Tag Archives: Virginia Romance Writers

Pitching in a Good Way

If you are going to a writers’ conference to pitch a book, here are some  “pitching rules” that I discovered in an article by Kerrie Flanagan, the director of the Northern Colorado Writers and a freelance writer.

1) Remember: agents and publishers want to find good writers as much as writers want to find good agents and publishers. With that thought foremost in your mind, act confident even if you don’t feel it, and try to stay relaxed. The more desperate you seem, the less you will be taken seriously.

2) Make sure you’re pitching to the right person. You don’t want to pitch a young adult book to a publisher who only handles romance.

3) Practice your pitch many times before giving it, and be prepared with a notecard of memory triggers if nerves make you forget where you are. It helps if you can explain the story in one sentence, giving character, goal and conflict. Maybe “The Hunger Games” could have been pitched like this: “Katniss is a teenaged girl from a futuristic, ravaged America who must win the Capital’s twisted and bloodthirsty version of the Olympic Games to stay alive, but whose win would mean the death of her good friend—possibly boyfriend—Peeta.”

4) After your hopefully stunning one-sentence pitch, use the rest of your time to explain what makes your book stand out, and which writers you can compare yourself to in terms of style.

5) Dress professionally. You don’t have to look corporate, if that’s not your style, but make sure that whatever your style is, it’s well-groomed and projects confidence.

6) Be polite. Take time to shake hands and make a bit of small talk before jumping into the pitch. Continue being polite afterward by sending a thank you note—regardless of how the pitch turned out. You want to make a good impression and cultivate relationships, even if this pitch didn’t go as you wanted it to. Leave editors and agents with a positive impression for next time.

7) If all or part of your manuscript is requested, make sure you send it out in a timely manner. Don’t let more than a week go by before sending it (which is why you have to have it finished before you pitch it).

Does anyone have any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Second Wind Publishing

Also available at Amazon.com

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More Advice from VRW, this time from Elaine English

The Virginia Romance Writers’ Christmas party was wonderful as usual, with a delicious potluck lunch, a fun gift exchange—I stole a beautiful red serving platter—and a riveting speaker, Elaine English, who is an attorney and literary agent based in Washington, D.C. http://www.elaineenglish.com/ is her website, if anyone wants further details about her specialties.

When Elaine first started talking, she apologized for bringing news that might be considered a bit depressing to a Christmas party, but she made sure to stress the bright points in the publishing industry as well.

First the bad news: print sales are dropping drastically, which makes the “legendary” publishers even more conservative. Most large publishing houses will not pick up new authors unless they are perfect in regards to matching current successful trends. And, of course, their manuscripts must be well written and well edited.

Another negative is that agents are opening up shop as publishers, which could be seen as a conflict of interest. If an agent-publisher likes a manuscript, what’s to stop them from publishing a book that might fit better at a different publishing house?

All writers must also become proficient as business managers and advertising executives, which isn’t something many of us care to do. We wouldn’t have become writers—expressing the creativity bursting forth from our souls—if we were interested in getting overly familiar with publishing contracts and branding. Perhaps that’s why the lawyer relationship is just as important as the agent relationship these days, so that reversion of rights and the term “out of print” can be thoroughly understood. (And make sure to find a lawyer who has specific experience in book publishing.) As far as advertising goes, it’s good to “know your brand” and market it well. Establish yourself in the virtual world and figure out how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd … because there is a crowd. Approximately two million new books are published each year nowadays.


Now a positive: there are more books to read, since many more books are published each year. More good—and great—writers have a chance to get their stories read.

But a few words of caution: all writers, no matter how good, need a good editor behind them. So if self-publishing is something you’re thinking about pursuing, be sure to get an editor—one who “gets” your voice—on board. You don’t want to get your book out there, only to discover it’s speckled with flaws.

It’s also important to understand “discoverability.” Writers tend to be introverts, so “social media” is regarded with dread. You have to get over that. Get comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and all the rest. The more solid relationships you develop, the more people you’ll know to support you when you announce that you’ve just published a book.


Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Second Wind Publishing

Also available at Amazon.com



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Chemistry and Subtext

I attended another fabulous Virginia Romance Writer meeting on the 8th of this month. The guest speaker was Sherry Thomas, and she talked about creating good chemistry between the hero and heroine, and about subtext. As a group exercise she had us divide into four groups, and each group had to act out the same scene with different subtexts. It was funny how differently the same scene came across, and the difference went way beyond the various settings that each group picked. One group had to express fright, and their setting was a graveyard. Another group had to convey sexual attraction, and they picked an office elevator. Another group had to portray indifference. My group was given this instruction: “the second character has to pee really badly.” In order to get that feeling of desperation across without words, we chose, as our setting, a courthouse in its first recess of the day. One lawyer tried to talk to another one about some requested papers, but the one who had to pee didn’t want to stand around and chat. The words being spoken didn’t matter nearly as much as the acting and our set design (we posted a bathroom sign, and the one who had to pee kept edging toward it).

