One of the best parts of my 2015 Pitch Wars experience was working with my mentor, Michelle Hauck. Her amazing fantasy book GRUDGING was one of my favorite reads of 2015, and I’ve been waiting patiently (aka not-very-patiently) for the next book in the Birth of Saints series!!!!
I am so excited to reveal the cover of FAITHFUL today on behalf of Michelle and Rockstar Book Tours. The book releases November 15, 2016! Check out the cover and enter to win a SIGNED copy of book 1, GRUDGING!
On to the reveal! 

Don’t you just LOVE the glowing lantern? Very mysterious…

Title: FAITHFUL (Birth of Saints #2)

Author: Michelle Hauck
Pub. Date: November 15, 2016
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Formats: eBook
ISBN: 9780062447173
Find it: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Goodreads

Following Grudging–and with a mix of Terry Goodkind and Bernard Cornwall–religion, witchcraft, and chivalry war in Faithful, the exciting next chapter in Michelle Hauck’s Birth of Saints series!

A world of Fear and death…and those trying to save it.

Colina Hermosa has burned to the ground. The Northern invaders continue their assault on the ciudades-estados. Terror has taken hold, and those that should be allies betray each other in hopes of their own survival. As the realities of this devastating and unprovoked war settles in, what can they do to fight back?

On a mission of hope, an unlikely group sets out to find a teacher for Claire, and a new weapon to use against the Northerners and their swelling army.

What they find instead is an old woman.

But she’s not a random crone—she’s Claire’s grandmother. She’s also a Woman of the Song, and her music is both strong and horrible. And while Claire has already seen the power of her own Song, she is scared of her inability to control it, having seen how her magic has brought evil to the world, killing without reason or remorse. To preserve a life of honor and light, Ramiro and Claire will need to convince the old woman to teach them a way so that the power of the Song can be used for good. Otherwise, they’ll just be destroyers themselves, no better than the Northerners and their false god, Dal. With the annihilation their enemy has planned, though, they may not have a choice.

A tale of fear and tragedy, hope and redemption, Faithful is the harrowing second entry in the Birth of Saints trilogy.
Exclusive Excerpt!
Not for the first time, Claire reconsidered her decision to stay when Ramiro had asked her. She’d lingered out of curiosity—and truthfully because it felt good to be needed—but they didn’t need her now with the Northern army defeated. She could return to the swamp and away from so many people. Despite her hopes of friends and community, she felt awkward here. Reason said she’d get used to their ways, but being around so many folk made her want to hide. Everything pressed down. The walls of the tent shrunk, pinning her in, and smothering her. It became hard to breathe.
She reached for a fresh strip of cloth, only to have her hand shake. She snatched the material and began to roll it, trying to shut out everything else, including her own doubts.
Before she could find a semblance of peace, though, someone shouted. Ladies screamed. Claire looked over her shoulder at the noise. A brown-bearded man in a poncho and a floppy hat ran in her direction. “My family is dead, because of the evacuations. Because of you.”
Claire gasped. He seemed to be talking to Beatriz, then his gaze found Claire.
“Witch!” His outstretched hand suddenly held a long butcher knife. “Witch! Stay away from us! Murderer! Abomination! Die!”
Fronilde dropped to the ground, but Claire couldn’t move. Surprise robbed her brain of a Song to stop him. Even the words of the Hornet Tune, which she knew as well as her name, deserted her. The man closed as everyone scrambled out of his way. Then Beatriz sprang from her chair to stand over Claire, holding up her hand. The tall, black-lace mantilla atop her head waved like a flag. “Stop.”
Something about the authority in the First Wife’s voice—or maybe her simple resistance instead of cringing or scrambling away—brought the man up short, making him pause for a moment. Just the moment the bodyguard needed to crush the lunatic to the floor and overpower him, wrestling free the knife. More guards came running from outside.
Breath rushed back in Claire’s lungs. Beatriz sniffed and touched a spot on her chest over her heart and then her forehead and stomach areas. “Imbecile. He didn’t know who he was dealing with.”
About Michelle: 

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling
metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons
help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children
by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A
book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for
any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.
She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query
Street, and Sun versus Snow.Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir
Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The
Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge.
She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.
Giveaway Details:
2 winners will receive a signed  copy of


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Today we have the first cover reveal for a book written by a 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee!!!!

Go ahead and add it on Good Reads now.

Or keep scrolling for the reveal at the bottom of this post! Seriously, all of us here at To The Shelves are in LOVE with this cover and hope to one day be as lucky. (Well, I, Steph, feel that way and am happy to project it on my fellow mentees.)

A long-time mentor and counselor, E.S. Wesley has worked for years to protect, encourage, and empower young adults to navigate a life that rarely makes sense. He believes all people are just waiting for someone to relate to their stories, so he makes up stories in the hope that someone will read and find a home there.

His stories are often strange and twisty.

Wesley lives with his wife in Texas, where he’s always writing. Texas has a lot of things that he likes, but Shelly is the best of them. Second best is his son, who introduced him to his wife. Sometimes we do things out of order—that just makes life more interesting.

Twitter ◊ Instagram ◊ Facebook ◊ GoodReads ◊ Website ◊ Snapchat: @eswesley



I’m so jealous of all the people who will be picked for the Pitch Wars class of 2016 soon. I was fortunate enough to participate in last year’s class, and I couldn’t be happier about the outcome. My book from last year’s Pitch Wars is coming January 2017, I’ve got an amazing agent, and we’re getting ready to sub a new book in the next month!

