Embracing the unexpected…

Okay, I realise that sounds a little fortune-teller-ish. But bear with me.


I recently took part in a mini-blog tour with three other wonderful writers, called “Two questions with…” where each week we’d answer two questions. One particular question has stuck with me.


“If you could give Past You one piece of advice, what would it be?”


I answered this with “embrace the writing community”, and I believe that 100%, but this question has still been bouncing around in my head. More than that, I’ve thought of another answer. This one isn’t just for “Past Me” though, so I’m sharing it in the hopes other writers will see it.


And the new answer, you ask?


Embrace the unexpected!


Hokey though it may sound, I’ve really had to embrace this over the last year. Things in my writing life have changed drastically during the course of the past 18 months. In January 2017, I had one critique partner. I was furiously revising my romantic suspense, IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER, but I was largely isolated from the writing community. I used Twitter, but I hadn’t discovered the amazing writers lurking on certain hashtags.


Around April 2017, I stumbled onto a writing contest and found two new critique partners who just happened to be planning to enter Pitch Wars. I was reluctant at first because I’d only tried the one contest before that and it was a complete bust. At the same time I’d signed up for Wendy Heard’s CPMatchmaking, which is awesome if you’re looking for critique partners., and I highly recommend signing up on her site. It’s a bit of a gamble. You fill out a form and then wait for Wendy to match you up with another writer. I got insanely lucky when she matched me with a writer who is like my second half. Janet and I are writing soul mates, and she is the writer I now trust the most for whatever is going on—ideas, edits, or pulling me back off the edge of “OMG, what am I doing?”. And if I hadn’t taken that gamble when I signed up for Wendy’s matching, I likely would have never met Janet.


Then came Pitch Wars, where I was chosen by a mentor I hadn’t actually submitted to. This was really unexpected. My entry did a little travelling behind the scenes, from one mentor, to another, and finally found its way to the awesome Marty Mayberry. Now, when this happens, the mentors generally ask if you’d be happy to work with them. There are two sides to this argument, so I do understand the reason behind the question. For me, the answer was immediate, especially since Marty was on my “almost” list of mentors to submit to, but choosing turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected.


The story takes an even crazier turn. Marty was one of a few mentors who were given “Wildcards” which meant they could choose an extra mentee, and that’s how she was able to take me on. If she hadn’t received a Wildcard, I wouldn’t have been picked for Pitch Wars. It was by pure luck that she was offered the chance to take on another mentee, and happened to pick a writer who hadn’t actually submitted to her.


I’m so happy I did say yes. I love Marty. She was an incredibly amazing mentor, and I’m proud to call her a dear friend. But imagine if she hadn’t been given a Wildcard. Imagine if I’d said no. I would have missed out on Pitch Wars, and the chance to work with Marty.


Then, in November, we had the Pitch Wars agent showcase. I admit, I didn’t get many requests in the showcase—a grand total of four. But one of those came from the awesome Amanda Jain, who quite quickly after receiving my materials, offered representation. Of course I accepted (more on that here)! I believe Amanda was closed to queries at the time, so if she hadn’t requested through Pitch Wars, I wouldn’t have been able to query her.


Seeing a pattern here?


By happenstance I met lovely new critique partners who introduced me to Pitch Wars.

I signed up to Wendy’s #CPmatchmaking on a bit of a whim and scored the best critique partner who also got into Pitch Wars with me.

Amazingly, Marty was able to take on an extra mentee and picked someone who hadn’t submitted to her.

And by a stroke of luck, I got an offer from Amanda, whom I hadn’t yet even had a chance to query.


So, let’s go back to 18 months ago—where I was writing in near-isolation and had never entered a writing contest. Or a year ago, when I’d only just heard about Pitch Wars. I would never have expected that a few short months later, I’d have a bunch of amazing critique partners and writing friends. I especially wouldn’t have expected to be picked for Pitch Wars, let alone by the best mentor I could have asked for. And I definitely wouldn’t have expected to score a wonderful agent through the contest.


