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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 32 Middle Grade

Monday, 18 July 2016  |  Posted by Heather Cashman

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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 …


lisa_tyre_webLisa Lewis Tyre

Twitter  |  Website

Lisa’s debut book, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS, was released last September by Nancy Paulsen Books. She has two other middle-grade titles coming soon.

ONE: I’m looking for voice, voice, voice! I want a character that leaps off the page and into my heart. I will pass on anything that feels like I’ve read it before. I want something or someone unique. Anything is fixable if the author is willing to work and listen.

TWO: I read through the MS, make notes and general observations, then send it back. Once I get the revision, I re-read it and include line edits. The 3rd edit is for any nagging issues and to get the pitch perfected.

THREE: There are too many to name and I learn something from all of them. But my favorite childhood book was Mr. Pine’s Purple House by Leonard Kessler and it inspired me to worry less about being like everyone else.


twitter picMelyssa Mercado

Twitter  |  Website

Melyssa Mercado is a writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult stories. Creative writing has always threaded the needle of Mel’s life, weaving worlds and character-friends into a kid’s heart. She believes humor is the true chicken soup for the soul (and that nobody really throws up all night). Mel’s wish list will forever include book-scented candles and making readers smile. SCBWI and Eastern New York chapter member. She’s represented by the lovely Victoria Selvaggio of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

ONE: What I’d love to see in a submission is a MG voice I can’t deny—one that grabs me, either from the very first line, or pops up throughout the chapters like a voicey Whack-A-Mole. And, for me, those grabby-voices aren’t necessarily the loudest ones on the page. Soft voices are equally as powerful. Ultimately, I want be hooked, and swept away by a unique premise, in a style that’s all YOU!

For the sample pages, as long as I connect with your MC, get a sense of what the stakes are, and, most importantly—drool to read more—pacing and sentence structure can always be spruced up to enhance that undeniable voice. Doable revisions could also tackle things like: not starting in the right place, or feeding off a secondary character to show off your MC’s personality and backstory in a more organic fashion. *plays the Yoda card* “An open mind, a mentee must have.”

A pass for me would be an entry I felt was still really far from the querying stage (or worse yet—a first draft). My ideal mentee recognizes that Pitch Wars isn’t step one. Not even step two or three. It’s the step after you’ve done several passes of your full ms, revised, ran it past CPs and beta readers, revised some more, and now feel you’ve taken it as far as it can go on your own, and just need some fresh-eyed, strategic guidance to get the story of your heart to the next level.

TWO: Totally! My editing style would be the same as it’d be for any of my CPs: I’ll read through the full ms and do track comment notes from a first-reader perspective (IMO, those initial response notes are the purest feedback we can get as writers). Then, I’ll give you a complete overview of my thoughts at the end. Full disclosure, I’m a little bit of a clown in the comment track note section. For some reason, it’s like Open-Mic night for me (remind me to get out more). But revising is a lot of work, and I give a TON of constructive notes and observations, so I don’t see why we can’t have some fun while we’re at it. (-:

In the comments, I’ll point out things that I love, make me LOL, or Boo-hoo in all the best ways (fyi, I highlight my love-points in purple font. One, because purple… and two, because as important as it is to critique the areas that need work, it’s just as vital to showcase the great stuff).

I’ll make recommendations on anything that stands out to me. Tips where you can alter for more realistic dialogue, quicker/slower pacing, deeper character development, eliminating passive voice, etc… Every note/comment/suggestion (or bad joke) is there to strengthen your story not subdue. To polish not pollute. And to get your creative juices flowing, so that you can brilliantly revise in your own voice and style. I’ll do a second and final pass on your revised ms and then we’ll work on your pitch, submitting only when everything is as shiny as possible.
And, of course, I’ll answer any questions you have along the way, and support you with the fluffiest of pom-poms as we head toward the Pitch War’s finish line!!

