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A year ago, I was lucky enough to be a late round addition to the PITCH WARS crew. And this year, I'm back, and I'm hungry. HUNGRY FOR MG MANUSCRIPTS!!

Insert obligatory "feed me seymour reference"

Looking back, and thinking about what the heck I'm looking for this time around, I ultimately decided that this year is basically PITCH WARS version 2.0. I STILL have an insatiable appetite for helping people with their manuscripts. Just call me a sucker for taking a manuscript and putting it through the doo-hickey of a machine I'd like to call "Tom's ultimate manuscript destroyer." Trust me, I mean that in the nicest way possible. Sometimes you've go to destroy the manuscript to bring it to that next level of awesome-ness.

And yes, I still take some sort of sick pleasure in wielding my fiery war-axe of monstrous editing and hacking away at the pages. Crazy much? But of course! I'm an author, and what author isn't crazy.

If you're here, and you don't know what the post is about, go ahead and click up there. Come it..this is all about PITCH WARS, baby!!! Heck yeah! Side note - anyone ever been paintballing that a word? Well..story time. I got nailed in the hand one time with a paint ball, and that's like the spot where you really don't have any protection. Needless to say, I have very little feeling left in my thumb. Quick, go tell your friends.

Now that you know what PITCH WARS is, you're probably wondering "who the heck is this guy and how can he possibly help me?" Let's take this opportunity to figure that out, shall we? Stay awhile, grab a chair or a bean bag cushion, and listen to my tale. A tale of mystery, and triumph! A tale of heartbreak and passion! 

And whiskey....good....monkey shoulder....bourbon.

Actually, it's more of tale of me being a mega-nerd, but whatever...ahem....

Who Am I?

Well, for starters you can find me on twitter - @COPERNICUSNERD 

that's right..Copernicus Nerd..what's that? You'll find out soon.

First and foremost, I'm someone who likes to milk the juices out of my ever-imaginative brain. Seriously, just stick my brain in a Nutribullet and drink the goo that comes out. You'll be granted with some phenomenal cosmic powers!!!!

Thanks, Genie. Appreciate the support. 

Anyway, I live in the good 'ol state of NEW YORK, out in that little dinky island that sticks out of the US. We call it Long Island, or with my accent it would be LAWNG ISLAND. I have a house, a wife ( who is my bestest-est friend in the whole, wide, world), a massive 100 pound doberman, and 4 cats....although 1 lives inside and the rest are just my outdoor kitties that hang out in the garage. We're one big happy family, and we're a bunch of nerds. Heck, I graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a degree of Cartooning. No joke, my diploma says "CARTOONING MAJOR" - I work in the comic book industry on the side..hence all the illustrations you may have seen haha.

In case you didn't realize by stumbling upon my other blog, I'm a huge gamer. I collect games, I play games, and to this day I don't know why my wife puts up with it. But you know what being an epic, gamer nerd did for me? It helped me create my first MG Book, COPERNICUS NERDICUS that snagged me an agent who I couldn't be happier with

Who is she, you ask? Why, it's Dawn Fredrick of Red Sofa Literary (be sure to follower on twitter, @RedSofaLiterary). How awesome is she? Well, let's just say she used to be a Roller Derby ref. You can't beat that.

I'm sure that's what you wanted to hear about, so let's get on with what the heck do I exactly write?

What do I write?

I focus primarily on middle-grade, and it's middle-grade that really pushed me over the creative edge with writing. The first book I had in the works, was COPERNICUS NERDICUS. Care to know what it's about, well why don't you swing on over to this page HERE and check out my query at the bottom. I'll give you a sneak's got mind-controlling video games, giant robots, and evil criminal organizations. 

We had that juicy tale on submission last year, but decided to hold off due to some feedback from publishers. There was a lot of love for it, but apparently, video games were a big thing and we just missed the boat. Needless to say, we're on the path to submitting my second MG journey, which I'll tease you with the title....

LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND. Think of goonies ,meets Indiana Jones, on a quest to discover the hidden secrets of Easter Island. Treasures, bad guys, giant birds, volcanoes, booby-traps (did you say booby traps?)

What am I looking for in PITCH WARS?

