Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pitchwars: The Uncomfortable Truth

This post was originally on Brenda Drake's website here but Pitchwarriors are reporting the link broken, and as it's an important post for reading as the sub window opens, I'm reposting the content here. 

This is my fifth year mentoring Ptichwars and I love so much about it. I love the community and the relationships built. I love the successes—the ones both immediately measurable and the less tangible ones.
I love when it gets uncomfortable.
It gets uncomfortable every year in a variety of ways. There are always things people ask us to change about the process to make it gentler on the applicants. Could mentors please not tweet about the subs they like? Could mentors please not request any fulls until the sub window closes? Could selected writers not celebrate on the hashtag?
Are there things we could do to make everyone feel more comfortable (supposing, of course, that we could control everyone who participates in this contest, which has become gargantuan)? Maybe we could try.
But part of our goal as Pitchwars mentors is to prepare you for the next step of your publishing journey—whether you get selected for mentoring or not.
For many of you, that next step will be the querying trenches. They’re not called trenches for nothing. It’s cold and dank and you may get gangrene. (Okay, maybe not. But it can be seriously unpleasant.)
(And real quick, before you scoff that I have a book deal and this is all really easy for me to say, let me establish my disappointment cred: I have received over 300 rejections as a novelist alone—more as a playwright—I queried five manuscripts before I got my first agent, kept writing, had five books go on submission to editors before manuscript number ten was the one that sold, with my second agent. I FEEL YOU.)
So back to the query trenches…
You’ll see an agent you just queried sign a really similar manuscript to yours.
You’ll see an agent rant about a mistake you’re sure YOU made in your query.
You’ll see an agent rave about loving a query and requesting the full and you’ll refresh and refresh and refresh and that request will never come.
An agent will lead you on with emails as they read your full and eventually NOT offer.
You’ll absolutely slay an R&R and ultimately NOT land the agent.
It’s so hard.
And getting an agent isn’t the end of the difficulties, either. Being on submission to editors is hell. Once you have a book deal, the whole publishing process can be extremely stressful and rife with comparisons. And then there are worries over reviews and sales and whether you’ll ever be able to write, much less sell, another book.
(And real quick again, I know it’s super annoying when people further along the road bemoan the agonizing burden of their agents and book deals and deadlines. I’ve so been there, but hang with me.)
The point is it’s never easy. It’s always uncomfortable. Writers in pursuit of publication are brave as hell. And part of the courage required is being uncomfortable and putting yourself out there anyway.
So keep that in mind when Pitchwars gets uncomfortable. Mentors may start squealing about subs before you’ve even hit send. You may not get any mentor requests. You may not recognize your manuscript in any teasers. Or you might recognize it in EVERY teaser. Your BFFs might get selected while you don’t. You might get mentored but get no requests in the agent round.
There are infinite ways to feel disappointed and insecure in Pitchwars (and in publishing) no matter how things play out for you. It blows. Also? You’ll survive it. And you’ll come out the other side stronger and more prepared for whatever your next stage is, whether it’s being mentored or moving forward on your own.
Except you don’t have to be on your own. Because if you take advantage of the Pitchwars community, at the very least you should emerge from this process with new friends and critique partners. And that is worth every bit of discomfort.
So chin up, Pitchwarriors. When it gets so uncomfortable you’re ready to hurl your computer out the window? Congratulations. You are officially a part of publishing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PITCHWARS 2017: Let's Do This!!!

It’s Pitchwars time!!!

Yes, that is me with a puppy in a baby carrier.
This may tell you all you need to know about me.
This is my fifth year as an MG Pitchwars mentor and it never gets any less thrilling to be entrusted with your beautiful words and stories and hearts. Thanks for stopping by on the blog hop, and thanks for opening yourself to the possibility of going on this wild, amazing ride! Maybe even with me!

So first things first. This year, I will only be accepting subs from writers from underrepresented groups.  A few important points about that:

·      For these purposes, underrepresented refers to people of color and Native writers, LGBTQIA+, those from religions aside from Christianity, disabled or neurodiverse people, immigrants and refugees, or those living at or near the poverty level.

·      Your manuscript does NOT have to be “own voices.” As in, your main character does not have to share your marginalization. (For more information on what own voices means, see this post.) I want to support an underrepresented writer, regardless of what they’re writing about. (I’m all for own voices stories, though!)

