2020 Pitch Wars Mentor Bio & Wishlist!

Hey there, Pitch Warriors!

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

I am so excited to be back mentoring for Pitch Wars for a fifth year!

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.


I am here for all your Young Adult manuscripts. Okay, not all of them. Let me give you the specifics. I’m looking for:

Five post-its pinned in place that show the categories: Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Paranormal.
Infographic designed by Infographic List Vectors by Vecteezy.


There is one thing I absolutely have to have in every manuscript, regardless of genre. Unless your manuscript has a small thread of romance, I am not the right mentor for you. And when it comes to that romantic story line, I’d be happy with any combination of romantic pairings.

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, but there has to be at least a teeny, tiny romantic subplot. If I can’t root for two characters to get together, ultimately, I’m probably not going to love the story. Also, I fall into the Upper YA spectrum. I’m really looking for characters 16+.

I am also absolutely here for your diverse manuscripts and welcome your #ownvoices stories. However, in no way, shape, or form are you required to label your work as #ownvoices if you’re not comfortable labeling it as such.

In all the genres, here’s what I’m really hoping to find in my inbox:


Loki grinning.

Please, please, please send me these. I am a huge sucker for these types of characters. Even the ones who seem completely irredeemable, I promise you I will somehow have a soft spot for. The Darkling is one of my favorite characters ever. Characters that are ridiculously manipulative like Ben Linus are my jam. Give me characters whose villainy is underlined by their intelligence like Ivar from Vikings. I have always been Team Damon, but don’t think I wasn’t also rooting for Klaus (and also hoping for a redemption arc for Kai). If your manuscript centers around the “bad guy”, I would absolutely love for you to send it to me. Super extra bonus points if your villain happens to be female. If morality were a white to black scale, I prefer my characters to be a middle gray at least.


I am a huge sucker for atmospheric settings and lyrical writing. Especially if that setting happens to be creepy or spooky (think House of Salt and Sorrows). I adore settings that feel like characters and world-building that showcases quirky elements of a town/place. Give me your pretty prose and worlds so real they leap from the page.


Manuscripts that have feminist themes–whether those are completely blatant themes or more subtle ones, I want them all. Give me your strong, kickass heroines. Now, this doesn’t have to be literal. Your main character doesn’t have to wield a sword or fight crime (though I’m 100% for it if she does). But I’m also talking mental toughness, self-reliant, independent women. I love characters with strong juxtapositions. Show me an assassin who loves dresses and makeup.


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

If you’ve ever been told your female character is too harsh, too downright mean, or anything of that sort, you have found the right mentor. Female characters deserve just as much as male characters to make bad decisions and behave badly and sometimes just be terrible people.


I am here for all your troubled and complicated relationships. Bonus points if a character’s issues cause conflict in your story. Think Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows or the Gansey/Blue conundrum from The Raven Boys. Or the ever-contentious, high conflict relationship between Cardan and Jude. I want all the angst. And this doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships! Give me your knotted sibling rivalries, friendship breakups, multi-generational spats. If the relationships in your book can be described as challenged or twisty, you have come to the right place.


Literary retellings, fairy tale retellings, Greek mythology retellings, all the retellings. I’d particularly love to see non-mainstream retellings that haven’t been done before, especially any from non-Western or underrepresented cultures. To that I’ll also add origin stories or YA versions of movies (i.e. a YA version of Bridget Jones’s Diary). Whether it’s set in the contemporary world with a bit of a speculative angle, has a fantastical spin, or a paranormal twist, I want them in my inbox.


  • Books that make me cry
  • Books that make me want to set them on fire with rage
  • Alternating timelines
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Genre blending
  • Epistolary formats
  • Other unique formats
  • Stories featuring twins
  • Enemies to lovers, or lovers to enemies, or any combination thereof
  • Love triangles
  • Anything that can be comped to On the Jellicoe Road or Bone Gap
  • Unusual or unexpected settings
  • Small towns
  • Creepy forests
  • Anything with a fall/autumn vibe
  • Psychics/fortune tellers/tarot card readers

Alright, let’s get more genre specific…

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

My taste here runs a little bit darker. (You’re not surprised by this now, right?) Really light and fluffy fantasy is probably not for me. I love vivid world building and unique magic systems. Alternate histories are always intriguing. Did I mention villains? I am open to both low and high fantasy, though I will say that my tastes skew a bit more toward low fantasy and away from epic.

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

Beyond that, I’m pretty open in this genre. As long as you’re hitting some of the above points, we’re good. Some favorites of mine:

  • Anything by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater (but really anything by her)
  • Anything by Laini Taylor
  • Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
  • A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Wicked King by Holly Black
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  • The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
  • The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
  • Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Dirty hands grip the edge of a cliff with a stormy sea and sky behind them, the text overlaying it reads, “Horror.”

I am open to all sub-genres of horror be it occult, gothic, etc. I think this is one genre in particular where you might see (and I’d love to see!) some genre blending. 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. The only thing I am not looking for here is gratuitous gore. If you frequently spend time describing the color and texture of peoples’ entrails, I am likely not the best mentor for you. Oh, and if you have anything that can be comped to The Craft I am absolutely here for it!

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
A macro photo of a multi-colored glass doorknob, the text overlaying it reads, “Sci-Fi.”