I’m not sure I could have done it without Pitch Wars. I learned so much from my other mentee comrades, from my mentor, and made connections and gained confidence I’ll need to carry me forward for years.

But enough about that. We’re here for the cover reveal of my Pitch Wars manuscript from last year, THE OUTS!


Caleb’s been changing ever since the memory-stealing blackouts—the Outs—started. He used to be a good, dependable, honor-student, but now his parents have vanished, and something inside tells him their disappearance is his fault.

That something has a voice—a voice that’s pushed him to kidnap a little girl. Caleb believes he did it to protect her, but now he’s starting to wonder if he’s the one she needs protection from.

Then there’s his friend, Kitzi. Kitzi knows a secret she can’t share, locked in her head behind layers of brain damage. Kitzi wants to help Caleb, but she suspects a connection between this little girl and the Outs. If she can survive Caleb’s mistakes and the strange girl’s reality-bending fits long enough to put the pieces together, her secret might save them. Or it could mean the end of everything.

And finally….
The Outs COVER
Don’t forget to add it on Good Reads!

A Message to the Incoming Pitch Wars Mentees

I wanted to write a post giving advice to the people about to be selected for Pitch Wars. Because for the people who get selected, this is uncharted territory. It’s awesome, and it’s new, but it’s a little bit scary. Things are going to happen. All of a sudden, people are going to look at you a little bit differently. The resources available to you just increased by a wide margin. But it comes with stress, too. You’ve got a deadline, probably for the first time ever. People are looking at you. They expect things, and that’s hard.

I couldn’t write it alone, because everybody’s experience is different. What I have to say might not apply to you. So instead, I polled the Pitch Wars mentees from last year, and I asked each of them to give their best piece of advice. The one thing they want you to know about the journey they’ve been on for a year, and you’re about to start. We all had different mentors, and we’ve all had different results, so everybody comes from his or her own place.

Everything in here rings so true.  I’ll do my best to collate the advice into topics, but really these nuggets of wisdom could all stand alone. These are the folks who have been there.

We’ll start with the initial approach:

Priscilla Mizell: Go in with a thankful heart and an open mind.

Erika Grotto: You might not get an agent out of this. You might not get an agent for this book. THAT’S OKAY. Pitch Wars is not just about this book. It’s about advancing your career as a writer, putting your work out there for others to critique, celebrating the victories, and commiserating in the defeats. You got into Pitch Wars because you have something to offer, and that something does not begin and end with one manuscript.

Suzanne Baltsar: It’s easier said than done, but you gotta run your own race. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and get discouraged, but remember writing is a marathon not a sprint. Then again, I hate running and am terrible at it, so don’t forget to stay hydrated and have some fun!

C.L. McCollum: Embrace the community! Everyone involved in Pitch Wars has been so supportive and encouraging. Both my mentor and my fellow mentees were a huge help whenever I hit a blue period and starting getting down on myself!

Heather Murphy Capps: Take your time — pause and THINK about your edit letter before diving in. The tight timeline will make you want to Go Go Go, Push Push Push. But a necessary part of good writing includes giving yourself permission to let the notes and your new ideas marinate. It’s ok to reflect before you dive in and ROCK that revision.

M.C. Vaughan: Know thy pace, and block out time accordingly. If you write best words during frequent, small blocks of time, do that. If you need a marathon session before you hit your happy place, do that. Set aside the time you need to do the work you need to be done, and guard it ferociously.

Steph O’Neil: This isn’t your big break. It will be something different to each writer who gets in, but ultimately, it won’t change your life or your writing unless you use it as an opportunity to change yourself.

Mike’s note: Can I suggest that you read that one twice? Seriously. Pin it to your wall. You’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Lynn Forest: Getting into Pitch Wars isn’t the biggest hurdle you’ll face on your writing journey. It’s a step into a larger world, a lasting community you’ll cry happy tears every time you realize you belong there. And you do belong there. No matter how many successes and failures (yes, both) you face, you’ll face them with your friends at your back. Don’t lose hope. You got this.
Your partnership with your mentor is an individual thing. Every relationship will be different. Some of you will become great friends. Some will become CPs. Some won’t. It’s important to embrace what you have and not compare it to others. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to hear about this mentee who got this, and it’s natural to think ‘oh, I wish I had  that!’ But that’s self defeating. Play the cards in your hand. Some other thoughts on mentor relationships and the revision process:

David Gillon: You’re taking part in Pitchwars to gain the advice of a mentor. That advice may go counter to your own instincts. You don’t have to follow their advice, but remember, you’re doing this for their advice, and they know more than you do. Give it a try before discounting it.

Jenny Ferguson: Every mentorship is different: don’t compare and do make the very best of your experience.

Rebecca McLaughlin: You’re a writer. You like writing. You love it, in fact. But these next months aren’t about writing. They’re about revision, and revision is the hardest thing to practice because it’s at the end of the writing road, which is a very long road on its own. So take these weeks and commit to revisions the same way you commit to writing: wholeheartedly, fervently, and with a hard-won passion that toes the line between stubborn workaholic and manic inspiration. You can do this. Tackle it. Revel in it. Learn from it.

