Twitter #PitchContests

So it is the evening of August 25th and I spent the day taking part in the Twitter pitch event #SFFPit. Many of you will know what this is, but for anyone that does not: it is a day where you get to tweet a 280-character summary of your novel as a ‘pitch’, once per hour, for 8 hours. The hope of doing this is that an agent will see your tweet and like it. If you get a like, this means that the agent would like to see a formal query or partial (depending on their tweeted guidelines). That 280-character limit, by the way, also includes characters for the relevant hashtags that describe your genre/audience (#SFFPit #A #FA for example, would be adult fantasy). Having just participated, I thought I might share my early thoughts and experiences.

First, as you can imagine, condensing your work into less than 280 characters is tough. It used to be 140 characters, of course, back when tweets were shorter, but that was before I became a twitter-user. But given the challenge in writing something enticing, and yet representative of your work, in this tight of a word limit, I did actually start early and prepared all 10 different versions of my pitch two weeks in advance. If you are going to do one of these events, I encourage you to do the same. I also encourage you to schedule your tweets. That way all you have to do is watch for likes and interact with other people, not worry about creating the perfect pitch or whether it is time to post.

In terms of my own experience, I will start off by saying that I am incredibly grateful to Dan Koboldt @dankoboldt and Michael Mammay @MichaelMammay for putting in the work to organize this and invite agents and editors to attend. I’m also grateful to the agents and editors who found time to look in and comment, and the other writers who supported each other through comments and re-tweets.

At the end of the day, I had what I considered a good number of replies and retweets – but no likes from agents. So what is my conclusion? Was this worthwhile? The answer is yes.

I’m glad I participated. For one, it forced me to condense my work down into 280 characters. That’s an elevator pitch. And as I’m going to #chicon8 ( #woldcon ) this week, maybe I’ll even get to re-use it verbally a few times! I also got feedback on what pitches worked better, as those were the ones that got more retweets. I’m also really happy to have received support from my fellow writers. I even gained some followers from it, which are probably engaged, genuine followers who followed because they liked my ideas (I assume).

However, I will say that before I did SFFpit, my expectations of doing a Twitter pitch contest were radically different from the reality of participating.

For one, with not a single like, the experience was a little demoralizing for the few hours after it ended. I had read so much about scamming agents, and bots that would like your work and you had to watch out for – so I had to laugh when my work wasn’t even appealing enough to bots and scam artists to attract likes!

But on reflection, I quickly got over the lack of genuine agent likes. After all, I am a relatively new Twitter user (I in fact started using it purely to do #SFFpit) so what did I expect? As a newer user to Twitter, I do not have that many followers. With few followers, few people were going to organically see my work and I would not get many retweets or comments. That probably made it harder for my pitches to be seen amongst the sea of pitches. So for me to be successful, I would have had to depend on a fair amount of luck – I was not only depending on the agent I wanted to be online but for them to see my pitch and for them to respond. Putting your happiness and sense of self-worth in the hands of luck is the road to madness.

I am still happy I participated due to the contacts I made with other writers. But in the future, I will probably stick with traditional querying. The author-agent relationship is usually a career-long one and finding the right match is critical. Traditional querying may be more upfront work, but that way I can hand pick the agents I want to work with, rather than send out my work to whoever is available for that specific day’s Twitter pitch. Traditional querying also guarantees that the agent will see it, rather than forcing me to depend on the vagaries of luck plus twitter algorithms. At least for now, to me, that seems a better way to pitch for anyone.

Writer’s Block: My Top Ten Remedies

I don’t claim to know it all as far as writing, or writer’s block, and I would love, if you have other ideas than below, if you share back via the comments. However, after over a hundred scientific articles, three novels, and a decent amount of flash fiction, I have suffered from my fair share of block, so I thought I would share what has worked for me.

The summary is:

  1. No review
  2. Set goals
  3. Come prepared
  4. Leave yourself notes
  5. Have your space ready
  6. Write a different chapter
  7. Avoid perfectionism
  8. Don’t stop
  9. Use margins
  10. Try a jump start
  11. Bonus idea
  12. Bonus-Bonus idea!

Let’s look at these, one-by-one, in more detail:

No Review

I’m not sure this is technically writer’s block, but if you spend your whole time re-reading your own work, your progress will certainly be blocked. Writing time should be exactly that. It is not review time, editing time, or second thoughts time. It is writing time. By reading back through your own work, you are using two precious resources: time and creative energy. Stop wasting it on re-imagining or re-wording what you have done, save that for your editing phase. It also tricks your mind into thinking you are making progress when you are, in fact, not adding any words to your daily total. You are far more likely to contribute new words if you force yourself to stare at the blank page/flashing cursor (does that reveal my age?) than allow yourself to immerse yourself in what you have already written.

