For those of you who are new to Pitch Wars: hi, how are you, we'll be new together.
If you've been involved in Pitch Wars before: hi, how are you, be gentle, I'm new.
This is the post whereupon I tell you the things that I'm looking for and some of the things that I'm not. For the record, I've been writing long enough to know that most of you have already skipped to the end to see the wish list. That's okay. Trust me when I say: I understand.
I've been where you've been. I'm also still where you're at, because I go through exactly the same anxiety every time I submit a new work to an editor. Being published and having been through the submission process multiple times doesn't decrease my apprehension.
Does anyone ever get to the point where they don't care? I'll let you know when it happens, but today is not that day.
What all this means is that I wish I had some magic words to make you feel safe, but I don't.
What I do have is a bit of advice, something that I've learned to do: lean on my friends. I have a small circle of very close writerly friends, and while they can't make me feel better or fix my anxiety, they do lend me an empathetic ear. Make sure your group is private, so you can vent loudly and at will. It doesn't fix the weird subjective nature of this process, but friends make this world much easier to bear.
In case you don't know anything about me, this is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. My qualifications to be a mentor include the following: I am a past member of the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. I workshopped my first novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale (2011) through OWW and had the privilege of critiquing many fine works while I was there. I also survived the great Night Shade meltdown of 2013 to go on to sell three novellas to Harper Voyager Impulse--In Midnight's Silence (2015), Without Light or Guide (2015), and The Second Death (2016), which were all compiled in the omnibus Los Nefilim (2016). I've had my short stories appear in Grimdark Magazine and various anthologies, including the most recent, Evil is a Matter of Perspective (2017), which contains the Los Nefilim short story "Every Hair Casts a Shadow." My newest work is Where Oblivion Lives, the first of three Los Nefilim novels, and it will be published by Harper Voyager in February 2019. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Agency.
During the last nine years, I have continued to work with other authors on their manuscripts and they have helped me with mine. I'm telling you all of these things not to brag, but so that you know I am bringing something to the table for you.
What am I looking for?
I thought long and hard about what to write here, because I don't want anything to be misconstrued as being negative about any sub-genres. Personally, I don't restrict my reading to any particular genre and read everything from literary fiction to genre fiction to nonfiction and all the things in between. However, I'm not as intimate with the different tropes of every market as I am with science fiction, fantasy and horror.
In the end, I based my decision on what to accept by how well I know the market. For example: I love reading historical fiction such as Wolf Hall; however, I know next to nothing about selling historical fiction to an agent or editor, because that is not what I write.
Part of my job as a Pitch Wars mentor is not just to critique your manuscript but also to help you through the query process. In order to do that, I need to have a grasp on what kind of books agents and editors are buying, which like everything else is publication is something of a crapshoot, but here we all are anyway.
Likewise, I don't want you to waste a mentor slot on me if you don't think we'll be a good fit. Center one objective in your mind: you're not out to get any mentor. You want the mentor who is going to be the best fit for you and your work. If it's not me, that's cool. This isn't a popularity contest--it's a working relationship.
The kinds of books that draw me in have strong voice and characterization. When the committee at Pitch Wars asked for my five favorite novels to post on my mentor profile, I deliberately chose five very distinctive books to give people an idea of the wide range of styles that I enjoy.
With all that said, here we go:
What I want: magical realism, historical fantasy, dark fantasy, or dark urban fantasy (see Laura Bickle's Dark Alchemy), and the grimdark. I'm cool with vampires if they don't sparkle, werewolves, jaded gods, and fae. I'm looking for a fresh new take on any of those things. Twist it, turn it, if in doubt, send it.
What I'm not looking for: no epic fantasy (elves, dwarves, Tolkienish fantasy) UNLESS you've got a really unique spin on the idea, no paranormal romance, no magical schools or military schools--frankly no schools unless you're got something exceptionally different. No coming of age stories.
What I want: ghost stories, haunted houses, demons, vampires, possession (think Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts; Clive Barker's Cabal; Lisa Mannetti's The Gentling Box are some examples across the board)--if it's supernatural and you can rock it with a dark edge, I'm interested.
I'm a huge fan of Gothic horror, especially when it's twisted into a modern setting (Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi); Southern Gothic (High Lonesome Sound by Jaye Wells); and weird fiction (A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files; Nod by Adrian Barnes), definitely historical horror (Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman); and literary horror (Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger).
What I'm not looking for: Frankly I'm not into any form of torture porn, so no splatterpunk, no zombies (unless you've got an awesome upgrade/twist on the theme such as Justina Ireland's Dread Nation), no graphic mutilations, or teenagers being hunted a la Friday the 13th [note: see Other Considerations for more information].
To give you an idea of the kind of horror that I'm into, check out some of the movies that I've recently enjoyed, which include: A Quiet Place, Get Out, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Conjuring (I & II), and The Babadook. If you're writing the literary equivalent of any of these, send it my way.
What I want: I'll look at any science fiction as long as the caveats in Other Considerations [below] are kept in mind. Like horror, I'm not interested in zombies unless it has a new twist, but I do love alien horror, such as in Aliens, et al. Any science fiction with a dark edge appeals to me (Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear). If your weird fiction falls under a science fiction heading, send it along--this includes dystopias. Thrillers (Up Against It by M.J. Locke), especially political thrillers in the vein of Dune also appeal to me. I'm open to first contact stories and alien adventures. In terms of science fiction, I'm open to just about anything.
(These apply to both fantasy and horror)
Market. Adult. I am not willing to look at New Adult, because I'm not familiar with the market. If your new adult novel falls into the adult market, call it adult and send it to me. If you're looking specifically for mentors who will accept New Adult, go to the bottom of this post. We've made it easy for you to find mentors who are accepting New Adult.
