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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 30 Middle Grade

Friday, 15 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 …


Abby Cooper & Co-Mentor Gail Nall

abby cooperTwitter  |  Website

Abby Cooper lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. A former teacher and school librarian, her favorite things in the world (besides writing) are getting and giving book recommendations and sharing her love of reading with others. In her spare time, she likes eating cupcakes, running along the Mississippi River, and watching a lot of bad reality TV. Her first book, STICKS & STONES, out 7/12/16 from FSG/Macmillan, was in PitchWars 2013!

gail nallTwitter  |  Website

Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the Aladdin/S&S middle grade novels BREAKING THE ICE, the YOU’RE INVITED series (co-authored with Jen Malone), and the upcoming OUT OF TUNE (11/8/16) and SEVEN SIDES TO EVERY STORY (co-authored, Summer 2017). She is also the author of the young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (Epic Reads Impulse/HarperCollins).

ONE: We’re looking for something that hooks us right away, whether it’s a setting/character/concept/voice/etc. Just something that sounds out and blows us away with awesomeness!- Easy fixes: small grammar/punctuation mistakes

– Starting a story in the right place is a big deal, and sometimes it takes many revisions to get right. We would definitely let this slide and be happy to work with an author on it!

– A pass would be a voice that doesn’t sound MG, something we feel strongly that agents/publishers wouldn’t be interested in, a concept that feels like we’ve read it a million times before, a main character whose voice is too distant from the reader. Also, pages that just aren’t quite there yet, even if the concept is really great and the story is promising — meaning, the writing itself would need massive rewrites that wouldn’t fit into the short time period of this contest.

TWO: We like to point out what’s working well in addition to what could be improved- Soon after mentees are chosen, we’ll put together an edit letter address big picture issues and suggestions (such as plot, character arcs, pacing, etc.). We’ll also do line edits and comments in the manuscript (pointing out the great stuff as well as the parts that could use improvement). We’ll give you these at the same time so that you’ll have lots of time to revise.

– After first round revisions are done, we’ll do a second read to catch anything that might still need to be polished up and to catch things that might still not be working.

THREE for Abby: It’s a tough call, but my all-time favorite is FRINDLE by Andrew Clements. I just love it so much! I remember reading it as a third grader and being so inspired by Nick, the main character, and his journey to make ‘frindle’ a legitimate word. He was only one kid, but he set big goals and ultimately made a huge difference in his community. Plus, the story is written in such a way that totally grabs you and doesn’t let you go until the last page. It’s not necessarily a “suspenseful” book, but you can’t stop until you know how it ends. It’s seriously unputdownable, which is how I want my books to be, too.

THREE for Gail: I have approximately 20 favorite books, so I’ll go for my favorite modern-ish MG read, which would be The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot. Which actually isn’t exactly MG (more like young YA) and is getting a little older now(!), but it’s my favorite because when I read it, it jolted something in my brain. I thought, “People can actually write like this? And they can get published?! Wow!” If you haven’t read that book, it’s first person and is very, very in-the-main-character’s head, and it’s crazy good with the voice. And I loved it. It made me realize that I’d actually been stifling my voice in order to create something that read very traditional. That book made me brave enough to try something new. It gave me the courage to find my real voice. And guess what? It worked!


juliana brandtJuliana Brandt

Twitter  |  Website

Juliana is a Middle Grade and Young Adult writer and has mentored in PitchWars for the past two years.

ONE: I think that most things would be easy fixes, as long as the writer is willing to work their tail off with me and as long as they already have a solid grasp on their writing, as is. Rambling, directionless writing that doesn’t give me a sense of the heart of the story and the character’s voices, would be difficult for me to want to read more.

TWO: For the past two years, I’ve tackled edits in two rounds. The first round focuses on big issues (plotting, character arcs, etc) and the second goes over smaller issues in line edits. This strategy has seemed to work very well for my mentees, though it’s meant that they’ve had to do two big edits of their manuscripts in two months, so I’ll probably use it again!

THREE: HOWL”S MOVING CASTLE. Diana Wynne Jones is my absolute favorite writer. Her magic systems, humorous writing, and delightful characters are an absolute joy to read. I would love to be her when I grow up.


julie daoJulie Dao

Twitter  |  Website

Julie is a New England girl who writes MG and YA. She’s repped by the awesome and lovely Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. This is her second year as a Pitch Wars MG mentor and she’s PUMPED to be back!

ONE: I’m looking for a solid writer and a manuscript I can help take to the next level. Someone who will soon be ready for the pressure of being agented, and who is willing to work hard to get there. If I fall desperately in love with one piece of the manuscript (whether it’s true-to-life characters or a plot that won’t stop), that’s all it takes. We can work together on tightening up the rest.

TWO: I do an initial read-through and sum up my big-picture edits in an email/Word document. After my mentee applies the edits, I’ll read through the manuscript 1-2 more times and focus more on scene-level/line-level edits with each round. This is the same process I utilize with my CPs!

THREE: It’s SO hard to pick a favorite book. But I credit the Harry Potter series for making me fall in love with writing even more than I already had been. There’s something truly magical about the way those stories dug their roots into my life and made me the writer I am today.


KCHeldK.C. Held

Twitter  |  Website

K.C. HELD is the author of Holding Court. Born and raised in California with stopovers in Honduras, Mexico, and France, she holds an MFA in costume design and has worked as a freelance costumer in opera, theater, film, and television.

ONE: I’m looking for something that makes me desperately want the rest of your book. As in, Put-It-In-My-Grabby-Hands-Right-Now-I-Need-To-Know-What-Happens-Next!
I’ll pass if it’s written in second person. Just kidding (not really).

TWO: My plan is to take a two round approach. Tackle the big picture stuff in the first round and get into the nitty gritty on the second round. Then we’ll focus on getting your pitch and first page in tip-top shape.

THREE: YOU CAN’T MAKE ME CHOOSE! I love books that create a magical sense of place, that make me miss their world when I reach the end. That’s when I know I’m onto something with my own writing—when the pull of the story feels like an actual physical place I can go.
Some of my favorites in the middle grade realm: The Borrowers, The Westing Game, Nooks and Crannies, Three Times Lucky, Harry Potter, Greenglass House, Paper Wishes, Full Cicada Moon, The City of Ember, The War That Saved My Life, The Screaming Staircase, Holes, The Mysterious Howling, and Magic Marks the Spot.


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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