Embrace the unexpected!


Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes they take you on an adventure, through sharp turns you don’t see coming. And that’s okay. If you’re lucky, it’s way better than okay. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I can assure you the road ahead of me is going to be one hell of a bumpy one. I’m still miles away from my goal. But after the past year, I’m all for welcoming those unexpected twists.



Pitch Wars from a 2017 mentee perspective…

I recently got a question about Pitch Wars, and how to enter/how it works, so I thought I’d do a blog post about it—from a mentee perspective. Now, I’m not an official part of Pitch Wars, so this information comes purely from my experience as a mentee in 2017, but I will include the 2018/2019 dates to help with clarification for the coming year.


The 2018 Pitch Wars schedule from the official website:

July 15, 2018: Mentors Announced

August 14 – 27, 2018: Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop

August 27, 2018 (midnight EDT): Mentee Submission Window Opens

August 29, 2018 (10PM EDT): Mentee Submission Window Closes

October 12, 2018: Pitch Wars Mentees Announced

February 6 – 11, 2019: Agent Showcase

February 6: Adult entries are live on the Pitch Wars site

February 7: MG entries are live on the Pitch Wars site

February 8: YA entries are live on the Pitch Wars site


Note: #PitMad is a separate pitch party hosted on Twitter and run by the same committee as Pitch Wars, but they are not directly linked.


Okay, so let’s take a closer look at exactly how each of these dates will work.


July 15, 2018: Mentors Announced //

August 14 – 27, 2018: Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop

This is what it looked like back in 2017!

Last year, the entire list of mentors was released on the Pitch Wars (well, at the time it was still on Brenda Drake’s) website, with links to their blogs. They listed their writing/critiquing style and what they were interested in, their “wish list” projects and genres. This is important for Hopefuls! I spent a LOT of time analysing the mentor options, trying to figure out exactly which mentors would be the perfect fit for me. Read the posts carefully and make absolutely sure the mentors you pick are open to your genre/category. There are sometimes swaps behind the scenes, but it’s best if you can choose the right mentor—the same way you would research an agent before querying them. Stalk—uh, research them on Twitter to see if you’re likely to get along. Also, last year the mentors were open to questions on Twitter, so if this is the case, don’t be shy to straight up ask them if there’s something in your manuscript you’re worried might be an issue. I have a series of flashbacks in mine, which can sometimes be a problem, so I made sure to ask my shortlist of mentors if this was a deal breaker.


August 27, 2018 (midnight EDT): Mentee Submission Window Opens

Check out the official Pitch Wars submission FAQ page for details!

Exciting! Now you can submit your query letter, synopsis, and sample material. It’s probably going to be the first chapter (up to ten pages) of your manuscript, and this should be formatted in the standard style—size 12 font (preferably something like Times New Roman) and double-spaced. Don’t try to trick the system and submit your pages single spaced so that you can send more. Likewise, be mindful about where your sample pages end. A good hint is to make sure you end at a strong point, a hook of some kind that makes the reader (mentor) HAVE to request more! If that means ending at nine and a half pages instead of ten, do it. Or if you have to sneak in one extra paragraph, that should be fine. But I suggest you do NOT go crazy and add two extra pages. A little wiggle room is okay, but try to keep it as close to the requested page amount as possible.


So, how do you enter? On 27 August, the Pitch Wars website will open its entry doors. There’ll be an online form for you to fill out and then hit submit, probably attaching your query letter and sample material in Word.doc / Word.docx (again, I’m going by last year’s format here). The site gets insanely busy when it first opens. If it crashes DO NOT PANIC! I’m sure there’ll be ways you can check to make sure your entry went through, etc. Frankly, I wouldn’t rush to the site the moment it opens. This is not going to better your chances, especially at midnight when you’re hyped up and/or tired. Rather, do it when you’re calm and can make sure you don’t make mistakes. It will also help for site traffic. Every entry will have equal chances, so whether you’re first or last, your materials will be read and considered. Take a moment to screenshot the confirmation of your entry going through—whatever it may be. This is what mine looked like last year. No email, no giant flashing lights, just a short line of text, so pay close attention after you hit submit.



