2021 Pitch Wars Mentor Bio & Wishlist!

For a plain text version of this wishlist, please click here.

Hey there, Pitch Warriors!

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Joey from Friends saying, “How you doin’?”

We are so excited to be co-mentoring this year! We’ve been working together as friends and CPs since we connected on Twitter in 2014, and it’s safe to say we are very familiar with each other’s tastes in books (and we must say, we have very good taste). This is Jamie’s sixth(!) year as a Pitch Wars mentor and Meredith’s first (although she has mentored in AMM for two rounds), and we can’t wait to meet our future mentee and scream about how much we love their manuscript!

First, the basics. If you’re reading this post and saying, what in the world is Pitch Wars? In short, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. Find all of the details and dates here.


SO, WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR?

We are here for all your Young Adult manuscripts and this year we will also be accepting New Adult. Okay, that’s quite broad—let’s dig deeper into what we’re looking for! This year we’ll be accepting submissions in the following genres:

Two gray pencils lay diagonally on a yellow background next to white labels showing the following genres: Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Paranormal, Speculative Contemporary.

BUT WAIT!

Regardless of genre, we are looking for a manuscript that has at least a small thread of romance. Whether the romance is the main plot or a miniscule subplot, we are definitely seeking a story with characters we can ship (any gender pairing!).

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth resting their foreheads together as the sunrise streams behind them from the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice.

Your story doesn’t have to be romance-centric—and the romantic element doesn’t have to have a happy ending—but we are looking for books with at least a teeny, tiny romantic subplot. If we can’t root for two characters to get together, ultimately, it probably won’t be the right fit for us. Also, we fall into the Upper YA spectrum. We’re really looking for characters 16+.

In addition to these genres, we love genre-blending stories and crossover. If you’ve got a fantasy with sci-fi elements, a contemporary with speculative elements, a sci-fi thriller, a fantasy romance, etc., please send it our way! If you’ve got a twist that will make us scream and throw your book across the room in a fit of rage—or burst into tears—we need it. A strong voice will hook us more than anything!

We are also absolutely looking for diverse manuscripts written by authors from underrepresented backgrounds. However, please don’t feel you have to label your work in any way if you’re not comfortable doing so.

ACROSS ALL GENRES, HERE ARE SOME* ELEMENTS, TROPES, AND FEATURES WE LOVE THAT WOULD IMMEDIATELY MAKE US TAKE A SECOND LOOK!

*Please note this isn’t an exhaustive list! In previous years, we’ve received submissions that made us say, “Wow! I love this and can’t believe I didn’t add it to my wishlist!” so please don’t worry if you don’t see your specific trope on this list.

VILLAINS, ANTIHEROES, & ANTIHEROINES

Loki grinning.

If your main character’s arc revolves around their slow descent from hero into villainy, we NEED to read it. If your manuscript features an evil queen, we’ll be super bummed if it isn’t sent our way. Romance between the hero and the villain? Yes, please! Examining what it means to be a villain vs. a hero? Give it to us! Got a retelling of a classic story but from the villain’s POV? We need it immediately! Kissing monsters? A manuscript featuring a full villain cast? No characters but absolute monsters? All the YES!

Please, please, please send us your Lokis, your Kaz Brekkers, your Cardans. We are huge suckers for these types of characters. Even the ones who seem completely irredeemable, we promise you we will somehow have a soft spot for them. If your main character(s) lean toward the morally gray, are power-driven, sometimes do the morally-questionable, are driven by revenge, or can be comped to Jude Duarte, Jyn Erso, Arya Stark, James Howlett, or Kaz Brekker, we can’t wait to meet them. The Darkling is one of our favorite characters ever. Characters that are ridiculously manipulative like Ben Linus are our jam. Give us characters whose villainy is underlined by their intelligence like Ivar from Vikings. Jamie has always been Team Damon, but don’t think she wasn’t also rooting for Klaus (and also hoping for a redemption arc for Kai). If your manuscript centers around the “bad guy,” we would absolutely love for you to send it to us. Give us all the moral-grayness!

ALL THE ATMOSPHERE

We are huge suckers for atmospheric settings and lyrical writing. Especially if that setting happens to be creepy or spooky (think House of Salt and Sorrows). We adore settings that feel like characters and world-building that showcases quirky elements of a town or place that comes alive. Give us your pretty prose and worlds so real they leap off the page. Small towns with something to hide? Yes please! We want to get lost in your world!

INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM

Mazikeen from Lucifer taking a shot with Linda and saying “No rest for the soulless.”

We love manuscripts that have feminist themes–whether those are completely blatant themes or more subtle ones, we want them all. If your characters actively dismantle the patriarchy, we want to see it. Give us your strong, kickass heroines! Now, this doesn’t have to be literal. Your characters don’t have to wield a sword or fight crime (though we’re 100% for it if they do)—we’re also talking mental toughness—self-reliant, independent women and girls with agency. If you’ve ever been told your female characters are too harsh, too mean, too “unlikable,” or anything of that sort, you have found the right mentors. Please note that our feminism is for all women, not just cis.

ENEMIES TO LOVERS

If they can’t decide whether to kiss each other or stab each other, that’s our siren song. Send us all the rivalries, the feuds, the banter, the characters who’ve hated each other since childhood but now start to notice each other. If your characters are assigned to kill each other but whoopsy, accidentally fall in love instead? We need it! If you’ve got the next Cardan/Jude, Jaime/Brienne, Roslin/Adama, or Nina/Matthias, we want to ship them! Lovers-turned-enemies are also welcome!