Like Fantasy, I’m pretty open in this genre as well and looking for things on the darker end of the spectrum. However, I prefer my Sci-Fi to not overwhelm me with too much technical jargon. If your book requires a twenty-five page glossary of terms, I’m likely not the right mentor for you. I’m open to near-future Sci-Fi, space operas, whatever. As long as your story is hitting on my main points above, I will be more than interested! Bonus points for any very well done time travel, and if you’re going the post-apocalyptic or dystopian route, I’d love to see unique spins there.


  • 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
A darkened hallway with light shining through two open, blue doors. The text overlaying it reads, “Thriller.”

I have been devouring thrillers recently, so I would love to see some of these in my inbox this year. I particularly love stories that revolve around dark academia, boarding schools, secret societies, and cults. If you have a twisty, keep-you-guessing kind of thriller that is something I’d love to get my hands on. I know I mentioned it above, but I’ll say it again: I am definitely looking for unreliable narrators if you have them!


  • If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
  • Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Three cast iron pots hanging over a fire. The text overlaying it reads “Paranormal.”

What I’m looking for here are Angels, Witches, Ghosts, Vampires, and possibly made up creatures. Sorry, but it’s a no from me on Werewolves, Selkies, and Shifters.

Angels are my Achilles heel. I’d love to see an Angel story that isn’t specifically wrapped up in the Heaven/Hell struggle. Or 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, I’m looking for really fresh twists and anything that’s really outside the box (along the lines of iZombie for example). Another thing I’d go crazy for? A YA retelling of Meet Joe Black or similar stories that focus around Death. I’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.

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

My 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


  • Anything that has to do with or touches on child molestation. This is a hard no for me.
  • Animal death. If your character is hunting to eat, that’s fine as long as it’s not overly graphic. But if your character kills puppies, or a lot of animals die in your manuscript, this will just ruin a story for me. Sorry.
  • 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, nothing relating to or about The Mob/Mafia.
  • Werewolves, shifters, selkies.


So, I’m Jamie (she/her), *waves*. For my day job, I work in Pricing & Contracts for a large medical device company. I’m that person who adores spreadsheets and have been recently dabbling in Power BI. 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 YA Fantasy and Speculative projects currently.

I mentored YA in Pitch Wars from 2016-2019, and have been able to work with four 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 and Blood & Honey, are now both 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. Then 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. As for 2020? 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 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 supported 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.


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. I’m fully prepared (and excited!) to read your manuscript several times until everything’s as perfect as can be. I 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 my critiquing style as slightly blunt, entirely honest, but always kind. I’m a big fan of the compliment sandwich. Some things that I’m 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. I also have the odd knack of picking up on repeat phrases and words throughout the length of an entire manuscript.

I definitely see the editing process as a collaboration and ongoing discussion. I’ll give you suggestions, probably a lot of them, but ultimately I 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. I’m looking for a mentee who’s willing to work as hard as I am, 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 my communication style, I am always available via e-mail, DM, or text, and would happy to hop on a Zoom call if that’s your preference.

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

Well, friends, that about covers it!

If you have any questions at all, please leave me a comment or come talk with me on Twitter. I promise, I am more than happy to chat with you. Honestly? It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most!

While I can’t take any specific pitches, if you have any general concerns or if there’s something I 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 me!).


Dean from Supernatural winking.

Pitch Wars 2020 Young Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Aiden Thomas (Accepts NA)
  2. Sarvenaz Tash (Accepts NA)
  3. Chloe Gong and Tashie Bhuiyan
  4. Abigail Johnson
  5. Kit Frick and Carlyn Greenwald
  6. Sonora Reyes (Accepts NA)
  7. Laurie Dennison
  8. J.Elle and Emily Golden
  9. Andrea Contos (Accepts NA)
  10. Emily Thiede (Accepts NA)
  11. Amanda Panitch
  12. Allison Saft and Ava Reid (Accepts NA)
  13. Emery Lee (Accepts NA)
  14. Carrie S. Allen and Sabrina Lotfi
  15. Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman (Accepts NA)
  16. Adiba Jaigirdar and Gabriela Martins
  17. Michaela Greer (Accepts NA)
  18. Tash McAdam
  19. ST Sterlings (Accepts NA)
  20. Maiya Ibrahim and Ayana Gray (Accepts NA)
  21. Meg Long and Xiran Jay Zhao (Accepts NA)
  22. Margie Fuston
  23. Jamie Howard
  24. Nova McBee
  25. Amelia Diane Coombs and Sophie Gonzales (Accepts NA)
  26. Rachel Griffin
  27. Susan Lee and Auriane Desombre (Accepts NA)
  28. Ciannon Smart
  29. Sasha Peyton Smith and Kristin Lambert
  30. Lane Clarke (Accepts NA)
  31. Lyndsay Ely (Accepts NA)
  32. Anna Sortino (Accepts NA)
  33. Jennieke Cohen
  34. Bethany Mangle (Accepts NA)
  35. Sunya Mara (Accepts NA)
  36. Kat Dunn and Daphne Lao Tonge
  37. Sheena Boekweg and Alechia Dow (Accepts NA)
  38. Liz Lawson and Dante Medema (Accepts NA)
  39. Sarah Dass (Accepts NA)
  40. Zach Hines (Accepts NA)
  41. Hoda Agharazi (Accepts NA)
  42. Dawn Ius and April Snellings (Accepts NA)
  43. Kara McDowell and Kimberly Gabriel
  44. Kylie Schachte (Accepts NA)
  45. Deborah Falaye
  46. Rona Wang (Accepts NA)
  47. Becca Mix and Grace Li (Accepts NA)
  48. Aty S. Behsam (Accepts NA)

Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2020 Mentors’ Wish Lists

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.


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.


“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.


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.


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!