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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 27 Middle Grade

Thursday, 14 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 …


allisonAllison Ziegler


Allison writes fantasy most of the time. She’s a Leo. And a Ravenclaw. She puts more stock in the latter, but she felt the need to mention both.

ONE: In the first few pages, I’m reading for voice and atmosphere. I love to be transported to new worlds, and one of my favorite ways to travel is through pretty prose. Voice is very difficult to cultivate in just a couple of months, so I’ll be looking someone who has that nailed down. On the other hand, if I feel like it’s just the wrong first scene entirely, that’s something I more than happy to help with. As long as the writing is there, I’ll know you can execute a new opening scene.

TWO: The form of my notes is going to depend on exactly what I feel like the book needs — and what the author prefers. I’d love to tackle this in two rounds, with the first round starting with big picture notes, and the second being a lower level edit.

I also love a good brainstorming session, and I’d love to hop on the phone with my mentee to develop ideas throughout the contest. I find these conversations are great places to work out the knots in the revision process — whether it’s a note that isn’t resonating or just an element or scene that has you stuck, talking it out can be so helpful.

THREE: My favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s a book that has taught me layers of lessons over the years, but as a writer, it has inspired me to find wonder in what I know and write it large on the page.


AlexandraAlexandra Alessandri 

Twitter  |  Website

Alexandra Alessandri is a children’s author, poet, English professor, and PitchWars mentor. She’s a mountain girl living in South Florida with her husband, son, and hairless pup. She graduated from Florida International University and UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and went on to craft stories and poems heavily influenced by her Colombian heritage. She blogs too little, tweets too much, believes in magic, and is obsessed with coffee. Alexandra is represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary.

ONE: One of the things I’m looking for is writing and characters that enthrall me and pull me in. I’m particularly fond of gorgeous, lyrical writing and lush settings, but that needs to be in conjunction with a character I can connect with and stakes that make me NEED to keep reading.

Setting, world building, plot holes–those can all be fixed. But the emotional connection with the character needs to be there if I’m going to be spending several weeks with the story.

Also, while I’m a stickler for grammar (I teach English, after all!), a mistake or two in the opening pages is not a deal breaker for me. However, I might be reluctant to take on the story if it’s riddled with grammatical errors in the first 10 pages! That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the manuscript!

TWO: I love Track Changes and that’s what I use because I like marking up as I go along. I like to point out what’s working well, but I focus most of my attention on what needs to be improved. I want to get down to business to make the best use of the time we have.

My game plan is to read (and comment) on the entire manuscript, focusing on big picture items (e.g. character development, plot, inconsistencies, etc.), and then send the marked-up manuscript back to my mentee with an edit letter. Then, while my mentee works on revisions, I’ll check in periodically and we’ll have brainstorming sessions if needed. My goal is to have time for one more read (for things like tightening language, typos, repetition, smoothing out grammar, etc.) before the agent round. We’ll also work on the query and pitch!

THREE: Oh geez. One book only? There are too many and for so many different reasons! Fine. I’m going to say Harry Potter. It’s one of the first books/series that I read not just as a reader, but as an aspiring writer. The characters. The world. The rules. The intricacies that were set in book 1 that came to fruition in book 7. These are all reasons why I love Harry Potter. It’s also one of the few series I’ve re-read multiple times (and am now re-reading again with my son) and that I’ve analyzed as a writer and a scholar. I’ve taught it in my composition classes, and I never tire of discovering new nuggets of brilliance in them.

But check out my bio and wish list during the blog hop for more books I love and cherish!


Amanda Rawson Hill & Co-Mentor Cindy Baldwin

amandaTwitter  |  Website

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. Which explains a lot for how she turned out. She now lives in Central California as a gardener, pianist, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite lover, and Disneyland enthusiast. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

cindyTwitter  |  Website

Cindy Baldwin is a North Carolina girl living on the opposite coast and doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. She also happens to be represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD!

ONE: We’re looking for an entry that shows the ability to balance a strong voice with pretty words. It doesn’t have to be perfect—we are pretty good at pointing out spots for you to make prettier or voicier—but we’ll want to see that you are capable of it. We’ll also be looking for at least one of the following: An interesting premise, a great character to connect to, or stakes that feel very important (even if they’re quiet). You don’t have to have all three—we can work on all of these things—but you’ll need at least one to keep us reading. And finally, we’ll be looking for something with depth, something that deals with big issues and ideas in a sensitive way. Something we can help you add layers to.

Things that will be a deal breaker in the first pages? Cliches, in either wording or story elements. (If it’s just one or two, that’s fine. But a lot of them? No.) Also head-hopping, lots of spelling and grammar mistakes, and things that show a lack of awareness of the MG market.

TWO: We’ll both read your full manuscript and then send you an edit letter with big picture changes. Don’t expect this to be a bunch of one line fixes—this will be work! Then, at least one of us will read again and do a line edit and tackle your query, pitch, synopsis and first page.

THREE for Cindy: Asking me to name an all-time favorite book is sort of like saying “So, which finger would you like to keep on your hand?” But I will say that many, many years ago, I read Lois Lowry’s GOSSAMER when it was newly released, and was floored by her ability to tell a very emotionally difficult story with such grace and gentleness that I left that book (which dealt with some pretty horrific child abuse) feeling uplifted and enlarged, not beaten down or hopeless. GOSSAMER—as well as other MGs I’ve come across since that accomplish a similar thing, like novels by Sharon Creech and Kate DiCamillo—inspired me, when I turned my hand to writing MG, to try to tell a tough story in a way that could be bittersweet but also hopeful and life-affirming.

THREE for Amanda: A year ago I was still writing fantasy or paranormal stories. Then in Pitch Wars, I switched my book to a contemporary and during that rewrite I read a ton of MG contemp. The one I loved most was Holly Goldberg Sloane’s COUNTING BY 7’S. I finished it and knew, absolutely, I wanted to tell a story like that. Also, I love that Cindy mentioned Sharon Creech, because my all-time favorite book growing up was WALK TWO MOONS. This is why we’re co-mentors. 🙂


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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