Monday, August 3, 2015

2015 Pitchwars Writers! Let Me At Your MG Manuscript!!

I’m so excited to be back as an MG mentor for Pitchwars! Whether you’re chosen by a mentor or not, you’re going to develop some amazing relationships – if you make yourself available for that. And you should! We all need more support on this writing journey!

That’s me in playwright mode, but you can imagine my eagle
eye on your manuscript, rather than on actors.

WHO I AM
You have a lot of great mentors to choose from. Here’s why I hope you’ll consider me. I know the road well—you can read about my agent journey here. I’ve been a freelance editor and ghostwriter for many years, and I assist a NYT-bestselling middle grade author. I made the longlist twice for the Chicken House/Times of London’s International Children’s Fiction prize, and I was a playwright for many years before turning to middle grade fiction.

Here’s what some of my critique partners have to say about working with me. Maybe you've read some of their books?



Joy's critiques are always intelligent, super helpful, tactful, and thorough. Her feedback makes me think about both the technical and emotional aspects of creating an authentic story. Without Joy as a critique partner, I would not be a published author. There is no doubt in my mind that Joy's guidance-based feedback and spot-on critiques throughout my writing journey have pushed me to become a better writer. Joy has an impeccable eye for identifying what works and what doesn't, how to eliminate manuscript baggage, and how make your pages shine. 

Jessica Lawson (The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, Nooks & Crannies, Simon & Schuster)




If you have a chance to have Joy to critique your work - take it! Joy will help you find ways to make your WIP stronger, all while making you feel good about what you’ve accomplished so far. She’s done it for me, on multiple occasions. She is genuinely supportive and insightful and wonderful and great. If she had critiqued this endorsement, it would have been written so much better, but she didn’t, so...


Sheila Grau (Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, Amulet/Abrams)



Joy McCullough-Carranza is my fairy book mother. She was a supportive coach through the final revision of my middle grade novel. Why “final”? Joy is such a thorough critiquer and adviser that when an agent asked for a resubmit a few weeks after Pitch Wars, my manuscript was ready. I signed with my dream agent and the book went on immediate submission. Joy brings a playwright’s three dimensional understanding of character to her critiques, but she also knows how to tweak a story until it sparkles. You’ll work hard with Joy as your mentor, knowing she will guide you in making your book the best it can be.

Laura Shovan, (2013 Pitchwars mentee, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2016)


Don’t choose Joy for her query Jedi powers, although she certainly has those. And don’t choose Joy for her knowledge of the MG market or for her supportiveness, although you will be endlessly grateful for these. Choose Joy because she will take your story seriously. She will see through to why you had to write the story you wrote and she will find opportunities to make your story even more of what you dreamed. 
Ki-Wing Merlin (Weaving a Net Is Better Than Praying For Fish, Balzer + Bray, 2016)


Joy is so much more than a mentor. She's a cheerleader, a friend, a fairy godmother, an excellent brainstormer. I'm pretty sure she's smarter than Einstein and I'm certain my query and manuscript would not have garnered the attention it did without her expert critiquing skills. Joy as your mentor > winning a million dollar lottery.

Elliah Terry (2014 Pitchwars alternate, 
I Am Calliope June, Feiwel & Friends, 2017)


WHO YOU ARE
You are in this for the long haul. If you choose me, you might not “win” Pitchwars - as in, get the most requests in the PW agent round - because I don’t always pick the biggest, splashiest manuscripts. Hopefully you’ll get requests from Pitchwars agents, but I’m in it to be sure you’re ready to query effectively, too. Please don’t submit to me if you already think your manuscript is near-perfect and just needs a few commas moved. I’m likely to suggest some big changes. My mentees and alternates from previous years have all dug into really major revisions – strip out a POV, raise the stakes in a major way, develop (or cut) a whole subplot.


