Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Getting the Call with KD Proctor

i'm happy to share with you today a success story from last year's Sun versus Snow. If this doesn't get you in the mood to enter next month, nothing will!

Remember when you were a senior in high school and you did those questionnaires talking about "Where I'll be in 10 years"?  Here's what I put down (photo is from my high school's newspaper ALL those years ago--we won't get into the fact they spelled my name wrong...)

If you can't read it, it says:  In 10 years I hope to be working for NASA as an astronaut, hopefully Commander.  I wouldn't be living in (hometown).  I would live in Houston, TX.  It's closer to my job.  I wouldn't be married or have children.  It's too soon out of college.

Nowhere on that little blurb does it say anything about being a published author.  I was so determined to be an astronaut that I attended a school with a top notch aviation and aerospace program.  But in college, you learn a lot about yourself.  For me, I discovered that quick recall and split second decision making was NOT my jam.  Which kind of makes being in a space shuttle a little unrealistic.  I changed my major so many times my advisor was sick of seeing me and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences knew me by my first name.  When I took my first English Literature class and got to express myself through writing, I was hooked and English is what I finally declared as my major.  

My mom's response:  So...what are you going to do for a job?

As always, mom knew best.  Unlike my fellow English majors I had no desire to write a novel or be an editor or anything related to English at all.   I was drawn to student leadership and ultimately I went into Student Affairs and College Student Personnel—working full time on a college campus, where I still work today (yes, my mom is happy I'm using my Master's degree).

In my full time job, I work a lot with online learning. I was looking over tools faculty could use in online courses when I came across Wattpad.  I had no idea this platform existed.  It was incredible!  And that led to an evening where I fell down the Wattpad rabbit hole reading stories by amazingly talented people.  A spark was lit.  I wondered what I would write if I had the chance?  And that's when the ball got rolling. Two years, four manuscripts, and countless CP and beta reads later, I had a manuscript that was query ready and I got the nerve to enter Sun vs. Snow in January 2016.  I went into it with a completely open mind.  When I hit “send” and got confirmation I made the first 200, I remember telling my husband that night at dinner, “Whatever happens, happens.”

It happened.
I got in.

When the list was announced on Super Bowl Sunday, I remember screaming so loud I freaked out the dog.  I had also entered a football pool at work, so my husband thought I had won money (side note:  I did win that, too! Ha!).  I said, “NO!  I got into the pitch contest!” and I made him read the website to make sure my book was listed.  I couldn’t believe it!

I hit the mentor jackpot with Laura Heffernan.  She was so encouraging and positive.  So much so that a few days before our pitches went live for Sun vs. Snow, another pitch contest was happening on Twitter—PitMatch.  The idea was authors and editors were going to do what they could to “match” pitching authors with agents and editors to generate interest in our manuscripts. She encouraged me to enter PitMatch.  

Between PitMatch and Sun vs. Snow I was approached by several editors and agents.  After researching each, I sent the requested material to those I felt comfortable with and waited for the results to come back. Within a few days, most had asked for more chapters or full manuscripts—which was incredibly encouraging. 

It sounds very "fairy tale" like, doesn't it?  First contest you enter, you get picked and it's generating a good buzz!  

Needless to say, the clock struck midnight and my carriage turned back into a pumpkin because the rejections started rolling in.  Surprisingly,  I wasn't upset. At all.  I looked at every rejection as a way to improve.  Thankfully the agents were all so incredibly nice and very encouraging.  But there was a reoccurring theme popping up in almost every single rejection: your voice/plot/character development/writing skills are fantastic….but selling New Adult manuscripts is really hard. 

Many of the agents shared that they were looking to see if my manuscript could be voiced “up” (to adult/women’s fiction) or “down” (to young adult).  And every agent said doing so would hurt the story because my voice was so strong.  But I still continued to query, entering another twitter pitch contest and again, the response was high.  

With queries circling about, I was surprised to see an offer in my box publish my manuscript with a small, independent publisher. 

I panicked.
I had forgotten that I submitted to an editor, too.