Diversity. I am exceptionally open to diverse authors and characters. I love reading books with older protagonists, especially older women in active roles.
Is your work #ownvoices? Send it. I'm not making a list in the event I accidentally exclude someone, but I am open all #ownvoices stories.
If you're writing from a perspective outside your own, that's cool, too. I will ask you to do what I do and work with sensitivity readers. Likewise, while diverse characters can add so much dimension to your story, being diverse can't be their only interesting quality.
If you look at my five favorite novels, you'll notice they all share one thing in common: the characters drive the plot. I'm looking for exciting, complex characters. I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case you have a question: I will work with anyone, regardless of your gender identity.
Romance. I mentioned no paranormal romance, not because I don't read or like paranormal romance, but because I'm not familiar with the market.
I will read a novel with romance in it.
If you want to understand how the tropes and plot arcs work in romance, please read this very insightful post by Ilona Andrews called Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction. While Ilona is speaking primarily to the trope of the alpha male, she does give an excellent overview of the plotting arc utilized when writing romance. If you want to see my views on romance in fantasy, you need to read my blog post Women Write Romance, Men Write Manly Things, but the upshot of it is simply this: if your story is NOT genre romance (because market), then you can send it to me.
Graphic Violence. I can take the gritty (A Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files) and I can take the weird (Nod by Adrian Barnes), but what I can't take is graphic violence for the sake of graphic violence.
If your novel kills characters for shock value, or has rape, fridging the spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover, or kills the gays, you may send your novel. We'll examine the context of how these elements fit within your story. However, be aware ahead of time that it might become necessary to change some of these aspects to make a better story.
My job as a mentor is to help you craft a novel that moves outside the box, and all of the things I listed in my previous paragraph are story clichés. Just because these things worked for Famous Author X, doesn't mean they'll work for you. Besides, Famous Author X has already done the thing. We want your novel to do a new thing, because your story deserves to stand out, not blend in with the crowd.
POV. No preference. I've read (and written) novels in third, first, and combinations thereof. In any multi-POV work, I generally need to see a clear protagonist. Once that character's arc is established, multiple POVs don't bother me, but if you've got eight POVs, we'll need to examine ways in which to narrow it to three.
Remember: Stephen King published Carrie before the The Stand. You're at the Carrie stage of your career. If I find you switching POVs too much, or the character arcs are too jarring, we can work on those things together, but they will have to change.
Word Count. Stick with debut word counts. I know Famous Author X has written a door stopping blockbuster, but if you walk backwards, you'll see that, in most cases, Famous Author X's first novel was significantly shorter (see the Carrie/Stand example above).
With a debut fantasy, you need to keep the story between 80,000 to 125,000 words. Horror will usually run shorter, between 70,000-90,000. Those are ballpark figures. If your novel is 50,000, or 84,000, or 125,200 words, I won't discount it.
However, if your fantasy is 175,000 words, I'm going to have to see a mind-blowing theme and a knock-out first chapter. With larger works over the 125K mark, I'll expect that you'll be willing to work toward trimming the novel so that it is closer to industry expectations.
If you’re still here, that means you're willing to explore the possibility of working with me. That's great.
As I said earlier, this isn't a popularity contest. You get to pick four mentors, and it's exceptionally important that you choose wisely.
The mentor/mentee relationship is one of mutual respect. We're colleagues in the sense that we're in the same profession. You've worked hard to get where you are, and I know that because I'm still working hard to maintain my toehold in the business.
This is a business and it's tough, so I'm going critique your story the same way my editors have critiqued my work--as a professional with an eye to the market. Despite the rumors you might hear to the contrary, I'm not heartless. But this is a business that requires a thick skin, and I'm here to help you develop one.
I am good at picking out plot flaws and poor characterization and offering constructive criticism. You need to be realistic enough about your writing and the harsh realities of publication to know that I'm not picking on you or your work, but that I'm trying to help you so that your work stands out in a very crowded field.
However, I'm also keenly aware that this is YOUR story. You know where you're going with it, and you know what you want it and the characters to do. Since you need to be comfortable with any changes, I'm perfectly okay when someone rejects my comments or suggestions. This cannot be my way or the highway. You've created a picture and I'm going to suggest where you might want to deepen the shading or remove a hill or two to sharpen the focus of your work. Whether or not you take those suggestions is entirely up to you.
I make notes in Track Changes as I read your work, so be sure you can send your manuscript to me in Word and that you know how to work Track Changes. I also give you a brief editorial letter that elaborates on any issues I might have.
In terms of personality, I'm not quite as dour as this post reads, but you get the general idea. If you want to know what I'm like, you can follow my Twitter feed. That's really a good place to get to know me. I've been around for about nine years, so it shouldn't be hard to find people who've worked with me. They'll tell you that I swear and leave a lot of notes with my critiques, but mostly that I swear. If profanity bothers you, I might not be the person for you.
I am not answering DMs on Twitter or Facebook during the Pitch Wars submission process. I'm not being mean, but I know my limitations, and I simply don't have time to chase twenty conversations across social media, or to answer the same question hundreds of times. Besides, several other people might be thinking of asking your question. If they are, then I can answer your question and point the others to the response.
This saves us all time.
SO, with all that said, if you have a general question about me or how I edit, you can either drop a comment on this post (preferred), or use my contact page to get in touch with me for now.
If I'm not the mentor for you, you can check out more Pitch Wars mentors below, or head over to the Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop Post. Either way, good luck, and I hope you find the best mentor for you and your work!