Brighton Walsh, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author

The Power of Perseverance

After many years blogging with Bad Girlz Write, we’ve closed our doors and shut down the site. But I didn’t want all those posts to go to waste, so I’m going to be reposting them here where they can live forevermore. LOL

This particular post was the most visited on BGW and the one I referenced the most while I was part of the Pitch Wars contest. Three years have passed since I wrote this, but every bit of it is still applicable to each and every writer I know—published or unpublished, with one or fifty books under their belts. Keep on keepin’ on, friends.


Since I already did my post on what I constantly screw up for this month’s theme, I’m going to use this post to write about something that’s important for any writer: Perseverance.

If you want to make it in this business, you need it. There’s no denying that. You will constantly face obstacles and challenges—not to mention rejection—and it’s important you keep on keeping on.

This is the second year I’m a mentor for Pitch Wars, a writing contest where hopefuls submit their work to a limited number of potential mentors, vying for a slot as mentee. If chosen, there’s two intense months of rewrites and revisions under the guidance of a mentor, leading up to the agent round.

Right now, it’s selection period. The mentors have been researched (hopefully), their wishlists scrutinized. The submission window has closed, during which the hopefuls submitted their polished work, and now they’re all waiting with bated breath, hanging on the tweets of the mentors to see if their MS will be selected.

As I was trying to figure out what to write for this post, I put out a call on twitter (as one does) and asked what the Pitch Wars hopefuls would like to see. I got several tweets, but the one that stuck with me was, What should we do if we don’t get picked?

Well. I’m glad you asked. Grab your marshmallows, gather around the fire, and let Auntie Brighton tell you a little story…

Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a rejection concept. Sunset with clouds background.

August 2013, I submitted my query and the first 250 words of CAGED IN WINTER to a contest (I can’t remember which one…I thought it was Pitch Madness, but the timing doesn’t work, so just make one up) and then I waited. And I hoped. And hoped some more. I was so sure I’d get picked.

And then I didn’t get in. (Dun dun dunnnnnnnnn)

Did it suck? Hell, yeah, it did. Did I give up and never write again? (Spoiler alert: my sixth [now tenth solo, eleven co-written] book released last month.) So, uh, no. I didn’t give up. I picked up my bruised ego and my dented pride, and I kept going. I continued on the path I’d intended. I was fortunate in that my path wasn’t much longer. Two weeks after that rejection from the contest, I received the first of four agent offers on CAGED IN WINTER.

So what does this tell us? A few things: one, everyone’s path is different. Some get in contests and land an agent immediately and their book sells at auction. Some get in and don’t get any requests. Some don’t make it in and get a dozen. Some don’t do contests at all and query for a week and get an offer. Some find an agent after years in the trenches. No two paths are the same–your path is your path for a reason.

Two, some manuscripts just aren’t made for contests. There’s not enough room for them to breathe. They can’t shine. From 140 characters to 50 or 250 words…or even one chapter, sometimes that’s not enough to get to the gold of your manuscript.

Three (and this goes for more than just contests, but for errrrrrr’thing in publishing), reading is subjective. Ridiculously so. Every person who reads your MS is bringing their life circumstances and their baggage with them, and that affects their reading experience—for better or worse.

Lastly, the power of positive thinking didn’t kill me. It hurt a little after my hopes got crushed when I didn’t make the cut, but the main reason I was able to wallow for an hour, then shrug it off and keep going is because I believed in my work. 

I feel like I need to repeat this while putting it in all caps, bold, italic font, so I think I will: I BELIEVED IN MY WORK.

If you want to persevere in this business, you have got to have faith in what you write. Because if you don’t? Who’s going to?

During the 48 hours, give or take, since the submission window closed for Pitch Wars, there has been an influx of tweets on the hashtag, most mentees biding their time chatting while they wait to hear. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of negative thinking hanging out over there, too. Many are certain they’re not going to get in. So certain of it, they’ve pretty much written it off. Meanwhile, I still have approximately 30% of my subs to even open, let alone read. They’ve thrown in the towel before we’ve even had a chance to read their name on a submission form.

I’ve always been a believer in the power of positive thinking. I get excited over things that may never happen, but I do it because it makes me happy. I like looking forward to something, thinking about all the good possibilities. Is it disappointing? Well, sure, sometimes. But, hey, life is disappointing sometimes. At least this way I got some genuine happiness from hoping.