MESSY RELATIONSHIPS

We are here for all your troubled and complicated relationships. Think Kaz/Inej from Six of Crows or the Gansey/Blue conundrum from The Raven Boys. The ever-contentious, high conflict relationship between Cardan and Jude. Or the emotionally fraught, slow-burn romance of Feyre and Rhysand. We want all the angst. And this doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships! Give us your knotted sibling rivalries, friendship breakups, feuding families, multi-generational spats. If the relationships in your book can be described as challenged or twisty, you have come to the right place.

RETELLINGS

Literary retellings, fairytale retellings, mythology retellings, give us all the retellings—especially fresh retellings that haven’t been done before, and any retellings featuring mythology or fairytales from non-Western or underrepresented cultures. We also love origin stories or YA versions of movies (i.e. a YA version of Bridget Jones Diary) or retellings of classics with a contemporary twist (think Ten Things I Hate About You etc.). We want all your fresh takes—whether it’s set in the contemporary world with a bit of a speculative angle, has a fantastical spin, or a paranormal twist, we want them in our inbox!

MISCELLANEOUS

Here’s some other random stuff we love:

  • Alternating timelines
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Epistolary and other unique formats
  • Stories featuring twins
  • Love triangles
  • Anything that can be comped to On the Jellicoe RoadBone Gap, “Logan,” “Labyrinth,” “Deadpool,” “Mad Max,” “Suicide Squad,” “Black Mirror,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Tangled,” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
  • Unusual or unexpected settings
  • Small towns (bonus points if they have something to hide…)
  • Anything with a fall/autumn vibe
  • Psychics/fortune tellers/tarot card readers
  • Circuses, carnivals, amusement parks. Bonus points if they’re creepy.
  • Marching band, theater, piano lessons, and all performing arts kids.
  • Creepy forests, creepy board games, creepy mirrors, creepy birds, creepy masks, creepy small towns with sinister traditions. We ❤ creepy stuff!
  • Fandom, fan fiction, cosplay etc—give us all your nerds!
  • Books that remind us of The Twilight Zone
  • Mazes of any kind—mirror mazes, hedge mazes, carnival mazes, corn mazes, creepy mazes, fun mazes, give them all to us! We love a good labyrinth!
  • Roadtrips, study abroad, backpacking adventures, and travel of all kinds. We love when a book’s vivid setting comes alive on the page and transports us to a place we’ve never been before!
  • High stakes fantasy/sci-fi competitions and tournaments, even better if they’re life-or-death (think THREE DARK CROWNS, A RIVER OF ROYAL BLOOD, THE HUNGER GAMES etc)
  • Truth or dare. Games that escalate out of control.
  • Snappy dialogue. If your MC is always whipping out the one-liners, we need to meet them! 
  • A YA version of the classical piece “In The Hall of the Mountain King”
  • If you’ve got a YA “The Good Place” (like LAYOVERLAND), send it our way! 
  • Riddles
  • Natural disasters
  • If Taylor Swift’s “folklore” was a YA book
  • Witches, ghosts, potions, spells
  • Prom, masquerades, school dances
  • Drama and angst!
  • Unusual pets (that don’t die!) 
  • Whirlwind romance that takes place over the course of one day
  • The dark side of social media
  • Found Families
  • Boarding schools 
  • As a hard of hearing author, Meredith is always on the lookout for books featuring d/Deaf/HoH characters, especially written by d/Deaf/HoH authors!

Alright, let’s get more genre specific…

A castle sits on a hill on a foggy morning, the text overlaying it reads “Fantasy.”

We love fantasy in almost any sub-genre! We don’t want to specify too much here, because we want to get ALL your fantasy subs! We love vivid world building and unique magic systems. Alternate histories are always intriguing. Gothic fantasy, yes please! Did we mention villains? We are open to both low and high fantasy, though our tastes skew a bit more toward low fantasy and away from epic. We especially gravitate toward darker fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy, specifically, is very high on our wishlist. Some of our favorite books of all time fall into this specific subgenre and we would fight someone for the chance to mentor a unique, dark Contemporary Fantasy.

Beyond that, we’re pretty open in this genre! Some of our favorites:

  • Anything by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater (but really anything by her)
  • Anything by Laini Taylor
  • A Court of Mist & Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
  • The Wicked King by Holly Black
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  • The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
  • Furyborn by Claire Legrand
  • The Bear and the Nigtingale by Katherine Arden
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • Fireborne by Rosaria Munda
  • Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer
  • Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
  • Everless by Sarah Holland
  • Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  • For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
  • A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha
  • Winter White and Wicked by Shannon Dittemore
  • The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
  • Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab
Dirty hands grip the edge of a cliff with a stormy sea and sky behind them, the text overlaying it reads, “Horror.”

We are open to all sub-genres of horror be it occult, gothic, psychological, etc. We love atmospheric, creepy horror that makes us afraid to turn off the lights. We’d love to see genre-blending horror, too. Does your horror have a side of historical? Awesome. Is there a bit of fantasy thrown in with your horror? Sweet. Maybe a pinch of paranormal to go with your horror? Lovely. Oh, and if you have anything that can be comped to The Craft, we are absolutely here for it!

We love creepy small towns, haunted houses, abandoned buildings, legends of hauntings, and unsettling places. We love reading a seemingly “normal” situation that gives us some unsettling vibes, but then takes a turn for the totally weird and creepy. Give us creatures of the darkness. Things that go bump in the night. Vengeful ghosts. Monsters and monster hunters. Psychological horror that makes us think. Creatures that prey upon your worst fears. Got a horror in a carnival, circus, or amusement park? We ABSOLUTELY want to see it! 

