Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

Dynamic Voice Acting

Whether you’re thinking about a podcast, joining #AuthorTube, or just wanting to wow the audience when you read an excerpt from your own writing aloud to an audience, being a dynamic voice actor has a lot of benefits — for writers and creators of other forms of media.

In the titular panel, August “Gus” Grappin, Starla Huchton, Tee Morris, and Veronica Giguere, with Erin Kazmark moderating, shared tips to help you rock the voice acting world.

How IS Voice Acting Different Than Just Acting?

Of course, voice acting is a form of acting. But, when most people think of “actors”, they think of people on stage, television, or film. Without others to interact with, voice acting is a whole other ballgame.

  1. Without an audience, there is no feedback
    • Those who feed off the audience find this a detriment
    • Those who the audience makes anxious, find themselves better able to relax and get into character
  2. Theater is a team sport, unlike most voice acting
    • In theater, a good actor can bring you up, a bad one can kill the scene
    • In voice acting, you’re typically recording in a room by yourself and you have to trust the others to bring their A-game
  3. It’s hard to match the energy, when you’re not all recording together
  4. For audiobooks – it can be challenging to get feedback or direction from the author.
  5. You have to use a microphone!

4 Tips To Keep The Narrative Itself Dynamic

Characters lend themselves to different voices, based on age, gender, and energy level. Narrators can be trickier. Third person narrators are almost an eye-in-the-sky, while differentiating a first-person narration from the character’s dialogue offers a few challenges.

  1. Find a ‘character’ for the narrator. With good writing, the setting itself is a character and lends itself to a certain tone.
  2. “Make a meal of your words,” says Phil Rossi. Linger on the words, with the exploration of the world coming through with your tone.
  3. Think of the ‘narrator’ as ‘the storyteller’. Not someone reciting the words but someone telling the story to a fascinated audience.
  4. In that vein — try to imagine that you’re talking to an actual person. A friend that you don’t want to bore (or roll their eyes).

7 Ways To Make Characters POP

When you are trying to differentiate in your voice between different characters, it can be easy to fall into cliches — be it a shrill woman, a thick-accented foreigner, or a slow, low male voice. And wild characters can be hard to understand.

Luckily, there are some tricks that can help.

  1. Moving or changing posture between characters.
  2. Giving a character a physical tic — twirling hair, glaring, talking out of the side of their mouth
  3. Being careful not to mumble or speed up during action scenes
  4. Pay attention to your use of breath and pauses. They can be dynamic but, don’t “Shatner” or you’ll “Shat all over your audience.” (thank you, Tee)
  5. Pay attention to the character’s attitude — don’t make the focus of your delivery be on their gender
  6. If your voice is naturally feminine, hardening your delivery, even without lowering your voice can help
  7. As the narrator, hold the tension. Let them relive the experience as you bring the listener along for the ride.
    • I have a horrible habit of rushing jokes because I can’t wait to share the punch line. You don’t want to drag it out, but you want the audience to get there at a natural pace, not rush them, nor drag it out.

Reading aloud, be it for a animated show, podcast, or live audience can be nerve-wracking. But, if you’re dynamic, your audience should enjoy themselves.


Were there any tips you know that the panelists didn’t get a chance to mention? Are there things you enjoy in your audio dramas that you’d love to see more of? Or things you keep seeing that you HATE?
Let me know!

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back again next week with even more panel notes from #Balticon53. Because I’ve got a book of notes here.

How To Be A Good Moderator

Having attended, at this point, easily over a hundred panels in the last 5 years, I definitely have opinions. And there is one role that can make or break a panel.

Whether you’re a writer guest-of-honor on a panel at a convention, or just hosting a dinner party, being a good moderator is highly underrated skill.

My favorite panels are where the big names are friendly and informative, and the smaller names are confident with their answers — without anyone talking over each other.

In the titular panel, Barbara Krasnoff, Grig Larson, DH Aire, Jennifer Povey, and Jazmine Cosplays, moderated by… Um. I think it was Barbara, but really? It was the most polite and self-moderated example of a panel I’ve ever watched.

How To Prepare To Moderate

When you sign up to be a panelist, or you’re asked to be one, pay attention when you get your schedule. If you’ve got that big ‘M’ in parenthesis, you’ve been selected as the panel moderator. Which means, you don’t have to know everything about the topic, you just have to make sure your panelists share everything they know.