I sent Laura (my Sun vs Snow mentor) an e-mail telling her what happened because I realized that I “double queried” which is HIGHLY DISCOURAGED.  The rule of thumb is that you should query editors or agents—not both at the same time.  I was horrified that I made such a rookie mistake!  She talked me through the pros and cons and said not to worry because it happens.  She also encouraged me to reach out to agents who did still have my manuscript and tell them of the offer.  The publisher, Bookfish Books, was more than accommodating to give me the time I needed to check in with agents before accepting their offer.

Agents were kind enough to move me up in their queue, but in the end, they passed on representation. 

With the agent decisions now off the table, I actually felt like Lady Justice with her scales, weighing the pros and cons.  On one side,I loved this age category.  I loved my story and felt it in my heart that it was THE story that would get me published.  On the other side, agents are telling me that the category is hard to sell and when you make a living off selling books, that can make representation hard.  Same was true with writer friends who were also querying or were out on submission as they, too, were being told the same thing about New Adult books.  But then you see small publishers like Bookfish Books, Entangled and Carina accepting the challenge, publishing New Adult books and doing well with it.  

I had to ask myself, "Do you trust your gut that bypassing an agent and going with an editor is a good idea? Or did you jump the gun and are taking the first offer because it's there?"

In the end I knew the answer...I was trusting my gut.  I wouldn't have queried to Bookfish Books if I didn't believe in what they did.  In the end, with all of the knowledge I gained, and the support of those around me, I was excited to accept the offer from Bookfish Books.  Many raise an eyebrow to small publishers—we've heard the horror stories.  All I can say to that is do your research and dig DEEP, not being afraid to ask questions.  Everyone I talked to at Bookfish Books has been incredibly pleased with their experience.  And to date, so am I.  The support I’ve gotten has been well above expectations and I couldn't be happier.

My debut novel, MEET ME UNDER THE STARS (formerly titled IF YOU'RE EVER IN TOWN), is a New Adult Contemporary romance and comes out in July 2017.  In July 2016 it was selected as the winner for the 2016 YARWA Rosemary Award in the New Adult category.  

You can find me here:
As well as on social media:  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flash Fiction and Querying Contest!

Back in the day when I first starting writing--somewhere between six and seven years ago--I was looking for help and stumbled across a place called WEbook. Apparently it's still around, I do know it underwent new management, but it's a place were you can post chapters of your work and other writers can come in and feedback for you. It was a give to get kind of situation.

At that time, I didn't know any other writers, had no idea about twitter or critique groups, was pretty much clueless. Anyway, long story short that's where I learned some of the basic rules of writing from some very kind people willing to prod along a newcomer. But Webook had another aspect in that it hosted monthly contests to write flash fiction.

They would throw out a topic and give a word count limit of between 400 and maybe 800 words. At the end of the month, they'd pick a winner to receive some sort of prize. At the high point of my time there, dozens of writers would enter. People could comment on the entries, and I just found it plain fun and rather challenging. I made honorable mention and placed a few times, once I even won. 

Here's the sample that I won with. The instructions were to write a scene that used no dialogue.

Non-Dialogue Writing Challenge

Jorge raised his toothbrush with a wink at his reflection in the mirror. Brooks and Dunn blared on the radio as he slid in socks and not much else across the tile, his toothbrush flying.
Marguerite came in and wet her toothbrush. After applying paste, she raised the tube toward Jorge and deliberately shut the lid before putting it in the drawer and closing that with one hip. She leaned against the counter to spin the dial on the radio, passing Lady Gaga, and stopped at a Nickleback classic. A sigh escaped her lips as she closed her eyes and absorbed the love song.
Jorge frowned before reaching around her and returning the station to country twang.
Marguerite’s eyes popped open, toothpaste running down her chin. She twitched the dial back, and then blocked the radio with her body. 
Jorge released his toothbrush to attack the ticklish spot along her ribs.
White paste sprayed as Marguerite ducked wildly away from him, giggling, and spat in the sink. He caught her in a hug from behind, bending to place a wet kiss on one bare shoulder. Their eyes met in the mirror. Jorge raised an eyebrow suggestively. 