Oof, this is a tough question. REALLY tough question. Part of me has those grabby hands that just wants to get hold of all the insanely awesome writing that I know is out there. Trust me, I've been around the block a few times getting involved in these contests, so I know how many awesome writers are out there. I've made a large number of great writer pals by taking part in these. So just a word of advice before I even continue with what I want. Consider just being part of this competition a win in itself. The amount of experience, knowledge, and new friendship you're going to get out of this is priceless.

Anyway, on to what I'm CRAVING.

For Pitch Wars, I am looking for anything MG. Give me that MG adventure with a crazy cast of characters reminiscent of The Goonies, or a MG Sci-Fi / Fantasy with a world beyond anything I could have imagined. Heck, give me a MG contemporary with gut-tearing, laughter-inducing dialogue, and I'll still be all over it. But, it's gotta follow a few bits of criteria to REALLY spark my interest.

  • A POWERFUL middle-grade voice. Middle grade is ALL about the voice, and it's really one of the hardest things to accomplish when writing a MG novel.
  • A cast of believable and lovable characters. Can't stress how important this is. I need to be able to relate with each character, no matter how minor they are.
  • Rolling-on-the-floor and / or BELIEVABLE dialogue. I need it to flow to the point where I forget I am even reading, and feel like I'm actually listening to your characters.
  • A unique premise. It's a tough one, but I really want to see something that hasn't been done before, or if something similar has, a really, REALLY interesting twist. Gotta keep it fresh!
But don't let those requirements scare you. If you think you've got an epic MG novel that just needs reading, send it on over. I want something that's going to stop me dead in my tracks and bring my brain to overload mode!


What I don't really want?

  • Anything that's not MG - that's pretty much a given. I'll take lower MG, or Upper MG...but please know your age group. If you think you have a MG, but it's actually YA, I'll know lol
  • A little bit of the ultra-violence (clockwork orange anyone?) - Erm...this doesn't really go over well in MG, so I'd like to avoid over-the top violence. Blood and gore is okay, but it has to be MG tasteful.
  • Leaning more toward the heavy emotional contemporary - I'll be honest, I wouldn't be able to get a handle on helping with an emotionally heavy contemporary MS, as it's something I'm still working on myself. For me, it's all about pleasing that reluctant reader. I'm more of the "humor" based contemporary.
  • Re-tellings - As much as I love 'em...just can't wrap my head around 'em :)
Why should you even pick me!?

Hmm, let's see. Because I command you to...follow the watch...follow it closely...your eyes are getting sleepy....and you want to CHOOSE ME as your mentor...YOU KNOW IT IN YOUR HEART TO BE TRUE. IT IS YOUR DENSITY...I mean...your destiny. trust me, you're made for me if you know what movie that's from. Here's another HINT -

Real reasons? 

  • Okay, well I've been around the block with querying and had a pretty darn good success rate. Even had managed to get multiple offers of representations before deciding to settle on my current agent (IT WAS A GIVEN though..she's so awesome)
  • I've assisted in numerous other contests before as judge / jury and assistant, and I guess I'm pretty well liked in the writing community? Right? People like me? Hope
  • I know how important face time is, so of course I'll try to be available for a few skype sessions and really talk through the ins and outs of your MS. ITS GO TIME!

  • I am an active contributor to the awesome group known as MIDDLE GRADE MINDED!! Heck, we're a group of MG writers that just love to offer out some Middle Grade Advice! There's a few of us out there on the Mentor list! That's how awesome we are!
No, but seriously. If there's one thing I love to do with my fellow writers, it's to help my fellow writers advance. There's something about taking someone's manuscript to the next level with a few helpful words of advice. I know how hard it is to try to work on a manuscript that you've been blinded by for the past year. It's almost impossible to see what's wrong with it, and you'll always need that extra pair of eye balls to tell you what's what.

I'm harsh, but fair. And I always love to use a sandwich method when I critique. Good - bad - good. Because I know, there is ALWAYS more good than bad in your writing. Just by getting this far, you each have an amazing talent, and I just want to use my knowledge of the MG world to help you take that manuscript to that level of super-epic-awesomeness....and I know we can do it together. YOU KNOW WHY? This is why...

Now go! Go Follow the others!

