Avengers of Colour: Rejection

Hi guys! So, it’s about three weeks since we announced the mentor-ship and we are so happy with the response. Thank you to everyone who retweeted and offered their support, it means so much to us.

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This post is about rejection, which is an inevitable part of the publishing process. Everyone gets rejected, all the mentors have been rejected, some of us hundreds of times, so this post is about how to deal with it and just some advice moving forward.

Advice from Faridah

Before I got an agent and a book deal I wrote three books and queried them all. During the process of querying all three I got…I want to say over 200 rejections total. I also applied to mentorship schemes, never got in to a single one. I felt like I was so unlucky and that this publishing dream would never happen for me, but then I queried Ace of Spades and I got an agent - as well as so much good feedback from other agents - then I got a book deal from a major UK publisher. Not being selected for a mentorship scheme is not the end of your journey, I never was and I made it out of the query trenches.

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Advice from Liselle

It can be crushing to build up the sort of hope that you do when entering pitch and mentorship contests. The first time I failed to get into Pitch Wars I cried, like, legit sobbed because I thought not getting in meant that somehow I would never be good enough for any facet of publishing, which isn’t true. They are SO many different routes to an agent and publication.

Mentorships and pitch contests are tools to help you be more visible, but at the end of the day, if you can get a solid manuscipt and query together, you can succeed without them. I’m so grateful for all the help I recieved in #RevPit from my editor and think it helped me a lot, but I would say my CPs and betas played as much of a role in my success. If you don’t get into a mentorship or don’t get a viral pitch, work on your relationships. Find your people and exchange manuscripts, work together as peers to create your own mentorship and get that manuscript into query-ready shape. That’s the best advice I can give. Sure, give yourself time to mope, but also make actionable plans to get the help that you need to succeed.

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Advice from Chloe Gong

The industry is extremely subjective, so being chosen as part of a mentorship isn’t JUST dependent on fulfilling a certain level of craft, but also slotting into a writing style that a mentor happens to perfectly connect with. My best advice: go on Goodreads and find your favourite book in the whole world. It’s going to have 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews, no matter how good you think it is, because people’s reading experiences are so, so different! While mentorship is an excellent opportunity for industry members to connect and learn, do keep in mind that sometimes, it’s just a matter of personal connection. I read a LOT of applications in this mentorship opportunity where the writing and pitch were AMAZING, I just didn’t think I could help it on a worthy level. The only thing to do in the face of rejection is to keep forging onward, and keep going until you find that perfect mentor, perfect agent, perfect editor, and so on.

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Advice from Kess

My advice for mentees is to trust your gut and surround yourself with people who support you, but aren’t afraid to call you out when you’re not doing the best you can do.

It’s a very broad thing to say. I didn’t get into any mentorships myself and I was even too afraid to submit to any after getting rejected. There are so many other people that apply to various mentorships that more established authors offer to unagented authors. They always made me feel inadequate and made me doubt my writing skills. Though it did push me to work on my writing, it was a stressor I didn’t need.

What matters most aside from the constant upward movement of your writing and the continuing improvement is positive relationships and support. You should have people in your life who encourage you to write and achieve your dreams with your ideas and stories, including people who are in or want to be publishing and those who aren’t and don’t. It helps to have both those perspectives to keep you realistic, yet hopeful.

There are still tons of resources to improve as a writer. You can find them so many places online, as one example, with various authors talking about their own techniques. If you want to look at queries, you can find them. Even I had a couple of posts with examples of my own queries. If you’re concerned about first pages, look at posts—or even at other books. Learn by example, by practice, and with others.

Writing can be very solitary and finding your people can be difficult. Once you find them, it’s always worth it.

Be humble. Be willing to grow. Be willing to open yourself to others.