Me and another puppy. Henry is a serious snuggler.
·      I’m not the identity police. I grappled with how to handle this, because I don’t want to force anyone into disclosing an identity they’re not comfortable disclosing. I will not require anyone to justify their identity to me, but in subbing to me, there is a certain amount of admission, since I’m only taking subs from underrepresented writers. You can trust that I will treat your sub with the utmost confidence, and no one needs to know who you submitted to besides the contest administrators and those who receive your subs. (Though if I select you, people will know you subbed to me. J) If you’re not comfortable with that, I completely understand and you may simply want to sub to someone else.

·      I want to be clear that I am not an under-represented author myself. So I’m not able to offer sensitivity feedback in those areas, but as needed I would help you find sensitivity readers.

·      I know this leaves some people out. But it’s in the interest of lifting up those who are left out much of the time for reasons beyond their control.

OKAY! So if you are writing MIDDLE GRADE and you identify with one or more underrepresented groups, let me tell you a little about myself and what I’m looking for!!


I write middle grade and young adult. I’ve had a loooong road to publication, which you can read more about here. Short version: ten manuscripts, three hundred queries, two agents, five novels on submission, and finally (finally!) my debut book deal, BLOOD WATER PAINT, a YA novel-in-verse that will be published by Dutton Young Readers in 2018. 

This is my actual dog, Athena. 
The only way I survived that incredibly long road? The amazing writing community. I have sought out and been blessed by INCREDIBLE critique partners. Pitchwars has brought more wonderful CPs and writing friends into my life. And my Pitchwars mentees have become a valued part of that. Even when my books were not selling, my mentees were succeeding, and that fueled me on in my own writing. (You can read what my previous mentees said about working with me in my wishlist from last year.)

In addition to mentoring, I’m the Pitchwars Mom (aka, the mentor liaison), I’m a ghostwriter and author assistant, I’m a playwright, and a homeschooling mom.

On a non-bookish note, I live in the Seattle area. I fell in love with my husband atop a Guatemalan volcano (but that does NOT in any way mean I am outdoorsy. It took a lot to get me up that volcano and it will never happen again). I love theater and chocolate and dogs (could you tell I love dogs??).


This is Luke. I desperately wanted to bring him home
with me from Guatemala. 
You don’t have to have ANY credentials, aside from stellar promise in your manuscript, as long as you’re willing to dig in and do the work. If I choose your manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ll have major revisions ahead of you. Previous mentees have added or cut major plot elements and entire characters, changed POVs, and pretty much worked non-stop for the entire revision period. (But you won’t be required to implement any revision suggestions that don’t resonate with you. It’s YOUR book, after all.) So I’m looking for someone who’s willing to WORK, who’s not precious about changes, who’s in this for the long haul, and who wants an agent, a book deal, AND a sense of community.

I can’t promise you the first two, but I’ll throw everything I’ve got into getting you there. And I CAN promise you as much support and encouragement as you can possibly stand!


Above all, I want a manuscript with incredible voice. And heart. Voice and heart. The rest is negotiable. I tend to lean toward character driven stories and beautiful writing. I lean toward stories that are grounded in the real world, though that’s not hard and fast as you’ll see from my list of favorite books…

While I love humor (see my PW mentee Eric Bell’s book ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD!!), I am also totally open to darker, edgier topics and voices. If you’ve ever thought, Can I do that in MG? then I may be the mentor for you! (Though if you wonder if you’re treading a line between MG and YA, I did a video on how to tell the difference here.)

I also LOVE interesting form and structure. My debut novel is a novel-in-verse, and I’ve mentored two MG verse novels (to publication). I’m open to graphic novel scripts (though I could only critique story, and not art). I love epistolary stories and interesting timelines. Basically, if you’re trying something new and different, I’m eager to see it.

Here are some of my most favorite MG books (at least on the day I made this list, and leaving out classics, because this post is already long enough…)

FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell



ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

A BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold

YORK by Laura Ruby


BAYOU MAGIC by Jewell Parker Rhodes

LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech

ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan


FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE by Tim Federle


Horror, hard sci-fi, high fantasy (Tolkein-esque)


Most of my past mentees have gone on to sign with wonderful agents, and several Pitchwars books I’ve worked on have gone on to publication, including:


 ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD by Eric Bell (Katherine Tegen Books, 2017)

FORGET-ME-NOT by Ellie Terry (Feiwel & Friends)

THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill (Boyds Mills Press, 2018)

Of course, I can’t guarantee anything. And Pitchwars is truly so much more about the process than the product. I want you to have an incredible experience, regardless of the immediate outcome. (And the outcome might not even be clear until further down the line than you imagine.)

Whether you sign with an agent or get a book deal for your Pitchwars book, when you enter into a mentoring relationship with me, I am ALL IN. (Does anyone else automatically think of Luke & Lorelei whenever they hear, “All in”?)