We are pretty open here, but the only thing we are not looking for here is gratuitous gore / gratuitous body horror. We are likely not the best mentors for books that spend significant time describing the color and texture of peoples’ entrails. We are also not the best fit for horror that features animal sacrifice as a major plot point.

Some favorite books/shows:

  • Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
  • House of Salt & Sorrows by Erin A. Craig
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power
  • Haunting of Hill House, Netflix TV show
  • Locke & Key, Netflix TV show
  • Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
  • Ten by Gretchen McNeil
  • The Alienist, TNT TV show
  • The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
  • House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
A macro photo of a multi-colored glass doorknob, the text overlaying it reads, “Sci-Fi.”

We are especially looking for grounded sci-fi here. Got something in the near-future that explores what happens when technology goes too far? A fresh take on dystopia or post-apocalyptic fiction? Literary sci-fi that takes our present day and adds a bit of a sci-fi twist? Send them all our way! If your book has vibes similar to “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone,” we need to read it! We are probably not the right fit for sci-fi that features a romance between a human and an alien, unless the alien is humanoid for the whole book. We are also probably the wrong fit for very science-heavy “hard” sci-fi.

Some elements we’re fond of:

  • Time travel written in an accessible manner
  • Dystopian is one of our favorite genres, and we’d love to see it make a comeback. We’d love to see some unique, fresh spins on the genre!
  • Near-future sci-fi, or even sci-fi that almost feels contemporary (think MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS, NEVER LET ME GO, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Black Mirror).
  • Anything that explores the dark side of technology. 
  • Supervillains!
  • We’d love to find a heist book with a sci-fi twist.
  • Sci-fi/dystopian “road trip” stories—think “Logan,” “Mad Max,” THE DARKEST MINDS etc.
  • Anything that can be comped to Fringe.

Favorites:

  • Legend Series by Marie Lu (Side note: this series had one of the best endings I’ve ever read)
  • All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
  • The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
  • Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
  • The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
  • The Fever King by Victoria Lee
  • Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A darkened hallway with light shining through two open, blue doors. The text overlaying it reads, “Thriller.”

We have been devouring thrillers recently, so we would love to see some of these in our inbox this year. We particularly love stories that revolve around dark academia, boarding schools, secret societies, and cults. We want our thrillers dark, with high stakes that keep us guessing until the end. Even better if there’s a jaw-dropping twist we never see coming! Give us all the unreliable narrators, too! We love thrillers that keep us questioning who we can trust and second-guessing ourselves—we love guessing twists as we read, but we LOVE when we’re wrong! We love ticking clocks, locked rooms, “I know what you did” threats, games that go too far, dual timelines, and of course, traditional whodunnits. If you’ve got an escape thriller like Adam Sass’s SURRENDER YOUR SONS, we want it! We are also totally here for genre-bending thrillers.

Favorites:

  • If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
  • Anything by Kara Thomas or Tiffany D. Jackson
Three cast iron pots hanging over a fire. The text overlaying it reads, “Paranormal.”

What we’re looking for here are Angels, Witches, Fae, Ghosts, Vampires, Monsters, and possibly made up creatures. Sorry, but we are not the right fit for Werewolves, Selkies, Aliens, and Shifters (as a main character).

If you’ve got Death as a character, we need it! Angels are Jamie’s Achilles heel and we’d love to find a fresh take on an angel story that isn’t wrapped up in the Heaven/Hell struggle. We’d also love to find a main character that’s some type of monster hunter that diverges from the typical hunter story line a la Supernatural with a twist. For Vampires, we’re looking for really fresh twists and anything that’s really outside the box (along the lines of iZombie for example). Another thing we’d adore? A YA retelling of Meet Joe Black or similar stories that focus around Death (with a capital ‘D’). We’d also love to see anything in the vein of The Library of the Unwritten, or any stories with a completely unique take on the paranormal world. Give us haunted stuff! Monster kissing! Haunted houses and ghost hunters! Make us fall in love with monsters! Make us question what makes a monster! Do you have a fresh take on the paranormal romance genre, perhaps with an enemies-to-lovers twist?? Send it our way!

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Anthony Hopkins from Meet Joe Black asking Brad Pitt, “Should I be afraid?”

Favorites:

  • Penryn & The End of Days by Susan Ee
  • The Rephaim Series by Paula Weston
  • The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
  • Lucifer, Netflix TV show
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
A branch with yellow and orange flowers hangs diagonally across a beige background. The text overlaying it reads, “Speculative Contemporary.”

We are looking for upmarket, high stakes contemporary with a big commercial hook and a speculative twist. Similar to our sci-fi wishlist, we love stories that are grounded in the real world but have something slightly magical, speculative, or futuristic about them.

  • We are probably not the best fit for “quiet” contemporary.
  • We love mistaken identity stories, mysteries that have us solving it alongside the characters , and friendship breakup stories. While we love dark contemporary, we also love books that make us laugh and leave us smiling!
  • Teens are messy and make bad choices sometimes; we love to see this on the page. If you can see adult reviewers someday complaining on Goodreads that your main character acts too much like a teen, we want this book! 
  • If you’ve got something with the vibes of “Gossip Girl” or “Pretty Little Liars,” send it our way!