You’re going to get a lot of No’s. It’s inevitable in publishing. What matters is being able to keep going. If you’re struggling, look for support. Ask for it. It’s not an easy thing to do to seek out validation and encouragement, but it truly makes all the difference. It’s not the end of your journey until you decide it is. Keep writing. Keep trying. Sometimes it’s not about you. It could be the other person.

For a lot of things I said no to, it wasn’t because I thought it was bad. Most of the time, it wasn’t for me. When you think of things that way, it might get a little easier to bear.

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The mentors had such a difficult time selecting mentees, you are all so talented and we hope this advice encourages you to keep going!

We love you 3000

#DVPit Quick Tips + My past pitches

Hey! Today I will be talking about DVPit, how I wrote my three successful pitches and ways you can grab an agents attention.

I’m assuming that in reading this post, you’re already considering entering DVPit, but for those of you that stumbled across this website and are interested in what DVPit is exactly, it is essentially a twitter pitch contest (for marginalised writers) where you pitch your book in 280-characters or less. The contest takes place twice a year, once in Autumn and once in Spring (usually April and October) I entered in October 2017 with one manuscript, then entered again in April 2018 with what is now my debut novel.

So, with the spring DVPit coming up this week (Tuesday for YA/MG, Wednesday for Adult), i thought I’d give some advice on how to write a killer pitch and get the attention of agents (and even editors - i’ll discuss the latter more later in the post)

I wanted to say before I get into all of this that DVPit is not the be all end all. It is amazing, and gives opportunities to writers from marginalised backgrounds that we are not normally afforded. BUT it is not the end of the world if your tweet isn’t as popular as you hoped or if you get no where afterwards. I didn’t get my agent through DVPit, but I gained experience in how to pitch stories and entice readers.

So, here are my three pitches with some quick tips to make sure you stand out! (These will be tips that you can even apply last minute if you see something helpful that you haven’t yet done)

My pitch from the #DVpit October 2017

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My first pitch from the #DVpit April 2018

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My second pitch from the #DVpit April 2018

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So! As you can see I did well on each occasion I entered. This was due to a few methods I used each time. But before I dive into the quick tips, I wanted to let you know how influential DVPit really is. So, my editor - Becky Walker - happened to hear about my book before we’d even gone on submission. The stars aligned in many ways here! Anyway, DVpit is not only great for getting an agent but your future editor might see your story too which is so cool!

Quick Tips

  1. Use comp. titles BUT…not just any comp. titles

    You’ve probably heard this one million times, use comp. titles! Of course tweets can do well without them but in my experience and my friends experiences comp. titles are a quick way to catch an agents/editors attention. But in case you’re new here, and are wondering what comp. titles are…well they are essentially titles of books, movies or TV shows - to be honest any form of consumer-able media - and they tell the person reading it the tone of your story. In my first DVPit pitch I used MOONLIGHT x ARI AND DANTE because they are both stories about queer people of colour going through an emotional journey. While that book didn’t get anywhere, the tweet was very successful and garnered a lot of attention from agents and editors alike. However, the mistake I see made again and again with DVPit pitches are using comp. titles that are predictable/ popular. Sometimes the most popular comp. titles you feel are the only ones that would summarise your book - fair enough - however, it makes your pitch stand out a lot less. I realised that Moonlight wasn’t a popular comp. title despite being a very popular movie and used that to my advantage. With my second round at DVPit, I used GET OUT x GOSSIP GIRL and GET OUT x ONE OF US IS LYING…all things that at the time were very popular but not used in pitching contests as much, which is why I think my pitch was also successful that time round too.

  2. Timing!

    So, I live in Scotland and had to time this really well. I think that timing is not a be all or end all but it definitely can help. I sent out my tweets at 10am and 11am New York time, because for some reason, that time seemed to be the time agents were most online. But, again, i’ve seen tweets be sent out earlier and be successful or later and have a similar outcome. This is just my experience.

