Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pitch Wars 2014 - Gimme Your Middle Grade! (Also, hi, how are you, I'm Joy)

 I’m so excited to be back for my second year as a Pitchwars mentor!!! I had the best time last year and I can’t wait to dig into your awesome submissions. And why should you grace me with your middle grade submission??

First of all, because I HAVE BEEN WHERE YOU ARE. My agent search was epic. You can read about it HERE. But here’s the short version: three+ years, 5 manuscripts, 290 queries, 47 full requests, one offer from one of the absolute best agents there is: Sara Crowe.

So if you are in that place where you are SO CLOSE YOU CAN TASTE IT? I’ve been there. And gotten to the other side. And I want to help you get there too.

Making this Harry Potter quilt took almost as
long as it took me to find an agent.
(Okay, not that long.)
I’m going to pick something I love and really want to dig into, whether or not it is likely to be contest-friendly. That’s what I did when I picked Laura Shovan’s gorgeous contemporary verse novel last year, and it worked out pretty well, since she signed with Stephen Barbara and sold (at auction) a two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books. So if you’ve got a manuscript you think might be “too quiet” for a contest, I’m interested. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also send me something rollicking and splashy—I’m into those, too!)

Whatever it is, I’m going to dig in. I’m not here to nitpick your grammar and word choices – though we will shine those up if they need it. But if you get as far as being chosen for Pitchwars, you’ve probably got the mechanics of writing down. Competition was TIGHT last year, you guys. My focus is going to be on story. How can we make your story the most compelling it can be, whether it’s a high fantasy or quiet contemporary? I’m likely to hone in on big story elements that need to be changed/strengthened/added. So don’t apply to me unless you’re ready to get down to some serious work.

I love helping writers. I work as a freelance editor and ghostwriter, helping people craft and hone the stories they envision, and I’ve done this for fifteen years. For ten of those years, I did classroom arts residencies in K-12 classrooms as a playwright, helping young writers find their voices and express them.

A recent library haul.
I’m a contributor to the MG group blog Project Mayhem. I am an active critique partner and beta reader to a whole host of wonderful writers, and all of my close CPs have gotten agents and deals with major publishers. I also work as an assistant to a NYT bestselling MG author.

HERE’s my post from last year on why you should pick me. And HERE’s a Project Mayhem post I wrote about the things I learned from last year’s Pitchwars slush, which may help you prepare your submission.  You can read more about me AT MY WEBSITE, and read an interview with playwright me HERE and mentor me HERE.

So what am I looking for? My tastes in middle grade are pretty broad, but my very favorite categories are contemporary and magical realism, with bonus points for diverse stories. There are exceptions to all of these, but here are the things I’m not as wild about: high fantasy, sci-fi, gross-out humor.

And here’s a list of some of my very favorite MG books (excluding the obvious, like Rowling, Cleary, Dahl, etc.):

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Splendors & Glooms AND A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
Wonder by RJ Palacio
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
The Tale of Despereaux, Flora & Ulysses and Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshish
Walk Two Moons and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
The Winnie Years series by Lauren Myracle
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle
The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

My crazy-eyed dog Athena says you should apply to me.
Hopefully I'm a better mentor than a dog trainer.
So what’s next? Go to Brenda Drake’s website for all the details about submission. You can also check out the amazing agent list, plus all the terrific mentors waiting to dive in and support your work!

Contests are about the relationships, and I can’t wait to get to know you!

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  1. Would be Pitch Warriors -- apply to Joy! Her feedback is clear-eyed and insightful, but also respectful of an author's vision. You'll get spot-on comments on your manuscript. Also important, Joy is a great cheerleader. She'll keep your spirits up through the rollercoaster of revisions, agent round, and beyond. Good luck!!

    Laura S.

  2. HEY! APPLY TO JOY AS A MENTOR! I'm one of Joy's CPs who would not have gotten an agent and book deal (w/ a major publisher) without her critiques. Her feedback is always extremely thoughtful and wise ~ this is a woman who is savvy about both writing AND the market. I think her post speaks for itself (hello, one of the people she mentored last year, helping to improve pitch and first pages, scored a mega agent and a 2-book deal AT AUCTION), but I'm leaving this comment because I feel so strongly about Joy's ability to make your story shine bright enough to get a quality agent's attention. She's awesome!

  3. Jessica and Laura are right! If you want spot on feedback from an experienced writer, Joy is your girl. She easily sees global issues with a manuscript and yet can also hone in on what might seem like a minor detail to you or me. Her feedback on my novel helped me see what was missing and what was necessary to cut/adapt. Now, my contemporary MG will debut in October, thanks in large part to Joy's advice.

    But lest I leave out the best part about working with Joy, she is that supportive and understanding friend everyone needs at times in this business.

    Thanks, Joy! I will always come to you for manuscript support.

  4. Yes! An MG mentor! I was getting nervous. I've got you on my list of "possible 4" but my completed works (still trying to choose one) are Contemporary Fantasy and Contemporary Sci-Fi (Think Danny Dunn series, not Orson Scott Card books) so I'm not sure how well I fit in your wish list. But next year I'll have a lower MG magic realism (still cooking right now).

    1. Thanks Jen! There are definitely other MG mentors who are more focused on fantasy & sci-fi. I don't rule either out - I'm a massive Harry Potter fan, and in YA there are some fantasy & sci-fi I really love, like Chaos Walking, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Seraphina. It's all about the execution. :-) I hope you find your perfect match.

  5. Wow. Congrats on landing Sara Crowe for an agent!

    And thanks for turning right around and heading back into the fray with PitchWars. I can see that your CP's above are pretty much in love with you, so you're obviously amazing.

    Also loved your pictures. I was just in the library today (I've decided to give one of Neil Gaiman's graphic novels a go. Not sure the GN format is for me, but I thought that'd be an excellent place to start). And I only just finished crocheting my husband his Slytherin scarf. I'm positive it didn't take nearly so long as your HP quilt, but, boy is it surprisingly difficult to find a yarn brand that makes the right colors of silver (or gray in a pinch) and green.

  6. Thanks, Sarah! Yes, Sara is amazing, and for me, the (extensive!) wait was worth it for the right fit! You know, I wasn't into graphic novels until my daughter really struggled to learn to read. But her extremely high comprehension level spurred us to find something that would work for her and GNs have been so great! Now I've read several on my own, and really enjoy them. Ooh, married to a Slytherin! (Technically I'm a Slytherin, per Pottermore, but I choose to believe I'd be a Ravenclaw if I'd had a chance to confer with the hat.)

    1. I'm a Ravenclaw married to a Slytherin, per Pottermore. My husband is definitely Slytherin, but he's only devious in the most entertaining of ways.

  7. Are you interested in MG historical? Even if you're not, I love how you're open to quieter stories!

    1. Hi Carrie-Anne! Sure, I'd love to consider a historical!

  8. Hi Joy! Quick simple question: Do you consider a chapter book to be MG? It's on the older side of a chapter book, but still decidedly in that category. Think Magic Treehouse meets Gutman's School Daze. Thanks in advance!

  9. Hi, thanks for asking. With the caveat that chapter books are a suuuuper hard sell to agents, I would consider one!

  10. Hello Joy, I just found your site today. I've missed the pitch wars, but wanted to know more about submitting a mg novel to you?

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I'm not an agent or acquiring editor, so I really don't take any submissions, apart from Pitchwars. I do freelance work as an editor, but unless that's what you're looking for, keep your eyes out for the next round of Pitchwars! Good luck with your writing!