Our relationship doesn’t end with the agent round. (I mean, unless you want it to.) I will support you through querying, through signing with your agent, through the submission process and on it goes. Most of my mentees have gone on to be very good friends. I am, quite frankly, insulted when they DON’T ask me to critique a new manuscript. 

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions here on the blog post, or engage with me on Twitter. And whether you choose to sub to me or not, highest of fives to you for putting your work out there. I know what it feels like and it takes all the courage. You are already Pitch Warriors!

RIP best puppy in the world, my beloved Owen.

To check out the rest of the Pitchwars mentors, go here. Now keep hopping...may you find the perfect mentor for you!!



































Thursday, May 18, 2017

CP Match-up - All Genres, All Categories!


Okay, friends. After last year’s Pitchwars, I did a critique partner match-up, and I want to do it again now. But it’s for anyone, not just Pitchwars entrants. All categories, all experience levels.

This isn’t going to be the sort of match-up where you post comments and then you reach out to whoever interests you. I did those in the past and got one terrific CP (hi, Sharon!), but only because she reached out to me. I was always too shy!

So I’m going to do this like I did the Pitchwars match-up. If you are interested in potentially being matched up with a CP, send an email to Include the following:

·      Your query (don’t worry if it’s not agent-ready; I just need an idea of your story)
·      Your first chapter. (Again, it doesn’t have to be 100% polished)
·      Clearly state your age category and genre
·      A brief explanation of where you’re at in your publishing journey. I want to try to match people up who are at similar levels.
·      A brief explanation of what you’d like to get out of a critique partnership and what you feel you have to offer.

I’ve had people who are on sub tell me they don’t feel like they fit in w/other writers on sub, because the others are all new and shiny, and they’re on sub for the fourth time. (Solidarity, friend, I went on sub five times before I sold!) Other writers who’ve had agents but either were dropped or chose to leave their agents are in a different place than writers just starting out with querying. So I’m hoping to hear from people at all levels and match you up accordingly. 

I can’t make any guarantees. When I did this for Pitchwars, it was only with people who’d subbed to me, so they’d all subbed an MG manuscript that matched my wishlist. This made it easier. This time around, I might get one adult romance writer and no one else to match them with. Or even if you are matched on paper, you  might not be a personality match. But it’s worth a try!

I just want to put this out there and see if a few matches can be made. With the Pitchwars round it went really well!

Feel free to share this around Twitter or wherever you share things. I’m not going to make a hard deadline, in case some submissions come rolling in over time, but I will probably wait about a week before I try to start making some matches. If I can’t find a match for you, I will respond and let you know.

Any questions? Comment here, or hit me up on Twitter!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pitchwars Matchmaking!!!


We’re in that strange in-between time when you’ve chosen your mentor picks and sent in your submission and now you WAIT. And some of your hopes might be falling, if you haven’t gotten a request yet.

If so, 1) there is still hope. Requests are still going out.

and 2) While getting picked is awesome, I hope you’ve realized by now that one of the very best things about Pitchwars is the community. And hopefully you’ve already enjoyed and grown from this new writing community.

I can only mentor one of you, but I want to do something for people who subbed to me (though I can’t guarantee a timeline on it). If you would like me to play CP matchmaker for you, I will send you a CP suggestion from the pool of people who subbed to me. I don’t know you guys personally, so I can’t vouch for how everyone will be as a CP—I will only be matchmaking based on your submissions. And of course, I can only do this for people whose subs are in my inbox.

I will only give out names as potential matches of people who have given me permission to do so.

SO, if you submitted to me and would like me to make you a match, leave a comment here with the title of your submission. These will come AFTER picks are announced, and it will be a one-time thing. I won’t be able to find you someone new or field complaints if someone isn’t a match, etc. After I’ve taken care of my post-picks emails, I shut down the account until the next Pitchwars. So it’ll just be a one-time thing that hopefully yields a few successful critique partnerships.

So if you’d like me to try to work some magic, leave a comment here with the name of your manuscript!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pitchwars 2016!!! I want your MG!!

It’s PitchWars time again!!!!!

(We start the storytelling early in my house.)

I love this contest. Highest of fives to you for taking your work seriously enough to even consider entering. This road can be long, but there’s no reason it has to be lonely, and PitchWars is an AMAZING way to plug into the writing community.

Last year, I had three Pitchwars mentees. (Long story, unusual circumstances.) My mentee Eric Bell “won” the contest with 25 requests in the agent round, ultimately selling his MG contemporary ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD at auction to Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins. (Though I really think anyone who participates in Pitchwars wins, even if you’re not selected by a mentor. That’s not a rah-rah everybody-gets-a-ribbon mentality. It’s my experience heading into my fourth year as a mentor, seeing what writers can get out of this contest if they truly invest themselves in the community that’s offered.)