Set Goals

Daily writing goals. That can be “one chapter”, it can be “500 words”, or it can be “complete this subplot”. Whatever you like. If you are like me, you are lazy (busy?). In that case, it is easiest just to set a daily word count and stick with it. Don’t set it too high that you will really struggle to achieve it, but also don’t set it so low it is meaningless.

I personally like to set a daily and a separate weekly goal. That way, if I fail my 500 words per day on any given day, my mind does not just give up, it focuses on achieving my weekly goal. That then often drives higher productivity on my other days as I am trying to “catch up”. I usually set my weekly goal a little above daily x7 for low word count daily goals. So at 500 words per day I would probably set a weekly at 4000. At higher word/day goals, like 1000 words a day, I might stretch it to 7500, but don’t make the mistake of going too high or you will fail that too as catch-up will become too hard. These goals are meant to inspire and motivate, not torture.

Come prepared

If you do not think about your work in progress at all between writing sessions, it is little surprise when you first sit down you can think of nothing to write. In contrast, if you use the five minutes you are waiting for the bus, at the laundromat, or in line to pick up the kids to imagine your characters and the current chapter you are working on and what happens next then when you come to sit down you will already know what you have to write. Maybe not the exact words (we will come back to this – see avoid perfectionism), but as long as you have an idea of what direction you are going you are at least 50% of the way towards conquering this particular source of writer’s block.

Leave yourself notes

So on the prior point, some of my writing friends say they do not have any time to think about the work between writing sessions. Or they say they cannot just switch their creative centers on and need to “get in the zone” so this does not work for them. While I think practicing it may help anyway, and I never said laundromat ideas are always the best (but sometimes they are), there is another solution. That is, when you are in the zone, ie at the end of your current writing session, leave yourself some notes on what to do next. That way you have a pointer to get you started, which is the key to overcoming block.

Have your space ready

I have kids. I don’t, therefore, have the luxury of demanding a personal oasis of peace and solitude in order to write. If I did, I would never write anything. Right now, writing this blog, for example, I am sitting at a cafe with my two pre-teen boys, while they scream at each other about which of them is winning some dinosaur race on their tablets. The coffee grinders are whirring, the panini press hisses steam, and there is a general bubbling of background conversation mixed with an odd cocktail of classical and smooth jazz. If you can’t write like that, figure out what you need and make it happen. Set a time, put a “Do Not Disturb” note on the door, invest in yourself and buy that comfy chair, that ergonomic standing desk, or whatever you need. But set yourself up for success.

Write a different chapter

Just because you read a novel from chapter one sequentially through to the words “The End”, does not mean you have to write it that way. The same goes for any other writing form. When I’m writing a novel oftentimes even if I do not know exactly what will happen next in this particular chapter or scene, or I just can’t get my head into that character’s voice, I usually have another part of the story I do have a clear idea of what will happen. Sometimes trying to get to that more exciting section is in fact what is blocking my ability to focus on the current one. So go write that other scene. Sometimes, once you’re done with the other section, this will allow your brain to focus on the current one, or it will help highlight what setup needs to be done, or it will just remove the inertia block that is writer’s block and if this is the problem, once writing often you find your zone and you can re-center and carry on where you were meant to. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you have made progress, and that’s important not only to your overall goal but because I find writer’s block gets worse the longer you let it fester.

Avoid perfectionism

So I’ve buried this one in the middle, but I do believe this is actually the very core of most writer’s block. We are so paralyzed about whether we use this wording or that, which character point-of-view (POV) this chapter should be written from, what should happen next, or in what sequence, we just can’t move forward. This, in most cases, is perfectionism. Remember the old adage:

“All good writing, is editing”

Put something down. Anything. You can correct it later. Worried about wasting time? You’re already doing that. And to be honest, all the times I have taken this approach I have been surprised about quite how much can be used in the end, even if the change I had to make was as extreme as changing the POV character. Okay, this one is so important I will say it again. Avoid perfectionism.

Don’t stop

Related to the above, once you start, just don’t allow yourself to stop. It might all be rubbish. If so, you can cut it on edits. But the truth is, you are not a good judge of your own work in the moment. Allow yourself to put it down so editor-you can come back and read it in the context of the rest of your story later and make changes then. Sometimes I do really good work during a stream of consciousness, even though I thought it was bad at the time. But I always do my best work in editing. We all do. (And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with your editing process – likely a topic for a different blog entry!)

