My Pitch Wars Wishlist!

PW logo 1Hello and welcome to all who love Pitch Wars and YA! 

What I’m looking for: My favorites include many YA contemporaries, such as Eleanor and Park, Anna and the French Kiss, All the Bright Places, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Mexican White Boy, and We Were Liars (I kind of have a love-hate with that one, because *SPOILER ALERT* the end is devastating).

book covers for blogSo, if you’ve written a YA contemporary with an honest, captivating, authentic voice, please DO send your entry my way! I especially love contemporaries with a twist of something unique, or a surprising element—even a little genre-bending, or a splash of fantasy or sci-fi. However, I’m also open to “quiet” contemporaries, but they must be very special and compelling.

I also have favorites among other genres, such as fantasy and sci-fi, including The Scorpio Races, Feed, House of the Scorpion, and of course, the Harry Potter series. What’s most important to me is that fantasy and sci-fi novels have, at their core, an authentic human voice, and genuine human emotion and experience. I do also like fairy tale and classic lit reimaginings.

I’m NOT usually a big fan of mystery or thrillers, but you never know—I’m open to surprises. Except horror. I like stories that have a little creepy element (Anna Dressed in Blood, Warm Bodies), but I’m NOT the right mentor for serious horror. Similarly, I like “dark” stories, but I prefer them with at least a splash of hope and light. I’m probably not the right mentor for unrelenting darkness.

In any genre, I would also love to see under-represented perspectives and voices (“own voices”), unique settings or worlds, humor, romance, and lovely writing (whether literary, or simple and clean).

So, to recap: *YES* to YA contemporary, YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA fairy tale and classic retellings, genre-bending YA, and YA magical realism—all with authentic human experience and emotion at heart. *YES* to “own voices,” unique settings, humor, romance, and lovely writing. Above all, *YES* to authentic human emotions and experiences.

*NO thanks* (generally speaking) to mysteries and thrillers, hard-core horror, and super-dark stories. (However, I’m open to surprises, so if you have a hunch that I’ll love your manuscript, go ahead and take a chance!) Also, since I’m an animal lover, *NO thanks* (in most cases) to violence against animals, unless it is coupled with a strong anti-violence-against-animals message.

About meI was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2014 and it was the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer, so I’m thrilled to have the chance to pay it forward by mentoring this year!

I write (and love) YA! In addition to writing, I also teach high school English and work as a book coach/editor for Author Accelerator.

Things I love besides writing and editing include (in no particular order): Dogs, songwriting, English breakfast tea, vanilla-scented candles, my family, British period TV series (Grantchester), reality TV that centers on creativity (So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway), avocado, my dogs, other animals, and did I mention my dogs?

As an editor, I love figuring out what is and isn’t working in a manuscript on both a big picture and detailed (nit-picky) level.

Several of the writers I’ve read for have gone on to obtain agents and/or book deals. My name appears in the acknowledgements of These Gentle Wounds, by Helene Dunbar; If I Fix You, by Abigail Johnson; Arrows, by Melissa Gorzelanczyk; and the Frosh series, by Mónica B. Wagner.

Below are comments from a few writers I’ve critiqued: 

I don’t know what I’d do without Susan as my CP. Her editorial eye is amazing, the kind that explains to you well what’s not working, and you’re like, Whoa, I can SEE it now. Whatever was I thinking writing that in a scene? It’s crazy how she can put her finger on exactly what’s not working for her–like, she’ll never say something like “this part is boring me” and nothing else. She’ll say why exactly it isn’t working and will give you options to fix it. She’s the sweetest gal ever, too! She’ll tell you what she loves in your MS, and she’ll root for you. You want her as your mentor! She truly is amazing! – Mónica B.W. 

Susan is a truly wonderful editor. Precise, kind, whip-smart, and knowledgeable, she’s the sort of editor you feel really lucky to have. She knows the craft backwards and forwards—how to tell a great story with all the right elements that go into making a polished novel, from the super small to the super big. Her line edits are amazing; even when you think you’ve been over your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, she catches problems that need to be fixed to make your novel shine. Her sense of a story’s timing and story arc, as well as of a character’s development, are fantastic. She has a kind of deep-seeing when it comes to the art of the story—she asks all the right questions to help you understand what motivates your characters and how to drive your story forward. Not only that, but she has the knack for giving tough feedback that somehow makes you feel good about your writing (a rare gift, indeed!). Susan is a generous editor with a really big heart and I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to have her as an editor. – Karen Halil, Ph.D. in literature; previously, Lecturer in English at Harvard University and Boston University; presently, YA writer 

Susan is a fabulous editor! She has an eye for detail such as grammar mistakes and missing words, but is also able to identify larger issues regarding plot and clarity. She’s exceptionally thorough, giving pointed, detailed advice in an honest and direct tone, while remaining positive and encouraging. Susan’s opinions on my manuscripts have been invaluable, and I’d highly recommend working with her! – Andrea Contos 

Susan was my mentor, along with Monica Bustamante Wagner, back in 2015. Susan has an amazing editorial eye, pointing out not just what doesn’t work, but explaining why in a kind and supportive way. Any time I had questions, she would respond quickly, even if my questions were more of a panic-fest. My writing is stronger for having known her–and I’m proud to count her among my writer friends now! Any writer should leap at the chance to work with Susan! – Kerbie Addis 

My editing style: I plan to read my mentee’s manuscript twice–once for big-picture issues, and once for line-edits. I believe that feedback can and should be honest and constructive. (With all due respect to Simon Cowell, in my opinion honesty does not need to be brutal.) I think it’s helpful to comment on what DOES work as well as on areas that need improvement, and I’ve been known to include hearts and smiley faces in my comments. I will also try my best to respond with some feedback to all entries.