Here’s the real truth: this industry is chock-full of disappointments and rejections and many, many no’s. That’s just a fact. You are going to face it every leg of this journey from finding agents to publishers to working with editors to readers’ reactions to your book baby. The good news is it’s also full of lots of good news! But you’re sometimes going to have to wade through the bad to get to the good. One thing that helps is to remember you’re not the only one to go through this. Head on over to the good ol’ google and search for famous author rejections. There are a lot. Pages and pages of them, and many of them are classics or beloved books, ranging in category and genre. But what do they all have in common?

Not a single one of them gave up when they got that inevitable ‘no’. Will you?


Assignment #4: GMC

Your next assignment goes hand in hand with assignment 3. GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) is another peek at into the mind of your character. It’s also a great reference point to make sure each scene is moving the story forward based on these things.

I’m going to be honest and say I have a really hard time wrapping my brain around GMC before I write. I can tell you the GMC of any of my characters in books I’ve already written, but when it comes to characters I haven’t written yet or am writing now, I just can’t get GMC to work for me. That’s not to say I don’t know them in some roundabout way, because I do and it’s what I work toward while writing. But condensing it into three key pieces before the book is done is really difficult for me. If this is you, too, that’s okay! I’m a firm believer in trying new crafting tools, but not forcing anything that’s obviously not working for you.

That said, I have a lot of friends for whom this works fantastically, and you might be one of those. If that’s the case, let’s get down to it.

GMC is really very simple at its base. It consists of:

S/he wants X (goal) because Y (motivation) but Z (conflict).

My friend, Ellis Leigh, likes to use this very basic example:

He wants to get laid (goal) because it feels good (motivation) but his pants are in the way (conflict).

She also says, “But that example is super shallow. Some GMCs should be deep. Like, if a character wants to be married, the writer needs to unpack that. What does marriage represent to them? What is it that fuels that need? There’s a base desire at hand, more than love. Usually it’s something like security (physical, emotional, financial).”

I have smart friends.

So delving deeper into your characters’ goals and motivations could come directly from the character questionnaire you filled out, or vice versa. See how all this stuff works together?

For a more in depth look at GMC, check out Debra Dixon’s book. It’s something I own and a book that comes highly recommended. This blog post also goes much more in depth on GMC and may be helpful to some of you!

If you have a favorite GMC reference, don’t be shy! Share it in the comments.


Assignment #3: Character Questionnaires

In case you missed the first two assignments I posted last year, you can find them on my blog. Assignment 1 is on beat sheets (super important for everyone, as I’ve yet to have a mentee who didn’t need help in some form with pacing. It’s a very common problem.) and assignment 2 is on finding a CP (also super important so you can find your tribe). For this assignment, we’re going to talk a little bit about character questionnaires. What they are, how they work, and why you need them.

character questionnaireWhat are they?

They’re pretty simple. It’s a list of questions you answer as your character. If you google character questionnaires, you’ll find loads of examples on questions you can use. I have a total of 300+ questions covering almost twenty pages. Yes, it’s a lot, but it has always helped me get in the mind of my characters. I use Scrivener and a couple years ago tackled the project to break them down into categories for ease of finding the answers I need at a later time.

How do they work?

The idea is to answer the questions rapid style (remember playing the word association game by saying the first thing that came to mind? That’s exactly what you’re doing here.). You don’t want to think about how your character would answer it; you just want to answer it. Another cool tidbit: the questions you leave unanswered sometimes tell as much about the characters as their actual answers do.

Why do you need them?

For one major reason: deeper and more consistent POV. If you know your character inside and out (which you will by the time you’re done answering these), you’ll have an easier time portraying that on the page and you won’t get as easily stuck when you come to a part in the book in which you’re not sure how your character would react.

I fill this out for my hero and my heroine in every single book I write. It’s a lifesaver for me and allows me to fast draft novels because I’m so in tune with how my characters think and act.

Any questions? Leave me a comment or head over to Twitter and fire away. And if any of you are super hardcore, Type A writers and want my ridiculously long character questionnaire, leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send it along. For the rest of you, just google “character questionnaires” and combine/cut/edit till your heart’s content to get something that works for you.