Use margins

Other writers have sometimes said to me ‘But what if I have another idea, or something earlier suddenly needs changing?’. My answer to that is – that’s what margins are for. Or in Scrivener, which is what I use, the notes area. I have been writing merrily along and suddenly decided this character doesn’t need to exist, or that their name needs to change. I just continue writing as if those edits are already made but put a note to myself saying “kill Dennis, put all his action/convo to Malcolm” or “Sally is now called Pam”. It’s vital you keep your momentum, especially if you are someone that needs ‘the zone’. It took you so long to find the zone, don’t lose it, as switching into editing mode will make you go back to problem #1 and then leave you likely no idea how to continue when you come back. Momentum is precious. 

Try and Jump start

What I mean by this is, for the first paragraph you write that day, don’t even try to write something for your current work. Just try to get the juices flowing. I like to use writing prompts or images to inspire me. I try to write two lines that are humorous or capture the image. Just the act of starting on something can sometimes unstick your brain. On Twitter, for example, @brclothwrites posts a daily image with the prompt “if this was your book cover what would be your first few sentences”. (Example below)

As his images are always good and are fantasy-images, so right in my genre, I like this one. But others do it, so if his examples don’t work for you, search for someone that does this for your genre. Or do it yourself. I find it a fun way to ungum the engines. Of course, there is danger in this – do not allow yourself to get enamored with a whole new idea, nor get mired in the twitterverse!

Bonus suggestion:

Write something else completely

So this slightly contradicts the above but if you really can’t write, you have to ask yourself: is it writer’s block, or is it the piece you are currently working on? Does your work have fundamental structural or plot problems? If I start to suspect that this is what is going on, I use my writing time to write something else – a short story for example, or a blog post. I then commit to sending my work to friends/beat-readers to see if they agree on the structural issues I am seeing. 

Bonus-bonus suggestion!

Write two endings

Can’t decide if Marilyn should stab Keith or kiss him? Write both. You will save time by just writing it down and likely you will get a strong sense of which feels right to you and what you want to do with this story.

And that’s it, for today at least! My boys have stopped arguing about dinosaurs and are now arguing about who is in whose space and who needs the outlet to charge their tablet more. I am needed elsewhere. So, while I have other approaches to this universal problem, I promised a list of ten and I have given that and already bonused twice! And I have a novel to get back to editing. So, I will end the blog now, but let me know in the comments, or via Twitter, or any of the other hundred ways on this site to reach out to me – did you find this helpful? Do you have other ways to ‘unblock’. What works best for you?

Happy writing!

Making your first writer’s website: insight from the recently initiated

Having recently made my own writer’s webpage ( ) and having learned a lot from doing so, I thought I would write a blog post about my experience in case it is helpful to anyone else. For anyone not wanting to read the whole blog, I made a helpful summary table at the end, to help guide you forward.

If you’ve looked at the landscape of websites, searched a few YouTube how-to videos and looked for advice on Twitter, or even clicked through a few promotional ads, you will probably be aware there are a plethora of options. The main ones you will hear about are probably WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and Blogspot. I will also throw in an honorable mention in there for ghost, but we will come back to that as it’s really for people who are tech-savvy. I will also come back to WordPress as in that one word we are actually talking about two very different products ( and with very, very different user experiences.

Before deciding which service you should use, however, there are three key decisions you need to make:

  1. Budget
  2. Purpose
  3. Tech-savviness

In reality, these three decisions are intimately inter-linked, but in deciding which path forward is best for you, it helps to think about them separately at first. Let’s break these down.


Do you even have a budget? If you do not, then your options are going to be quite limited. Squarespace, Weebly and Wix all require an investment upfront of money. The only ones I am aware of from my list above that allow a free option are Blogspot, and Of these, I would recommend  Why? Because there is a free option and it’s a fairly flexible platform, so whatever your purpose, other than selling products, it can probably achieve it. That flexibility also allows you options to grow in the future. Blogspot’s limitation is that it’s really only going to fit your needs if you plan to make a blog and nothing else. So that then leads us into consideration number two, purpose.


What is the purpose of your website? Is it to showcase your recently produced book that you will be indie publishing, to present yourself as a professional during your trad publishing queries, to make a simple blog, or to sell products? Each of these goals will significantly impact what service you utilize.