  3. Keep it uncomplicated, work with what makes your book unique

    I sometimes see pitches for stories that sound amazing, however the pitch is rambly, and i only get snippets of what could be a fantastic story. I think keeping to themes in the book that make it really interesting is the best way to go about it. For example, my book covers what many social thrillers/mystery’s do. There is an anonymous bully. Why should the agent care? The stakes - there is a lot at stake here. The agent needs to gather the stakes from your tweet.

  4. It’s more than just the pitch

    Make sure you query and pages are just as good - if not better. I wrote a blogpost on query letters which you can check out here. Here is a snippet of the first line of my query letter.

    “From sex-tapes to covered up murders, Devon and Chiamaka have a lot at stake if their secrets ever get out.”

  5. Take a few days before sending out your query’s

    So, those are my quick tips! I hope tomorrow goes well for you YA/MG writers, if it doesn’t go as planned, don’t give up. Sometimes the quiet amazing stories are hard to pitch, cold querying (querying without the pitch contest, just normal querying) is very effective. Like I said, I got my agent through the old fashioned cold-querying route.

    Good luck!

    XOXO

    Faridah









How I Got A Book Deal

A while ago on my old blog I made a post about how I got a book deal. When I was querying, posts like these were what I wanted to read. I wanted to know what happens behind the scenes in a very hush hush industry, and so here it is, the story of how I got a book deal.

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I HAVE A TWO BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!

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I've dreamt of this day since I was a kid and I can't believe it's finally a reality!

*cue non-stop stream of tears*

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This time last year, I was still querying a different book, getting rejections and feeling like publishing a novel wasn't going to be something I could achieve in this lifetime.

BUT IT'S HAPPENING. IT'S ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

Okay but...how did it happen?

As mentioned in my How I Got My Agent post, I owe it to my favourite TV Show Gossip Girl for this. Thank you Blair Waldorf for everything. 

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I accepted the offer of representation from my amazing agent, Hannah Sheppard, on the 3rd of August, and we got to work right away. I received my edit letter and an annotated version of my manuscript a few days after and began planning how I was going to tackle my edits! My editing period was quite short, about three weeks, and when I was done I couldn't believe how much more I loved my manuscript. 

While editing, it is so hard to love what you're writing/re-writing until you see the full picture. On some edit days, I felt like throwing my laptop out of the window. Others, I loved the way things were going. 

In the end, I created something I was really happy with - which is the best upside to writing. Loving the things you produce at the end of the messiness of drafting and edits.

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After line edits, big picture changes and a lot of reworking, my agent finally told me that I was ready to go on submission to editors! I was weirdly shocked by that. I knew it was coming but I never really thought I'd get to this point.

So at first I was like...

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then I was like...

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Then my agent told me that she'd sent out my manuscript and that it was official.

And...I died.

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I called Mum and told her "I'm officially on sub!!" 

Her: What is sub?

Me: My book is going to editors!!

Her: I thought your book is going to publishing houses...

Me: YES. EDITORS AT PUBLISHING HOUSES.

Her: ahh...when will we hear back?

(Guys, explaining publishing to your mum is an extreme sport)

But yes. When was I going to hear back? Her question was one I didn't want to think about. I told her, it could be weeks or months. That I'm going to try not to obsess over it - I failed at that by the way - just try to go on and pretend that everything is fine... (also failed at that). 

So, I went on Sub on one rainy Friday in the middle of September. Expecting silence for at least 4 weeks...

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But then Saturday and Sunday passed and Monday rolled around and I was distracted by my friend from London - who came up to visit me in Scotland. We had a fun day out in town and I remember at the end of our town adventures, we were on the bus back home and I decided to check my notifications. First thing I saw were some twitter updates, my phones low storage warning and...a message from my agent. 

The subject line had the name of an Editor in it and I thought to myself...oh my god...I knew it was some form of positive news because, with many agents, you get to decide whether you want to hear about everything or only positives. Given my mental health, I only wanted positives in the beginning and hoped that if we were still on sub a few months down the line, that I would get the nerve to hear everything. 

