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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pitch First, Novel Later?

I don't know what you're like 'in-between projects,' but I'm a confused nervous wreck who just wants to read webcomics all day. So now that I've fixed up my story about the comic book character who shoots his author, I'm starting back on a high sci-fi to keep me from going insane while I wait for agents and possible revisions. Because I'll never get any of my day-work or studying done if I don't have a novel to keep me from reading webcomics all day.

I've got an idea, and I'd like to see what you think. This time, I'm not just diving in and writing the frikkin thing, even though it's all outlined and everything. This time, I'm writing the pitch first. I've had novels flop before (back in high school--DON'T TELL ANYONE GASP) because they didn't have coherency, and I found that the pitch for Issue 339 kept me going through those dead moments of, "does this book actually matter?"I knew exactly what my nerdy vengeful inner-Jason-Todd wanted to tell everyone, and I knew what I wanted to sell. If I needed a reminder, I went back to the pitch. While the book did end up going just a bit longer than I wanted, having the pitch early in the process kept me cutting as we went along. 80,000 words is much more reasonable than the, say, the ridiculous 150,000-word fluff I wrote back in high school.

I hope this pitch-to-myself-first thing works for this new story. I'm nervous as heck, because I really don't want to dive into a story and find it's unsaleable. I want to figure that out BEFORE I spend three months of my life churning out my soul. Too bad I can't, yannow, just put my pitch out there for an un-started novel and ask if it sounds like something an agent would pick up.

But that's the whole risky beauty of it, isn't it? In the end, we can't be certain. We hide from our families and friends, type like drunk sloths late into the 5 AM and 6 AM hours and then drag ourselves back into our 'day-jobs' three hours later. (Yes, I type like a drunk sloth at 6 AM--don't you?) We may not know if burning out our health or slowing down our social lives actually pays off. It's like jumping off a cliff, only without the excitement and the, yannow, death. It's like deciding to jump off a cliff day after day until you either learn to fly, or the cliff goes away. It's like being a bird.

Welp, that all sounds very ridiculous to me, but everything sounds ridiculous at 6 AM. What do you think? How do you decide your story's worth writing? Do you write only for yourself, or are you writing for a reader? What keeps you going through sloughs of doubt? And does it help to pitch first? Post in the comments below! Or just answer in your head--that's okay, too.

Here's the new story idea--
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This morning, Lem's little brother crash-landed on a space flight trying to smuggle medicines to needy settlers. This afternoon, Lem's little sister 'misplaced' a super-powered killing machine somewhere in an infinite ocean. This evening, Lem's best friend will help her try out a shock-weapon that will backfire and slowly dissolve Lem into a sentient goop. This is normal stuff: Lem's a teenage intergalactic ninja, and her family fights alongside aliens of all species to stop a megalomaniac from 're-organizing' their galaxy into uniformity.

Now Lem's dying and trapped in her own head. She battles her way through terrifying memories while her best friend searches the galaxy for a cure--but when he finally manages to heal her, she awakens imprisoned in an underground sand-castle, not hidden in the hospital where she fell asleep. She also finds out her entire family's disappeared, and the megalomaniac dictator-wanna-be is mind-controlling Lem's allies with her own secret weapon. Worst of all, Lem's trip inside herself convinced her she's got more in common with the megalomaniac than she wanted to admit; she wants to save her universe, but now she may need to save herself first.

6 comments:

  1. Hey!

    Definitely feel out of place when I'm not working on an existing project... there always seems to be an urge to jump into something new. Sometimes having that space from not working on anything helps... creates a blank canvas that you can then paint on. Other times, though, it is fun to dream up possible stories and then pit them against one another to see what you should work on next.

    I'm a big fan of writing queries (and maybe even outlines) before starting on a book. With my first novel, I didn't do that, I knew I wanted to write it and then jumped in without looking back. But when you're deciding on how to spend the next 3-4 months of your life, the pitch-first approach works really well. It's not just about testing whether an idea is any good or "sale-able", it's about testing whether you are compelled enough by the premise and your characters to spend time writing it at this point in time.