  1. Read up on both your topic and your fellow panelists.
  2. Prepare open-ended topical questions
  3. Read the panel description — sometimes it gives you all you need for discussion questions!
  4. If you get fellow panelist emails, reach out and coordinate
    1. Ask them what questions they’d like to be asked
    2. If there are identity sensitive questions, give them a heads up
    3. Pay attention if there are tangents they ask to avoid
  5. Decide if you want to give introductions for the panelists, or make them introduce themselves.

How To Guide The Conversation

There are panels that basically run themselves. The panelists are solid on the topic, friendly and gracious at taking their turns, and make a lot of fascinating points. Other times? The conversation could use some… guidance.

  1. Know who the audience is here to see — if there is a big name, or subject matter expert, you might let them talk a little longer.
  2. Make sure everyone gets a turn. If someone is going on a bit, redirect.
  3. If you think you might have a chatty panelist or two, feel free to inform the panelists of a time limit on answers during the introduction phase.
  4. Ask leading questions
    1. You want to make the panelists look good!
    2. You can use leading questions to get back on topic, after a tangent
      • NOTE! If the audience is looking interested in the tangent, you can let it go a little.
  5. Watch the panelists, if they seem to perk up at something another panelist is saying, take note of that and come back to them, especially if they haven’t been dominating the conversation.
  6. A difference of opinions is more interesting than everyone in agreement — as long as it’s a case of personal preference and not a personal attack.
  7. If the panel conversation seems to run dry, or the topic was too obscure, let the conversation veer. Especially when it’s engaging the audience.
  8. Save 10 minutes at the end for a Question and Answer period. And don’t hesitate to open the floor for questions early if the conversation has ground to a halt.
    1. If the audience is huge, try to leave extra time for the Q&A, and be apologetic if you can’t hit them all.
  9. The last 2 minutes should be for the panelists to give closing thoughts… and do their book/social media plugs.
  10. If you run out of time, you can always offer for people to send their questions to you on social media — assuming the panelists are open to answering more questions.

How To Shut Up Panelists

Some panelists love to hear themselves talk, others talk a lot when nervous, and others are so excited about the topic they’re just overflowing with things to say. But. A panel isn’t a monologue, and sometimes you’ve just got to move the conversation along. Or, a panelist might be working their way toward embarrassing themselves, or getting a little too worked up.

Some things to say to redirect the conversation

  1. “Thank you, SPEAKER. QUIET-PANELIST, what did you think of what SPEAKER just said?”
  2. “Thank you. Let’s give OTHER-PANELIST a chance to answer the question.”
  3. “I’m gonna have to stop you there. Our time is getting short.”
  4. “Now, it’s time to move on to NEXT-PANELIST.”
  5. “That’s a great topic. I’m going to suggest it for a panel next year.”
  6. “Oh hey, I think someone in the audience had a question.”

How To Moderate The Audience

Sometimes, the ones you need to watch out for aren’t even on the panel themselves, (although, some think they should be, and some may have been excellent additions).

  1. Be firm. The rest of the audience is here to see the panelists, not listen to the audience. When you open the floor for questions, be sure to let them know, “Questions only, no statements.”
  2. If they’re rambling, cut in. “Do you have a question in there?”
  3. You can use that, “That’s a great topic for a panel. You should suggest it for next year.”
  4. If there’s not quite a question, and you need to take the floor away from them: “Does anyone want to address that?”
  5. If an audience member crosses a line — either by repeatedly ignoring your requests, or saying something beyond the pale, you can kick them out. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.” And just wait, or ask someone near the door to call for security, if they leave willingly.

What NOT To Do!

Now, the panel didn’t go into this, too much. But, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in panels. I think we can find the rest of the answers from looking at, let’s call it, the negative space in the tips above.

The top 9 ways to be a horrible moderator

  1. Let it tangent off-topic, with an irritated audience, while there’s plenty of topic left to cover
  2. Don’t let the audience ask questions
  3. Treat the panel as your platform, with the other panelists as supporting characters
  4. Single out one panelist based on their identity, and make them speak for all people of their race/gender/ability/etc
  5. Share any fellow panelist contact info you have, publicly
  6. Let people talk over each other
  7. Tell people their opinions are wrong
  8. Let the audience or panelists bash each other
  9. Spew hateful rhetoric

A good panel is informative, entertaining, and friendly. If you stay in this industry, it’s likely that you’re going to see these people on future panels. If you moderate panels that people enjoy participating in and/or attending, it’s likely they’ll look forward to being on panels with you in the future.