Some favorites:

  • The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  • On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • Sadie by Courtney Summers
  • Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
  • Holes by Louis Sachar

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THINGS THAT ARE JUST NOT FOR US

A neon yellow “No” sign glows against a brick wall surrounded by other blue neon lights on the top and bottom.

Please do not send us:

  • Anything that has to do with or touches on child molestation. Please do not send this to us, as it will be a hard no.
  • Animal death. If your character is hunting to eat, that’s fine as long as it’s not overly graphic. We are not the right fit for characters who hurt or kill animals for fun or books that use animal cruelty to show that a character is Really Bad. We are also not the right fit for stories where a major plot point hinges on a family pet being tragically killed or dying (think I AM LEGEND, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS etc.).
  • Stories featuring toxic romantic relationships that are touted as “sexy.”
  • Anything written in third person present or second person.
  • If your story takes place in a contemporary setting, we are the wrong fit for stories about The Mob/Mafia.
  • Werewolves, shifters, selkies as main characters.
  • Books featuring romance between a human and an alien, shifter, or werewolf.
  • Contemporary stories where the main conflict revolves around sports.
  • King Arthur retellings or lore.

A black background with blue and green glitter. The text overlaying it reads, “Why You Should Pick Us.”

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT US

A photo of Meredith (L) and Jamie (R) at an Irish Pub in Switzerland.

HI!

We’re Jamie (she/her) and Meredith (she/her) and we’ve been CPs and best friends since we met on Twitter in summer 2014! We love traveling together (so far, we’ve been to NH, RI, NYC, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Las Vegas together—where next?!) but we also love chatting about books and arguing about Lost. We’ve also been critiquing each other’s manuscripts for years now and love bouncing ideas back and forth! Here’s a bit about each of us:

JAMIE

So, I’m Jamie (she/her), *waves*. For my day job, I manage contracts and pricing analytics in the Orthobiologics space for a large medical device company. I’m that person who adores spreadsheets and can get lost dabbling in PowerBI for hours. I live in perpetual chaos with my husband and four children in New Jersey, along with our three ridiculous rescue pups.

I currently have six books out through St. Martin’s Swerve (Until We Break, Until It’s Right, Reluctant Hearts, All the Ways You Saved Me, The Feeling of Forever, and The Way Back to Us), but am solely focused on my Fantasy and Speculative projects currently.

I have mentored YA in Pitch Wars from 2016-2020, and have been able to work with five incredible writers. In 2016, I got to partner with the inimitable Kristen Clouthier. She writes some of the wittiest banter and characters you can’t help but fall in love with. In 2017, I had the honor of working with Shelby Mahurin whose stories, Serpent & Dove, Blood & Honey, and Gods & Monsters are NYT bestsellers! In 2018, I mentored the incredible Kaitlin Bartlett and her breathtaking story featuring two “unlikeable” girls and the heartbreaking consequences when their friendship implodes. She subsequently signed with Pete Knapp at Park and Fine, and I am anxiously awaiting the moment I can hold her book in my hands! In 2019, I got to team up with the extraordinary Ava Tusek whose story about a messy, manipulative conartist sucked me in from the very first page. Then in 2020 I had the pleasure of working with Juliet Marie Hollihan whose Arya Stark meets Twelfth Night story captivated me from the moment I saw her title in my inbox. As for 2021? I can’t wait to see what this year’s Pitch Wars brings!

Some random tidbits about me:

  • I lived and breathed softball for the majority of my life. I’ve played every single position on the field, but I’m most at home on the mound.
  • I am a mom to identical twins.
  • I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts, specializing in Drawing, Painting, and Photography. Which clearly has a lot to do with my current day job :). I do put it to use doing newborn and couples photography, mostly for family and friends.
  • I was a first chair oboist.
  • I’m addicted to television series but rarely watch movies. Some of my favorite shows are/were: Lost, Fringe, Westworld, Friends, The Vampire Diaries, Stranger Things, Grey’s Anatomy, Ally McBeal, Locke & Key.
  • I am an avid supporter of the Oxford comma.
  • I love video games. I’m a Playstation girl myself with some of my favorite games being the Call of Duty, the Uncharted Series, Assassin’s Creed, and Resident Evil.
  • I truly believe there is a Friends reference for every life situation, and I’m pretty sure I can communicate entirely in Friends gifs.
  • I work with several dog rescues as a foster family for rescued pups, and it’s one of the most rewarding experiences.
  • I’m an early bird. Sleeping in to me is staying in bed until 6.
  • I never, ever bother matching my socks. Ever.
  • If you’re a Myers-Briggs type person, I am INTJ.

MEREDITH

Hi! I’m Meredith. I grew up in Concord, NH, but move a lot and have lived in London, Boston, Zurich, Houston, and most recently, St. Louis where I live with my husband and my spoiled rescue dog, Finley (I hope our mentee is prepared for LOTS of dog pics—when you finish your edits please be prepared for an onslaught of photos of Finley in his celebratory hat). I got my master’s degree in social work and worked in the field for several years before deciding to focus on writing full time, which I’ve now been doing for seven years.

I currently have four published YA books. My YA sci-fi, Freedom Trials, is about a teen girl prisoner whose crime was wiped from her memory and must decide between following the rules to win her freedom or breaking the rules to find out what she did to get there; it came out from Page Street in 2018. My YA fantasy, The Red Labyrinth, is about a girl who must venture through a magical labyrinth to save her best friend but accidentally falls for the villain she bribes into helping her; it came out from Flux in 2019. My feminist YA speculative thriller, The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly, is about two sisters who are closer to being strangers, but when one is beaten and left for dead, the only person who can save her is her estranged sister; it came out from Penguin Teen in 2020. My most recent book is a YA romcom called Shipped, and it came out from Penguin Teen in May 2021; it’s about school rivals who hate each other but accidentally fall in love on an anonymous fan site for their favorite canceled sci-fi show.

