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critique partners

First Conference: The Aftermath

I’m back. As expected, I survived despite my anxiety. The trip to New York was great, and I gladly accept the resulting exhaustion. Since I went primarily for a conference, and conferences are for learning, I’ll share a few things I learned.

The bottom line is that I need to head back to NYC before too long. (And yes, I know my sister will insist on coming along that time.)

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Show the Love and Pitch-A-Partner in PAPfest

Let’s get real—pitching our novels is tough. Often beyond tough. Personally, I find it a lot easier to talk about the amazing work of my critique partners MarcyKate Connolly and Mindy McGinnis. In imagining pitching my novel and MarcyKate’s to her students, Mindy had a thought … hey—EVERYONE should practice pitching by pitching other people’s stuff! And so our contest idea was born.

Last month we announced an upcoming agent-judged contest called the PAPfest (Pitch-A-Partner Festival). As always, the PAP is sneaking up on you quicker than you thought. Mindy will be the primary host on Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, while MarcyKate and I will be co-hosting, because that’s only fitting.

In our model, writers will pitch their critique partner’s project, and our team will decide whose pitching abilities are so strong that we’re interested in seeing their own project.

The blogging team will narrow down the final hopefuls to 30 entries, at which point we’ll ask our participating agents to cruise our blogs to bid on projects that catch their eye.

What Are the Rules?

Are you confused? That’s OK. We believe in multiple learning styles, so we’ll lay this out a few different ways. But first, the nitty-gritty:

What’s the Timeline?

There will be two windows to pitch your CP’s project to PAPfest(at)gmail(dot)com
The first window will open Wednesday, Jan 23 at 8 AM EST
The second window will open Friday, Jan 25 at 8 PM EST
Each window will allow 50 email entries

The PAP team of myself, MarcyKate and Mindy will be reading the entries between Jan 29 – Feb 8. If you are one of the 30 finalists you will be notified by Feb 8 via email. If you are chosen you will provide your query & first 200 words for agent judging. Also if you are chosen, your CP who graciously allowed you to use their project as pitching material will have the option of requesting a query critique from the PAP team.

February 14th from 9 AM EST to 9 PM EST (Hooray! V-DAY!) The agents will be invited to browse the entries and make requests. They will vote for their favorites with a partial or full request. Everyone who receives requests will be able to submit their materials to all the agents who voted for them.

Can Guys Get a PAP?

Why yes, yes they can. In fact, we’d love to see that.

Who are the Agents?

Agents participating in the PAPfest are:

Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary
Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary
Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron
Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary
Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary
Tina Wexler of ICM

Isn’t that spectacular? Aren’t we so glad that we have them? Yes, we are. We commissioned original art from Lynn Phillips to immortalize them. (Click to enlarge the image.)

As if the fabulous portraits you’ve seen aren’t enough, we asked Lynn to reiterate the process for those who learn best through comics. Enjoy!

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Another Contest? But Wait, This One’s Weird!

If you’re anything like me, you probably find it easier to rave about your critique partners’ work than your own. Maybe even easier to pitch theirs than ours. To explain how that skill could come in handy, we interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts for a message from Mindy McGinnis.

I know what you’re thinking.

Another contest? Seriously? But I absolutely despise all these chances to expose my work to agents!

Well, don’t worry. Because I’m me, when I decided to do a contest I knew I had to make it Mindy-Style, which means it had to be different from everyone else and slightly offensive. I wracked my brain about how to do this, as there are a plethora of writing contests out there. And I came up with something that I think fulfills the Mindy-Style requirements.

Introducing the Pitch-A-Partner Festival! Yes, that’s right, it’s the PAPfest. Coming at you during the month of February 2013. Why February? Well, because you want to show your partner you love them, and also because I have a badly timed reoccurring annual exam that makes me think February = PAPfest.

When it comes to my writing I value my Critique Partners above all else. My CPs deserve a lot of credit for helping to improve my craft, and I’m sure there are a lot of aspiring authors out there who feel the same. So what better way to show them you love them than to pitch their project? Don’t worry, there’s something in it for both of you.

I dragged my CPs, MarcyKate Connolly and R.C. Lewis, into the PAPfest as co-hosts, because it’s only fitting. In our model, writers will pitch their critique partner’s project, and our team will decide whose pitching abilities are so strong that we’re interested in seeing their own project. And of course, if the premise of the partner’s project is so enticing that we can’t help ourselves, we’re free to request material from them as well.

The blogging team will narrow the final hopefuls down to 30 entries, at which point we’ll ask our participating agents to cruise our blogs to bid on projects that catch their eye. We’ve got an excellent team of agents lined up, both established and brand-new hungry types.

Are you confused? That’s OK. We’re planning on walking you through the process as February gets closer. All kinds of fun things are in store to clarify all your questions. I mean that. I intend to amuse the hell out of you while explaining this contest.

Why am I telling you this now? Because I want you to stress over the holidays.