Why? Well, if you want to sell products, you are going to need a web-service that will allow you to do that. Think through how you would commercialize and sell products. Your website is going to need to have the capability to build a catalog. It will need a shopping basket, and the ability to sum up purchases. You will need an app that would calculate shipping and taxes if these are physical products, and whether or not these are physical, a means for people to pay. For those kinds of capabilities, you are already speaking about a paid service. Something like Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, or one of WordPress’s higher-level business plans. We are not talking about the free version or Blogspot.

If, on the other hand, you just want to write a few articles/blog posts, free-version or Blogspot are great ways to dip your toe into the waters of blogging. They are free, simple, and you can be up and running inside of a day (depending on your aesthetic and how must you want to work on the appearance prior to launch). If you are a little more serious about blogging and want your own domain name, however, you are going to have to either pay an external provider to have that or, more simply, just choose a higher-cost plan.


So this is where the rubber hits the road. Counterbalancing your budget, you also need to decide how adept you are with this technology. The easiest-to-use interfaces, things like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix, which allow you to just point click, and drag and drop, are easy to make beautiful websites with but, frankly, are also among the most expensive options. You are paying for the ease of use the interface they have built provides to you.

The next step up in complication, in my opinion, would be has hundreds of themes and templates to choose from, and you don’t need to do line coding in HTML, but it’s not quite as intuitive as Squarespace, and you will waste a fair amount of time jumping around nonsensical menus, and it’s not quite as flexible as coding HTML, so you won’t have quite the flexibility of things like (remember above, how I said these were very, very different?) or

The products likely requiring the most work from you to use are or Both have many beautiful themes, allowing a quick startup, but what they also offer is the ability to code the HTML. Those, therefore, have the greatest flexibility. However, I don’t recommend these unless you are heavily invested in maintaining the page as, to do these options, you will have to arrange web hosting separately with a service like WordPress, GoDaddy (not recommended as they have a reputation of hanging onto website domains) or any of the other sites out there. If you want to take advantage of the flexibility and the ability to code HTML you also have to have that skill to do that. So that means either having that knowledge already, being willing to invest the time in learning it, or hiring someone, which will add to the total cost.

My recommendation? Well, I went with Having read the above you probably think this is an odd choice. But it’s the right fit for my combination of purpose (running a blog, plus having a professional space on the web to talk about me and my writing as I do the trad-publishing query route, and hopefully eventually have as a published-author website), budget (I’m willing to invest, but not hugely, and I don’t need a business level plan as I’m not selling products), and tech-savviness (I actually do know how to program HTML, which is actually pretty easy, as I made my first website back in 1994, but I also know C, C++, Python, Ruby, Java, CSS, etc, but I do not have the bandwidth of time to invest in doing all this.) 

So as I wanted more than just a blog, Blogspot was not for me. basic level was not for me as I wanted my own website and having a free plan it only came with a WordPress domain name. I was willing to invest money in doing this, but as I am as yet unpublished things like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix were unnecessarily costly for me. If I had gone with one of these, I would have gone with Squarespace. That’s because I don’t want to have to keep re-inventing the wheel, so I would have gone with the most successful of those three companies as I want to be with the one that will be around in ten years. My money would be on Squarespace for that. I also think their interface is easier to use. However, WordPress has been around even longer and so going with them was even better from a potential longevity perspective, and their different plan levels meant I could invest just a little per month now, as I did want to do that as part of my commitment to a writing career, but having the option of upgrading my plan in the future gave me flexibility, that I could change my investment in it as my publishing success evolved.

That’s not to say I loved all of my experience. I found its inflexibility with the themes quite frustrating and had to take my website down and put it back up, each time using a different theme, until I could manipulate it to be how I wanted. Even then, my final website had some compromises in it, ones I would not have had to put up with had I gone with or Specifically, the theme I chose did not allow me to change the format of my blog page. However, I went with that theme as it allowed me to do everything I wanted on all the other pages. Check it out and let me know what you think:

And as promised, the summary table:

WordPress.comFree to $$$$ depending on planAnything, but tools depend on plan, which affects $Zero to medium, depending on aesthetic needed
Squarespace, Weebly, Wix$$$$Anythingzero$$$$AnythingHigh, or hire someone

Let me know your thoughts, and if you found this blog post helpful!

The Bone Shard Daughter

One liner:

The emperor’s rule is failing, but his daughter Lin has not yet mastered bone shard magic, and will need to if she is to take her rightful place on the throne.