THREE: No fair. One book? Seriously? *shakes fist at evil PW questionnaire*
Honestly, I don’t think I could ever pick just one. I’ve been inspired by so many amazing books over the years, and in so many different ways. But for MG purposes, I’d have to say Judy Blume was the first writer that opened my heart to reading. Little did I know, I’d want to write one day, but I truly believe that my intense love of reading sparked that desire very early on.
…Think anyone noticed I didn’t really answer the question? (*runs before Brenda catches me*)


Rebecca Petruck at Jengo's PlayhouseRebecca Petruck

Twitter  |  Website

MG/YA author of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014) and WILL NOLAN EATS BUGS (Fall 2017) from ABRAMS/Amulet. Writing nerd.

ONE: I look for a vivid main character and compelling situation. Plot can be fixed, and a situation ramped up, but a lifeless character can be tough to re-imagine in a short time. This doesn’t mean the character has to be Exciting! Adventurous! Hilarious! A quiet, shy, or withdrawn character can be deeply interesting if I have a strong sense for WHY she is the way she is and how she may REACT to coming events.

TWO: I’m a big picture thinker concerned with the logic of the characters’ behaviors and actions. Realism (even in magical stories) isn’t about real life but about understanding the WHY of characters’ decisions. I’m not afraid to suggest big changes if I think it will take the story to the next level; I’m in it for the long haul. (Just ask @PriscillaMizell!) I’m looking for a writer and a manuscript I think has the potential to go all the way, whether or not it happens in two months. And I always recommend WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron.

THREE: It’s a tie between THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly and THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge. For me, plot feels easier, and it’s easy to get carried away with lots of things happening. But these books remind me that gorgeous writing is just as important a tool in making characters and situations wildly compelling. I love a beautiful sentence, and slowing down doesn’t mean falling behind.


Rebecca WellsRebecca Wells

Twitter  |  Website

Rebecca is a floor manager and a children’s literature specialist at an independent bookstore by day and a (mostly) YA (mostly) fantasy writer by night. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Simmons College, and is represented by Rebecca Podos at the Rees Agency.

ONE: I’m looking for strong writing, a main character whose voice jumps off the page, and conflict. Plot details can be fixed, but strong writing is something learned much more through practice than lecture.

TWO: Last year my mentee and I got through three rounds of edits during the contest (she’s a trooper!), and I’m planning the same this year: one big picture edit addressing big plot issues, a medium edit addressing smaller things (pacing, inconsistencies in plot, etc.), and a quick polish edit at the end. I expect my mentee to work hard and independently (you really do get out what you put in), but I am always available for questions/advice/commiseration.

THREE: WALK TWO MOONS, by Sharon Creech. It’s a deeply personal book for me, and I cry every time I read it. That’s the mark I aim for when I write, and I hope I can find a manuscript this year that makes me similarly sniffly. 🙂


Shari SchwarzShari Schwarz

Twitter  |  Website

I’m a wife and mom of four boys and we live in Northern Colorado. My debut MG survival adventure, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, came out in April! I also love gardening, hiking, mountain-biking and watching my boys play sports.

ONE: I’m looking for concise writing that moves along at a good pace, a bare minimum of backstory/exposition in the opening and a hook that makes me eager to read more. I’m not so concerned about typos as long as they don’t interfere with the meaning of the text.

TWO: I plan on focusing on the big picture of the manuscript in the first month. Things like continuity of themes, character arcs, plot holes or scenes that could be cut. I’ll continuously ask the questions: “Is this necessary to the story? Does this move the plot along?” In the second month, I’ll move on to polishing the manuscript, working on line-editing, wording, clarity and refining any new parts that may have been added, and making sure it is submission ready!

THREE: Just ONE?! Ugh! In the last decade my favorite would be THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. I especially loved learning that sometimes he would spend a whole day on one phrase to get it just right. The book is full of phrases that I consider to be masterpieces. It taught me that this writing thing really takes time.


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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We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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