This is my first year mentoring in Pitch Wars, although I have mentored two rounds of Author Mentor Match! My R7 mentee, Melody Robinette, wrote an amazing enemies-to-lovers contemporary fantasy that’s equally hilarious and swoony; she signed with Pete Knapp at Park and Fine and I can’t wait to see what happens next in her career! I am clearly terrible at following rules because I selected two mentees for R8: Katy Lapierre wrote a delightfully sinister contemporary fantasy with incredible banter that kept me tearing through the pages, while Natalie Leif wrote a wonderfully dark YA contemporary with horror elements that had the audacity to make me cry multiple times in its exploration of grief. I can’t wait to see where their fabulous books end up!

Some random facts about me:

  • I can recite Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” from memory. It’s my favorite poem!
  • I’ve been playing the piano since I was 9, and I play the most random assortment of music. Some of my favorite pieces to play include Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca,” “Let it Go” from Frozen, and “Exile” from Taylor Swift’s folklore. My comfort piece is Bach’s Toccata in D—I love the spooky stuff!
  • I love geese.
  • I am an avid Pokémon Go player (yep, people still play it!)
  • Like a typical New England girl, my favorite food is lobster! 
  • I am also deeply into fandom culture!
  • My life goal is to travel to all seven continents, all fifty states, and all sixty-three national parks.
  • I casually reference The Office in regular conversation and get so excited when people get my references!

WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM US AS YOUR MENTORS?

We will tackle all the big picture issues first and then work our way down to the smaller things like scene edits and line edits. As we get closer to the agent showcase, we will work on your query, synopsis, researching agents, and developing a querying strategy. We’re fully prepared (and excited!) to read your manuscript several times until everything’s as perfect as can be. We tend to comment pretty zealously on Word documents, so be prepared to find a lot of those sprinkled throughout your manuscript. To be clear, more than a handful of those comments will be gushing compliments.

You could probably describe our critiquing style as slightly blunt, entirely honest, but always kind. I’m a big fan of the compliment sandwich. Some things that we’re particularly good at fixing are pacing issues, increasing tension, dialogue, making surprises/twists less predictable, picking up on plot holes and world building inconsistencies, and improving/complicating character relationships. We also have the odd knack of picking up on repeat phrases and words throughout the length of an entire manuscript.

We definitely see the editing process as a collaboration and ongoing discussion. We’ll give you suggestions, probably a lot of them, but ultimately we want to work with you to take your book to the next level. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we’re working hard together. We’re looking for a mentee who’s willing to work as hard as we are, someone who wants to dig deep and doesn’t mind doing whatever it takes to get their manuscript where it needs to be. As for our communication style, we are always available via e-mail, DM, text, or to hop on a Zoom call. Whatever works best for you!

Pitch Wars lasts several months, but it’s our expectation (and hope) to continue working with our mentee long after that!


Well, friends, that about covers it!

If you have any questions at all, please leave us a comment or come talk with us on Twitter (Meredith/Jamie). We promise, we are more than happy to chat with you. Honestly? It’s one of the things we’re looking forward to the most!

While we can’t take any specific pitches, if you have any general concerns or if there’s something we didn’t mention that you’re wondering about, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Don’t forget to check out all the other fabulous mentors down below (but still pick us!).

THANKS FOR VISITING AND GOOD LUCK!

winking_dean.gif
Dean from Supernatural winking and pointing at the camera.

PITCH WARS 2021 YOUNG ADULT MENTORS’ WISH LISTS

  1. Mary E. Roach (Accepts NA)
  2. Amelia Diane Coombs (Accepts NA)
  3. Diana Urban
  4. Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
  5. TJ Ohler (Accepts NA)
  6. Laurie Dennison (Accepts NA)
  7. Justine Pucella Winans (Accepts NA)
  8. Zoulfa Katouh and Molly X Chang (Accepts NA)
  9. Sonora Reyes (Accepts NA)
  10. Abigail Johnson
  11. Rosiee Thor and Emily Grey
  12. Carlyn Greenwald (Accepts NA)
  13. M.T. Khan (Accepts NA)
  14. Sarvenaz Taghavian
  15. Emery Lee
  16. Margie Fuston (Accepts NA)
  17. Aashna Avachat (Accepts NA)
  18. Allison Saft (Accepts NA)
  19. Fiona McLaren
  20. Jessica Lewis
  21. Brianna Bourne (Accepts NA)
  22. Jamie McHenry
  23. Meg Long and Rochelle Hassan (Accepts NA)
  24. Laura Weymouth (Accepts NA)
  25. Natalie Crown and Angelica Monai (Accepts NA)
  26. Skyla Arndt and Alex Brown (Accepts NA)
  27. Charity Alyse and Cimone Watson (Accepts NA)
  28. Emily Thiede and Lauren Blackwood (Accepts NA)
  29. Anna Sortino and Annika J. Cosgrove (Accepts NA)
  30. Jenny Perinovic and Kyrie McCauley (Accepts NA)
  31. Carrie S. Allen and Sabrina Lotfi
  32. Jamie Howard and Meredith Tate (Accepts NA)
  33. KL Burd (Accepts NA)
  34. Jennifer Yu (Accepts NA)
  35. Hoda Agharazi and Lyssa Mia Smith (Accepts NA)
  36. Em X. Liu and Grace D. Li (Accepts NA)
  37. Carly Heath (Accepts NA)
  38. Kiana Krystle (Accepts NA)
  39. Sarah Underwood and Kat Dunn (Accepts NA)
  40. Joel Brigham (Accepts NA)
  41. Dante Medema and Liz Lawson (Accepts NA)
  42. Aty S. Behsam and Maedeh B. Saaina (Accepts NA)
  43. Kylie Schachte (Accepts NA)
  44. Gabi Burton (Accepts NA)
  45. Aaron Cole and Tamara Cole (Accepts NA)
  46. Hannah V. Sawyerr and Olivia Liu (Accepts NA)
  47. Bethany Mangle (Accepts NA)
  48. Lane Clarke (Accepts NA)
  49. Sunya Mara (Accepts NA)
  50. Karen Bao (Accepts NA)

Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

Conquering the Synopsis

Oh the dreaded synopsis. Just that eight-letter word strikes fear into the hearts of writers. My dirty little secret? I actually kinda enjoy writing them. Give me a choice between a synopsis and a query, and I’d pick a synopsis every single time.

Think of it this way: With a query you only get 300 measly words. Just think of what you can do with several pages!

Alright, so let’s touch on the basics first.

What is the point of this horrid document?

Good question. An agent (or editor) wants this document so they can get a quick snapshot of what your book is about from beginning to end. They want to make sure there aren’t any gaping plot holes or common tropes/cliches, and they want to ensure your plot makes sense, your characters develop, and you don’t break any genre rules (like killing off the love interest in the end of your romance). More than anything, they want a brief overview of your manuscript so they can see if your story is new and refreshing, and something they might be interested in representing/acquiring.

Synopsis Basics
  • Your synopsis must cover your entire plot from beginning to end.
  • The ending must be included. No exceptions!
  • Your synopsis should be singled space and approximately 1-3 pages in length. (Check specific submission guidelines for the agent or editor to confirm how long they want it to be.)
  • Regardless of how your manuscript is written, the synopsis must be written in third person, present tense.
  • Don’t include dialogue.
  • Skip the rhetorical questions.
  • Typically there should be no more than three named characters–protagonist, antagonist, love interest/other side character. For all other characters you should refer to them by their role–waitress, brother, ex-boyfriend.

Beyond the basics, there are probably a hundred different ways to tackle actually writing the synopsis. Like drafting, each writer has their own way of doing things with their own unique quirks. Below are the steps I typically take when working on my synopsis.

Step 1: Have A Completed Manuscript

For me, I can’t possibly write a synopsis without having finished the manuscript. I’m not much of a plotter, and although I know some people fiddle with their synopsis while plotting, I am not one of those people.

Step 2: Dissect Your Chapters

Read through your manuscript and for every chapter write a brief one to two sentence description of what’s happening. Focus on what the key elements of that chapter are. How does the character develop? How does the conflict deepen? What makes this chapter important? Do this for every chapter until you’ve got a tidy document of chapter descriptions.

Step 3: Glue It Together

Now that you’ve got a brief description for every chapter, read through what you have. Obviously you’re going to have some blanks in there so go ahead and fill them in. Add in some pretty transitions, and work on sentence structure so everything flows together. Focus on the plot right now, ensuring that you’re covering all your bases from beginning to end. Remember, this is just the main plot. With a synopsis, you won’t be able to fully flesh out all the sub-plots and minor characters. Stick to the basics.

Step 4: Inject Emotion

It’s important to remember that the synopsis isn’t just showing the plot development, it also needs to cover the character arc. Read through it a second time now and make sure you’re showing how your character changes from beginning to end. Did a significant character die in your manuscript? Tell us how the main character feels  about it, tell us how they’re evolving as they wade through the conflict.

Step 5: Tell Don’t Show

That’s right–tell don’t show. Contrary to probably every piece of writing advice you’ve ever received, this is one time where you need to come straight out and say it. You want your synopsis to be lean and powerful, so in this instance, you need to tell us about the character (e.g. Jane’s a hopeless romantic, Scott’s a football fanatic). While you’re at it, sift through and substitute any bland words you have with spicier ones–substitute sprinted for ran, boiling for hot. This is definitely an instance of quality over quantity. You want less words, but the words you choose have to pack a punch.

Step 6: Polish & Shine

This is where you need to let it sit for a little. Read it through again–trim it, edit it. Send it off to your critique partners so they can offer suggestions. Definitely try and send it to one or two people who haven’t read your book so they can tell you if it fits as well together as you think it does and that it makes sense.

Once you’ve done that…voila! Your synopsis is complete.

Some Final Tips
  • The description for your first chapter and the beginning of your synopsis may be longer than the others. That’s fineAnd actually, it’s necessary. In the first paragraph of your synopsis you want to make sure that you have a basic introduction to your main character, introduce the conflict, and ground the reader in the world. This is especially important if you’re writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy where setting can be incredibly important. This first paragraph is one section that you don’t want to skimp on. However
  • You do need to limit the main character’s back story. One to two sentences at most, and only if it’s really necessary for us to understand the plot. Did your main character’s parents get divorced and now, because of that, she has no desire to ever get married? Sure, that you need to include. But unless it’s essential to our understanding of the character, skip it.
  • Synopses are functional documents that should be well-written. But because of the nature of synopses, resist the urge to include purple prose or flowery statements. Let the strength of your writing show by your ability to distill an entire novel down into a few concise pages.
  • If you’re looking for additional material on synopsis-writing, let me direct you to the post that I pull up every single time I’m working on one. This is one of my go-to synopsis writing resources, and you can find it here.