Her eyes sparkled as she switched off the radio. They broke into a run down the hallway, elbowing each other to reach the bedroom first. 

I think a lot of the skills need for flash fiction are also necessary for writing a query letter that conveys personality and interest.

Flash fiction involves telling a story in a limited number of words. You have to be able to make every word count. It's important to use verbs with lots of punch. You have to be able to convey character personality and motivation with just a sketch.

All those are skills needed to enhance a query letter. Especially the last one. Making your characters come to life with just a few words is critical in flash fiction and query letters. If you're good at flash fiction, you have a head start on writing a query.

I imagine practicing flash fiction would also lead to better query letters. So how about a game?

For this first game, I will be the judge and the winner will receive a query critique from me. Laura Heffernan has generously volunteered to play too and will give away a second query critique. Note that the manuscript does not have to be finished for the critique. If you want to enter just for the challenge and don't have a query letter--go ahead! If there is enough interest, I'll see about getting celebrity judges (agents) for future contests.

As your part of giving back, you need to reply to at least two other entries and leave encouraging/thoughtful feedback down in the comment section. I believe critiquing others' work makes for better writers. Also for those who want to give back to me, I would appreciate adding Faithful on Goodreads and America's Next Reality Star for Laura and spreading the word about the flash fiction contest on social media.

For this first contest, I'll be generous and the word count is 700. That is 700 words based on a count by Microsoft Word. Don't go over or your entry is out.

And the topic: Use a December holiday (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day) a candy cane and a possum in your flash fiction. Mention all three at least once. The rest is up to you. I'll be looking for energy, personality, strength of story, writing skill, and other subjective aspects.

I forgot to add that you need to leave an email address or twitter handle so I can find you. 

You have until January 5th at midnight EST to add your entry in the comments below. I'll choose a winner by January 9th.

Take your time and put a little effort into your sketch. Don't just rush it together, but actually write, let it sit, then edit. Maybe get some other eyes on it. Most of all have fun and challenge yourself!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Getting the Call with Sarah Janian

Many authors frame their origin story in childhood.  They describe epic novels scrawled in notebooks, or a sense of knowing they were predestined for the glorious (cough) work of authoring.

Not so for me.  I was an avid reader, but I avoided creative writing at all costs, until I became an elementary school teacher and had to teach it.  At first, I felt like a fool and a charlatan, but eventually, this work of helping children find their voices helped me to find mine.

A science fiction premise came to me one day, one I thought had a strong enough hook to be worth the toil of turning it into a novel.  So I sat down to write it six years ago, thinking I would have it agented and sold in a year.

In a turn of events that will shock no one, I struggled with the logistics of an 80ish k novel, since the longest thing I had written post-grad school was a short story for my class.  So after a couple years of writing and rewriting, I decided to hold off on the SF and try my hand at a middle grade fantasy.
That manuscript wrote itself in a few months, and I enthusiastically pitched it at several SCBWI conferences over the next couple of years.  In each case, agents gave me the same feedback: “There’s a lot to love here, but this book isn’t publishable.” 

I was devastated. 

I complained, I cried, and I sulked, but then I tried again, this time writing a contemporary MG about a girl struggling with her parents’ bitter divorce.  Although the subject matter is realistically dark, I infused it with humor and lighter moments too.  I was really excited about it.

Then I got pregnant, and I became very, very sick for almost a year.

Then I had a colicky baby and became very, very sleep-deprived for another year.

Writing went out the window during these years.  One day I realized that the vague depression and gnawing angst I was feeling, in part, was because I hadn’t made it a priority.  Armed with the MG partial-manuscript, I started setting my alarm to 4:30 (am) and writing in the mornings.  It was liberating!  It was intoxicating!  Sometimes it was excruciating.

But I did it.  I finished the manuscript when my daughter was about a year-and-a-half, even though my husband was working long hours and we didn’t have any babysitting help at the time.

Just as I finished the book, now tentatively titled THE SIXTH GRADER’S GUIDE TO DIVORCE, I happened upon an announcement about a contest called Query Kombat.  It looked brutal—each query is pitted against another and judged publicly—but it seemed like a great opportunity if I could make a team.