Not really. I’m telling you this now because it’s important that you have your CP’s permission to pitch their project—they’ll be getting a query crit out of the deal (and possibly a request for more if we’re hooked by their concept, pitched by you). And of course in order for you to pitch something in the first place, you need to have read it. So polish off your WIPs or breathe new life into a trunked novel and get that ms in front of your CP!

Stay tuned to Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire for more details! And feel free to ask questions, always. Comment on one of the participating blogs, email Mindy, or tweet using the tag #PAPfest.

And yes, I’d love to see that trending. 🙂

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A Primer on Critique Partners … and Maybe Dating

Last Monday, we had one of our weekly chats on AgentQuery Connect (9pm Eastern, come for great writerly conversations). The topic was critique partners—choosing and using them—which seems to have been popular around the blogosphere in the last week. Nevertheless, because some AQCers missed the chat, I’m going to go ahead with a revamped recap.

Being critique partners is a lot like establishing and maintaining other relationships. In fact, it’s a lot like dating, when you think about it. Here are some Dos and Don’ts.


Another thing to remember is that the early days of critique partnering are like the early days of dating. You’ll likely need to be on your best behavior as you get to know each other’s styles of critiquing, figure out what works for you.
With any luck, someday you’ll be like Mindy McGinnis and me. I’m pretty sure we’re at the “old married couple” stage where we can pretty much say anything as bluntly as we’d like. We know the love is there, and we know our own weaknesses, so there’s no need to tiptoe around. 😉
What tips do you have for making a great critique-partner connection?

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What We Learned During MindyMania 2012

This week I’ve been discussing the weekend I spent with my critique partner, Mindy McGinnis. I’ve covered the wildlife and the writing, so today I’ll just sum up a few things we learned.

Thing We Learned #1: Mindy and I really are twins separated at birth.

(And Mom was in labor for about three weeks.) We already suspected. Our birthdays are very close, down to the year. Our opinions and tastes are often the same. We complete each other’s sentences. And now we know that we use the same shampoo.

Thing We Learned #2: Fast food employees can take the “twins” idea too far.

To the girl at Wendy’s who thought Mindy was me after I’d already ordered—really? Okay, we were both wearing glasses and both tend toward the chalk-white end of “pale.” But there’s a seven- or eight-inch difference in height. My hair is mega-short; hers is long. Beyond that, the differences are what make things interesting. Mindy was ready and raring to go for the school presentations. I was freaking out about having to introduce her each time for about thirty seconds.

Thing We Learned #3: Handprint petroglyphs are the best.

I mentioned earlier in the week that we visited Petroglyph National Monument. It was very cool hiking around one of the canyons, and right on the edge of the city. All the petroglyphs were fascinating, and we had a lot of fun wondering about the meanings of different symbols, but I particularly liked this set we saw right at the end of the canyon. Strange thing, too—a few hikers had been ahead of us, and the hike is an out-and-back, not really a loop, but we never saw them coming back. Maybe the hands were warning us … ?

“Turn back! Alien abductions beyond this point!”

Thing We Learned #4: Going out of your way can really pay off.

I don’t know if any of you watch the series Breaking Bad. I don’t, but Mindy does. There’s a particular restaurant that figures prominently in one season, apparently, and we went to check out the actual restaurant that provided the front for the show. Bonus: The lot next door is where we saw the emu I posted about Monday. Double Bonus: The food was awesome.

If not for the glare, you might see the ostrich out the window.

We learned several other things, but I’ll save those for another time. 🙂

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Telling Teens Reading Doesn’t Suck … Using Vomit

As mentioned previously (twice now), critique partner extraordinaire Mindy McGinnis joined me in the southwest for the weekend, including a set of presentations to my school.

The first two presentations were to younger students (grades 1-3 for the first, then 4-8 for the second). We broke the kids into three groups and had one come up with a character, one a setting, and one a “problem,” plus each group had to offer one random word. Then Mindy had to pull all that together and make up a story on the spot.

Ninjas are very popular this year. And Mindy managed to turn our school’s founder into a zombie ship captain on Mars.

The other presentation was a little more formal for the high school kids. Mindy talked about the idea of lots of stories having the same basic plot at their root, but weaving in specifics that make it interesting and new. She’d give several examples of a particular Big Idea, then offer a specific premise for the kids to guess.

For example, under “Boy and girl fall in love but can’t be together because ______,” she gave, “Pretty blonde with a perfect life falls for a Hispanic gang member from the wrong side of town.” Several of my female students jumped right in with the answer: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

I think many of the kids came away with the point Mindy wanted to make. The “sameness” of many stories is a good thing, because if you find one you really like, you can find others you’re likely to enjoy as well. (And librarians can help you with that!)

As writers, though, we need to remember the second part of that formula—bringing a fresh, new take to the same old story. Too often, we find ourselves just writing the same story with only superficial differences, and that’s just boring.

Oh, and the vomit? Yes, Mindy totally has a story that makes vomit relevant to reading. But you’ll have to hear her tell it sometime.

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