August 29, 2018 (10PM EDT): Mentee Submission Window Closes

Once you’ve submitted, you’ll wait. And wait. The window will close, and you’ll wait some more. Interact with other Hopefuls and mentors on #PitchWars—the community is a wonderful thing. Keep an eye on your email, and try not to obsessively refresh it the way I did, but also make sure you don’t miss an important email. If mentors like your premise and sample pages, they MAY be in touch. I got several emails during the waiting period, but I’ve also heard of mentees being picked who never got a single email from their mentor prior to the announcements.


Have your full manuscript ready to send if a mentor requests it and label requested docs clearly. Mentors will probably be reading these on e-readers etc, so don’t label them “50 pages” or “full manuscript” because then they’ll have several docs with the same name. Try something like “Author Name TITLE full”, example “Raven IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER full”. This way, the docs will be listed with your name and your manuscript title for easy reference. It’s probably wise to have a partial file as well, but these can vary widely, so it’s not essential. I prepped several versions to make it easier for myself, just in case, so you’re not scrambling and making mistakes when you get requests.


Some mentors also like to send a list of questions with their requests, so be prepared to answer these. This also varies widely, and is really up to the individual mentors, but think about things like, “why did you pick the mentor”, “what are your strengths/weaknesses”, “would you be open to making extensive changes to your manuscript”. You might also hear from mentors you did not submit to—as I did. This happens when a mentor sees potential in your work, but for whatever reason might not be willing/able to take you on as a mentee. They might send it to another mentor they think will be interested or a better fit, and that mentor is likely to contact you to find out if you’d be willing to partner with them.


October 12, 2018: Pitch Wars Mentees Announced

This is what it looked like back in 2017!

Honestly, this is a stressful and exhilarating day! The announcements go live, likely up on the website, listed with the chosen mentees and their mentors by age categories. The website has been known to crash due to the intense site traffic. Again, DO NOT PANIC! Last year, they released screenshots of the selected mentees via Twitter.


If you miss the announcement, it’s also okay because your mentor will probably send you an email to congratulate you and get in touch if you haven’t already chatted. Enjoy the moment if you are chosen. This is the time to celebrate before the work begins. Revel in it. If you’re not chosen, that’s okay, too. Allow yourself time to heal, and then get back to work, either by sending queries or re-evaluating your query/sample pages. And continue to chat to people on the #PitchWars hashtag. Many believe that the best part of this contest is the community, so meet those other lovely writers.


And if you’re chosen, the real work will begin October 13, 2018 or shortly thereafter. You and your mentor will decide how this works. Every pairing is different. But the basics are that you will probably get an edit letter after your mentor has had a chance to fully evaluate your full manuscript, or even in-line comments on your manuscript. Some mentors work in Google Docs, others via email. No matter what, this is where you’ll get stuck into those revisions, big or small, for the next couple of months. This year, they’ve changed the timeline, so you’ll have even more time to dig into your manuscript. You are likely to do more than one round of edits, so be prepared to work HARD! Pitch Wars is not known for being easy. It’s tough, but it will make you a better writer, especially if you get an extra special mentor.