I was amazed how many people addressed self care. It wasn’t something I really thought about, but here are some ideas:

Sheena Boekweg: Calories count, even during Pitch Wars. You are going to be spending a lot of time eating your feelings in the next few months/year, and yes, your feelings taste best brownie flavored, or perhaps as ice cream, and you might think that eating the entire bag of Swedish Fish is necessary in order to rewrite your book in two weeks, but the calories won’t go away as easy as they came. Take more walks. Choose to mindlessly eat sugar snap peas, or carrots, and not the entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s.

Leigh Mar Take care of yourself! Get enough sleep, bolster your immune system. A lot of us wound up getting sick about halfway through the revision period last year. Spoiler: Revising is a little easier when you don’t feel like death.

Tracy Gold: Take care of yourself in healthy ways with all of the emotional stress you’re in for. Check out more on her post here.

Relly Annett-Baker: this was my survival kit: 1)Batch cook meals  2) print a calendar of the next two months and work out what time you have AND BOOK IT IN 3) make friends on the Facebook group. They will understand you in a way your partner, friends and even possibly your mentor won’t.

M.K. England: Schedule relaxation time. Probably sounds strange, but if you relax without giving yourself permission to, your brain labels it ‘slacking off’ and beats you up for it. You need that time, though. At least one day per week, give yourself a few solid hours of video games/hiking/netflixing/whatever hits the reset button on your brain. Take care of yourself.

Kamerhe Lane: Recognize that taking time off is an integral part of the creative process. When you hit a tough spot, the right strategy is not always to power through it. Rather, the solution may be to read a good book, go see a movie, take a walk, play with your kids, go out to lunch with a friend. Let your mind wander. Sometimes the wanderings are the only path forward. That said, sometimes you *are* being lazy and whiny, and you need to just shut up and get the work done. So be self-reflective and try to figure out which strategy you need to employ when.

Kat Hinkel: Be prepared to let the experience kind of take over your life, but also try to not let it. (no good advice on the latter. I was in the former camp) … I am pretty sure that I drove all of my friends and family nuts talking about it, but that’s sort of how it goes. The mentee group will be your anchor during this time… rely on everyone in the group! Don’t be afraid to participate. Don’t get jealous or compare yourself. Offer to work as a CP early on (trade writing with people. Work together on updating your query.) And most of all–enjoy it. It’s a very special experience. It goes fast. Try to stay positive and remember you are learning a lot in a short period of time!

These next comments I decided to put into their own section. I don’t really know what to call it, but it’s super important. Everyone is going to have things happen for them at a different pace. There will be people who get agents and book deals faster than you. That’s a new feeling, being happy for someone while simultaneously wishing it was happening for you. It’s hard. You’re all going to feel it at some point. Or maybe it will be the opposite. Maybe you’ll be first, while your friends wait. Either way, it’s hard.

Heidi Stallman: Don’t compare yourself to others. It is poison. It is also impossible not to do. So forgive yourself for the inevitable comparisons and let them go. Everyone’s journey is different. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different. Go the distance at your own pace in your own way and honor your own unique path.

Lyndsay Ely: Manage your expectations on all things; don’t raise them too high out of excitement. Mentally prepare yourself for a lot of emotional ups and downs—both yours and the fellow mentees you will come to know. Celebration and disappointment will happen concurrently. Don’t be afraid to celebrate, and don’t be afraid to express disappointment.

We got a few takes on how to handle the agent round (Apparently my advice to drink heavily isn’t “responsible.” Whatever. It’s a valid plan.)

Elizabeth Newman: During the agent round, schedule a trip, go to the movies, or set timers on how often you can look at the page. It is very easy to otherwise fall into a constant trap of “refresh.”

Cindy Baldwin: The agent round is very, very stressful. I really underestimated the amount of stress it would be (and I even got requests!). It’s tough to feel like you’re in limbo, and it’s tough to see other people’s posts getting tons of responses while you’re getting fewer or none at all. Schedule some serious self-care during the time the agent round is open! And keep your expectations realistic; while many in our group went on to get agents with their Pitch Wars books, only a small handful had those offers come about during or shortly after the agent round.

And several thoughts on what happens after the agent round:

Julie Artz: Pitch Wars isn’t over at the end of the agent round, and neither is the stress of the process. Even if you’re one of the few who sign with an agent in November, the stress continues in a different way as you go out on sub to editors or as you wait for that first review on your debut. So pay attention to self care now, because your ability to roll with ambiguity and stress will be useful throughout your writing career, not just during Pitch Wars. The more you can enjoy the writing process (and ignore the stressful business stuff) the happier you’ll be.

Jim O’Donnell: Write something new. You may or may not get requests. If you get a lot, write something new, and if you don’t get any, write something new. You just spent a lot of time on this manuscript, it’s time to write something new. And I don’t mean something new with your PW MS. Stop revising. Yeah, that’s a great idea for a new twist on your PW MS, but it doesn’t count as something new. Sure, your PW MC would be more exciting if they were half camel, but for now, write something new.

Maria Mora: Take this one step at a time (it’s a marathon), and make a new email address to query agents with so you don’t spend every waking our refreshing your normal inbox at work.

Eric Bell: Learn to wait. Learning to wait, to be comfortable with the silence that comes after sending your work into the world, is an essential skill you must master if you want to succeed as a writer. There will always be unknowns – responses on queries, submissions, feedback, input, reviews, you name it. Waiting is hard. You will wait at every single step of the writing process. Find your coping mechanism and adapt, because waiting isn’t going away. But neither are you, right?