It’s Almost #PitchWars Decision Time

As we’re nearing the end of #PitchWars, I thought I’d give you all a little peek into my inbox. It’s easy to be on the other side and start to feel defeated or unsure or nervous or unworthy. But I want you to know that you have absolutely no reason to feel that way. First of all: you wrote a book. That in and of itself is an accomplishment most of the world will never realize. Second of all: you wrote a damn good book. The quality of the subs are talked about every year, and every year it’s true. However, the quality I received this year has topped all of them. I didn’t have a single entry that I put into my “not ready” pile, reserved for those submissions that are basically just a rough draft delivered to the mentors.

You guys brought your A game. …which really makes my job hard.

I received a total of 73 submissions. I requested additional pages on 25 of them. That’s right, I wanted to read more of a third of my subs. So then the ones that I didn’t request more of must’ve been bad, right? First of all, shut up with that talk. (Don’t make me turn this car around!) Second of all, nope. Not even a little bit. It usually meant one of a few things: a) it wasn’t my genre; b) it wasn’t my category (the first two took up 15% of my subs); c) I knew immediately the premise wasn’t for me; or d) I didn’t connect with the voice.

Now D is a tricky one, because on many of the ones I requested, I didn’t connect immediately to the voice, but I wanted to read more just to be sure. I was super liberal in my requests, because I wanted to make sure I gave every single submission that could possibly be The One a fighting chance.

While I’ve been plowing my way through 25 submissions to read, I’ve had a total of ten of them on The Spreadsheet at one point or another. I’ve read something like eleventy billion pages, though I only read until I realized the sub wasn’t for me. Sometimes that was 7%. Sometimes it was 82%. Sometimes I stopped because another mentor listed the sub as their final pick, and if I don’t have to fight someone for their one true love, I don’t want to. (So far, I’ve counted 11 of my submissions on The Spreadsheet.) My criteria for The One is pretty simple: I want something that gives me the feels. As of now, I have two that are in the running, with one I keep coming back to. (Is it yours is it yours?!)

As for the ones I’ve passed on, I’ve taken notes on all of them, and if I have time to send to 25 people, I’ll compile my feedback and send it on for those I’ve requested more from.

The mentors have to have our picks to The Queen in four days. During that time, I also have a new release (whoop whoop!), my kid’s birthday, my kid’s birthday party (four boys all by myself, lord help me), and 8 submissions I’d still like to read (some of which I haven’t made requests on). So I probably shouldn’t be posting blog posts about Pitch Wars, huh?

While I go dive into some awesomeness on my e-reader, I wanted to leave you with a couple things: The Power of Perseverance is a post I wrote last year during Pitch Wars, and it’s still very much applicable today. I’ve posted it about 652 times on the hashtag, but on the off chance you’ve missed it, take a gander at it. If you’re feeling like a fish out of water, like you don’t belong in this vast literary world, So You Feel Like a Fraud, Huh? is a good one. We’ve all been there (yes, even those bestsellers you envy). And Every Step is Worth Celebrating is important for every writer. Even if that step is writing a book, celebrate it. If it’s submitting to PW, celebrate it. You did something awesome. Now go have some wine.


Holy Crap It’s Almost #PitchWars Time! FAQs to the Rescue.

(updated for 2017!)

I’ve been spending way too much a little time on the #PitchWars feed, and I’ve seen these questions come up time and time again. With nothing else to do, I figured I’d make a quick FAQ post on the ones I see the most.

Do I have to do #PimpMyBio?

You sure don’t. Many mentors (me included) won’t even read them—at all, or if they do, it’ll be after the sub window closes or when they’re narrowing their mentee choices. Having one or not having one does not affect you one way or another. Unless you’re a douchecanoe in yours, in which case…maybe don’t be?

How should I format my MS?

I have details on my catch-all post. Bottom line: standard MS formatting, and yes, it matters. If it’s not formatted correctly when I receive it and I request more materials, I’ll ask that you format it before sending them back to me. I’m reading 100% of my submissions on my tiny iPhone, so an incorrectly formatted MS looks like jkfljdkashfcjkdsajkckdsakjchjks. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

How should I title my MS?

The mentors get a lot of submissions. It would help immensely if you titled your submission and any subsequent material as: Last Name_TITLE_first chapter/50 pages/full/whatever. So: Smith_AWESOME TITLE_full.

Does it matter if I submit at the beginning or at the end of the submission window?