I should admit something here.  In hindsight, I probably wasn’t ready to enter. Unbeknownst to me, my manuscript had some issues, because back then I didn’t know about critique partners or beta readers.  It was just me and my screaming toddler and my computer.

And coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

I wrote a query right before the deadline, sent it to Michelle, and stalked Twitter.  Oh yes, I also joined Twitter.  Even though I’m a borderline Millenial, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with social media, but QK convinced me to take the plunge.

I remember reading over the team announcements with my husband, not even breathing.

Making Laura Heffernan’s team was the first real writing victory I experienced in almost six years.  It was amazing.

The contest proved even more brutal than I had realized. I pored over the blogs as the votes rolled in for and against me.  In the end, I advanced through the first round to the agent round, but I was crushed in the second round. The good news: during the agent round I got a bunch of agent requests, another first for me!  I also used the feedback from the QK judges to strengthen my query.
Then s**t got real. 

I frantically revised while new QK friends beta read my manuscript.  I also made the very savvy decision to hire Laura outside of QK to do a developmental read of my MS and give me her feedback. 

After sending out the full and partials to the QK agents, I began sending small batches to other agents as well.  I sent out a query to Andrea Somberg very early in my querying because her longtime client, Sarah Beth Durst, is one of my favorite authors, and I had remembered Sarah mentioning her in various interviews.

Then I waited.

Andrea responded within a few days. (She is a master of her inbox, which is not always the case with agents.)  She said she enjoyed my pasted pages and asked for a full.

My hands literally shook as they read the message on my phone.

At the same time, Laura got back to me with her thoughts, and another agent approached me with some revision ideas.  Just as I sat down to rework, Andrea finished reading the manuscript and loved it.


I had been reading the blogs enough to know that this is often, but not always, a signal that AN AGENT WILL OFFER.

Guys, she did.

It was one of the most wonderful and surreal conversations in my life.  Andrea convinced me that she loved my manuscript as much as I did, her editing vision gelled with mine, and her submission plan sounded fantastic.  I also got to speak with Sarah Beth Durst by phone, who proved lovely and gracious and very tolerant of my fangirling.

After that came an insane week of notifying the other agents with my partials and fulls that I had been offered rep.  Not much is written about this because it’s all very hush hush, which is too bad, because you learn a lot about how agents handle things like deadlines and communication.  In the end I had multiple offers and had to make a difficult choice, however one that I have not regretted for a second since signing with Andrea.

Although I did not get my agent through the QK agent requests, I am SO grateful to QK and to the hosts Michelle Hauck, Laura Heffernan, and Michael Anthony.  Because of their generous work making the competition happen, I improved my query, built up the confidence to try again after “failure,” and made some wonderful writing friends.  I want to thank Laura, in particular, for being a wise, funny, and inspiring friend and mentor.   Words cannot express my gratitude to her for her many, many kindnesses.

Sarah Janian is a teacher-turned-sahm who earned her B.S. from Swarthmore ('05) and her M.Ed. from Bank Street ('09). Currently she lives in Philadelphia with her family.  Follow her on Twitter @see_sahm_write to win one of her query and MS critique giveaways. Sarah is represented by Andrea Somberg at the Harvey Klinger Agency.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Announcing Sun versus Snow 2017!

It’s that time again for THE BIG BATTLE between the heat and the cold! Yes, it’s time for the fourth year of Sun vs. Snow hosted by me and the fantastic, Amy Trueblood. We had several amazing success stories from last year. This time we have a fun new question and some important details about the entry process. Please read the following THOROUGHLY and then let us know if you have questions.

The submission window for Sun versus Snow will open January 23rd at 4:00 pm EST. 

Act fast. We will only be taking the first 200 entries. Please do not enter early or your entry will be deleted. You can resend at the proper time if this happens accidentally. Confirmation emails will be sent. If you don’t receive one, don’t resend. We don’t want duplicate entries. Please check with us on Twitter first to confirm your entry did or did not arrive, then you may resend. There is only ONE, yes that’s right, ONE entry per person allowed. Any attempt to cheat will result in entries being thrown out. This contest is only for finished and polished stories.