Also last year, my mentee Shanna Rogers signed with Julia Weber of JAW Literary Agency, and mentee Amanda Rawson Hill (who’s a mentor this year) signed with Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown. I expect we’ll hear great news from both of them soon.

Here's what those three mentees from last year had to say about working with me: 

The best thing about Joy is that she is able to see right down to the heart of your story and knows just how to draw it out. I learned so much about how all the pieces of a story should fit together from her. It has fundamentally changed the way I write. 
Amanda Hill, Pitchwars mentee 2015 

Joy is the master of all mentors. Yes, I am biased, but I can't imagine anyone else approaching this process with the care, love, and skill that Joy brings. She is a multi-year veteran and her experience shows. Joy pushed me to go deeper with my characters than I ever had before, and her insights left me thinking, Why didn't I think of that? She sees right through to the heart of a story.  
Shanna Rogers, Pitchwars mentee 2015

Working with Joy was an incredible experience. Her enthusiasm and love for my book were boundless, but it didn't stop her from taking an objective editorial approach to revisions. She helped build up the good parts and honed in on key areas that needed to be strengthened. Joy was available at every step of the process: she helped with my pitch, my query letter, and with general advice and questions of all kinds. Submit to Joy—she will be your biggest cheerleader and your fairest critic, and she will take your manuscript to the next level!
Eric Bell, Pitchwars mentee 2015

That's my first PW mentee's book!
My mentees from previous years include current MG mentors Laura Shovan and Ellie Terry, who both got agents and book deals with the Pitchwars books they worked on with me. You can buy Laura’s THE LAST FIFTHGRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) now and pre-order Ellie’s FORGET ME NOT (Feiwel & Friends/ Macmillan) here.

I LOVE this contest, because I have seen the results and built relationships that have lasted. I have one previous mentee who has not signed with an agent yet, but I have seen the growth in her work too. I continue to read for her and encourage her along the journey. It’s different for everyone and I know the long road better than most.

That's the MG reader who lives in my house, in her reading nook.


I'm a ghostwriter, freelance editor, and MG writer represented by Jim McCarthy. I have a degree in theater and also write plays. I spent more time in previous wishlists explaining my credentials, and you can see those here and here

I LOVE MIDDLE GRADE. Most especially realistic contemporary, verse, multicultural, and magic realism. I LOVE funny and heartbreaking, and if you can manage it – both! I’m wide open to “quiet” and literary, but also love the commercial and adventurous. Diversity of all kinds is always welcome. Above all, it has to have TERRIFIC VOICE.

If your manuscript has anything in common with these MG titles, PLEASE send your submission my way!!

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell
FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo
THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall
MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose
LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech
MATILDA by Roald Dahl
THE WINNIE YEARS series by Lauren Myracle
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

Some personal elements I’m likely to connect to in a manuscript (or chatting with you on Twitter) – performing arts, bicultural families, homeschooling, Latin America, dogs, feminism, social justice issues, and chocolate. (In no particular order!)
Oh look! Some books fell off my shelves 
and just happened to land in an 
interesting shape! Is that a letter…?    

(But maybe your manuscript has none of the above and that’s TOTALLY fine. If it’s got great HEART and VOICE, I want to see it!!)

I'm open to a touch of magic but I’m not your best bet for sci-fi, horror, or high fantasy (elves and witches and systems of magic and whole other kingdoms). I’m also not your best bet for animal main characters (unless you’re Kate DiCamillo. And if you are—can you mentor me???).


You don’t have to have ANY credentials, aside from stellar promise in your manuscript, as long as you’re willing to dig in and do the work. If I choose your manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ll have major revisions ahead of you. Previous mentees have added or cut major plot elements and entire characters, changed POVs, and pretty much worked non-stop for the entire revision period. (But you won’t be required to implement any revision suggestions that don’t resonate with you. It’s YOUR book, after all.) So I’m looking for someone who’s willing to WORK, who’s not precious about changes, who’s in this for the long haul, and who wants an agent, a book deal, AND a sense of community.

I can’t promise you the first two, but I’ll throw everything I’ve got into getting you there. And I CAN promise you as much support and encouragement as you can possibly stand!

I LOVE to watch my kids unlock whole other
worlds, build empathy, and become more creative,
intelligent, compassionate people through the stories
they read and tell. 

Here's where you can check out the rest of the amazing MG mentors!

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