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And that is how I write a synopsis. Any questions? How about you? How do you go about writing your synopsis? Let me know in the comments! Happy writing!

Polishing Those Pages

Querying is scary business. You’ve worked and cried and bled over your manuscript, sometimes for so many months or years that you pretend you’re not counting. Now, you’re ready to send it out. Your query is bright and shiny as a new penny, but how about those first pages?

Here are some tips to help you make you sure your sample pages are top notch:

1. Quickly & Viciously Annihilate Your Adverbs

Alright, I should probably tell you that I’m not one of those authors who absolutely hates all adverbs. In fact, I think some are quite lovely in certain places. However, too many of them can be a sign that your word choice isn’t as strong as it could be. Instead of saying your character “ran quickly,” try substituting it with something like sprinted, dashed, careened. The stronger your verbs the better.

2. Stilted Dialogue

The biggest piece of advice I can give you on this is: contractions are your friend! Think about it. Listen in on a conversation without really paying attention to the topic, but more about the way people are saying things. I guarantee you, you’re unlikely to hear someone say, “I cannot believe that you would not go to the store with me. You are such a jerk.” What you’re more likely to hear is something like, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t go to the store with me. You’re such a jerk.” Worried that your dialogue is coming across as unrealistic? Try reading it out loud. Or better yet, have someone else read it aloud to you. Not only will they stumble over those stiff phrases, but you’ll be able to pinpoint what’s not working with ease.

 3. Identify Your Quirks & Weed Them Out

We all have them. In my first drafts you’ll probably find seven-thousand uses of the word “that.” Your character might smirk a lot, maybe they smile or sigh too much, or their heart is racing so frequently they’re likely to keel over in some form of heart failure. Most of the time, your CPs and Beta Readers will point this out to you. Even so, make sure you’re internalizing your habits and paying attention to them when you’re revising.

4. Repeating Things Can Be Redundant

You see what I did there, right? Much like the ticks that show up in your writing, a lot of the time, usually subconsciously, you’ll describe things using the same words. The more unique the word, the easier it will be for the reader to identify it. This goes for verbs, body parts, everything. If you talk about your character’s hand in one sentence, maybe in the next one talk about their fingers, fingertips, or wrist. As best you can, vary your word choice. Curious about what words you may be overusing? Try something like Wordle which will generate a word cloud for you and show you what words are popping up frequently in your manuscript.

5. Make Your Character Names Stand Out

And by that I’m not suggesting that you name one of your characters Sequoia and the other one Rain. What I mean is that if you name your characters (or places) similarly, we’re gonna have a hell of a time remembering who is who. If your cast of characters includes Roberta, Rufus, Rusty, Rachel, and Raul, nine times out of ten I won’t recall which one is the five-year-old kid and which is the sexy mechanic. Even if there are only two similar names (Cara and Carol), because they’re so visually similar, I may accidentally sub one for the other. Save yourself and your reader the confusion by varying your name/place choices.

6. Filter Out Your Filter Words

Filter words are literally that–a filter that distances the reader from the character. Some examples: she saw, she heard, he realized, he thought, etc. Instead of saying, “She saw a bird take flight from a snow-laden branch and felt the snowflakes fall across her face,” wipe out that filter and say, “A bird took flight from a snow-laden branch, showering her upturned cheeks in snowflakes.” Much better, right? Try using the Find feature in Microsoft Word to single out those filter phrases.

7. Dialogue Tags Can Weigh Down Your Writing

Sometimes your dialogue just needs to breathe. Not every snippet of conversation requires a tag, and if you’re adding an action after whatever the character says, then including “said” isn’t necessary. Take this example:

“I guess I get what you’re saying,” he said and shrugged.

vs.

“I guess I get what you’re saying.” He shrugged.

Another thing to take note of–are all of your characters’ actions after the dialogue? Are they always before? Try spreading the actions around to make your dialogue read better and vary the structure.

8. Show Us Emotion, Don’t Tell Us

Quick, go search your WIP for sad, nervous, excited, mad, etc. Now, not all of these need to go, but most of them should. I don’t want to read that your character is angry, I want to feel it. Don’t tell me, “Mary is very sad.” Let me see it by allowing the character to convey it through their actions. If your character is sad, tell me something like, “Mary’s shoulders drooped, and her worn out sneakers scuffed against the floor.” If you’re struggling with how to express internal emotion through physical actions, one of the best resources you can possibly found out there is The Emotion Thesaurus. Trust me, it’s a gold mine.

9. Spice Up Your Paragraph/Sentence Length

Similar sentence structure is bad. So is repetitive paragraph lengths. This sounds like robot talk. Do not do this.

Seriously though, the key to making your paragraphs read and flow better is making sure they’re not all the same length. Same goes for your paragraphs. Another thing to look for is how you’re starting your new paragraphs. Does every one start with “I”? Maybe they all begin with a verb? The more variety you can introduce in your writing, the better.

10. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Okay, I’m reusing this one from my query-writing tips (in case you missed that one, you can find it here), but it’s incredibly important throughout the entire editing process. No, one misplaced comma or misspelled word won’t be the death of your query or pages. But a whole ton of them? Yeah, that probably will. The most difficult part of proofing your own work is that you’ve read it so many times your brain autocorrects words for you. The best way I’ve found to get past this is to look at it in a different format–send the file to your eReader, change the background to black and the font to white, read from the bottom up, read it out loud, and of course, utilize those CPs.