Important note: The story can’t have been in the agent round of any other contest in the last three months. This doesn't mean twitter pitch events with hashtags, but multiple agent blog contests. 

Also, Michelle and I have decided not to accept picture books for this contest. Though we love picture books, Michelle holds special contests just for them. We do accept all MG, YA, NA and Adult genres, excluding erotica. To enter you must be followers of our blogs. Click the “follow” button on my blog. You can find Amy's blog here. If following our blogs doesn't work, follow us on twitter or sign up for our newsletters instead. 

The Format:

Send submission to Sunversussnow (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per person is allowed. It doesn’t matter if you write under different names or are submitting different manuscripts. You are still one person and get one entry.

Here’s how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded!) Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed. No worries if your gmail doesn’t have Times New Roman. No worries if the email messes up your format. Yes, we will still read it! :-)  

(Here’s a trick to keep your paragraph spacing: copy and paste your entry into your email and then put in the line spaces. They seem to get lost when you copy and paste. It may look right but sending scrambles the spacing.)

Subject Line: SVS: TITLE, Age Category + Genre
(example: SVS: GRUDGING, Adult Epic Fantasy)

In The Email:

Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)
Genre: YA dystopian Ownvoices (Age category and genre. New this year! Add "Ownvoices" here if it applies)
Word Count: XX,XXX (round to the nearest thousand)
Twitter Handle: (Optional so we can contact you. Will not be public.)

Is Your Main Character hot or cold: 

Describe whether your character is hot or cold. Personalities differ. Is your character a person of volatile emotions or are they calm under pressure?

(Can be in your MC’s POV, but doesn’t have to be. 100 words or less.)


Query goes here! Include greeting and main paragraphs. Please leave out bio, closing, and word count + genre sentence. You may include comps if you’d like. There is no word count limit on the query but please aim for 250 – 300 words.

New this year! You may include if your story is OwnVoices up in the genre line. We really want diverse and talented writers and striping out the bios sometimes leaves us in the dark.

Remember a query has several paragraphs. Don't send us a pitch.  

First 250 words:

Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence. But I will not go over 257 words. Be reasonable and don’t make us count. Don’t forget to space between paragraphs! No indents!

That’s it for now. Get those entries ready for January 23rd and leave any questions in the comments or ask on Twitter.

Mentors and agents will be posted in January. As of now, we have over ten agents signed up. There will be some crazy cool mentors who are itching to work with the selected entries. Keep checking my blog or sign up for my newsletter for advance warning of the FREE PASS to be on Team Snow!

So get those entries ready! We can’t wait to get started!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Writing in Layers

The other day on twitter I mentioned that I was going back to a scene and adding more layers to make the writing richer. But what does that mean?

For me, I tend to write in the morning before work and that often gives me an hour at most to get down a scene and include as many words as I can. Many days that is just not enough time. I have to settle for getting the basics down. I tend to see a scene visually and try to think it through entirely before writing the words, but that also means that sometimes more detail springs into my mind the next morning. In other words, inspiration strikes again and I get a flood of additional ideas which I then go back and layer into the writing I've already done.

The first time I work on a chapter, I tend to "see" the dialogue and the physical action needed to move the plot forward at that point. Because of the time constraints and my focus on that, there are often parts of the scene that go unexplored. 

Because, remember, that every scene--every chapter--needs to work on many levels to move the story forward. That's what I think of as the layers. There's a layer in the writing for each scene that involves the plot, the main conflict, or there should be. An additional layer is devoted to character interaction--bring characters closer together or driving them further apart. A third layer is there to improve and enlarge the world building and give depth to the setting. And a fourth layer involves the character arc and making sure each scene touches on the inner conflict of the characters. A fifth layer can involve being aware of conflict and that tension is going where it's needed.

Usually I get the first and second layer and parts of the third or fourth in an initial writing session of a scene. Then I spend some time rethinking that scene and seeing what additional ideas arrive in my brain to make the scene more complete and more detailed. The conflict needs to build and grow until the end of the scene is reached, or for shorter-termed tension, it is resolved in the scene.