Mister Linky's Magical Widgets -- Auto-Linky widget will appear right here!This preview will disappear when the widget is displayed on your site.If this widget does not appear, click here to display it.

The other day, good 'ol Brooks Benjamin, decided to pin me up against the wall and threaten my very existence if I didn't partake in doing a segment on MY WRITING PROCESS. Well, seeing how I didn't want to get sent to the depths of Hades under the wrath of Brooks mighty fists of fury, I gave in.

I'm kidding, it didn't go down like that. He asked me (very nicely), if I wanted to do it and I said "BUT OF COURSE!". Then he mentioned something that I would have never thought of. He said to me, "Tom, do it in comic form." To that I said.... good sir...

On that note, I spent the week whipping out some fairly quick web comics for MY WRITING PROCESS. While my writing process isn't explained in these strips, it's more of a gag, I had a great time doing it. No worries, I'll also explain in detail what goes on in my bonkers head.

Feel free to click on the images to get a larger version of them so you can read them better.

QUESTION #1 : Who Am I?

(I really suggest listening to this while you read this first strip - MASTERPIECE THEATRE)

So who am I? Well, I'm 30 years old with the mindset of a teenager. Seriously, I can't picture myself even when I'm 80 not wearing video game apparel, and rocking my Saturday Mornings watching some cartoons and playing some old school games.

Before I was a writer, I was a wannabe artist. I was good in high school, and was a comic book fiend. I never payed any attention in class, and all I did was draw on my brown-bagged textbooks. So what does an artist do? He attends art school. I went to the School of Visual Arts with a major in cartooning (no joke, that's a major and that's what my degree says..BACHELORS OF CARTOONING / ILLUSTRATION. It's like clown school lol).

Well, I learned something in college. My creative side wasn't really in my art. I'm not bad...but I'm not good. My creative side was actually in my writing. I was delving into writing comic scripts (which I still do), and then novels. That's when I started working on some middle grade novels, which ultimately led to me developing my first agented manuscript, COPERNICUS NERDICUS. (which you can see a description of on the link to the left).

A shout out to my awesome agent, Dawn Frederick! *waves* Be sure to follow her @RedSofaLiterary

Of course, I still draw, but I mainly write. However, in a week or so, I will be unleashing my new web comic to the world that focuses on my love for retro gaming. It's actually a side-story to my COPERNICUS NERDICUS universe which is pretty exciting for me. After all, I need to kill some time during submission.

QUESTION #2 : How does my Writing Process Work?

I'm not going to lie. That's what happens a lot with my writing process. I get all pumped up, raring to go, and then you know what happens. I get distracted. My writing binges usually happen at the oddest times.

At work, I run a lot of reports and when I'm waiting for them to finish up, I tend to do a load of editing. At home, I dabble in writing in between watching TV shows, and going on a gaming run. But that's just when I write. How do I write???

Well, let's talk about coming up with ideas. I honestly have no clue where my ideas come from. Usually it's just from day dreaming. Something will pop into my head, and I have to feverishly write it down somewhere. Usually it's on my iPhone. After the idea starts to stew a little bit, I start whipping out a quick outline that I usually follow while I prepare my first draft. In all honesty, my outline is tied directly into my query. I write a query letter to make sure my story makes sense. After all, putting your story into less than 350 words makes you think about its core.

First drafts are a blast for me. I don't think. I just write. Sometimes whatever is coming out of my head is absolute gibberish, but I'm just trying to get my story down. This is where I feel bad for my beta readers, because I pretty much come across as an absolute amateur in my original drafts, but that's how I roll, baby.

After beta readers, it's more editing. And more editing. And then more editing. And then editing. And editing. EDITING...ED..I..TI..NG.....yup. Lots of editing.

QUESTION #3 : How does my work differ from other works in my Genre?

You know, I thought about this question a lot. First of all, with COPERNICUS NERDICUS I can't find any legitimate "video game" focused middle-grade books out there. I mean there are a few futuristic based and dystopian based books (that are pretty damn good mind you), but nothing that takes place in this era of Video Games.