“But I’m Not A YA Writer” – Gender Biases in the World of Books

I was raised thinking I was in a post-feminism world. We had the vote, we were out there earning our own money, with our own credit cards, standing equal to any man. But, the older I get, the more I realize that the biases are still out there. They’re just softer, well-intentioned, and far more insidious.

At Balticon 53, I attended “But I’m Not A YA Writer”, with panelists Sherri Cook Woosley, Gwendolyn Clare, and Julayne Hughes, moderated by Laura Nicole “Spence” and we discussed the modern trend of calling speculative fiction books written by women “young adult” (YA).

What’s the Difference?

I have a full set of panel notes on the difference, that I’ll be sharing later, but let me sum up.

Young adult novels typically center on teenage characters, often coming-of-age, and learning how to be independent. Thinking for themselves. YA is often told in first person, and sometimes in present tense. And YA has hope.

Adult novels can have teenage characters and can be coming-of-age stories, but the characters are typically a little older, or a decent portion of the book covers their adulthood as well. The solutions are usually more nuanced and complicated, the world building is often more fleshed out, the politics and economics are more complex, and the violence can be darker. Third person point-of-view is more common and it’s typically told in past-tense.

Now, these are all trends. YA is by no means a lesser skill and certainly can deal with dark themes and violence. When trying to categorize a book, think about a 9th grader, would you recommend it to them? Or not. The line often comes down to the voice.

Who Is Misclassifying Authors’ Books

When you hear about this misclassification, many of us think we know exactly where the problem is. But. It’s not what you might think.

Is it the lack of women in the upper echelon of publishing companies?

Nope. The publishers and editors are properly categorizing them.

Is it the marketing departments?

Not really. Their marketing teams are starting off targeting the right markets…

So where is the problem?

It’s when the book blurbs hit the internet that the real disconnect comes out. The book bloggers and good citizens of GoodReads are where a large percentage of the misclassifications are made.

How is this happening?

Clearly, there are tons of factors that go into this, and no amount of speculation can encapsulate each individual’s decisions.

And? Sometimes the line can be nebulous. But not that often.

Even if one starts off looking at the book blurb, with the proper classification, and comparing it to other books in the appropriate genre during a review, these books are often getting ‘shelved’ with YA.

And the only thing that might even suggest the novel is YA? Is the author’s name, reading as feminine. Or, the author becoming widely known as female.

The 2018 critically acclaimed novel, The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang was marketed as a drug filled, grimdark fantasy take on the war between China and Japan during World War II. The themes were dark, the voice was adult, and the book was marked down as being too violent or graphic for YA. It got tons of 1-star reviews, because the book wasn’t what the readers were expecting.

Which leads us into:

The Consequences of Being Misclassified

  1. You get marked down for not meeting expectations
    • 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon and GoodReads greatly affect your sales
  2. Your audience can’t find you.
    • If the real audience thinks the book is for their kids, they’re not as inclined to read it
    • When a story about a mother gets handed off to teen girls, the voice won’t resonate as strongly as it would with a mom

The LGBTQA community has gotten good at finding allies. At standing up for each other. There’s still push back, but they’re fighting hard to make sure their books are properly classified, not just shoved off into ‘special interest group’ or ‘adult’ sections simply because it contains characters that aren’t cis-gendered and/or heterosexual.

We can learn a lot from them.

So, how do we get around this?

The Call Of The Pseudonym

Publisher and audience biases have had women writing under pseudonyms or initials for centuries – from the Brontë Sisters, to George Eliot, to J.K. Rowling herself — women have used pen names to be more marketable. And? It seems to work.

Studies indicate, even Harry Potter might have had a harder time reaching the right audience if it came from Joanne Rowling.

Women these days, and others that don’t fit into the gender binary still succumb to these pressures. Because that’s how they make the sales to the right audience.

How Do We Fix This?

The sad news is, this isn’t something we can fix overnight. It’s not like we can print a correction in the paper and people will instantly stop. Instead, we have to help make the cultural shift. Here are some ways you can help.