And then a final, closing thought from Amanda, who more than anybody else has kept our group together. She ran our mentee Facebook page and helped steer everybody. Who better to close the post?

Amanda Hill This is exciting! Celebrate! This is humbling. Listen. This is hard work. Do it. This is just one step. It does not get easier after this, only harder. Don’t be afraid. Take what you learn and keep going. Love those you do this with. Love yourself.

Pantsing To Plotting: How I Plot Now

What are we going to do today?

But no, maybe just our novels.

A few months ago, Cindy wrote a pair of posts (Why I Switched and How I Plot Now) about her experience switching from pantsing to plotting. It inspired me to try and last week I talked about why I have officially switched to the plotting camp. This week, I want to share how I plot, as a follow up.

I used Cindy’s post and a ton of the resources she shared as I did this, especially this post from Rachel Aaron. Then, I made the process my own.

For me, that meant much of the adaptation process involved using cloud-based technologies. I’m one of those people who hordes stationary and never uses it. If I can’t find something with a search in my e-mail or Google drive, I will never see it again. It also means that I can write from anywhere, and switch devices if I need.

I set up my organization on Trello is an online corkboard. Each board is a collection of lists, which have have cards on them that can be reordered or filled with information. I made a LOT of lists: Act 1, Act 2 part 1, Act 2 part 2, Act 3, Plot, Characters – Major Players, Characters – Other, Setting, To Do.   It looks like this when it’s empty:

I filled in what I knew for each column, which wasn’t much: a few scenes that made me excited to write, a couple of characters, the main plot, and a character arc or two. Writing this now, the idea that I almost sat down to write this story with so little information is terrifying. Moving on.

At this point, you need to know that eventually all these lists will fill up. But they are going to look empty for a while.

For me, my “Plot” list had the most information, so that’s where I started. I added a card that said “Pre-Writing Query Summary” and wrote out a few paragraphs that identified the main characters and conflict. Then, I made sure I had a card for the main murder mystery and any subplots, including character relationship arcs. Because I had written the pre-writing query summary, I had an idea of where I wanted to go.

Next, I gave each card that represented a plot or relationship arc a color. This is important for later. At this point, I wanted to jump right into the ACT lists to plan scenes, but I forced myself to write a beat sheet. A beat sheet is basically a plot outline that highlights several beats, such as the inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc. I used a beat sheet from Save the Cat, a screenwriting book that I’ve read several times. (You can find a description of this beat sheet here, while the Save the Cat website has tons of filled out beat sheets for popular stories.)

Save the catAnd…. ha! Yep, I could fill in some stuff, but there was a lot I couldn’t fill in yet. Good thing I didn’t create scenes or start writing (even though I wanted to!).

I left my mostly blank beat sheet and moved on to my “Character” list on Trello. I went through each plot card and made a character card for every character I knew I would need for each plot. Most of them ended up on my “Major Players” list, but some ended up on my “Other” list.

I used a list of questions from Robin LaFever’s blog to explore my characters (Cindy shared this post). I did this for every character on my “Major Players” list. Every. One. Some of those characters ended up playing a much more minor role than I initially thought, but I understood all of my characters so much better.

Now, I went back to my beat sheet and tried to fill in more. I still didn’t know enough to get it all right, though. So, I tried something I’d never done before: Time Lines.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 at 12.20.06 AM

Using LucidCharts in Google Drive, I made two timelines. The first was for my main plot. I started with the murder and worked my way backwards and forwards – what lead up to the death? What came after? How did the players respond to what was happening and what would that look like. It gave me a bigger picture of what was happening in my story and really helped me narrow some ideas down for my beat sheet.

The second time line I made was for my main character and her current girlfriend and ex. I gave each character a different color and plotted the ways their lives intersected…. from birth. It told me a lot about them that I hadn’t figured out yet: why had they chosen their careers? How long had they been working towards it? When did they start dating? When did they break up? What are their significant anniversaries? I then took all of this information and added it to the character cards on Trello.

At this point, I could flesh out my beat sheet, but I still had one major list to complete before moving on to my ACT lists. Setting. I had a few general ideas about setting in my mind: there is a school, an apartment, a police station, a furniture store. I gave each location a card and really thought about what it would look like. That meant for my school, I thought about how many teachers and students attended, how the classrooms were assigned, what the principal’s office looks like, how far the nurse’s office is, what the parking lot looks like.  For the apartments I thought I might use, this meant searching for apartment layouts and adding a picture, thinking about the quality of furniture there, how it is decorated.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 at 12.16.28 AM

I added a lot more information to these cards than I ever used in the writing, but I also got way more details into the draft–and kept the details consistent–because of this planning. For example, I made a card for the entire town and wrote about the different areas – which sections had money? Where are my main locations located within the town? What does the town value? Who has power? I referred to these cards over and over again while drafting.

So far, this has all appeared pretty linear, but that feels a bit disingenuous. Yes, I focused on one list and then the next, but I constantly went back to cards on other lists to add information because I kept discovering more. At some point I thought I would run out of things to know about my story, but it never happened. Even during drafting, I kept finding more. And I know when I sit down to revise in September, that I’ll keep learning more.

Okay… now for the fun part.

Remember I said I color-coded each plot card? Now I get to use that color coding in the ACT lists. I started in “Act 1” and started adding scenes based on the beat sheet. Each scene received a color or two that indicated which plotlines it connected to. At this point, I also began dividing the scenes into chapters. I indicated this with “1: Martha arrives home to find out her husband has aged himself into a 12 year old.” (This is not actually what my story is about.)