I tend to focus on my interests, and blow them up to a point where it can catch everyone's interest. I wrote COPERNICUS NERDICUS for the video game lovers out there, but I know I couldn't just write it for gamers. So I built an adventure-heavy, mystery diving plot into the book. It's all about figuring out who your platform is for your books that your writing.

QUESTION #4 : Why do I write what I do?

The thing is, my works are all bits and pieces of me put onto paper. It's all of my childhood dreams, and even my current dreams transformed into a middle-grade universe. I figured, hey, I'm crazy enough and act enough like a kid that other kids would enjoy my insanity! It could work, right?

I feel like I relate with kids more than I do anyone else. My wife says I'm never going to grow up. So do my parents. So does everyone else that I run into. But you know what? I don't want to grow up. What's wrong with wanting to live through the eyes of a child? I feel like I enjoy things more that way. I'm not saying I'm not mature. I whip out the maturity when I have to be. I'm like Robin Williams. Goofy most times, serious when I have to be. I'll run around my office doing impersonations.

Who else sits at their desk and talks like Smeagol while they enter reports? Me.

That brings me to why do I write middle-grade? Well, for me, it's all about being that kid at heart and pulling out that kid mentality and throwing it on paper. It's a venting system for me, and hell, it works.

QUESTION #5 : What are you working on now?

That's a bit of a secret. My beta readers know about because they just finished ripping it apart. But I'll give you a few clues because I kind of have to with this question. Picture Indiana Jones.....just cooler. Hahaha. Alright, alright. I've been working on a query for it so I'll put it here along with my final web comic on some of the things you'll see in my next book.....LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND.

(please ignore the horrendous query below, it's in the alpha draft phase lol)

For thirteen-year old, Lucas Peregrinus, summer vacations were never anything to brag about. After all, being stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere surrounded by Easter Island Moai statues wasn’t exactly his idea of fun. But when Lucas uncovers a relic that could lead to the forgotten Polynesian island of Manuki, his summer vacation enters uncharted territory.

Lucas and his archaeologist father take to the skies in an attempt to discover the island and the fabled Manuki Idol. The idol, worth billions could be the break the museum was looking for and secure his dads standing as lead archaeologist for the Museum of Natural History. But the vile, millionaire relic hunter, Arthur Stanwall, is following their trail and will do anything in his power to get his filthy hands on it first. After losing him in a mysterious storm shrouding an uncharted area of the Pacific, a shadowy creature stalks Lucas and his father from above and overtakes their plane. Lucas awakes from a crash to find that they are castaways on Manuki Island. 

But Stanwall is already there waiting for them.

On the island, Lucas befriends a local masked native named Kahu, who helps him unravel the mystery hidden behind the fabled Manuki Island and its priceless idol. But ancient treasures aren’t the only thing hidden on the island. A gigantic creature is hunting them in the shadows. To make matter worse, if the idol is taken, the once dormant volcano  on which the island lies on will erupt, destroying the island and its people.

It’s up to Lucas and Kahuto rescue his dad and prevent Stanwall from stealing the idol and therefore destroying the island. But Lucas needs to beware, for the island will do anything to do protect its secrets.

I hope you enjoyed that little trip into MY WRITING PROCESS. Be sure to check out others on #MyWritingProcess hashtag on Twitter. And thanks again to 'ol Brooks for asking me to do this. I had a blast.

For every epic story, there is a quest. For every quest, there is a hero. And for every hero, there's a sidekick. A sidekick can be anything from your protagonists best friend, to maybe something as simple as a household pet. Heck, in my story, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, Nic's sidekick is a fully functional battle-robot from an interactive video game. Strange, eh? It really doesn't matter who or what they are, there is one thing you have to realize :

They are JUST as important as your main character.

Before I move on and discuss just how important a side kick is to your main character, let's take a look at some famous side kicks in storytelling history. Oh, and feel free to comment with your own personal favorites. After all, every story has one.

Star Wars - There are so many to choose from, but thanks to my love of robots from my own MG novel, I can't resist choosing these two bucket of bolts.

What's great about these two guys, is that they're not even human yet they show such a wide range of human emotion that you literally feel for them just as much as you do Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and all your other "organic" characters. But that's not even the half of it. Without these two characters, the universe would be destroyed as we know it. Without that little R2 unit, we would have never seen the destruction of the death star, and who knows how long it would have taken for Luke to find Obi Wan. And what's a huge alien universe without a protocol droid?