The Pros:
  1. Awesome magic system dependent on harvesting people’s energy by taking shards of their bones
  2. Imaginative world on a world of islands
  3. Multiple story threads/POV characters to keep you interested
The Cons:
  1. The relationship between Phalue and Ranami didn’t ring as true as other relationships in the book eg father-daughter
  2. As a geophysicist, I can tell you islands don’t float like this, but maybe there’s magic involved?
  3. Ending felt sudden. Would have liked it to be fleshed out over another chapter or two
Bottom Line:

It’s a fantastic book and one of my favorites this year (2022). I already started the sequel!

Perseids Meteor Shower Next Three Days

One of the things I love about science fiction is the ability to imagine other worlds and the possibilities in the immense universe in which we live. Growing up in rural Scotland, our long, dark, winter nights were the perfect canvas for my imagination. Staring at the stars there you could see the entire band of the milky way, and it always filled me with awe at the number of other stars and systems out there. My family did not share my passion for Star Wars or other science fiction, but one thing I do remember from my childhood is going out on a night and laying in the grass with my father as we stared up and watched meteors streak across the sky. We would talk about many things as we waited for nature’s light show to begin and we would scan the skies, waiting for the first meteors to shoot by, seeing who would be the first to spot one.

The Perseids meteor shower starts tonight and runs through the next few days. It was always my favorite as not only were there a hundred meteors per hour, making it almost guaranteed you would see a number, but often there would be ones that grazed the atmosphere, leaving long fiery tails across the sky. And so tonight I will be laying a blanket on the ground and lying on my back in the grass with my own two sons in New Hampshire, half a world away from where I grew up, and trying to share with them the excitement of a meteor shower. Hopefully, it will fire their imagination just as it did for me as a kid, and inspire my writing.

If you are interested in doing this yourself, there’s an article here. But it’s not as complicated as this makes it sound. My advice? If you too want to see this wonder of nature, just have some patience and look directly up. Laying down makes this more comfortable. Look away from the full moon, and just scan the skies – and despite what the article says, you don’t need to get up before dawn to see it. That’s when you see the most, but you’ll see plenty as soon as it’s dark. Happy meteor spotting!

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight: I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” (traditional rhyme)


I just registered. I’ve been to a lot of conferences – physics conferences, geology conferences, natural sciences conferences, student conferences, human rights conferences, medical conferences, and pharmaceutical conferences (amongst others). But this is my first SFF conference and I can honestly say I’ve never been quite as excited to go to any conference as I am to attend chicon8!

So I expect there will be some similarities – most science conferences have a fair amount of business networking, collaboration building, and late hours casual socializing – and I expect that too will be at chicon. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, those aspects have never been my strong suit, but as an aspiring author I am actually pretty excited even about the prospect of that. Most of my writer friends do not write SFF so connecting with another aspiring SFF author would be a big win in my mind. But the most fun bit of those other types of conferences is usually hearing about all the cool science other people are doing, or innovative programs, or just their approach to problems that you face. And for chicon8 I am hoping to hear exactly that from published authors, some literary agents, editors from publishing houses, and to get more insight into the world of publishing. As a huge SFF fan I’m also hoping just to have a good time nerding out on all the work, and being among like minded people!

And the truth is, that last aspect – the fun – has already started. For anyone that isn’t aware, as part of Worldcon you become a ‘voting member’ for the Hugos, and as such they give you a ‘Hugo Packet’. This is a veritable treasure trove. In my opinion, it alone covers the price of admission. Not every nominee submits, and some only submit excerpts of their work, but most of it is complete. Just for a start there are PDFs of five full length novels nominated for the Astounding award plus six for the best novel prize. That’s eleven novels with those two prizes alone. Not just any novels – some of this years best, and honestly, many of which are ones I would have bought anyway. As it’s my first Worldcon registration is $145 so to have registration plus all that included is an astounding (no pun intended) deal. You also get a lot of other amazing/inspiring stuff – four graphic novels the artwork for which are mouthwatering, plus the works that are up for best short story, copies of fanzines and semi-prozines, novellas, novelettes, best professional SFF artist’s work, and work by fans including both writing and art. Having been immersing myself in it for some time now I’ve concluded the collection is both inspiring and humbling. Anyway, voting closes in just 3 days. I won’t vote in any sections I can’t see everyone’s work, or in which I don’t have time to read all the entries, but I probably will in things like the short stories and the artwork, and I’m hoping to finish all of the Best Novel entries. So if you’re headed to chicon8, hit me up, I would love to chat to you, but I have to sign off for now – I’ve got a deadline and a lot of reading to do!