I entered PitchWars at the last minute, but I could not have found a better mentor for me if I spent a million years researching the different mentors--all of whom were fabulous! Joy helped me uncover the real vision for my book by providing insightful feedback and asking hard questions. I learned so much from Joy, not just about craft but about surviving the inevitable ups and downs of this crazy business! I am so grateful for her continued friendship and support. If you write MG, pick Joy! You'll be glad you did. I know I was.

Elizabeth Dimit, 2014 Pitchwars mentee, 
still on the agent-hunt!



WHAT I WANT TO SEE IN MY SUBMISSIONS
In years past, I’ve been greedy for aaaaaaall the middle grade, hesitant to limit whole genres. After all, there are always exceptions I adore!! This year, though, I’m going to do it. So, first of all, no fantasy, no science fiction, no horror. I’m sorry! You are awesome – go forth and seek the right mentor for you!

Everyone else, to get a feel for what I love, you can see the list below of some of my favorite middle grade books. I love contemporary, from serious issues to light and fun. I love magic realism (but again, no fantasy) and I tend toward the literary. While I could certainly pick something big and splashy and commercial, you’ll also find a welcome harbor for the “quiet” manuscripts here. I’m open to verse. And a big YES, PLEASE to diversity.

Here are some of my favorite books:

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Splendors & Glooms, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Unusual Chickens for Exceptional Poultry Farmers by Kelly Jones
A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses 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 by Lauren Myracle
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Allison Levy
Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai
When You Reach Me & Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 
The Boy In the Dress by David Walliams
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell



UPDATE: I blog about the difference between magic realism and fantasy here


If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post or find me on Twitter @JMCwrites and I’ll happily answer. Putting your work out there takes so much courage and I applaud all of you who submit, whether to me or any of the other mentors. Good luck! And if you aren’t chosen – stick with it! I got my agent through traditional querying, and I know if you stick with it, you’ll connect with the agent who’s right for you.

So if you're excited and ready to go, here are all the details at Brenda's site about what's next! And here are the rest of your awesome mentors! 


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23 comments:

  1. Hi! You say you don't want fantasy, then you list Splendors and Glooms and two Kate DiCamillo "fantasies" as examples of what you like. Could you clarify what sort of fantasy you are not interested in? How do you feel about fairy tale re-tellings? Steampunk? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Elizabeth! Despereaux, I'll grant you, is fantasy, but too big a favorite to leave off my list. (I genuinely love a lot of fantasy, but was trying to narrow my list a bit.) I wouldn't call Flora & Ulysses fantasy though - I'd categorize that as magical realism. Magical elements that happen to occur within a story grounded in the real world...that's MR. Splendors & Glooms I also wouldn't call fantasy. It's a gothic historical...with some magical elements. :-) Fairy-tale retellings & steampunk are both great! Thanks for asking. I'm thinking about doing a blog post on the difference between fantasy and magical realism.

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  2. Just to be sure on the distinction you're making between magical realism versus fantasy. Would you call each of these books mr or fantasy:
    Laurel Snyder's Bigger than a Breadbox
    Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs
    Jane Yolen's Centaur Rising
    Kate Sunder's Beswitched

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I'm going to do a blog post on fantasy vs. magical realism before submissions open, but this is a good start, which positions MR & fantasy on a spectrum, w/MR grounded in the real world, and fantasy having whole systems of magic: http://www.tor.com/2008/10/23/magicrealism/

      Basically, I'm not looking for systems of magic and witches and wizards and fantastical creatures and invented worlds.

      As to the books you list, Breadbox is for sure magic realism, not fantasy. Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling, and I'd be open to something similar. Centaur Rising is fantasy. I haven't read Beswitched, but it sounds extremely cool. I'd be open to time travel!

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    3. (Also, it's not a hard line for me. If someone sends me a fantasy, I'll still consider it. But you only get to choose 5 mentors, so I want to be sure you get in front of the best possible mentor for your manuscript. If yours is set in another world and/or has systems of magic integral to the plot, I'm probably not your best shot at getting selected.)