I’m inclined to say no. I can’t remember when any of my mentees’ submissions landed in my inbox. All I know is several I got from other mentors after going through all of mine, so they were some of the last ones I read. I’d rather you wait until the last day and deliver a polished MS than hurry up and sub early because you think it might give you a slight advantage. The polished MS will give you more of an advantage. Promise. Update: in 2016, I picked one mentee who was my first sub, and my other was within the last 5 subs I receive. It really doesn’t matter.

Do I need a synopsis?

Yes. Your chosen mentors may not ask for one, but they might. Better to be prepared than flailing about, trying to write a synopsis in twenty minutes. Hey, I get it. Synopsis writing is a real bitch. But here’s the thing—you’re going to need to write a synopsis for (probably) every manuscript you ever write. Ever. Might as well start polishing your skills now. The silver lining here is most (if not all) mentors aren’t looking for perfection or sparkling wit. We just need to see if your story takes any crazy turns or twists or jumps the shark. 1-3 pages is pretty standard in the industry (1 page: single spaced; anything longer: double). I’ll take 1-3 pages. I’ll take 4-6 pages. If you need 7 to tell me everything, fine. I’m not going to put a huge red X by your name if your synopsis is too long by industry standards. I might draw a mustache on you, but you’ll never know.

How long should my query be?

250-350 is pretty standard in the industry. You don’t win a prize if it’s significantly less than that. You also don’t get bonus points the more words you use. Keep it simple: characters, conflict, stakes. Good rule of thumb is for format is: hook (your log line or elevator pitch), book (character/conflict/stakes), cook (you!).

What if my query sucks donkey balls? Will you still read the pages?

Yeppers, I will. Queries, like synopses, mean little to me at this stage. In fact, I sort of expect they’re not at their best. A couple things you can do to make them be as good as they can? Proofread, get additional input, focus on CCS (see above), and don’t use rhetorical questions. (Will they get together and save the world or is her life doomed to hell? I think we all know the answer to that.)

How do I submit my work once the window opens?

There will be a form you fill out which has space for your name and contact information, your category, genre, the mentors you’re submitting to, and then a large field for you to paste your query. Then you’ll attach your first chapter as a .doc or .docx file. If mentors request additional material, they’ll let you know how they want it sent. (I’ll be asking for additional materials in .doc or .docx and standard formatting.)

Since it’s going to all four (or six) mentors, how can I personalize?

This is unnecessary, but if you really feel like you want to, add a P.S. line for each mentor at the end of the query, reach out to them on Twitter (but not via DM), or post a comment on their wish list.

Do I need comps in my query?

If you have them and they’re stellar, use them. If not, leave them off.

If you request more from me, what will you be requesting?

This varies greatly for me, year to year and MS to MS. Sometimes I feel like I need three chapters. Sometimes 50 pages. Sometimes 100 pages. Sometimes the full. I like to keep you on your toes.

How soon should I send the requested material?

ASAP, but preferably within 24 hours. If I’m requesting more, it means I’m excited to read more. Might as well jump on that, amirite? That said, if you’re going to be out of town/without wifi/out of touch, please make sure you either mention this in your query or you have an out of office reply saying this. Otherwise, mentors (me) may assume you don’t actually have your full polished and ready. Then you would get a big red X by your name.

I’ve heard talk that mentors can’t swap subs this year. What’s that mean?

It means you need to do your homework. In previous years, the mentors have been able to share manuscripts behind the scenes. My alternate from 2014 and one of my mentees from last year came from other mentors’ inboxes. With the option to donate to get extra entries this year, it wouldn’t be fair to those people if we just share all the manuscripts behind the scenes anyway. For this reason, it is imperative you do your homework and select the best mentors to fit your MS. Ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. I will be crushed if I miss out on what may be a perfect MS for me because a hopeful thought I wouldn’t like something that may be a non-issue for me. Update: Brenda is allowing us to swap manuscripts again this year! This is great news, but don’t get too comfy. You should still do your homework and select the 4 or 6 mentors who you think would be the best fit for your manuscript. Just because we can swap doesn’t mean that we will. And that’s not meant in any malicious way, just simply that mentors don’t have a lot of time to find out what others are looking for while they’re reading a hundred subs. So be sure to do your due diligence.

What if I submit my MG/YA/NA/A and a mentor likes it but thinks it should be MG/YA/NA/A?

