Monday 27 July 2015

So You're Pitching at the RWA Conference...

with Marilyn Forsyth

Image courtesy of
I can’t believe I’m about to air this publicly, but the first time I pitched at a conference and sat down opposite an agent, the opening words out of my mouth were ‘I’m not really sure why I’m here’.

Bah-bow! With a roll of her eyes, she replied, ‘Then you shouldn’t be here. ’Bye.’

Result: shortest pitch session evah! (But, dammit, she was right.)

What did I learn? That you should read everything you can find on the editor/agent you’re pitching to. Know what they’re after and ensure that’s what you’re offering them.

Also, act confident (even if you’re shaking in your boots). Editors/agents are people just like you, but even the nicest ones don’t have time to hold your hand through a 5-minute pitch session.

Image courtesy of
Between that conference and the next, I studied up on pitching. I wrote notes outlining the GMC of my main characters and all the major turning points in my book, then whittled them down to a 3-minute oration which I memorised word for word. I was nervous as all get out but hid it well (I think…). After introducing myself to my requested editor, I launched into my speech. It was going well until, mid-recitation, she asked me a question. Boy, did that throw me! I had my trusty notes but I’d lost my place and spent the next precious 30 seconds trying to find it.

Result: I ran out of time to finish my pitch. I was asked to send 3 chapters (but I suspect it was a pity offer and I didn't hear from her again).

What did I learn? That there’s a huge difference between verbal and written communication. Practise your pitch until it sounds as natural as if you’re talking with a friend. The editor/agent knows your story will end happily; what he/she wants to hear is how and why your characters fall in love, and the conflict keeping them apart.

Keep your pitch to just over 1 minute. Yes, one minute. Don’t try to cover everything. Treat it like speed-dating—intrigue the editor/agent just enough to leave him/her hungry for more and wanting a second date i.e. a request for the full ms.

My Pitch dot points
My last pitch took place at the 2014 conference. With everything I’d learned from my previous attempts, I went in acting (and almost feeling) confident. I’d researched the publisher to ensure my book was a good fit, read up on what the editor was looking for, and honed and practised my pitch to within an inch of its life.

Result: A request for the full ms!

What did I learn? Persistence pays off. Yeah! Twelve months later, my dream is about to become reality. Early next year my debut book will be published by Harlequin Mira!

So, to summarise:

Image courtesy of tinaquaruss.wordpress
1. Look professional by dressing nicely, and try not to be too self-conscious.

2. Start with title, genre, word length.

3. Move on to elevator pitch/tag line, describe MCs and their goals/conflict (dot point notes on cards), and be prepared to confidently answer any questions about your book baby.

4. State how your book fits the publisher’s line and what gives it that point of difference.

5. Thank editor/agent.

Go get ’em! Good luck!

Do you have a story to share about pitching? Or any added advice? Love to hear it.

Public Domain

I Love to Love Buzzfeed Quizzes on Facebook (one of my many forms of procrastination). Who knew I was Vincent Van Gogh in a past life!

I Love to Laugh out loud. Check out my Pinterest page at to see what makes me lol.

I Love to Learn by entering RWA writing competitions. The feedback I've received over the years has helped me achieve my ultimate goal. Big thanks to all you volunteer judges out there.

Monday 20 July 2015

Secondary Characters - Do They Know Their Place?

As a writer, I populate my books with characters of all sorts. Some play the major roles – the protagonists and the antagonist, for instance. Some characters play other vital roles in the story but are not the main characters. We call these secondary characters, or the supporting cast, if that sits easier.

Although they are not the main players in any story, they still have an important role to play. They still need to have substance, they still need to have reason to be in your story, but...they must not become the focus of the story and overwhelm your main characters. 

They need to know their place.

Secondary characters have all sorts of jobs in a story. Let's have a look at some.

The Mentor

The Mentor is the character who is specifically in the story as a guide to your hero or heroine. The one who listens and then advises, but never orders. Sometimes The Mentor is only in the story briefly, other times they are a character who is a constant in the story. It is up to the writer to decide how much The Mentor character is used and why.

Woody and Buzz from Disney's Toy Story

The Devil's Advocate

The Devil's Advocate is the character who puts doubt into your hero or heroine’s mind but is not necessarily doing something bad or meaning to put doubt in the main character’s mind. Sometimes this character is called The Fool, not because they are stupid but because they are often used to tell the hero the truth about something that needs to be said. Usually The Fool is ignored, only later to be found to have been right all along. This type of character, if used right, can be a powerful tool in your story.

