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.



Where the Critique Partners are…

I recently posted my “How I got my agent” story, with all the gritty details. Soon after it went live, I got a few messages from lovely writers, and one of them asked if I was planning to do a post on where I found my CPs. I thought it was a brilliant idea, so here it is.


CPs, particularly great ones, are very hard to come by. There are lots of writers out there looking to connect, but the trouble comes in actually finding them. Then, once found, you have to see if you’re going to be the right FIT! For me, the search took many years—about seven in fact, with A LOT of failed attempts along the way—but, I’ve been very fortunate to find some truly wonderful writers. Here’s where I found them.


I discovered my first ever CP years ago when I had no clue how one actually went about finding such writers. So, I resorted to trusty old Google. This pointed me in the direction of Ladies Who Critique—which incidentally is not just ladies. I, uh, stalked a few profiles until I found someone who seemed like my kind of person. *Note, I did get propositioned by someone on this site who clearly did not understand what critique means, so watch out for those oddballs.


It took several more years before I found my next true CP, again with lots of failed attempts thrown into the mix. It wasn’t until late 2016 that I stumbled upon author Wendy Heard’s CP Match-up programme. Wendy’s matches are awesome! She matches writers based on category and genre, number of years spent writing, and a couple other preferences. Several months later, Wendy matched me up with another amazing writer, and we ended up in Pitch Wars together. I highly recommend signing up for her matches.


Early 2017, I found two CPs around the same time during a Twitter contest. These kinds of matches may not be as easy if, like me, you’re an extremely shy introvert. But they are so, so worthwhile. Following hashtags and connecting with other writers in those contest “trenches” has become a very popular way to find CPs. I found mine during the #RevPit contest, but there are loads of general hashtags.


Here are a few to look into:

  • #CPMatch – hey, look, a tag especially for those writers looking to find CPs!
  • #ontheporch – this was created by two authors, and it’s aimed at those who are figuratively “on the porch”, either waiting for a new contest, or queries, or just generally hanging out with other writers.
  • #MockPit – I’ve seen this one around lately, and it’s there for people to post their pitches for Twitter contests so other writers can offer feedback, but it’s NOT an actual contest.
  • #QuerySwap – created by The Manuscript Shredder, this is a bi-annual event where writers help each other out with their queries.
  • #amwriting // #amquerying // #amrevising – these are common enough in the writer community.
  • #PitchWars // #PitMad // #DVpit // #QueryKombat // #SunvsSnow – contests like these are gems for finding CPs, so connect with writers while you’re entering. Don’t be shy—writers generally don’t bite unless provoked.


Thanks to Pitch Wars, I’ve met a few more amazing writers that are morphing into CPs even as I type this. I know that only helps you if you make into Pitch Wars, but there are several of the mentees who found each other in the “trenches” before we were all picked. That said, if you do make it into Pitch Wars, connect with your fellow mentees!


I asked around in our group to see where they all found their CPs, and here’s a quick list of their tried-and-tested methods:

  • WriteOnCon (An Online Kidlit Conference).
  • Big Sur Writing Conference.
  • SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers) had a monthly email group where writers could join and connect.
  • Lit Reactor classes.
  • MWA (Mystery Writers of America).
  • RWA (Romance Writers of America). They do match-ups, but you can also find CPs in the forums and during contest. I also have it on very good authority that if you send thank you notes, sometimes co-ordinators/judges will offer their services.
  • Local writing classes and conferences—there are lots more than the specific ones mentioned above.
  • Like Wendy Heard, author Maggie Stiefvater does CP matches, but I believe it’s a little different. She’ll usually do a blog post, and writers find their perfect matches through there.
  • Goodreads—there are threads in the discussions/forums where you can find matches.
  • NaNoWriMo.
  • Libraries! One mentee works at a library and formed a critique group.
  • Twitter. Twitter. Twitter… as stated above, this really is the popular option!


Remember, every writer is different and looking for a different kind of critique / feedback. When you first connect with a potential new CP, make sure to be very clear about what exactly you are both looking for.


Good luck!