So...after a few seconds just staring at the email, heart racing, fingers shaking...I open it. It was news...an editor finished reading my book over the weekend and loved it...

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I had to hold back from screaming in public - I actually think being a writer is 70% trying not to scream in public. 

I got home, acted semi-normal...although my friend asked why I was smiling like a maniac...I still maintained some level of normality. 

So let's call this Editor...Editor A. Editor A told my agent that she was going back to her team to get more reads - aka get 2nd opinions on my book - which editors do before taking your book to an acquisitions meeting (aka meeting where they decide whether or not they want to buy your book). 

I was so excited but nervous, and so with that first bit of speedy news, the refreshing of my inbox began. The reads could take weeks! Plus, I still had to hear back from other publishing houses - who could also take weeks to get back to us. I dreaded having to wait...but with luck, the next day - Tuesday - I got more news. A second Editor...Editor B also read my book over the weekend and loved it.

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I almost fainted - no joke - I kind of blacked out. 

I had to remind myself that a whole team of people have to approve my book before I get anywhere. I'm a huge pessimist, I hate being disappointed so I never expect anything. I told myself again that I'd probably hear more in a few weeks... 

Then on Wednesday, I heard that more publishers were sharing with their teams and I just sat on my couch in shock.

A few days later - 6 days after to be exact -  my agent told me that another Editor...Editor C loved my book and wanted to speak to me. I called my mum and I screamed on the phone to her. I couldn't believe it - I still can't. At this point, I started binging every Alexa Donne video on publishing, trying to figure out what this call might mean. 

Then the next day, I got another email from my agent. Editor B had gone to an acquisitions meeting and wanted to make an offer!!!!!!!!! 

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Editor B also wanted to speak on the phone and so I obviously had to rewatch all of the Alexa Donne videos!

I spoke to both editors that week, and it felt like an out of body experience. Hearing people excited about my book and talking about their favourite parts was so shocking. I was silent for a lot of the call, trying not to scream.  I remember how one of the editors spoke about how much she shipped my characters, how Gossip Girl is also a fave of hers and how she couldn't put my book down once she started reading it.

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So more days passed, And I got more positive feedback but ultimately decided with my agent to go with the editor we both knew from the get-go was the most passionate about my book.

And that editor was...Becky Walker from Usborne UK!!!! AHHHHHHH

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Speaking to Becky on the phone was so surreal. She GOT my book and was so enthusiastic about the characters and the story and after my conversation with her, I told my agent right away that I thought she was the perfect fit.

Of course, we had to wait and hear other proposals, but ultimately, Becky was the editor I felt I connected with most.

I'm still in shock...I can't believe this is real...

But that is the story of my book deal!!!! I'm so excited for this journey and I can't wait to hold a physical copy of my book in my hands. 

The Query Letter That Got Me My Agent

So today I will be sharing with you the query letter that got me my agent - as well as a whole bunch of full and partial requests! I started writing my query letter in the early stages of writing my book. I think it really helped me see the bigger picture and understand what the key themes were in my plot. I got it checked dozens of times before I sent out my first query - and I advise that you do too!

Ace of Spades was the 3rd book I queried, and so I had a bit of practice before hand on query writing. The most helpful resource I found was looking at successful queries like the query of author Amelie Wen Zhao. Her advice was invaluable and really helped to tighten my query and understand how to hook agents using carefully crafted language.

This query letter not only got me an agent but it is the query letter for the book that got me a book deal! (click here to add it on Goodreads)

So…here it is!

Dear Ms. Sheppard,

I addressed most agents as Ms. or Mr, but do your research and make sure you use their correct pronouns - i.e. some agents may use Mx.

From sex-tapes to covered up murders, Devon and Chiamaka have a lot at stake if their secrets ever get out.

This was my first paragraph. Short, simple and effective. I showcased what my stakes were, and gave them an idea of what sort of character’s and themes this story is dealing with. From this first sentence, we know we are dealing with major secrets and the threat of these secrets being exposed. But by who? This was my hook.