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  3. Thanks. That is very interesting. I seem to lurk in the mist of your fuzzy boundary as I've considered both Breadbox and Centaur as comps.

    I'll look forward to reading your blog post on the topic.

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    1. Well you've had me thinking about Bigger Than a Breadbox all day. :-) Some people might call it contemporary fantasy - or light fantasy. There are so many terms and people use them differently. Anyway, for my tastes, I'd say if it's grounded in the real world and doesn't have magical creatures, I'm interested.

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  4. Ah, so it was the centaurs that made Centaur Rising fantasy? I wondered. Centaurs are obviously fantastical creatures, but otherwise the story is entirely earth-bound.

    So would you place Natalie Lyod's A Snicker of Magic in mr, and Ellen Booraem's Small Persons with Wings in fantasy?

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    1. Yes, exactly! A few other MGs I'd place in magic realism: Savvy, Unusual Chickens for Exceptional Poultry Farmers, and A Tangle of Knots. Here's a great post I found about magic realism in MG: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2014/03/23183/

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  5. Thanks for all this info! What would you call "When you Reach Me?"
    It has magical elements (time travel), but is basically contemporary, granted that it is a few decades earlier. I have so much problem with genre ID.

    I will be pitching a story with a that same small slice of magic. . .
    Thanks.

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  6. When You Reach Me is so funny, in terms of genre-ID. It gets called sci-fi and I understand why, but you're right that it really feels mostly like a contemporary. I said no sci-fi, but if you have something like WYRM, I DEFINITELY WANT YOUR SUB. :-) By no sci-fi, I mean I don't want aliens, intergalactic travel, etc. Small slices of magic are delightful.

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  7. Hi Joy! I wanted to answer your questions more thoroughly than I could on Twitter. I have not been querying. I know, I know—go ahead and throw a digital shoe at me. I just felt in my bones that it was not ready. So instead, I set the ms aside for several months while I worked on the next one and then dug into another major revision. It is much stronger now than it was when you saw it a year ago. I made it to the agent round of The Writer’s Voice and got one full request from someone I would have died to work with. I gave her an exclusive, so I had been waiting to hear back from that. I was not even planning on doing Pitch Wars this year. I had kind of been fiddling around the blog, but I wasn’t sure if I would be free to enter by the 17th, and if she said no I wanted to finally dive into serious querying. However, today I received this super-sweet, personalized rejection letter with feedback that makes me think it’s still not there. And I’m at this place where I don’t know how to take it any farther without help. That is probably way more information than you were looking for, but there it is!

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    1. Hi Wendy! It sounds like you've been working really hard and taking your time through the necessary steps. I dipped back into my inbox to remind myself which was yours, and knowing everything you've just described, I'd love to take another look. Thanks for checking in!

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  8. Hey there Joy. I've got prehistoric animals rampaging through a summer camp and a puppy with some strange abilities. Would that be magical realism since my characters live in a normal world but are encountering an unlikely animal or two or five?

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    1. Sounds like contemporary fantasy to me. I blogged about some of the differences between MR and fantasy here: http://project-middle-grade-mayhem.blogspot.com/2015/08/magic-realism-or-fantasy-whats.html

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    2. Thanks so much, that is exactly what I ended up calling it. So good to know.

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  9. Thanks for mentoring other writers. I'm not ready for PitchWars this year but your fave booklist closely parallels mine, so maybe we'll meet this time next year! Meanwhile I'll keep an eye on your tweets from @tatestillwater. Though I'm a Hufflepuff, I hope we can be friends. (Everybody needs a smart friend.) Meet you in Hogsmeade for a butterbeer?

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    1. It's my utter pleasure to mentor! I hope to be back next year and I'll be looking for your entry! My husband is a Hufflepuff - they're the best kind of people! I'm totally up for a butterbeer!

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    2. (I'm married to a Ravenclaw too--with two Eagle offspring--what an adventure!)

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