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!!