanging, and of course there's the let's-play-detective subplot to be added in. So yeah, it's yet another interesting definition of the word "done". But even so -- hey, I wrote a book-shaped thing! In three months!

It's currently at 82,779 words, for those who are counting. That's 17,160 new words in January.

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Struggling along with ...And The Kitchen Sink (I hesitate to call it progress) continues. I'm so jammed up (for the record, I hate writing endings) that I've resorted to dictating 100-150 word chunks and then typing them up, wash rinse repeat. Dictating is not a time-efficient method at the best of times, and in chunks this small it's like watching snails disco. However, it seems to be the only way I can get anything moving right now. And five 100-word chunks would amount to an adequate day's work, ten would be downright respectable... and even one 100-word chunk is 100 more words than I had when I started.

So, onward. Babbling all the way, if that's what it takes.




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