This is even more true with action scenes which are so very visual. They tend to come out on paper as just a lot of movement--this character does this and this other character then has to react like that, repeated over and over. At my next sitting, I go back and add more descriptions that makes the writing less like a synopsis and more like a story. I work in the emotions from the character--the fear and the determination--to give the scene life. I allow brief thoughts from the POV character to break up the action just a touch and put space between the movements. That gives the reader a tiny break in the hopefully building excitement.

Take a look at your favorite writer's action scenes. I think you'll see how they work in quick descriptions, bursts of emotions and even moments of furious thinking/planning which all makes the scene richer like the layers of a cake.

To give you an idea, down below is the action scene I started on Saturday, with the additions from Sunday in blue. It's still a draft and I'll undoubtedly make more changes but it gives an idea of layering your writing.  

Ramiro froze in the hallway while their plan of stealth crumbled around them. Teresa managed to dodge under the naked woman’s wild swing with the Diviner by falling to the floor and scrambling back. Ramiro hesitated as his other companions, the two priests, receded to a safe distance. Self-preservation screamed at him to flee, weaponless and therefore helpless, but the urge to protect the innocent proved stronger. Ramiro jumped in to intercept the next attack on Teresa, sweeping the tray around as polishing cloths flew everywhere. The solid staff of the Diviner hit the back of the wooden tray with an audible whack. Ramiro cringed expecting the tray to split. Instead, the Diviner burst in a spray of splinters, the slim rod flying apart.
Ramiro’s eyes closed as splinters cut into his face. Someone screamed. He overbalanced when the resistance against the tray vanished and landed hard on his left elbow on the relentless marble floor. Telo shot forward, leaving Father Amor by the coal hole, and grabbed the naked woman around the neck, pulling her down. Her stiffened fist made contact with his middle, sending the air rushing out of Telo’s lungs in an explosive cough.
A man burst out of the sleeping room, adjusting his white robe around his hips and brandishing another Diviner. Ramiro managed to stick out his leg. The Northerner’s feet caught on it, and he stumbled across the hall to bang into the wall. As Ramiro struggled to his feet, Teresa jumped on the man’s back. They bumbled across the hallway with the Diviner flailing; the Northerner unable to quite bend his arm to reach Teresa for the kill.
Ramiro swung the tray in an upstroke to push the Diviner away. The barest brush with the tray and the white staff cracked apart like the first, showering them with bone-like shards.
Doors opened all along the hall. Ramiro’s heart sank as more Northern priests poured out.
“Hold him still,” Ramiro shouted to Teresa to little avail. But years of training with grown men while he still wore his mother’s apron strings had taught him many things: how to fight or defend, how to survive, and how to be lethal in an instant. He punched out with his sore left arm and landed his fist squarely in the Northerner’s throat, hearing fragile bones and cartilage break. The man folded, hands grasping his neck as he choked, taking Teresa down with him.

I do my layering in a chapter before moving on to the next scene, but I'm guessing many people do their layering after the first draft is done and as they go back and edit. Do you use the technique of layering or something else?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sneak Peek into Contest Planning

As the time for Sun versus Snow gets closer, I thought I'd share some of the behind the scenes planning that goes on two months out. Four+ years of running contests has made the process pretty smooth and taken out most of the kinks. Seems like you'd like an inside peek at the work involved. 

The end of November and early December, Sun versus Snow begins to lurk in the back of the hosts' minds. The first thing we do after contacting each other is look at the calendar and agree on dates for submission, when the mentor rounds will happen, and days for the agent round to start. Nothing can happen until the dates are nailed down. 

There's a lot to keep in mind when wiggling out the dates. The agent round pulls fewer requests when held on a weekend. Do agents have a big event happening we need to schedule around? The hosts need enough time to read all the submissions and make up their minds before the picks are announced. Too short a time between and hosts start to pull out their hair. We all have different paces on reading slush. Laura, for instance, reads very quickly, while Mike and I are slower. Amy and I are on much the same pace. We all tend to dither when it gets down to our last few spots. You have to plan for that feeling of being torn on so many great entries.

