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 …
Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance Author. Reluctant Attorney. Displaced Tar Heel. Foodie and Fangirl. Lover of books, TV, food, wine, whiskey, designer shoes, smushed-face dogs, and a hodgepodge of sports teams. 2016 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist. Rep’d by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.
ONE: I want to see a good, clean entry that has a distinctive voice and hooks me from page one. We can work on pacing, plot, fleshing out characters, and minor copy edit fixes. But if there are basic craft issues, such as head hopping and shifting tenses, or if there’s not a happy ending, it’s a pass for me.
TWO: I’ll read the full and provide a manuscript assessment, focusing primarily on big picture developmental items (plot, pacing, characters, setting, etc.). We’ll chat and formulate a realistic game plan for making revisions. Once I get the revised manuscript back, I’ll give it another read, let my mentee know if anything else, big-picture-wise, is still amiss. When the story is in good shape, I’ll copy edit the first three chapters and maybe more (time depending).
THREE: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I loved the lyrical, moody prose of it and the coastal setting, which shows up a lot in my stories. I also wanted more at the end, so for a school writing project, I drafted an epilogue. Thus began my dive into fanfiction and from there original fiction.
Michelle is a nomadic wildlife biologist who was forced to get a set of solar panels and a smartphone to support her writing habit. She loves to help other authors hone their craft almost as much as she likes creating her own books–unless talking about choreographing fight scenes. Then writing wins, hands down.
Her books are represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary, she has eight titles published through Amazon Kindle Worlds’ program, and she won the 2015 NTRWA Contest for NA fiction.
ONE: I’m looking for a voice that sounds like a real person (if they’re a witty person, all the better!) and a concept that makes me call my husband in from the other room so I can read it to him and then grin expectantly for him to validate how genius it is.
If I’m bored or confused, I will pass. But if there are just slow spots, or it starts in the wrong place, or there are simple grammar fixes like mis-punctuated dialogue tags, that would be an easy fix. An overall lack of conflict, a lack of plot, or an utter absence of voice would be issues I would more likely pass on. Similarly, if the book needs to be trimmed 7K or so, I’m in, but 20K over genre guidelines? That might be a little much for a two-month turnaround.
TWO: For PitchWars, I’m going to start by telling my mentee everything I loved about their book. From there, I’m going to find out what THEIR goals and/or concerns are. Then we’ll do a big picture edit letter (Issues with pacing, characterization, where more action needs to be added or motivations clarified) and brainstorm changes together if they need to add any new scenes/characters. Once they have the big picture in good shape, we’ll handle whatever sentence-level polishing they need, though we may or may not do the whole ms.
I tend to make jokes and post funny pictures in comment boxes just as often as I’m re-wording clunky sentences or deleting commas, because all work and no play makes Jack Nicholson do unfortunate things with an axe. After the ms is done, we’ll focus on translating that book into a query and synopsis that do justice to its superlative awesomeness.
THREE: I have a viciously competitive short list of favorite books.
For this, I have to choose Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
So often in publishing, you hear that literary writing has beautiful sentences and commercial writing has fast-moving plots, and the classics have heartbreaking stories of universal human experience. Laini Taylor showed me that you can do all three: you can have gorgeous phrasing, breakneck pacing, and Lord of the Rings-scale interspecies warfare that exposes truths so human you can barely stand to look at them in all their vulnerability.
It is possible to wrap the strengths of every genre into one book, and why wouldn’t you want that to be YOUR book?
Tamara Mataya is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a librarian, and a musician with synesthesia. Armed with a name tag and a thin veneer of credibility, she takes great delight in recommending books and shushing people. She puts the ‘she’ in TWSS and the B in LGBTQIA+. She’s the co-creator of Pitchmas, a bi-annual pitch contest for writers, and as a freelance editor, has worked with NYT Bestselling authors.
ONE: I’m looking for something that I’d love to read, but also something that I know I can make better. There’s no point me choosing you as a mentee if I can’t show you ways to improve your manuscript. If it’s submission ready, I’m not going to waste both our time by selecting a manuscript that should be out being queried! I’d pass if you sent me a genre I didn’t want, or if you had a lot of little mistakes in the first page. A typo isn’t a deal breaker, but if there are a lot of easy fixes in the first couple pages I’m going to assume you either rushed or simply didn’t care to take the time to polish.
TWO: Haha I was recently called ‘The Jillian Michaels of editors.’ I’m thorough, I’m tough but fair, and we will get your work into the best shape it can be. As for process, I will read your MS and give you detailed developmental notes and a phone call to clarify if needed. You complete those notes, then I go through and do a thorough line edit, giving more notes if things still need tweaking. Queries and pitches are also somewhat of a specialty of mine, so I’ll punch yours up as well!
THREE: I’m a bookslut–I’ll read nearly anything and love many books in nearly every genre and category! Sentimental favourite was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, but Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons gets me every time.
Mary Ann Marlowe
Mary Ann has been both a Pitch Wars mentee (2014) and mentor (2015) and loves everything about Pitch Wars (and Brenda Drake). When not writing, she works as a computer programmer/DBA. She spent ten years as a university-level French professor, and her resume includes stints as an au pair in Calais, a hotel intern in Paris, a German tutor, a college radio disc jockey, and a webmaster for several online musician fandoms. She has lived in twelve states and three countries and loves to travel. She now lives in central Virginia. She is repped by Jane Dystel at Dystel and Goderich. Her debut novel SOME KIND OF MAGIC is forthcoming from Kensington in February 2017.
ONE: I want to be a partner with my mentee to help them develop their manuscript into something they love even more. If I come across something I love, but I can’t visualize a way to improve it (either because it’s query-ready or because I’m not the right person to mentor it), I’ll likely pass. So for me, it’s important to find a manuscript in that sweet spot. I’m looking for the diamond that’s still obscured by the rough.
I’m drawn to submissions that exhibit a strong control of mechanics, a killer voice, characters I want to root for, and a compelling premise. I can work with structural issues: starting in the wrong place, pacing, point of view, etc. And I love helping strengthen characters. I’ll pass on manuscripts that indicate the author has a ways to go with craft because we only have two months, and I want to focus on work that is further developed. And this is subjective, but I’ll likely pass if the voice doesn’t appeal to me because I’m not looking to impose my preferences on any writer, and voice is not something I want to try to teach anyone.
TWO: I like to start with some homework to help my mentee understand where their novel is at and where they want to take it. I’ll write an edit letter with big picture changes that I think will help strengthen the novel as a whole, and then I’ll send them off to work super hard while I tweet animated gifs of encouragement and drink champagne. (Kidding. I’m a beer drinker.)
When I’m not busy bragging about my mentee to other mentors, I will be available as a sounding board throughout the revision period for follow-up questions and venting or silliness. The revision process should be a conversation, not an assignment. Closer to the agent round, I’ll do a second read and suggest additional edits if necessary and line edit the nitpicky stuff.
THREE: My all-time favorite book is Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. I’d love to lie and talk about how he inspired my writing, but the complexity of plot and depth of character he created in his one and only novel served more as a creative impediment to me because I can’t imagine ever achieving anything so perfect.
Instead, I’ll confess that most of the inspiration I get for my writing comes from people I met through Pitch Wars, whose books I’ve read in Word doc format, and who are not yet, but will be well-known authors in time. I’d name them, but many of them are mentors, and I don’t want to give them an unfair advantage. (They know who they are.) Be aware that there are some amazing authors in our midst, who will one day be listed as someone’s inspiration, and the everyone else will nod with understanding. These awesome authors are a role model of excellence to aspire toward in their writing, craft, and discipline, and they inspire me simply by knowing them.
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