    I had a false start with one of my last project. I had an intriguing (but somewhat incomplete) premise but the characters were a bit lacking. I wrote out the Pitch/Query/back-cover blurb anyways, and then testing that out on some of my friends/beta readers. The response was really good, so I knew that the premise was interesting and had a hook. I even went as far as mapping out a fairly detailed outline and visualizing how some of the scenes would go. But I still didn't feel compelled to write about the characters I currently had.

    Then I came up with a completely different idea, and did the same thing—wrote out the Pitch/Query/Blurb and then testing a primordial version of it on some friends. The response was good. This time, though, I was in love with the characters and really felt compelled to tell their story. So after outlining the gist of it and working out the basic details, I went ahead and wrote the first chapter, as close to final as it would be in the MS (especially when it comes to flow). Then I tested the first chapter on the same friends/beta readers.

    After hearing their response and reading it myself, I was drawn into the world of that first chapter and really felt like I wanted to keep going and find out how the story would play out. In that sense, although I tested whether the pitch was interesting and "sale-able", I also testing how much I wanted to write this story.

    So it sounds like you've figured out a good system for deciding! I liked the pitch. Maybe write the first chapter, and test that out, too. Get people's feedback on that and read it yourself, and then see how you feel. You'll either REALLY want to finish it, or you'll put it on hold until you feel like you do.

    John

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    1. Wow, thanks for the in-depth comment! I really like what you said about testing whether or not I actually want to finish the book. I think that's really important, and something I hadn't thought of that explicitly.

      The chapter idea--I like that, too! Especially since beginnings are supposed to be so good...

      Hey, thanks!

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  2. Dear Petre Pan,
    I think it's a great idea to write the pitch first. After years of writing, I discovered you had to have a pitch to sell it. In your pitch you have the whole kernel of the so-what factor, the emotional tug and struggle of the character. John's idea of including the first chapter and a summary or outline of scenes for the book is a wonderful plan. He's right. If you're not truly invested in the character and the story, you can't stick with it for the full term. Readers won't either.
    From reading pitches of writers, I have found that many times the oomph isn't in their pitches but it is in their manuscripts. Why does this story matter to you as the writer? Why does this story matter to the main character? How does it impact his life as he knows it on page one?
    You are a great writer. Believe it and write. Never Give Up. Joan Y. Edwards

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    1. Thanks so much, Joan! I'm not 100% sure where to begin this story--although I was beginning it at the start of the pitch--so we'll see what happens. You believe in yourself, too! ^_^

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  3. That was a really interesting post. Before I comment on it, I'd like to say thank you for your explanation of passive voice over on John's website. You answered me in the comments section. I've felt like an idiot forever because EVERYONE knew what that meant but me. haha. But you explained it more succinctly than any website I've ever gone on. So, again--thanks.

    I think the idea of writing the pitch first is a great one. When I first started the book I'm currently querying, I was still having a love affair with my first book. THAT book was getting a lot of rejections, so I started the new book to keep me busy and have a back up plan.

    Unlike the first book--which had been totally off the cuff all-over-the-place and required ENDLESS editing, I had a very clear idea for where I wanted the new book to go--but not a HUGE amount of inspiration in the beginning. It wasn't one of those stories that just pours out...I had to really work at it.

    If I hadn't planned it so well to begin with, I think I might've ditched it after those first few uninspired chapters (which--in retrospect--only felt uninspired because my head was screwed up in rejection land--not because of anything to do with a lack of interest in the story)I'm SO glad I DID plan it, and--because of that-- stuck with it. I ended up loving the story/characters and its just been an awesome experience.

    I think your book idea sounds like a ton of fun. And I LOVE the idea of her being stuck in her own head and having to confront her past. That's always a cool twist.

    Anyway, I'm really sorry for writing a damn book in your comment section. haha. Nice to meet you! I'm a new follower.

    P.S. Are you aware your word-verification is on? I always let people know, just in case they don't. It just makes it a little harder to leave a comment, so it sometimes helps to turn it off. :)

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    1. Thanks Tamara! I wasn't aware--but I think I'll leave it on to keep penis robots from posting. Although...yeah, I hate filling those things out as much as the next gal.

      Oh, don't worry about the book in my comments--the more words the merrier around here! I'm encouraged by your feedback, and really glad that you plowed through on that story. What was it about?

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