Long story short - without these two guys, our Star Wars story would go nowhere.

Lord of the Rings - Sure, I could have picked Gandalf. Better yet, I could have picked Aragorn. But no, they aren't even close to the same level importance as my favorite hobbit. That's right, folks.

If Sam was hanging outside Frodo's window that night, consider middle earth destroyed. If it wasn't for Samwise's undying faith and love for Frodo Baggins, Frodo NEVER would have made it to Mount Doom. What's great about Samwise, is that he is weak and vulnerable. But the love he has for Frodo makes him stronger than any weapon at their disposal. He never ONCE gives up. Okay, maybe he does have moments of despair, but he comes through in the end. Sam is well deserving of the title hero of the shire.

Now what's the point I'm trying to make? Well, you can say one fact about secondary characters is that they all have their own intriguing back story that cannot be ignored. It creates some amazing depth in your story, and the fact of the matter is, your MC isn't the only person we're following in the story. Plus, it's a lot more realistic if your secondary characters actually appear to be alive, and not just cardboard cutouts or cookie cutters.

Oops, forgot -

I'm sorry Batman, I forgot about you and Robin.

There's one thing about secondary characters that make them quite possibly the most IMPORTANT part of any story. I want you to take a guess. Come on. Guess.

Done guessing?

Here's what it is - it's all about making YOUR MC evolve! And I'm not talking pokemon (but seriously, if you want to talk pokemon drop me a message on twitter or something). I'm talking about growing as a character throughout the story. Look at what I pointed out above with our side kicks from Star Wars and LOTR. Every one of them teaches the MC something about themselves that they didn't realize before. They go through moments in the story that are life changing for both sides. But without those side characters, there's little hope for your MC to get anywhere.

So do yourself a favor when writing your story. Don't just add characters as fluff for your MC to talk to or joke around with. Static conversation with another character doesn't go anywhere. I had made that mistake plenty of times when I first started writing. Make each conversation meaningful in one way or the other. And have each interaction between our MC and sidekick move the story forward.

Remember, it's not only about your MC. Where would Harry be without Ron and Hermione? Where would Wesley be without Inigo and Fezzik? Where would Bruce Willis be without Carl Winslow from Family Matters?!

Get it folks? Good - now get writing, and give me some of your favorite secondary characters!

*gulps* The CALL

You've been waiting for this day to happen for what seemed like an eternity. Since the first word fell on the page, until the last. You've done your research and you've queried only agents you know that would be interested in your epic tale. A handful have gotten back to you and requested pages, and some of them have even upgraded to full manuscript requests.

Then it happens.

You receive an e-mail (or a voice mail) and you can't believe it. An agent wants to schedule a phone conversation. That's right, an AGENT WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!


You are about to make - THE CALL!!!

Feel free to dance! You've earned it! It's no easy feat to get this far, but through perseverance and hard work, you've done it! But now the most important thing is not to panic, and not to let excitement get the better of you. It's time to put your business hat on.

When I first received the e-mail that my agent wanted to talk on the phone, I couldn't believe it was happening. I remember exactly where I was too when I saw it come in. I had just come back from Cape Cod, and picked up my dog from the kennel only to realize I had no dog food left at home. I was at the pet store, and lo and behold the e-mail came in. I responded almost immediately and arranged a call for the next week.

The first part of the call is all about preparation. It's a great way of calming your nerves too. I'll assume by this time you've done your research on the agents you've queried so you pretty much know what to expect in terms of what they're looking for, what sort of clients they have, and whether or not they are a boutique agency. But now is the time to prepare a list of questions that you can ask them.