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There you have it. Ten simple tips to help you make your sample pages shine. Any important tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments! Happy writing!

Make That Query Shine

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time judging the entries for this year’s Query Kombat, which is hosted by the wonderful Michelle Hauck (@Michelle4laughs), Michael Anthony (@Ravenous Rushing), and SC (@SC_Author). In case you’re not familiar with the contest, 64 entries were chosen based on their query and first 250 words and then battled it out tournament style until one query was left standing. (Missed Query Kombat, but still interested in participating in a contest? Check out Michelle’s upcoming contest, New Agent. Details here.)

So, after reviewing a good chunk of those 64 entries, here are some of the common pitfalls I stumbled across.

1. The Rule of Three

In almost all instances, your query should never have more than three named characters. What you need to remember here is that the reader (agents) will just be familiarizing themselves with your story, so it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of too many names. Especially if your manuscript falls somewhere on the SFF spectrum where you’re utilizing new concepts, worlds, etc. Read through your query and see what names can be substituted with titles instead. For example, instead of saying Stacy, can you just call her your main character’s sister? Typically these three characters (if you’re including the maximum of three) will be your protagonist, your antagonist, and a love interest.

2. Word Count, Word Count, Word Count

Please, for the love of all that’s holy, know acceptable word count ranges for the genre you’re writing. Not sure what those are? Check out this super helpful blog post from agent extraordinaire, Jennifer Laughran. Agents are looking to love your story, so don’t give them a reason to start doubting you right off the bat. Yes, once you’re an uber successful author like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King you can pretty much to do whatever you’d like, but as a debut author looking for a home, you want to stay within these ranges.

3. Know Your Genre

Supernatural Historical Fairy Tale Retelling is not a genre. Neither is Literary Science Fiction Self-Help. Do some research and make sure the genre you’re pitching in your query letter is actually an acceptable genre.

4. Voice Is Everything

This one is hard, and one of those intangibles that you’re either able to instill in your query or not. We can always tell you when it’s missing, but can’t always tell you how to fix. Imbuing your query with voice will make it stand out from the pile and give agents a flavor of what they can expect in your manuscript. That being said, do not, DO NOT, ever write your query as your main character. It’s never a good idea. I promise.

5. Vagueness Is The Enemy

This is especially important when you get to the stakes of your query. Don’t leave us hanging! Don’t tell us: With danger looming closer, Emily must decide between saving a life and saving the world. What danger? Whose life? How is she going to save the world? Instead tell us: With the Devil hot on Emily’s heels, she must decide between rescuing the lost soul of her brother and unleashing Hell on Earth. See what I mean?

However, this doesn’t just apply to the stakes. Comb through your entire query, banish vagueness, and insert specificity. Curious whether you’ve done a good job? Send your query off to someone who’s never read your story before. They’ll be sure to pick out the spots that aren’t clear enough.

6. Proofread Until Your Eyes Burn

Not really, save your eyes. But double check, triple check, quadruple check. Have CPs, betas, and maybe the guy at the bus stop read it through for grammatical errors and typos. With so many queries landing in an agent’s inbox, make sure your query is bright and shiny. Adding to this, type up your query e-mail and send it to yourself for a dry run. You’ll be able to spot any weird formatting issues and get those fixed before sending out your first set of queries.

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That’s it, folks. Any important tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments! Happy writing!

Hello, Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo.

About a year ago, I saw this bandied about on Twitter for the very first time. I frowned at the abbreviation, trying to puzzle it out. People asked about who was going and talked about their cabins. Of course I was picturing a real-life cabin with a bunch of writers piled inside, blinds drawn down, huddling on their beds with their laptops perched on their knees, faces awash in the electronic glow of their screens.

I was way off base.

For those new on the writing scene, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo takes place in November, and Camp NaNoWriMo sessions take place in April and July. An important note here is these are virtual sessions, so anyone can participate. The November session has writers hurtling towards a goal of 50k words, whereas the April and July sessions are more open-ended and allow the writer to set a goal for themselves ranging from 10K to 1 million words. (Side note: Anyone who can spit out 1 million words in 30 days is some type of crazy word ninja.) As well, during Camp NaNoWriMo, you can create or join a cabin comprised of 10 other writers who can cheer you on (or guilt you when you’re falling behind your goal).

Why in the world would you want to do this?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is actually getting words on the page. Or even finding the time to sit down at the computer (or notebook, or the back of that Wendy’s receipt if that’s your thing). With Camp NaNoWriMo, you’re committing to a certain word goal. You’re working on a (fictitious) deadline. You’re committing to dedicating time to your craft. And if you can stick with it for thirty days? If you can meet your goal? Well, not only does that feel damn good, but you’re well on your way to making it a habit.

Enthusiasm. Determination. Dedication.

That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo is for everyone. Not everyone is a fast-drafter, and that is perfectly okay! Finding your own pace and what works for you is super important. Don’t let anyone try and tell you that there’s only one way to write. Everyone does it differently. My writing habits even fluctuate from book to book. Go with what works and don’t worry about anyone else. Write for you.

However, if you’re so inclined, give Camp NaNoWriMo a go. Set yourself a reasonable goal and have at it. As for me, I’ll be participating in this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and keeping my fingers crossed that I reach my self-imposed finish line.

Happy writing!