♥ Links to some of my posts on writingCapturing Voice, Opening Scenes, Writing Tips from YALLwest, Hope in the Face of Rejection, Four Qualities of Good Writing, Is it Time to Put that Manuscript in a Drawer? (with Kelly deVos), Interview

What I’m looking for in a mentee: I’m hoping to work with a writer who’s open to feedback, who can communicate honestly, and who will work their fingers to the bone to make their manuscript the best it can be. I’m also looking for someone who can tolerate some stress and who understands that each writer’s journey is unique.  I can’t promise an instant ticket to publishing success, but I can guarantee that, with the right attitude and lots of hard work, you’ll come away from Pitch Wars with a stronger manuscript and unbeatable writer-friends!

I can’t wait to read entries and find my 2017 mentee!

Scroll down for links to the other mentor wish-lists, but first, my beloved writing companions:













































































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Finding and Working with a Mentor

PW logo 1*This post originally appeared in June, 2016, on the Writing with the Mentors blog, but is now updated for Pitch Wars 2017!*

Pitch Wars 2017 is just around the corner! One of the best features of the Pitch Wars contest is that writers get the opportunity to work with mentors who help them strengthen their manuscripts before submitting to agents. Best of all, writers can choose which mentors to apply to. That way, if they are selected as mentees, they know they’ll be working with someone whose opinions they value.

So how does one go about deciding which mentors to apply to, and how, exactly does having a Pitch Wars mentor work?

I had the tremendous good fortune to be selected as a mentee in 2014; I co-mentored in 2015, and I’m thrilled to be mentoring YA again this year! So, I thought I could share some tips from both sides of the Pitch Wars experience.

***Opinions are mine; please refer to Brenda Drake’s website for all official Pitch Wars rules, information, and guidelines.***

How to choose

The process begins when mentors’ wish lists go live on July 19. Brenda’s website will have links to all the mentor blogs, and each mentor will post a brief bio and detailed information about what categories and genres they are seeking, taste preferences, expectations, and other useful tidbits. So, of course step one is to read the mentor wish lists!

You will definitely want to take notes, and using a spreadsheet or some sort of organizational system will help track mentor information. You can immediately narrow your mentor list to those seeking the category and genre you write. (Seems obvious, but there are always a few wasted entries submitted to someone not mentoring that genre.) If a mentor mentions special interest in something specific that your manuscript has (could be horses, a particular period setting, LGBTQ, rare fairy tale retellings, etc.), that’s a strong indicator that they might be a good choice for you. Mentor wishlists may also discuss mentoring style, and you may get a sense of personality. In addition, some mentors take part in Workshops (on Brenda’s website), and Live Chats. These are great sources of information about the mentors and their styles and personalities.

Stalking Researching

Once you have a “short list” of potential mentors who are seeking the type of manuscript you’re writing, you will probably want to do a bit of stalking on twitter and/or other social media sites and blogs to find out more. You can check out any books mentors have published or that will be coming out, who their agents are, and who they’ve mentored in previous years. All these tidbits may leave your head spinning, which is where a good note-keeping system can be a huge help.

Finally, for mentors who have been involved with Pitch Wars (or other contests) in previous years, I highly recommend checking out their previous entries. This is what lead me to apply to the person who ultimately became my mentor, critique partner, and friend, Mónica Bustamante Wagner. I loved the writing and concept of her previous year’s entry, and I figured that if we had similar taste in that respect, then there was a better chance that she would like my manuscript. Furthermore, I felt I could confidently rely on her judgement, knowing that she had similar values in terms of story and writing style.

Now what?

So you’ve applied to carefully-selected mentors, and you’ve waited through the grueling weeks until the mentor picks are revealed, and—HURRAY!!—you’ve been selected as a Pitch Wars finalist! Now your mentor will provide you with feedback to help you take your manuscript to the next level.

I was beyond thrilled when I received feedback from my mentor, Mónica; I knew, immediately, that she had discovered the key to fixing an issue that had been plaguing my manuscript and preventing me from moving forward.


But what if your mentor suggests something you don’t agree with? At some point in the revision process, Mónica advised me that my characters “laughed” too much and suggested that I could substitute the word, “chuckle.” But, for me, the word, “chuckle” has very specific connotations: an old man can chuckle, but my MC would never chuckle! The word didn’t fit my manuscript’s voice, in my opinion. Timidly, I explained this to Mónica. And of course she replied with something like, “Okay, no problem, just find other ways to fix your overuse of ‘laugh.’”