I thought after all my planning, adding scene cards would be easy, but this turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. It was also the most helpful. I still can’t believe I almost skipped this step to start writing.

As I wrote down scenes of things that needed to happen, I started to find my plot holes. Things that didn’t make sense, subplots that didn’t feel natural. Things I otherwise would have found while drafting or in revision. I fixed them in the cards before writing a single word.

I could also see the distribution of my plots over the course of the whole book. The color coding allowed me to make sure that my main plot dominated, but that my subplots were evenly sprinkled throughout the book. I cut subplots and characters at this point because I realized they didn’t work with my story.

I also hit a stalling point in my third act. I couldn’t figure out how to end it. Part of me was tempted to start writing and figure it out, but I took a few days and worked on act three. I realized that my problem wasn’t act three, but issues with act one and act two. And I reworked major things in the book. Once I had all my scenes card done, I started writing.

In many ways plotting the whole book onto scene cards felt like I was able to do a round or two of revisions before even starting my book.

Pitch Wars Behind The Scenes Part 2: The Mentors Strike Back

Hi there. Mike again. If you read my post yesterday, you might notice that I’m on a different website today. I’m in hiding. They’re looking for me over at my website, so I moved over here to To The Shelves, which is a group blog, shared by the mentees of 2015.

See, after I wrote yesterday’s post, there were…repercussions.

The middle grade mentors responded with their typical dignity and decorum.


The YA mentors looked up from their phones, rolled their eyes, then went back to ignoring me.

The Romance writers…they had a more measured response.

Kill him

So now I’m on the run from a team of romance writing assassins. At least I assume they’re romance writers. They’re sarcastic, they use a lot of dirty words, and they’re wearing pajama bottoms.

But I would not be deterred. The people need the truth*

You see, there are other groupings of mentors beyond age category, and as the contest goes toward the end, these groups become more and more stratified, turning on each other like a group of hyenas fighting over the remnants of Poomba’s carcass.

The first group consists of mentors who have already made their picks and realized that nobody is going to fight them. You can tell this group by the smug looks on their stupid faces. You’ll hear them saying things like ‘I wish the selection period was over so I could start working with my mentee today.’ And of course you’ll also be able to recognize them by all the other mentors giving them the finger behind their back.

You're an asshole

The next group are those who haven’t decided. You can tell these mentors by the coffee stained shirts, the bags under their eyes, and the e-readers surgically attached to their hands.


The third group took on different tactics. They found a book that they loved, looked around, wondering if anybody else had seen it. Then they did the honorable thing. They ran and hid. Like Rue in the Hunger Games, they took to the trees, hoping everybody would overlook them. We’re hoping they make it back in time for the selection reveal, although some reports suggest they don’t even exist.

And that of course brings us to the last group. They found the MS they love, only to find it also loved by another, like some crazy book love triangle. Or maybe two other people loved it–that would make four sides–a love square? That doesn’t sound right. What about a love trapezoid? I’m sure romance writers know the answer, but it’s not like I can ask them…that whole ‘trying to kill me’ thing.

I got a quick look at this group — though trust me, you don’t want to get too close. They’re touchy. But this is actual footage of the preparations.


That’s our report for tonight. Thanks for stopping by To The Shelves, and while you’re here, check out all the great posts by last year’s mentees on a whole variety of topics.


*Still not true. Still making everything up.


Pitch Wars: What will you give up?

I love television. I miss television.

As much as I adore Pitch Wars, no one should underestimate the amount of time and dedication it takes, both on the part of mentors and mentees. Pitch Wars hammered home a lesson that others may have learned sooner: Writing doesn’t magically flow through your fingertips through breaks in your life.

Throughout most of my 20s, inspired by my love of Jennifer Weiner and other funny women’s fiction writers, I had a vague idea of a book I wanted to write. I had this idea that at some point I would sit down and Dedicate Time to My Book, perhaps once I broke a leg or needed bed rest after surgery. Tip: If you are mentally scheduling catastrophic events as a way to find time to Do Your Thing, you may need to reevaluate your life.

Instead, between 2010 and 2012, I helped raise a second puppy for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, puppyhelped rescue 30 cats from a hoarding situation, got a new job in a new city, and moved to Chicago. We bought a house. I dedicated many hours to trying to be a success in my new job as a magazine editor. I watched my favorite television programs.

Suffice to say, I did not work on my book for about two years.

I went back to it in late 2012 and began plugging away. But even then, I prioritized a lot over writing. It came after magazine editing, work travel, social commitments, family obligations and vacations.

My book was finally ready, after several drafts, in spring 2015. I entered Pitch Wars and, miraculously, was chosen by the awesome Laura Heffernan. Recently, I looked back and realized one of the questions she asked was about my other commitments.

I promised to her that, apart from a work trip to London in September and obligation to my day job, that I was willing to give up any spare time to her and her edits. I kept that agreement. I spent most of the time between the end of August and the end of November on the couch, rewriting and editing. I’m not going to lie: I barely saw my husband, who was dealing with a family member’s medical emergency far away. I stopped going to the gym. A three-day holiday weekend was spent with my fictional characters. I skipped having an October birthday party. I put all the television and movies I wanted to watch on hold.

