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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 11 Young Adult

Monday, 4 July 2016  |  Posted by Heather Cashman

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HAPPY 4th of July!

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From June 27th through July 18th, we’ll be posting mini-interviews with most of the Pitch Wars mentors so you can get to know them. Many of the mentors also hang out on twitter. Follow the links to their Twitter accounts and say hello. They’ll be on the #PitchWars hashtag tweeting advice and answering questions.

We will also host live chats from July 19th through August 2nd, and the Pitch Wars submission window will open on August 3rd!

We asked our mentors to answer these three questions …

1. What are you looking for in a submission and what would you forgive as far as issues in the sample pages? In other words, what do you feel is an easy fix and what would be a pass for you?

2. What is your editing style and do you have a game plan to tackle edits with your mentee in the two months given for the contest?

3. And lastly, what is your all-time favorite book and how did it inspire your writing?

And here are their answers …

Dawn IusDawn Ius

Twitter Website

Dawn Ius is the author of ANNE & HENRY, and the forthcoming OVERDRIVE (Sept 2016) and LIZZIE (Spring 2018), from Simon Pulse. She is the Managing Editor of The Big Thrill (the e-zine published by the International Thriller Writers), an acquisitions editor for Vine Leaves Press, and the author of 15 educational comics published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. Dawn lives in Alberta Canada with her husband, two giant dogs, and three bearded dragons. (Yes, she will respond to Khaleesi.) Follow Dawn on Twitter via @dawnmius or visit her at www.dawnius.com.

ONE: I’m looking for young adult novels that make me swoon or scare me senseless. Compelling characters and a strong plot will hook me, but I love tight, well-written stories that are rich with atmosphere and emotion. Make me FEEL. For thriller / horror, I’m more drawn to suspense than gore, but give me a good teen slasher infused with humor and I’ll probably bite. First chapters are tough—I rewrote the first chapter of ANNE & HENRY 20 times before landing on the right one, two weeks before final deadline—so I tend to be a bit more lenient on those opening pages. We can fix that in a rewrite. I don’t expect perfect spelling (I suck at spelling myself!) and grammar, but if your manuscript is rife with errors, I’ll question how committed you are to honing your craft and likely pass.

TWO: In the first week or so, I’ll read the manuscript through once without my “red” pen, and then a second time with it, only looking for the bigger issues—character development, plot gaps, repeated craft issues that impact readability, etc. Once the author has that feedback, I’ll be open to regular communication via email, Skype or phone, to discuss the feedback and throughout the revision process, which will be set to a deadline. When revisions are complete, I’ll read the manuscript again, without my red pen, and then once more with it for line edits.

THREE: Gah. How impossible to select one! I’m going to go with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here, though it’s probably tied with about 10 for first place. I loved the quirkiness of Roald Dahl’s characters (even their names!) and the way the setting really awakened my imagination—I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a CHOCOLATE FACTORY? I also think this book is responsible for my “need” to eat chocolate while writing.

Dionne McCulloch & Co-Mentor Fiona McLaren

Dionne McCullochTwitter Website

Dionne McCulloch is a YA/MG author agented by Writers House in NYC. She is US Managing Editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, a freelance editor, and a judge for the Bath Novel Award. She worked in television for 12 years, producing documentaries and writing and editing scripts. She writes a column for The Writer magazine in the US.


Fiona McLarenTwitter  |  Website

Fiona McLaren is YA author agented by the Blake Friedmann Literary, TV & Film Agency in the UK. She has interned at two literary agencies (Inklings & Holloway). In addition, she works with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, as well as freelance editing with a variety of private clients. Her main fulltime contract is working as a scriptwriter for an independent production company, with the first production releasing in 2017. Other work includes home-schooling teens in creative writing, multiple published national print articles, online contracts, media and copywriting positions, and DVD narrative scripts.


ONE for Dionne: Voice! Voice! Voice! A unique, captivating voice from the first page will forgive any issues with writing technique, plot and pace.

ONE for Fiona: I’m looking for a submission that is full of emotion and that pushes boundaries. Something that has fully developed characters that goes outside of the basic character templates. Looking for something that grabs you from the start by being original and not following pre-existing formats.