I believe communication is the key to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Don’t understand a suggestion? Communicate. Wondering when you’ll get notes? Communicate. Disagree with something? Communicate. Confused by what other mentees are saying? Communicate. Completely and utterly freaking out about everything? Communicate.


At the same time, mentors have varying communication styles and schedules, and it’s also important to be respectful of your mentor’s time. Communicating every time you’re unsure of where to put a comma would probably be a bit much.

Your mentor selected your manuscript from among the many they received, and they are volunteering their time because they believe in you and your manuscript and want to help you move forward with your writing dreams. By respecting your mentor’s time and effort, and communicating honestly, you can make the most of your Pitch Wars experience.

Questions or tips about finding and working with a mentor? Please add a comment!

Monica and Susan 1.16

Monica lives in Chile, and I live in Arizona, but we got a chance to meet in person on a beach in Florida.


Writing is Magic!

Clipart-harry-potter-vector-magz-free-download-vector-graphicsWriting fiction really is a kind of magic. You’re creating another reality out of words. By weaving words together, you can make readers care about people and things and happenings that don’t exist in the “real” world. And if you’re doing that with any success at all, you’re creating magic; it’s something special and you should be proud. How many people can do that?

Harry-potter-clip-art-2It’s hard to make magic, though, and sometimes a few tiny flaws ruin the whole spell. There are so many ways to get it wrong. That’s why it’s important to keep studying the craft (as if you’re a student at Hogwarts!) and to keep working hard. And get help. Someone else’s suggestions or edits can make the web of magic stronger so that it works on more people in a more powerful way. But there’s no one right way to do it. Sometimes you’ll get helpful advice that doesn’t work at all, and there’s really no way to know except to keep trying. You will probably fail miserably. Many times. Did you think making magic would be easy?

It can be infuriating and painful and humiliating, but it’s worth it. Because when your hours and hours of hard work pay off, and you enthrall readers with your magic, it’s … well … magical!


Make it work! (How PROJECT RUNWAY inspires my writing.)

Proj Run TimGunn-ProjectRunway-S9On a scale of one to ten, my interest in fashion is probably around a two, and yet I’m addicted to PROJECT RUNWAY, a TV reality show competition for fashion designers. As a writer, I relate to the creative process and the creative challenges the designers face. Last year, as a Pitch Wars mentee, I was struck by the parallels between this writing competition and Project Runway.

These competitors are chosen from a pool of thousands of hopefuls. Obviously, they are mega-talented and dedicated to their craft, the best of the best, and yet …

proj run worst looks

. They can totally blow it. Think your manuscript sucks? Wow, you should see the horrific designs some of these uber-talented designers have sent down the runway.

. They can be SO close, but still “miss the mark.” Sometimes a detail that’s not-quite-right ruins the whole “look.” Editing needed!

. They can create a stunning masterpiece that’s the “winning look” and then land in the bottom, in danger of being eliminated, in the very next challenge. Creating something that sucks doesn’t mean you suck. Try again. As supermodel host and judge Heidi Klum always says, “One day you’re in, and the next you’re out.”

proj run michelle

. They can be sabotaged by their own self-doubt which can spiral into a paralyzing inability to create anything of worth. Conversely, sometimes over-confident arrogance makes a designer blind to obvious flaws in their work. Sound familiar?

proj run judge comment

. They can struggle with feedback and criticism. (If you think rejection letters are bad, you should see some of the criticism the Project Runway judges dish out while the contestants stand humbly before them with nowhere to hide. I don’t think I could ever develop a thick enough skin to stand and face the criticism of Nina Garcia.) Some designers use feedback to hone their vision and put forth the best version of their concept; others ignore valuable criticism that could have saved a design-gone-wrong, and still others let it derail their vision, leading to a half-baked compromise.

Some concepts that play a key role, time and time again, in Project Runway (and any creative endeavor):

proj run best

Subjectivity. More often than not, the judges are in agreement, but sometimes they’re not. Sometimes I agree with them; sometimes I’m way off. (I know nothing about fashion, but I still have opinions!) And once in a while a contestant creates something so mind-blowingly amazing that subjectivity doesn’t seem to exist. That’s what we all strive for.

Balance. There’s a lot about creating fashion that requires balance. (And the same can be said about writing—and life—for that matter!) The balance between …

. (As designer/judge Zac Posen likes to say) Art and commerce

. Sticking with your vision … and letting your vision be guided by others

. Confidence … and self-criticism

. Planning … and spontaneity

. Too “safe” … or too “out there.”

proj run teamwork 2

Peers. In spite of jealousy, mean-spirited comments, derision, clashing visions or working styles, it’s obvious that, for the designers of Project Runway, being amongst highly-talented peers is a priceless form of support and inspiration. The same holds true for writers. (Thank you writer-friends, Pitch Wars, and the 2014 Table of Trust!)

Make it Work. Words I come back to over and over again, when writing, revising, whatever the problem, challenge, struggle, doubt, I’m facing. The bottom line, if you’re going to create something, you’ve just got to “Make it work!”

(Thank you, Tim Gunn, and all of Project Runway, for the inspiration!)

proj run tim gunn