  1. Pay more attention to how the books you read are classified by the publisher
  2. When you see a book improperly listed, think about reaching out to set the record straight
  3. Stop assuming boys won’t read female main characters. Or female authors. Teachers, parents, librarians: If you make it a non-issue? Often, they will too.
  4. Maybe you’re the target audience for books you’re not reading. Look at who you’re reading.
    • If you haven’t read a book recently by a female author, ask the internet (or me, in the comments below) for recommendations, based on your favorite male authors.
    • NOTE: This works for other markets – writers of color, writers of disability, LGBTQA writers, non-american writers. Branch out and see what you’re missing. Great writers can come from anywhere, but they only get the chance to shine if they can prove they have a market.

Any stories about gender bias happening to you? In any direction! Clearly, men writing in certain genres face similar issues. As, obviously, do people of other genders!

Any other suggestions on ways to help people move past their assumptions, and allow books to be enjoyed on their own merits.
With marketed expectation management NOT getting overridden by cultural assumptions?


As always, thanks for tuning in, and join me again next week as I share more writing tips and writerly musings from the over 24 hours of programming I attended at Balticon53.

I attend panels, so you don’t have to.

Writing Motivation For Doomsday Cults

Doomsday cults have been around for a long time, probably since the dawn of civilization. Writers and readers alike have found them endlessly fascinating. But, what motivates someone to start a doomsday cult? And why do people join?

In the titular panel, Gail Z. Martin, Lisa Hawkridge, Tom Doyle, and Darrell Schweitzer discuss real world cults and how to apply them to your writing.

Who Starts Doomsday Cults?

No two doomsday cults are the same, but many leaders share similar traits.

  1. A charismatic leader
  2. A need for control
  3. A professed conviction that something is wrong in society
  4. The ability to turn anything into a sign that they were right

Why Do People Join Doomsday Cults?

For those who have never been involved in a cult, it can seem fascinating and curious, but humans aren’t that complicated.

  1. Typically, people feel drawn to doomsday cults when they are in a transitory period in their lives
    • Leaving home
    • Ending a relationship
    • Death of an immediate family member
    • Job loss
    • etc
  2. Often people who have suffered personal trauma are vulnerable, especially to someone who says they have the answers
  3. They want to believe, and feel that by joining, they will be able to avoid death. Or have a clean death. Or be rewarded in the afterlife.
  4. People enjoy feeling smarter/better/more pious than everyone else.
  5. The peace of not having to make a decision can be addictive.
  6. And some were simply born into cults.

The 5 Stages Of A Doomsday Cult

  1. Recruiting and preaching. Doomsday is often about 30 years out, because it’s not too immediate, but a generation is soon enough to feel like you should care.
  2. Members are encouraged to give away their worldly belongings, and donate their money and services to the “good of the cult.”
  3. Isolate the members from normal society and other opinions.
  4. People start to see cracks in the leader’s story, but because of the sunk-cost fallacy, often don’t want to admit to themselves, (or others), that they were duped.
  5. Doomsday arrives.

What Happens After Doomsday?

When doomsday arrives and nothing happens, the leaders and the followers are left with few options.

  1. The leaders can make something happen
    • Jonesville – Revolutionary suicide – they drank the “kool aid”
    • Aum Shinrikyo – the leaders secretly set off the sarin attacks in Tokyo, causing the ‘end times chaos’ that the faithful expected.
  2. The followers may turn to violence
    • Turn on the leaders – riot, etc
  3. The leaders may double-down
    • Claim this was ‘a test of our faith’
    • Declare they miscalculated, and move the date out a few years
  4. The followers can outlive the leader
    • Either it slowly falls apart into nothing OR
    • It becomes a religion (7th Day Adventists, some say the Mormons, others say Christianity)

A lot to think about, but somehow simpler than it feels it should be.

Note, most doomsday cults take something from reality, some tiny grain of truth, and preach it through the looking glass. Understanding what factors go into real world doomsday cults can help you create people and worlds that contain them. And remember, when writing your own doomsday cult, you need something that is believable, truth can be stranger than fiction.


Anything the panel ran out of time to mention? Anything I got wrong?

Let me know how YOU’VE incorporated doomsday cults in your writing. And your favorite fictional cult you’ve read!

And stay tuned as I share more writing tips from the over-24-hours-of-programming I hit at Balticon53.