I wouldn’t change any of it. Not because of how much I learned, the agent experience, or even becoming a part of Pitch Wars community. That was all fantastic. But a year later, the main lesson I took away from Pitch Wars was that it reinforced what it means to put your writing first. That habit stuck with me once I shelved my Pitch Wars book. It took me four years to complete a draft of that book. It took me six months to draft Book 2 earlier this year.

Whether or not you get into Pitch Wars, there are very few of us who are allowed to write creatively all day. Many mentees have children, and most had (or still have) day jobs. Some were students, some had major mental health or physical challenges, some had emergency family crisis.

A lot of those situations reflect how, at the end of the day, you are still a person. By all means, live your life. Trust me, Brenda Drake does not want your marriage to fall apart because of Pitch Wars.

goodenoughBut. Pitch Wars reminds me of something one of the authors of “Good Enough is the New Perfect” said at an event many years ago. I don’t remember whether it was Becky Beaupre Gillespie or Hollee Schwartz Temple, but one of them said, essentially, to stop trying to achieve work-life balance.

“It doesn’t exist,” she said. “Instead, think of seasons.” She said that there will be seasons in your life where you are focused on your family, or on your career, or your book.

Pitch Wars is going to be your season. It’s not to say you can forgo all obligations. But it will teach you an incredible, invaluable lesson in what it means to be selfish about your art and to make your writing a priority.


Pantsing to Plotting: I Drank the Kool-Aid


Here’s the honest answer to why I pants: I’m impatient. I sit down to flesh out my ideas and my characters and the next thing I know I have a draft. It doesn’t help that I fast draft (I write or attempt to write a sh*tty first draft in two weeks). It’s easy to tell myself to go ahead and pants it because it’s only two weeks of my time. If it’s terrible, I can plot it and try again.

But, this is the thing: I never actually try again.
More than that, my life has become so over-committed in the last few years that two weeks to write IS a big deal. I haven’t finished the first draft of a manuscript in THREE YEARS. That is terrifying to me. I used to finish multiple first drafts a year, even if I didn’t revise all of them.
So, when Cindy wrote her posts about switching from pantsing to plotting (Why I Switched and How I Plot Now), I was intrigued. Reading her posts and all of the resources she listed, I decided to try plotting. I thought it would:
  • Fix any plot holes I had before I encountered them in the story.
  • Make sure I didn’t drop subplots and characters and allowed the development of the story to happen smoothly.
  • Write my draft easier.
Did it work? Yes. Enough that I am officially a plotter.
For my current project, I didn’t just switch genres, I switched categories. I went from working on YA sci-fi to adult mystery, something I had never written before. It scared me, so it seemed like a good project to plot.
What did I learn?
Plotting is fun – it is all the good parts of creating a story, like discovering the quirks of the characters or the setting or figuring out the motivations behind the antagonists actions. It’s also HARD. There were times when I wanted to just stop and write the thing, but I made myself wait; I was impatient only because I had a problem with my plot.


The first two acts were relatively easy to plot. I learned pretty quickly that a character who I thought would be an important side character didn’t actually have a place in the story and removed her. I was also able to make sure that my subplots were evenly spread throughout story, adding tension, personal stakes, and making my main character feel like a real person who has other things going on. Essentially, I fixed things that usually wouldn’t get fixed until revision.
Then, I hit my final act, and… everything stopped. I spent two days like this:


Then I realized that the reason I didn’t know how to bridge from my lowpoint to my climax was that I didn’t have enough clues for my mystery. At the suggestion of one of my fellow PW15 mentees, I decided I needed a red herring. Once I figured that out, it was SUPER EASY to go back and weave it into previous scenes.
But that wasn’t the only way to solve my problem. This was a mystery and my character isn’t a cop. She needed a way to find out certain information. She needed someone with a certain skill set…


I added that character into one of my subplots. This character enriches the world, helps that subplot feel real, and, at the end, brings that subplot in to help the main plot finish strong. I almost want to say it was easy. But it wouldn’t have been had I plotted the first two acts and waited to solve the problems of my final act. Figuring out how to better set up my conflict for a powerful conclusion would have launched me into revision hell, emphasis on the hell.
So this is to say, I drank the Kool-Aid. I am now a plotter. Stay tuned for my second follow-up to Cindy’s post: How I Plot Now and maybe a few thoughts on how drafting feels now.

ReRun Sunday: How Pitch Wars (and beyond) is like Harry Potter

Today, we have an awesome PitchWars post that originally appeared on Kat Hinkel’s blog!

I admit it. I only wanted to write this post because I have a deep abiding love for both Pitch Wars and Harry Potter. (and I wanted an excuse to use some HP gifs, okay?) Guilty as charged.

BUT… I think there are some great parallels that can be drawn between the two… so bear with me

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles...

I appreciate your patience, Dumbles…

Getting picked for Pitch Wars is like getting your Hogwarts letter…
When I found out that I got into Pitch Wars, I was out with a group of friends… I remember seeing Brenda’s tweet and then rushing to look at the list, and the scrolling down to find my name… and I found it! (it was misspelled, which was fine, but my title was there so I was like YESSSSS!) Luckily we were out at a pop-up beer garden at the time, because if I had started shouting and jumping up and down inside… well, we might have gotten some strange looks. But basically, this was me…

They're my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier...)