Easy fixes – pacing, dialogue, filters, exposition, micro and macro tension.

TWO for Dionne: Fiona and I have worked together before and so have it down to a SCIENCE 🙂 The editorial process will depend on the manuscript, whether edits begin structurally, first address character or pace, or begin on a line-by-line basis. We’re both pro-editors so are looking for a mentee who has already been through a revision and either understands the techniques of self-editing or is willing to learn. We don’t want to waste time convincing you.

TWO for Fiona: Editing style will be a combination between Dionne and I. My style is to do a macro-overview of the ms, looking first at the major elements: character arcs, plot arcs, structure, theme, etc. Large scale edits are a priority so that the ms can get in a good workable shape. Depending on the mentee and their ability to apply edits, I would also go into line edits if the time limit allows, but this will be circumstance specific.

THREE for Dionne: I have too many ‘desert-island’ books to name so I’ll list recent favorites that particularly address what I’m most looking for in this year’s PitchWars: VOICE! THINGS WE HAVE IN COMMON, Tasha Kavanagh; ALL MY PUNY SORROWS, Miriam Toews; OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS, Claire Fuller; PRECOCIOUS, Joanna Barnard, EVERY UGLY WORD, Aimee Salter; SCHTUM, Jem Lester

Three for Fiona: Agh! You should know not to ask a writer this question! My favorite book changes from week to week, depending on what I’m concentrating on. At the moment, it is I am Legend by Richard Matheson (a long standing favorite). The book demonstrates how so much can be achieved in such a tight word count, how true twist endings should be crafted, and why books become classics.


Emily MartinEmily Martin


Emily Martin lives and writes in the Greater Boston area, though she will always call Michigan home. She has a penchant for impromptu dance parties, vintage clothing, and traveling to new places. When not writing, she can be found hiking New England’s peaks, searching for the perfect cup of hot chocolate, or baking something pumpkin-flavored.

Emily’s debut young adult novel, THE YEAR WE FELL APART, is out now from Simon Pulse.

ONE: Voice voice voice! Starting with the query, I want to get a sense of that voice, for it to grab me and show me who the character is and what’s at stake for them. That said, as important as the query is in terms of getting a sense of the overall story, I also know how difficult queries are to write. When reading through submissions, I put more stock in the sample pages.

Easy fixes are things like queries that are a bit too long or that list too many characters, or first pages that perhaps don’t start in exactly the right place or that give too much exposition up front. I can overlook grammar mistakes if they’re not too abundant. These are all things you should try to avoid, but I do sometimes see them in otherwise strong stories.

Things that would lead me to pass are submissions that are really rough and read like first drafts (we only have so much time to work together, and while entries don’t have to be perfect, I do want to see work that has been revised and proofed), a lack of character voice and/or agency, or a lack of world-building—even in contemporary—that makes it hard for me to become grounded in the sample pages. And of course, a submission that is in a category or genre I said I do not want in my wish list. 🙂

TWO: I always like to gush about all the aspects of a manuscript I love and all my reasons for picking a project, but I definitely do not hold back on mentioning anything I don’t think is working. I give high-level feedback in the form of an edit letter (possibly with some in-text comments as well) at first, and allow my mentee some time to digest that and come up with a plan for revision. I am always open to discuss my feedback and try to help brainstorm with my mentee. If time allows, I do try to follow up with line edits and a second pass, but this really depends on the amount of time my mentee needs to nail the revisions.

THREE: It’s tough to narrow it to one book, but I would probably say it’s Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. The writing is so gorgeous, it inspires me every time I read it, but overall her way of crafting such complex and layered characters taught me so much. I also admire her rich use of setting and her way of weaving personal histories together in such unexpected ways.

Thank you, mentors, for your marvelous answers. We appreciate you so much!

Pitch Wars Schedule:

June 27-July 15 Mentor Mini Interviews

July 19-August 2 Live Chats with Mentors

July 20-August 3 Mentor Blog Hop

August 3rd Pitch Wars Submission Window Opens

August 25th Mentees Chosen and Announced

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