Fry from Futurama

The Sidekick/BFF/Conscience

This character has the main character’s interests at heart. They don’t always do the right thing but they mean well. These characters usually mean a lot to the main character, who will forgive them nearly anything they do, but if they cross the line, making the main character feel betrayed or disillusioned, it can add a lot of emotional tension to the story. Or perhaps the hero lets down his BFF, the person who trusts him.
Sebastian from The Little Mermaid

The Unrequited Love

This secondary character is seen in many movies. She/he is necessary for that 'love triangle' trope that a lot of readers love. This character will do things to help, to protect, or simply to prove their love for the hero/heroine. There is so much scope for this secondary character, but a writer must be wary that the reader does not start barracking for the wrong couple and be unhappy with the choice the hero or heroine makes in the end.
Ducky in Pretty in Pink comes to mind as a good example of The Unrequited Love supporting character.

Peanuts by Charles M Shultz

The Know-it-all or Librarian

I always think of Hermione from the Harry Potter series when I think of this type of secondary character. The one who knows everything can be very useful to our main characters, giving vital information at just the right time, or perhaps never at the right time. They can also be annoying and endearing and a little odd, but they are handy secondary characters to use.

From Parks and Recreation.

Just because a secondary character plays second fiddle to the main character in one book doesn’t mean that they have to stay that way. A lot of secondary characters go on to graduate and become the main characters in their own stories. 

Two of my favourite secondary characters who ended up in their own books are Reginald Davenport from The Rake by Mary Jo Putney, and Vere Mallory from The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase.

You may recognise some of these secondary character types in books that you have read. So, tell me, who is your favourite secondary character? Did they end up in a book of their own? And which book was it?

I love to love – going to the movies with my son in his holidays.
I love to learn – that my CP is getting published.
I love to laugh – at my daughter’s cat and dog playing together.

Monday 13 July 2015

What I learnt on the Aussie Voices in Print Tour

by Karen M. Davis 

I was lucky enough to be a part of a “first” in Australian publishing history recently; a joint publishing house author book tour orchestrated by Simon & Schuster and Harlequin Australia. Three authors on a road trip around rural NSW to meet with readers who don’t usually have access to authors, to promote Australian stories.

My partners in crime were Jenn J McLeod, who writes contemporary small town tales set in rural NSW, and Tricia Stringer, who writes historical and rural romance set in South Australia. Since I write Sydney-based crime fiction we were all very different. A clever move, combining three authors from varied genres, as it provided variety and encouraged readers to look outside their usual preferences and perhaps experience something new.

It also ensured we didn’t hurt the competition – each other...

No, in all honesty, although it got hectic, we survived in a minivan with our respective publishers (5 in total) without an argument or cross word (that I’m aware of) while racking up around 2,000 kms and over 21 hours driving time. Not a bad feat for ladies who hardly knew each other. Thankfully we got along well or it could have been a long thirteen days…

What did we do?

Well, in between brainstorming, singing, eating and sipping the occasional wine, we had an event each day at a local library or bookshop where we each talked everything writing: our love of the craft, why and how we started writing, books, authors and people who have inspired us, the roller-coaster ride of highs and lows on the road to publication. Fortunately each event was casual and we could interact with the readers. They asked us multitudes of questions and we got to not just share information, but to learn from them also.

What did I learn?

Talk about brain overload. I took notes (literally—in my notebook, on my phone). My constant voice-recorded notes caused much amusement but did the job. Jenn and Tricia have been writing longer than I have and I benefited immensely from their knowledge.

Having the opportunity to be up close and personal 24/7 with our publishers was amazing. I learnt so much about the publishing world, and while I know there’s still an awful lot I don’t know, at least I have a slightly more educated insight into the industry.

I learnt about backlists, self-publishing on demand, advertising yourself as a brand, tag lines, networking and self-promotion. I have trouble with self-promotion—I have this thing about not being pushy. My background in policing makes me rather guarded and having been trained not to show emotion or give anything away does not assist in putting myself ‘out there’, even though it’s necessary in order to gain reader interest and let them know you exist.