Movies have a bit of an advantage over books. There are so many ways that a movie can convey a message—through lights, costumes, music, acting and sets. A book has only words, so how does it clearly show the same thing? According to Sherry, CONFLICT is the biggest and best subtext driver. If a conflict is set up well, then the meaning of the dialog will naturally evolve and be clear. She gave the example of one book in which the hero is really an antihero. At the beginning of the book, his difficult childhood is exposed so that the reader is able to gain sympathy for him, and better understand his later nastiness.


About good chemistry: both people need to have intellectual common ground, mutual respect, and an emotional commitment. Sherry thinks that the movie “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” perfectly shows all three, and it’s one of her favorite movies. In the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Smith hate each other. Love develops when they—through their actions as assassins—grow to respect each other’s work.

So how do writers enhance the budding romances in their books? According to Sherry there are several things to look for:

1) Does the plot challenge strength of mind and character?

2) Do the lovers affect each other’s growth?

3) Are visuals being used to best effect? One effective technique is to describe the hero through the heroine’s eyes, or vice versa.

4) How is the pacing? Is there just the right amount of anticipation?

5) Is the heat hot enough?

6) And, most importantly, does a love scene truly move the romance along or is it there simply because the hero and heroine have been together for several chapters now, so they’d better have sex? If the later is true, skip it. Sex isn’t the key factor here. Emotion is.


Lucy Balch, author of  Love Trumps Logic

Available through Amazon.com and Second Wind Publishing




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A workshop by Alicia Rasley

The Virginia Romance Writers started up with a bang on September 10th. After a quiet summer, they hosted a daylong workshop by Alicia Rasley. As is always the case with their workshops, it was well worth the time.

Alicia Rasley’s topics included character motivation and sentence structuring. I can’t give away all her secrets, but I’ll share ten of the juiciest tidbits.

On character motivation:

1) Make sure it’s your character’s motivation and not yours. Do you want your character to travel to NYC so that he can run into a long lost friend? That’s your motivation, not his. Why would he have wanted to take the trip?

2) Differentiate between goals and motivations. Goals are measurable and concrete. For instance, someone can have a goal of getting straight As in school, or finishing a writing project by a deadline. Motivations are more slippery: maybe a student wants the As because they get money for each A, or maybe it’s because they want to impress a teacher who will write a recommendation for college. Maybe a writer wants to finish a book by a certain date in order to pitch it to agents at a conference, or maybe they want to finish it before their grandmother, who is in hospice, dies. Motivation is the past. Goal is the future is one way to keep it straight.

3) There’s also a difference between internal and external motivations. A character might be saying he wants a gold medal to better the USA’s ranking, but deep down he might really be motivated by an old girlfriend—someone who broke up with him because she didn’t believe the goal was attainable and it was taking up too much of her boyfriend’s time. Give your characters an internal life to add depth to any story. Get to the root of their internal motivations.

4) Motivations and goals can change throughout the story. The mix-up keeps things interesting. You don’t want to write a story where there is a straight line between the statement of the goal and the attainment of it.

5) Distinguish between proactive, which motivates movement toward something, and reactive, which motivates movement away from something. Success is an example of a proactive motivation. Guilt is an example of a reactive motivation. If you create a proactive situation, make sure conflict interferes with the forward movement. If you create a reactive situation, make sure your character has to face whatever they are running away from in the end. Follow through and keep it interesting.

On sentence structure:

1) Avoid the generic, bland and passive. Use “shortstop” instead of “infielder,” for example.

2) Don’t use obscure language unless it has true purpose for the story. Don’t say “traversed the room” when “crossed the room” would work just as well or better.

3) Beware of starting a sentence with a participle, particularly “being” or “having.” When possible, end sentences with the most dramatic term in the sentence.

4) Know your purpose when writing. Is your purpose to inspire? To frighten? Use strong verbs for forceful situations, startling ones for spooky situations, etc.

5) Don’t get bogged down with trying to start each sentence differently. As long as the main clause is clear, and as long as each sentence in the paragraph means something different, you’re sentence structure is probably good.

Bonus thing learned:

The magic rule of three. According to Alicia, the Western mind is trained to respond to groups of three. Things in groups of three (3 tries to help, 3 appearances of a person, etc.) can add resonance and connectivity. Use the magic rule of three during turning points and important scenes.

Hearing that made me want to rework one scene of my WIP…..

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic


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Plotting vs. “Pantsing”

I’m not sure where the term “Pantser” was started, but it’s one that I learned through my Virginia Romance Writers’ group. For those who don’t know what it means, it refers to a writer who creates a story “by the seat of their pants,” without knowing the final outcome ahead of time.

I’ll admit that I’m a Pantser. I love to write off the top of my head, not sure of the outcome. Sometimes magical things happen while pantsing. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion, after many instances of writing myself into a blind alley, or worse, a dead end, that there is something to be said for being a Plotter.

Rebecca York, the February speaker at my VRW meeting, an author of many books, and a voracious reader herself, finally cinched my decision to switch camps. She revealed that she generally finds the Plotter’s stories more satisfying. She respects those authors who swear by pantsing, even likes many of their books, but their stories never quite hold up in comparisons to the Plotters’ stories. The Pantsers’ books tend to have loose ends, and never wrap up quite as neatly.