Start with something compelling about your character(s) or the world you are writing about. A fact that makes your book stand out, out of the hundreds of queries agents read in a week.

Anyone that knows them knows that they are furthest from friends; some may even call them enemies.

Here I established what the relationship is like between the two main characters - this was important for me as i needed to create an understanding that this ‘quest’ to find who is possibly blackmailing them is made harder by the fact that they do not get along. While following other successful queries and their structure, I noted that while there was a formula they still made the query their own. So instead of moving straight on to the inciting incident, i first wanted to establish what the relationship between the two looks like. Doing this showed that there was tension prior to the inciting incident.

But when ‘Aces’, an anonymous texter, starts spreading their secrets around their private school, they have no choice but to team up and expose their tormentor’s identity.

Now, I move onto the inciting incident. Their secrets being spread. After revealing what kind secrets they are hiding in the first paragraph, the revelation that they have been spread is even more shocking. Which begs the question…what does happen if they get out?

If they fail to act fast enough, they risk social annihilation and losing out on a place at their dream colleges. 

Here I state what they have to lose if they don’t stop their tormentor in the initial stages of their secrets being spread. I use two things that would be important to many High School seniors - having friends and getting into University.

Devon and Chiamaka set out to find the person or people behind Aces, what they find, however, is the soiled history of their school’s past and that Aces is not just a game of high school mean girl’s, but instead a powerful institution that dates back 400 years ago: an institution with the power to ruin not only the lives of the only Black students at the private academy, but also historically the lives of millions that looked just like them.

Building on what they have to lose if their secrets get out, I allude to a much bigger, scarier system. With contemporary books, a lot of queries I have read tend to focus in on plot points that are not central to the plot/ not compelling enough. There is so much that happens to my characters within the story that I have left out. So many side characters who are SO important, but are not relevant when it comes to delivering an interesting and succinct pitch - which is essentially what a query is. If you name drop too many characters the query becomes confusing. Same with dropping too many differing plot points. Try and find the major theme/themes and expand on them as you write your pitch/query. In my case, my major theme is secrets, and i expand on this theme by revealing why these secrets matter as well as what’s at stake for my MC’s if their secrets get out.

By not stating exactly what i mean by powerful institutions, I keep the mystery and intrigue alive without my query being confusing. This makes the reader of my query more intrigued and willing to read on.

Now it’s not just about them – Devon and Chiamaka must expose Aces or risk a violent and treacherous history repeating itself.

And to end my query, I finish on a very contrasting final sentence. The query starting with what seems to be an anonymous bully, like in pretty little liars or gossip girl, ending with something that seems bigger and more dangerous than anything the two main characters can imagine or control.

Told in dual-POV’s, ACE OF SPADES is a YA Mystery stand-alone, complete at 70,000 words, and can be compared to Jordan Peele’s GET OUT and the TV drama GOSSIP GIRL, and will appeal to readers of Karen M. McManus’ ONE OF US IS LYING.  Per your submission guidelines, I have included the first 3 chapters for your review.

And finally…I end my query with stats. Stating the POV - just so they know what to expect when reading. The genre and age category - YA Mystery, although this has since changed to a YA Social Thriller as I think it’s better suited. Then comp titles - very important aspect of your query. Comp titles allow for a concise description of your story. You can use movies, books, tv shows anything that accurately describes what your narrative can be compared to.

And that’s it! That’s how you write a query letter! Of course, you end the query with a short paragraph about yourself - in my case I just wrote about what i study at University. You can also include a small sentence describing why you sub’d to an agent, but I picked my agent list very carefully and the ones I sub’d to were ones that enjoyed dark narratives and had an editorial style that I preferred.

Thanks for reading my post! I hope it helps <3

Don’t give up on querying and finding an agent. It will happen, keep practising and perfecting your craft.

XOXO

Faridah