I’ve always believed in supporting fellow writers but hadn’t thought about supporting bloggers and reading-related Facebook pages. Having met the lovely Shelleyrae from Book’d Out, I was amazed at the time and effort she, and other bloggers, put into their work without claiming a cent. I learnt about i-access, a website that allows vision-impaired readers to listen to books. I learnt more about great resources like RWA, ARRA, Sisters in Crime, and writers' centres.

But the most important thing I learnt is never to trust a person (Jenn J) who says ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ — after seeing myself and the lovely Anabel from Simon & Schuster on Facebook (in secretly-filmed footage) singing at the top of our voices. Not pretty, but entertaining on some level, I think...

Although it was exhausting at times, it was also exhilarating and an experience I will always cherish and be grateful to have been a part of.

I love to laugh... at anything really but especially at myself. Here is evidence that my partners in crime also enjoy laughing at me...

 I love to love the company of good and inspirational people.

I love to learn to conquer new challenges – like how to negotiate a phone/radio interview on the side of a highway with trucks roaring past...

Monday 6 July 2015

Accents: How to Write Them So Readers Hear Them

with guest blogger Alli Sinclair

If you've learnt another language, you know there is so much more than grammar to get right. There are inflections, complicated word orders, slang, rolling r's, silent t's… it can take years to master. Writers with foreign characters in their stories must not only have a good grasp on cultural differences, they need to understand the speech patterns of the nationality they're working with. It's easy enough to throw in oui or but most readers expect more than this.

Having learnt Spanish in Argentina, I understand the nuances of an Argentine speaking English, but you don’t need to move to a foreign country to perfect the accent you're working on; not with TV shows and movies giving us access to an array of nationalities to study.

In Luna Tango, the heroine is Australian and the hero is Argentine. My next book, Flamenco Fire, has an English heroine with a Spanish hero. His speech patterns and many of his words are different to my Argentine character—even though they both speak Spanish. It's like an Englishman speaks differently to a South African who speaks differently to an Australian.

So, how do I deal with these challenges? Bang my head against the desk? Some days I do, but that gets painful. So I resort to my network of foreign friends, immerse myself in movies or TV shows that have authentic characters from the nationality I'm writing about, and sometimes I just have a good look around YouTube.

Here's an example of how I wrote an Argentine speaking English (from 'Luna Tango'):
'Venting is cathartic, no? But please refrain from this when I am doing the teaching.’ He cleared his throat. ‘It is important for the leader to make sure the follower is feeling safe because if she does not, she will not reach a state of the meditation and this would be of great tragedy.'

You'll notice the extra 'the' and 'ing' words in this sentence. La and el (the) are used a lot in Spanish, so when my Argentine speaks English, extra 'the's' pop into his speech. And instead of saying 'this would be tragic', he says 'this would be of great tragedy'. Spanish is a beautifully poetic language so when Spanish speakers speak English they tend to use more words to say what they need to. Also, someone who doesn't have English as a first language often won't use contractions, so changing a don't to a do not can give extra authenticity. Just be careful you don't go overboard on this otherwise the character will sound like a robot!

Another thing to consider is your character's educational background. Are they now living in an English-speaking country? Someone who speaks English every day will be more fluent than someone who learnt it in a classroom in their native country. If English is their first language, where did they grow up? The UK has a wide array of accents that can affect how a character speaks.

Freaking out a little right now with so much to think about? Don't worry! There are many resources out there to help you nail the accent so beautifully that your readers will think you've channelled someone from the nationality you're writing about.

The best way to overcome the accent challenge is to research, listen, write. It may take a while to perfect but it will be worth it—your character will be more authentic and your readers will be thankful you went the extra mile.

Writers: have you ever tried writing your characters with an accent, and if so, how did you overcome the challenge?

Readers: can you recommend any authors/books that write character accents really well?

I love to love … my friends. There’s nothing better than connecting with someone who has a good heart and is fun and positive.

I love to laugh … at the crazy antics of my kids. They are an absolute joy and they love putting on performances to make people laugh.

I love to learn … of people's good news! It always makes me happy when good things happen to good people.

If you would like to read more about writing accents with authenticity, there’s a really fabulous post here:

Alli Sinclair is the author of Luna Tango, the first in the Dance Card Series, published by Harlequin MIRA.
Flamenco Fire to be released (2015) and Turning Pointe (2016)