Once you’re done with your revisions, or when you get closer to the agent showcase, you’ll also put together a pitch, along with a short excerpt taken from the first page of your manuscript. Most mentors help their mentees with the pitch and query letter. If you’re lucky, your mentor will also help you perfect your synopsis. Your pitch and excerpt will be sent to the Pitch Wars officials, who will then put it up on the website for the Agent Showcase. Here’s a look at mine from last year… and the link so you can see how this is set out/what is included…



February 6 – 11, 2019: Agent Showcase

February 6: Adult entries are live on the Pitch Wars site

February 7: MG entries are live on the Pitch Wars site

February 8: YA entries are live on the Pitch Wars site


Right, you’ve done all you can do. Depending on your age categories, your entry will go live. Again, the site will get a lot of traffic, and you’ll probably be advised to stay off it as much as possible, so that agents can access the entries. They’ll leave comments, requesting materials, which you will be able to send after the showcase. This can be a very, very stressful day. I’d suggest you either find a way to distract yourself, or take the day off so you can stress in peace (ha!) without worry about all the things you’re NOT doing.


If you’re lucky, that will not be the end of your Pitch Wars journey. I was incredibly fortunate. One of my requests from the Agent Showcase turned into an offer. My awesome mentor was there for me the entire way, and she helped me prep for The Call, and even now, almost a year later, I can still depend on her for any and all support. More than that, you will gain an amazing community of writers, friends, and critique partners.


So, that’s my take on the Pitch Wars schedule, and what is involved during each stage. If you want more details, one of the 2017 mentees created a Pitch Wars Survival Guide, and you can download that here.


Good luck! Interact with fellow writers, and don’t be shy to ask questions.



Two Questions With… Anne Raven Recap

For our final week of the “Two Questions With…” blog tour, we’re doing a recap of our answers. So, in case you missed something along the way, here are all my answers.


Week one, I was hosted by the lovely Pat Esden. Stop by Pat’s blog to find out a little more about her in her recap.


Q. Why do you write?

I discovered my love of books very late, we’re talking early 20s—I know, it’s terrible, and you can all throw virtual tomatoes. I’ll wait.


Okay, that’s enough.


No, really. Please stop.




I spent my childhood outdoors, playing pretend and creating my own stories. I was a real water-baby and would splash in the pool for hours, imagining a world of mermaids and sea creatures. Somehow it never occurred to me that I could put those stories down onto paper. At least not until I found my love of books.


Once I did, it was only natural for me to switch from reading to writing. It happened in a very organic sort of way when an idea hit me on the head, and I just HAD to write it—even if it happened to be about 1am at the time. Of course, this presented a whole new learning curve—actually crafting the words. It took many manuscripts and a lot of words before I found my rhythm. I’m still learning, but writing has become an obsession.


I write because I love stories. I love characters. I love exploring their lives and figuring them out, discovering how they’d react in certain situations. Most of all, I write to purge the characters from my head that demand their stories to be told. I write because I’m essentially still that little girl in the pool, playing with imaginary characters in made-up worlds.


Q. What is the hardest part about writing?

There’s a lot of craft aspects that I think will always be challenging. Starting the first draft of a shiny new idea is daunting, but also thrilling. Often deciding where to begin and end can be tough. Revising can either be great fun or difficult if major re-writes are needed. I’m a pantster (which means I “fly by the seat of my pants”), so sometimes I write myself into a sticky situation I need to fix. Although, since my last manuscript, I’ve begun plotting as much as I can beforehand, and learning how to do that has been interesting, to say the least.


Each book also presents its own set of obstacles. Sometimes that can be the content or the research required for a particular plot or character. Sometimes they can be emotionally draining if you’re tackling a difficult subject. And for me, the absolute hardest part, is getting the emotions on the page.


This is something I struggle with in my day to day life—showing emotions—so I find it particularly difficult to express them in my writing. On top of that, it’s such a vital piece of the puzzle, especially in romance, that you really have to get it right so that readers can relate to your characters and want to read about them. Nobody wants to read about cardboard cut-outs with the emotional range of a fish (no offense fishies!). That would be no fun. It’s something I’m constantly trying to get better at, and will likely continue far into the future.



Week two, my writing bestie—Janet Walden-West—and I shared coffee and cheesecake. Check out Janet’s blog here to learn all about my writerly soul mate.