They’re my letters!!!!!! (Harry, just pick one up off the floor. Much easier…)

Your Mentor is like a Hogwarts Professor (well, a non-evil one…)
Working with Michelle Hauck during Pitch Wars was so wonderful. Michelle dedicated tons of time and effort to making sure my manuscript was in the best possible shape for the agent round, and she also helped me work on my pitch, first 250, and query letter. (Michelle goes above and beyond for her mentees, that’s for sure). I knew I was in good hands when she told me how much she loved the story and made some excellent suggestions on characterization, pacing, and stakes. Yay mentors!

well done, well done I say!

well done, well done I say!

September and October are like doing tons of magic homework (sometimes it may feel like a Binns essay. or worse, a SNAPE essay) … but luckily you have your friends in the common room to help
September and October were months full of work. BUT luckily, there were 124 other people also working just as hard on the same deadline. Some days it seemed like there was too much to do and I would never finish my edits on time. Sometimes I needed someone else to give advice or help bounce ideas or to share expertise… that’s where the “common room” comes in. Using the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter, and hanging out in our super-secret mentees FB group (no I will not tell you the password to get past the painting!) kept me going and reaching towards my goal. Without these folks, I would not have had nearly as much fun during Pitch Wars.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn't writing related? ummmm.... no.

you think you can accomplish anything else in life during those 2 months that isn’t writing related? ummmm…. no.

And on the topic of your “Pitch Wars class” …
We have become a writing family… these 124 people who live all over the world are my tribe. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

“While you’re here, your house will be like your family…”

— Minerva McGonagall

The Agent Round (and then querying) is kind of like the Triwizard Tournament
But it’s only the first challenge. You may get requests, you may not. It’s all okay! You can still query after Pitch Wars, knowing you have an amazing manuscript.

Querying is like the second (and third… and the fourth/fifth/sixth/etc(?)) challenge… it’s just another step in the process! I queried my agent in December with the query my mentor helped me to polish, and the manuscript I’d worked on revising for 2 months. I mentioned Pitch Wars in my query letter, and I think that made a difference. I know that my manuscript was stronger because of PW.

Freaking! Out!

Freaking! Out!

This is alllll to say — Pitch Wars will not magically solve all things, and it is a challenge to get through. But it is so very worth it and it was one of the best experiences of my life (much like reading Harry Potter!)

And I think that’s the end of this very, very extended metaphor. Thanks for reading!

Chapter Endings: Pull Your Readers Forward

Chapter Endings: Keep Moving Forward

As readers, we’ve all been there, staring at the page at 1AM with bloodshot eyes, muttering, “Just one…more…chapter.” Of course, this has a lot to do with the story as a whole, but have you ever noticed that that desire to keep reading is amplified by how the chapter ends? As writers, it’s our job to craft chapter endings that pull our stories — and our readers — forward. But sometimes, finding the perfect end to a chapter can be tough, especially if your drafting method is to write one continuous document and split it up during edits. Staring at tens of thousands of words that suddenly need to be broken into two or three dozen neat little chapters can feel overwhelming.

Need some help figuring out where to begin end? Here are some popular types of chapter endings, with illustrations from a few of my favorite books.

The Cliffhanger

It’s the stuff of TV season finales. Your favorite character is sprawled lifeless on the ground as the screen cuts to black and the credits roll. Now, you don’t have to be quite that dramatic (though it’s definitely a viable option). More subtle suspense can still leave your reader wondering what’s going to happen, thereby enticing them to turn the page. Look for places in your story where something BIG happens. Once you’ve found that big event – rewind. When you’ve found the apex – the point where your character is teetering on the edge of that pivotal moment – FREEZE. Stop your chapter there, and don’t reveal what happens until the start of the next.

As we walked inside, I grabbed Mom’s hand. I was going to tell her thank you. I was going to tell her I loved her. But I didn’t. Because when we walked in the door, Dad was lying on the floor.
Megan Jean Sovern, The Meaning of Maggie

The Question

This one is similar to the cliffhanger, but slightly more specific. Is there a shadow gliding along the moonlit wall, slinking ever closer? Is your main character about to open an old trunk she found in her grandmother’s attic? Dangle the carrot in front of your reader’s nose, then end the chapter and leave them asking WHO IS IT? WHAT IS IT? WHAT’S INSIDE???

For a while we hold each other’s gaze. Then, without even rustling a leaf, her little hand slides into the open and points to something above my head.
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

An Emotional Note

This is particularly good if you’ve had an emotional build up to the chapter’s final line. It may be the end of an argument, when the final barb is thrown, or in the midst of a crisis when your character has a sudden epiphany about life. Or it could simply be that one amazing line that says so much in just a single sentence that you absolutely have to tweet it RIGHT THIS SECOND. Angry, sad, melancholy, sweet, or poignant — leave your reader feeling all the feels (and wanting more).

And so we sat, Father and I, primly, like two old women at a parish tea. It was not a perfect way to live one’s life, but it would have to do.
Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A Bit of Humor

Again, this is similar to the last suggestion, but more specific. I love when an author leaves me with a smile or a snort of laughter at the end of a chapter. Like the other emotions listed above, that reaction pulls me into the story. Now I’m even more emotionally hooked and I want to keep reading.