If you submit your, say, MG novel to a MG mentor who thinks it should be aged up to YA, they can still mentor you! Brenda allows us to change categories after the fact if we think the submission we love should be aged up/down. That said, please don’t confuse this with submitting your MG novel to YA mentors. They won’t even be able to read it. It’s important to do your research and sub to those in the category you think your novel fits best.

How do I know if my MS is women’s fiction or romance?

The easiest way? Is your book about the woman’s journey or the couple’s journey? Former is WF, latter is R.

If I have XYZ, is it an automatic no?

I see this question probably the most on the feed, and it’s difficult giving a blanket answer, but I’m going to anyway: No, it’s not an automatic no. Even something on my no list could be an okay, depending on execution. Everything boils down to how you’ve written it and how your characters react to it and how it fits into your plot. Helpful, I know.

Will all mentors be giving feedback on the submissions?

This varies from mentor to mentor, so if it’s a deciding factor for you on who you sub to, I’d ask the mentors in question. Personally, I gave feedback on all subs I received in 2014. I only got 50-something subs, and it still took me about two weeks to compile it all. So you can see how someone who gets 200 subs probably wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. In 2015 & 2016, I got more subs and instead of giving feedback to everyone, I put out a call on Twitter (several times) asking for anyone who’d like to receive feedback to let me know. I’ll probably do this again this year (though I may cap it at a certain number, depending on how many subs I get). I liked doing it this way for a couple reasons. First, I’m only spending my time on people who actually want the feedback. Second, I’m more likely to get thanked for the time I spent doing it. That last one is important. If a mentor takes time to give you feedback—even feedback you don’t like or agree with—you had better take fourteen seconds to send a thank you back. Don’t be a jerk. Seriously, don’t. I still remember those who didn’t thank me for feedback, even after specifically requesting it. This industry is small. Don’t burn a bridge before you get started.

Are you expecting perfection in your submissions?

Nope. Not even a little. And this goes for all mentors. We are not looking for perfection. Does that mean you shouldn’t polish it to the best of your ability? No, it does not. You should be spit shining that sucker until you run out of saliva. We want polished not perfection. Go here and here for editing tips.

What if my word count is high/low?

Sometimes they are so high or so low, there’s just not enough time to get them ready for the agent round. In that case, I would more than likely pass, unless I was head over heels in love with it. For romance, I’ll look at anything ranging from about 60-100k. No, I won’t automatically discount you if your MS is 59k or 101k.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being sunshine and praise and 10 being brutal honesty), what’s your feedback style?

I’d say I’m somewhere between an 8-9. My feedback will be brutal and honest, but it will be sprinkled with compliment confetti. I think it’s important to know what doesn’t work so you can grow, but it’s also important to know what you’re doing right so you don’t wither in a pool of self doubt. And if you have a question on my feedback or mentor style, I’m sure my previous mentees would all be willing to tell you honestly what it was like to work with me.

What do you do if your mentee disagrees with your feedback?

I feed them to the alligators in the moat surrounding my castle. MWHAHAHAHA Or, you know, we discuss it like rational adults. I talked a little bit about it the video I did on all things Pitch Wars, but it basically boils down to: it’s your story. In the end, you have the final say. With that said, please think about where the urge to reject the change is coming from. If it’s emotional, take some time to let it sink in (the Five Stages of Feedback are a real thing and you should take the time to go through them all.) and then come back to it with fresh eyes and see if the suggestions would actually make the MS stronger. If it’s a practical place you’re coming from, discuss it with me. And this goes for all mentors, not just me. I think it’s safe to say we all want what’s best for your MS and if you don’t feel like XYZ is it, then tell us. But also be open to finding a different solution to the root problem that we can both agree on.

What does it mean if you’ve interacted with me on Twitter and we’ve become friends?

It’s means we both got a new friend! Yay! But, seriously, that’s all it means. There are so many amazing people I meet every year on the feed, and I wish I could mentor them all. Alas, I haven’t figured out how to clone myself, so that’s not going to happen. Even if I can’t mentor you, I hope you’ll stick around because I like having you there, and I like making new friends. Also, please note that I do not follow back (ever, but especially during Pitch Wars). After the mentees have been announced, I’ll do a mass following of those I’ve enjoyed interacting with. Does using Twitter freak you out because you don’t know what’s appropriate interaction? Go here.

If I didn’t answer your question, check here, here, here, and here, and see if fellow mentors have covered it! And, hey, have you checked out my wish list?