We also need to make sure there is enough time between the picks being announced and the agent round for the mentors to give their final shine without being rushed. Also it turns out that giving a longer mentor work period helps the hosts. If we give plenty of days for revision, entries tend to come back before they are due and hosts don't have to stress about getting the posts all formatted and ready to go. All the entries don't arrive back at the same time, but spread out in a manageable way. The timing of the various contest dates is incredibly important because there is a lot to do between each event. Getting it right is a must.

So, we've checked our schedules and settled on the dates. Before we can announce the contest to the world, we always proceed with caution. We need a few agents signed up before going public. That means a letter of invitation must be created. Truthfully, we've learned to save all our contest correspondence and recycle. There is just so much work to running a contest that we cut corners whenever we can. Using last year's letter with fresh dates and a few tweaks is a great time saver. I don't know about the other hosts, but I keep agent email correspondence saved in a folder so I can use the same chain of communication over and over. I'm more certain the agents will see it if I respond to a former email.

After the letter, we quickly create a Google doc or spreadsheet to log in all the agent names into a giant list. One of the most enjoyable parts of hosting is turning those names green as they say yes and plugging in the agent's email and twitter handle and wish list. Having all that information together makes it much easier to contact the agents in the future and nudge them that it's time! Also the Google doc helps make sure that Amy and I don't over invite the same agent. Contests have gotten so much easier since document sharing came along!

Now once a few of those names turn green on the spreadsheet, it's time to start spreading the word on social media and whipping up the happiness that is another writer contest and reminding people of success stories. For instance, Picture Book Party got it's very first direct book sale! One of the writers from 2015 got an agent directly from the contest and then recently got a very solid sale of the contest PB! Sharon and I were so excited and hope to share the call story soon.

Once the agent invites are out, it's time to start thinking about mentors. Like with agents, we need a good variety. You want mentors who are reliable, have plenty of experience and represent different genres, plus provide diversity. Each contest has different mentor requirements. In Sun versus Snow, Amy and I each invite our own mentors and the mentors are unique to the hostess. Amy's mentors don't help my picks, in other words. We usually pick six or seven experienced writers to give their advice on the picks. 

But Query Kombat is totally different. Here we need over thirty people to judge and leave detailed feedback juggled over six rounds and an entire month. It's a scheduling nightmare and that why QK is the big daddy of all our contests! Quite a difference from little Picture Book party which doesn't include mentors. As you can see the work for managing mentors falls somewhere in the middle for Sun versus Snow, but we also have to be extra careful we can rely on the mentors as there are many fewer in this contest. 

The mentors get their Google doc as well with their information carefully collected and saved for later use so we can contact them quickly. We also arrange a mentor chat on twitter to happen before the submission. It gives us a chance to spotlight the mentors and do a bit more promotion for them as they do so much for us. It's a great chance to pick the brains of experts in their genres.

Besides all those important steps, the hosts are also creating blog posts to announce the contest, nailing down the submission instructions, creating more email letters of instruction/nudges for agents and mentors, and thinking over any new inventions to add to the contest to make it bigger and better and more useful to the most writers. As the weeks get closer to the start, I'll probably do something every single day for a contest and that doesn't include answering all the questions on social media. (Never be afraid to ask questions. We're happy to help you out, though the blog posts try to cover all the questions we hear most often.) That picks up as the time gets closer as well.

So that's an early look into the planning and work of what goes on before a contest starts. A peek behind the scenes, and where Amy and I will soon be.

As always we want your opinion. What can we do or add to make the contests better? For example, this year I think we'll have a spot for writers to mark on the submission whether an entry is ownvoices. We'd love to see more of those! Also name some agents you'd really like to be on our list. We'll do our best to make that happen, and it's easier for us if we have your input. Put those down in the comments.

And don't forget there is a chat happening today at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm under #FFchat with some experienced authors, including myself and Laura, ready to answer any query or publishing or writing questions. Hope to see you there!