“I’m not going to be murdered,” Harry said out loud.
“That’s the spirit, dear,” said his mirror sleepily.
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 

The Natural Breaking Point

Look at most books and you’ll notice not every single chapter ends with a big cliffhanger or emotional punch. Some of them simply end at a place that is convenient for pacing purposes, like cutting out extraneous details by having your character leave home at the end of one chapter and arrive at their destination at the beginning of the next without describing everything that happens in between. Or the chapter might end where there is a natural pause, like a transition from one day to the next, or the conclusion of a particular scene. All of these things keep the story moving forward. When paired with a strong plot and interesting characters, even seemingly simple chapter endings will leave invested readers wanting to see what happens next.

“I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burnt hair, old gowns, one glove apiece, and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.” And I think Jo was quite right.
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

And lastly: Go With Your Gut

The more you write the more you’ll instinctively know where to end your chapters; when to gently tug your reader on to the next scene, and when to jerk them forward on the edge of their seat. Just like the rest of your book, you’ll find that chapters have a rhythm and a structure, and soon you’ll learn to recognize each one’s beginning, middle, and…end.

Pep Talk: You Are More Than This Moment

This pep talk was intentionally kept until after the Pitch War window closed. You’re all Pitch Warriors. Good luck. -The TTS Team


 So. You entered Pitch Wars, and you didn’t get in.

Maybe you got some requests from mentors who ultimately turned you down, or maybe you waited through the decision period with the crickets in your inbox growing ever louder. Maybe you got feedback from the mentors who passed you by, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’ve had to sign off Twitter for awhile to focus on some self-care. Maybe just seeing the words “Pitch Wars” is making you mad.


Pull up a chair, my friend. I’d like to tell you a story of someone—several someones, actually, who were all in your same place once.

Many of us 2015 Pitch Wars mentees had applied for Pitch Wars in previous years without getting picked. I first heard about Pitch Wars in 2014, not terribly long before the submission window opened. I had started querying for the first time a few months before, without a single agent request or other promising occurrence. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to work with a mentor on the book that I loved, but which clearly wasn’t grabbing agent attention. And (duh), I was thrilled at the prospect of getting that revised work in front of tons of top-tier agents in a contest that had already resulted in agent matches and book deals for so many people.

I was a serious writer and felt like I had a serious chance. I talked up Pitch Wars to my best friend, and together, we sent in our submissions when the window opened.

She got in. I didn’t.


I was pretty crushed. I’d been so secretly confident, and then, boom. I didn’t have a single request from any of the four mentors who I submitted to. I signed out of my newly-created-just-for-Pitch-Wars Twitter account and took a good long look at my true potential. I wondered, deep down, if this was the end of the road for me. I recently found a series of emails I sent to that same best friend after I didn’t get into PW, wondering anxiously if I’d ever have it in me to write more than “pretty words” (my specialty).

As the days passed, I did get feedback from two of the mentors I’d subbed to, both saying similar things. I knew, deep down, that that feedback echoed the feedback I’d gotten from the publishing industry as a whole: that the book I’d subbed was never going to go anywhere.

Eventually, I stopped querying that book and moved on to a new project. And the next summer, that new book DID get me into Pitch Wars, as well as landing me a lot of requests both through the contest and through the regular query trenches. That book didn’t ultimately get me an agent, though; I had to start querying yet another project before I finally, finally got The Call.

Want to know the two biggest things I’ve learned from all of these experiences?

1. I may be good at some stuff, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I am a lover of lyrical, literary word-smithing. Prose that sings its way across the page is what I love to read and write. And by the time I applied to Pitch Wars in ’14, I was pretty good at that. But there were a lot of other things—reading the market, plot structures, deep characterization—that I wasn’t that good at. Getting rejected from Pitch Wars was a tough, but necessary, wake-up call, reminding me that although there were a lot of things I’d gotten good at, I still had a long way to go. Once I got over the sting of the not getting in, I was able to pull up my big-girl pants and get to work. The next manuscript still wasn’t perfect (obviously!), but it was much, much closer.

This wasn’t only my experience, either—I’ve talked with several writers in the 2015 mentee group who also applied in previous years and got rejected, but the rejection experience or feedback they received from mentors they applied to gave them the courage they needed to do the hard thing and beef up their weak spots before applying again.

2. I am more than this moment, and I am more than this book.

Remember how I said I loved the book I entered PW ’14 with? And remember how I said that even the book I got into PW ’15 with didn’t land me an agent? Both of those things were hard to swallow. My PW ’15 book was, really, the book of my heart; it’s still a book I think about almost daily, and one that I intend to go back to and rewrite again in the future in hopes of someday making it marketable.

But not getting into Pitch Wars in 2014—and my later experiences with rejection, as well—taught me a second important lesson: As a writer, I am more than any one moment, and I am also more than any one book. Although shelving my previous manuscripts was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, it also taught me resilience and courage, and it taught me to place my long-term goals (have a writing career creating books that I love) over my short-term goals (sell this particular book).

And that lesson has been, and continues to be, an invaluable one, because in many ways, rejection in this industry never stops. Sure, I have an agent, but now I’ve faced editor rejections; once my book baby is out in the world in a real, hardcover form, I’ll be opening myself up to rejection from reviewers, readers, and critics. Sometimes, all of that potential down-the-line rejection can feel overwhelming, until I repeat to myself: I am more than this one book.

So, those of you who are reading this in the wake of not making it into Pitch Wars, take heart. You’re not alone. And though you’re hurting, you won’t always be hurting. Allow yourself some time to grieve, to focus on self-care and whatever that looks like in your life. Take whatever time you need.

And then buckle down and take a hard look at your long-term goals, and always remember:

You, my friend, are more than this one moment.


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