Here is a handful of questions that I had locked and loaded for my phone conversation -

  1. What did you enjoy most about my work? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?
  2. Are you an editorial agent?
  3. Will I be working solely with you or with someone else at the agency as well? An Intern?
  4. How long have you been an agent?
  5. What are your most recent sales?
  6. How many clients do you currently have?
  7. Can I speak to a current client of yours? (this is insanely important. I can't stress how helpful it is to get insider feedback from someone already working with the agent. It's VERY helpful in making your decision!)
  8. Are you interested in future works by me?
  9. What happens if you can't sell this manuscript?
  10. Which publishers did you have in mind for my work? Will you update me on the submission process?
  11. Besides the novel, what other routes do you feel we can take this manuscript? (great when talking about merchandising, film rights, audio books, etc.)
  12. How much work is needed to prepare my manuscript for submission?
  13. Will you help with my proposal?
  14. Do you work with international rights?
  15. Do you have a verbal or written contract? (although I think now a days most agents seem to have a written contract. It's the best route too. Cover your bases)
  16. What is your percentage? Most agents to my knowledge are 15% domestic and 20% international.
  17. What would happen if we have to part ways? (if it turns out it just isn't working out. This does happen, as unfortunate as it may sound)
  18. What do you look for in a client?
  19. What questions do you have for me?
Now I'm sure you can come up with some other questions that are more specific to you, but this is just a general list I had scavenged up. It's better to be prepared though, trust me!

So the day arrives, and you're waiting for the agent to call you. The phone rings, and the first thing that comes out of your mouth is some sort of gibberish that you never knew was in you. Your nerves have gotten the better of you. It's all over! You've domed yourself!

Alright, alright. Calm down. Here's the most important thing to realize. AGENTS ARE PEOPLE TOO! They are JUST as excited to make the phone call as you are to receive it. There's a reason they are calling you, and it's because they LOVE your work!

Let the agent lead the conversation. Be personable, friendly, and throw in a sense of humor. You don't want to come across as a robot. Unless you are one. Then that's pretty cool. Anyway, they are calling you because they want to know if they can work with you. It's one thing for them to fall in love with your manuscript, but they have to know that you aren't going to be some crazy person too. 

Okay, you can be crazy. But not TOO crazy. 

Now the agent is going to be asking you a lot of questions. Think of it as a casual interview. They're trying to get a read on you and how well you know the industry and how it works. And to prepare you for this, I've even drummed up a list of questions I remember being asked across my phone conversations, and some that I had even planned to be asked about!

  1. How did you come up with your story?
  2. What is your platform?
  3. What is your target age group?
  4. How are you involved in social media? What is your presence?
  5. How would you market your book?
  6. What are your goals with your book? What are your expectations?
  7. Do you see this as a stand alone, or a series?
  8. Are you working on anything else currently?
  9. What do you look for in an agent?
If all goes swimmingly, you and the agent are probably having a shockingly smooth and natural conversation! Just when you think it couldn't get any better the agent hits you with this -

"I would love to represent you."

Feel free to dance again.

Okay, okay. That's enough. 

I know part of you wants to just scream YES, but hold on there! Aren't you forgetting you have other agents out there with your manuscript?

The first thing you want to do is thank the agent for extending the offer. Tell them how excited you are and how much you enjoyed speaking with them. Then tell them you would like a week or so to decide, and that you also need to get back to other agents regarding this turn of events. Trust me, they'll understand. It's business. They know you have been querying other agents, and they probably assumed other agents already have your work. They aren't going to retract their offer just because you asked them to wait a little bit. 

It's a courtesy! And it's very professional of you. Once you say your goodbyes, and you've caught your breath, go ahead and do your third little dance...yeah yeah, go ahead. Do a little jig.

Done? Okay.

Now all you have to do is e-mail every agent out there that has your manuscript currently and let them know that an offer of representation has been extended to you. It's up to you WHO you want to send it to. I personally sent it to agents that had some form of my manuscript (whether a partial or a full). Some of them will get back to you, some of them won't. You might find yourself scheduling a few more phone conversations in the next week depending on how much time you gave. 

Typically, the best mindset is to give around 7-10 days. That should be enough turn around and enough notice for everyone. Not too long. Not too short. 

After another 2 weeks or so, you've had all your phone conversations, and you may have even received a few more offers of representation. The only thing left to do now is decide who you want to champion your book. Now I cant make that decision for you, but I can leave you with a little piece of advice.

Go with your gut. Usually that's the right route to take. That one agent you KNEW you had an awesome connection with is probably the one who is going to work the hardest to sell your manuscript. 

And don't forget to pat yourself on the back - you did good, kid. Go treat yourself to some pizza.

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