Q. What does a typical writing day look like? Any pre-writing rituals?

Oh, man. Typical days are a thing of the past for me. I’ve gone through some personal life upheavals in the last year, so now I scrape together any time I can. Usually that means trying to block myself off from the rest of the world, and the interruptions, because I need a fair bit of peace and quiet to get in the writing zone.


I don’t have any real rituals, apart from checking Twitter far too often when the words are scarce, but I always have a cup of coffee next to me. Said coffee used to be in my trusty mug, the mug that’s been by my side for several years and seen me through at least six novels, but I recently broke it, by accident of course. And yes, this was pretty tragic because I still haven’t found a replacement, and the coffee never tastes quite right.


Also, as any cat owner will tell you, writing often involves negotiating with my rescue tabby, Clio (named after the Greek Muse of history, but I always say she’s more like a Fury because she’s so feisty) for space on my keyboard. Usually this results in her sulking on the corner of my desk, and at least one of my hands bleeding.


Q. What attracted you to your genre(s)?

I’m such a cliché, but I fell in love with romance after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I know. It sounds like the cookie-cutter answer, but it’s true. I’d seen the 2005 Joe Wright film version, with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen, and I wanted more, so I bought the book. Again, I was super late to reading, so this was the first book I’d really read for me, just for fun. And I gobbled it up. I loved it so much, that it was the start of my love of all books. From there, I branched out into paranormal romance, and it was love at first book!


With romance, I love the character development. I love exploring their relationships and seeing the heroine and hero grow. You could say I’m a romantic at heart, because I’m always looking for the pairings in anything I read or watch, no matter if there’s meant to be a romance or not.


Paranormal romance combines my romantic heart and the wild imagination I let fly as a kid. I’ve always been fascinated by fantasy. I adore mythology, folk lore, or new, excitingly unique creatures. I love getting lost in rich world-building. Paranormal romance indulges my love of romance and fantasy in the perfect blend.


I’ve recently discovered my love of romantic suspense, and it’s my new favourite. It combines all the wonderful goodness of romance, while adding an adrenaline kick. I love the dark twists, the grittier characters, the intricate plots, and the touch of danger.



Week three, I spent a bit of time on the awesome Ken Schrader’s blog. Check out Ken’s blog for a full recap of Ken’s answers.


Q. If you could give Past You one piece of advice, what would it be?

Embrace the writing community!


It took a very long time for me to find my perfect critique partners. I tried several different avenues, searching for writers with a similar critique style to me, who were not only wonderful writers who wrote books I was excited to read, but also gave honest, helpful feedback. Last year, I entered Pitch Wars, and it’s been the best way to find my community of writers. I’ve gained wonderful friends and awesome critique partners, writers who are there for me and support me no matter what.


Having a support system in place is extremely important in any situation, but I think writing can be isolating if you don’t embrace the amazing community out there, waiting to welcome you. I know it’s tough if you’re an introvert like me, but those connections can make all the difference in your writing life. I don’t know what I’d do without my writer friends. They mean the world to me.


Q. What is your “Go-to” thing that you treat yourself to when you finish a first draft?

This depends, really. I’ve treated myself to reading a new book, or spending some time on a painting I’ve been putting off (I’ve been known to dabble, but nothing serious), or maybe a little baking time. Most often the treat is to get stuck into a shiny new project or dive into revisions straight away.


However, when I finished drafting my last manuscript, I treated myself to binge re-watching the entire Roswell series. Yes, the 1999 TV series. I loved it as a teen, and I’d been dying to watch it again, despite not being a huge TV person. So, the minute I wrote those final words, I dove into Roswell, and was not disappointed. It was the perfect thing to give my brain a rest, to get lost in something else, something I hadn’t created, and because I’d already seen it as a teen, I sort of knew what was going to happen. It was easy and fun, exactly what I needed after writing an emotionally taxing draft. The best part was that it refuelled my creative well, and I think that’s the ideal “treat” for any writer.



I hope you enjoyed the tour and got to know all of us a little better!