And something else, this coming from me, an up ‘til now die-hard Pantser: pantsing creates a lot more work for writers. If I’d been a good Plotter all this time, I know I wouldn’t have had to go through so many edits of my first published novel, Love Trumps Logic. And I know for a fact that I would have finished my young adult novel by now. It’s because I ran into a blind alley—killing off someone on a whim that I later regretted losing—that I have not yet finished it.

So I set a task for myself. I would plot the young adult book, not allowing myself to write one more word of the book’s text until I had a complete synopsis. I didn’t go so far as to make myself outline each chapter, but I had to get the gist of the story down on paper. The whole story. It was one of the hardest tasks I’ve set myself as a writer, but I’m proud to say that I finally accomplished it last week.

And guess what I’ve discovered, now that I’m back to actually writing the book? Plotting out the story, having buoys along the way to guide me, actually has made the writing process more fun. There’s no worrisome fear about winding up in a dead end, and no doubts about who will live or die. I know where I want to go and the getting there—the completion of those details—is now where I get to pants all I want. It’s a satisfying compromise.

As a Pantser, accomplishing a plotting goal was quite a feat, and I wanted to share my experience of it. I recommend that all Pantsers out there try it just once. You might be glad you did. I was.


Lucy Balch, author of

Love Trumps Logic

Available on Amazon (Kindle and print), and through Second Wind Publishing’s website

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Blurb advice

Diane Gaston gave a talk at last month’s Virginia Romance Writer meeting. She said that she writes her blurb and her synopsis before she starts writing the actual book. She inspired me to start writing blurbs for my still-to-be-titled young adult book that I’m working on, the same one that I had hoped to finish by the end of last year. Oh well…

I’d love opinions on the following three attempts. Which is your favorite? How would you change any of them?


When Nina finds candylicious liquid vials in their grandmother’s storage room, Nathan warns her not to drink them. His advice ignored, he’s forced to follow Nina to Cloud Seven, a place where he and his twin are given a chance to change history.

Their task isn’t easy. They must survive the wilds of Papua New Guinea as they attempt to rescue a cancer-curing plant from oblivion. Along the way, they find out that fierce cannibals and malaria are the least of their worries…



A routine stay at their grandmother’s apartment leads Nathan and Nina to a place they never dreamed existed. They’re given a choice: return to home and safety, or stay … and change the world by rewriting history. Of course, if they stay, there are no guarantees they’ll ever get back home…



1963: A scientist dies in the wilds of Papua New Guinea at the hands of fierce cannibals. The valuable plant he discovered is lost forever … or is it?

2011: Nathan and Nina Christy never dreamed that snooping in their grandmother’s storage room would get them transported to Cloud Seven. They’re given the chance to go back in time and change history. But at what cost?


Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic, a Regency romance available through Second Wind Publishing and Amazon.


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Breathing new life into a scene

I recently came to a complete dead end while writing my latest book. I could feel the story drifting out of control, and forcing myself to write only made it worse.

But I think I’ve turned a corner, thanks to the latest Virginia Romance Writers meeting. Laurin Wittig was the guest speaker, and she opened my eyes to a new way of looking at scenes during her talk about “Scene CPR.”

I’ve never been much of an outlining person, for the simple reason that I find outlines boring…even stifling. Whenever I attempt to write one I get stuck because I only know where my characters are going to take me when I’m in the midst of writing about them.

But now…now I have a tool. I can write spontaneously, letting my characters decide what to do, but afterwards…when I’m not in “creative mode,” I can go back and see if my scenes hold some key ingredients. If they don’t, I can rewrite over and over again, because once the words are down on paper the creative spell that got them there is completed and cannot be broken, even with hundreds of rewrites.

So here are the two key questions I’ve taken away from Laurin’s talk:

1) Does the POV character have a goal in the scene I’m examining? If so, is the goal interesting? Would a different character have a more interesting goal or, in other words, should the POV be changed in that scene?

In Love Trumps Logic, my novel that is due for release by Second Wind Publishing very soon, my first scene involves the hero, Lord Beaumont. His goal is to leave—as quickly as possible—a debutante ball that his friend, Fergie, persuaded him to attend. He’s been miserable ever since he got there, and now it’s time to go (read the book to find out why).

2) Does the goal create an interesting result? Laurin substitutes the word “disaster” in place of result, to remind herself to be mean to her characters. (The worst trouble we can manufacture for our characters, the more interesting the read. Hmmmm…what does that say about human nature? But I digress…)

Three possible good answers, in response to the question, “Was an interesting result reached?” are:

1) Yes, but…

2) No. (this one may not be interesting enough; a rewrite may be needed here)

3) No, and furthermore…

In Love Trumps Logic Lord Beaumont achieves his goal of escaping from the debutante ball, BUT he runs into a person he was trying to avoid as a result. You’ll have to read the book to find out what he does next …

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing:  Love Trumps Logic by Lucy Balch


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