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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 28 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 …


Dee Romito & Co-Mentor Jen Malone

Dee RomitoTwitter  |  Website

Dee is an author and former elementary teacher. Her middle grade debut, THE BFF BUCKET LIST, is now available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. She blogs about writing at I Write for Apples, where she and her team share tips to help fellow writers. Dee is also Co-Advisor of Buffalo-Niagara Children’s Writers and Illustrators. You’re likely to find her on adventures with her husband and two energetic kids, at the local ice cream shop, or curled up in a comfy chair with her cats. She loves to write, travel, and giggle like a teenager with her friends.

jen maloneTwitter  |  Website

Jen Malone writes fun and flirty YA travel romances with HarperCollins and humorous “girl power” MG adventures with Simon & Schuster. She once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books.

ONE: The number one thing we’re looking for in a submission is voice. If it’s full of voice and has a great hook, it will catch our attention. As far as our own interests and what draws us in, we both love contemporary, anything with pranks, heists, or capers, as well as light historical, stories with magical elements, and humor. Things that aren’t for us are horror, high fantasy, sci-fi, anything too dark or too angsty, and bullying themes.

Small issues in the sample, like a punctuation mistake, won’t deter us if the other things we’re looking for are there. What might make it a pass for us is too much backstory, questionable middle-grade content, or an all-dialogue start to the story without grounding the reader. But if we love it, we’re willing to work with what you have.

TWO: Since you’ll get two mentors, it opens up the options. It will definitely be both overall feedback and line edits, but we’ll work out how we want to get that done. If you want us both to tackle it all at once, let’s go for it. If you want one of us to do overall suggestions and save the other for fresh eyes on the revision and line edits, that works too. We want to see what your style is and work with you to make this a good experience for everyone.

THREE: No seriously, it’s true- we both picked the same book and we have our reasons. Harry Potter has been an inspiration to both of us. Jen, “I remember reading it every night with my kids and doing that reminded me how much I love kidlit. Eventually it inspired me to start writing kidlit myself.” Dee, “I remember being a new teacher and watching my fourth graders so excited about reading because they couldn’t wait to get back to Harry Potter. And when it came time for my son to read the series, it amazed me all over again.” Seeing how those books have gotten readers all over the world, of all ages, to fall in love with reading has inspired both of us.


EllieEllie Terry

Twitter  |  Website

Ellie Terry writes about things that hurt her heart. Her middle-grade debut, FORGET ME NOT, a verse novel about a girl with Tourette’s, will be published March 2017 by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. She is represented by Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. She adores brownies, flowers, and staring at the moon.

ONE: I am looking for something interesting, different, and well written . . . a story that feels as though it’s “almost there”. Having said that, I would never pass on a story simply because of a few typos, or clunky sentences, or structural issues. Those are the types of things I feel I can help a mentee with. What would be a pass for me? Really poor writing, you know, something that clearly hasn’t been edited/put through CP’s/or feels like a first draft.

TWO: If I have to explain my editing style, it’s this: organized, thorough, positive. Knowing what IS working in your story is equally as important as knowing what ISN’T working in your story. Also, I want to take your manuscript to the NEXT level, not just rearrange things on a shelf. Because of this, I may ask for difficult changes. You do not have to take my suggestions, of course, but I do want to work with someone who is willing to better their writing. My mentee will receive an edit letter from me within a week of the announcement of mentees. This letter will focus on developmental edits, ie: overall/big picture suggestions. After my mentee revises, I will re-read and provide thorough in-line edits as well as work on the query and pitch before the agent round.

THREE: The Little House on the Prairie series. I read them over and over again as I was growing up and they heavily influenced the first MG novel I ever wrote (at age 14) which was basically a mash-up of Little House on the Prairie and Charlotte’s Web.


Elly Blake & Co-Mentor Ron Walters

Twitter  |  Website

elly blakeElly Blake loves fairy tales, old houses, and owls. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows FROSTBLOOD tendencies. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 17, 2017)

Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media.

ron waltersTwitter  |  Website

Ron Walters writes MG fantasy and the occasional adult short story. He lives in Germany. He’s been a stay-at-home dad for almost 7 years. He’s represented by Leon Husock at the L. Perkins Agency. And he says he’s not good at bios.


(All answers from Ron.)

ONE: I want voice to die for, characters I connect with, and a concept that feels fresh. Whether it’s something unique or an unexpected take on an old trope, I want my first reaction to be, That sounds amazing. That said, concept will only get you so far. If the writing falls flat, or the characters are unlikeable, I’ll probably pass. Also, I can forgive some typos and awkward sentences, but your manuscript should be well past the point of first-draft mistakes.

TWO: I’ve been both a mentee and a mentor, which has helped me develop a decent eye for big picture issues. I’m also a big fan of line editing, so depending on how quickly you take care of revisions, we should be able to line edit before the agent round. I’m also cool with a lot of emailing back and forth in order to hash out ideas or air concerns. That’s how I work out my own ideas with my CPs, it’s how I revised my MS when I was a mentee, and it’s how I helped my own mentee last year, so it’s a pretty solid system. Basically, if everything goes as planned, expect an initial full MS read-through followed by an edit letter, after which we can read your new material and address any lingering issues before the agent round.

THREE: Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin. It’s beautifully written, has an amazing plot, and a setting that’s so immersive I feel like I’m there more than in any other book I’ve ever read. I want to write my own Winter’s Tale one day.


Sarah CannonSarah Cannon

Twitter  |  Website

Despite her best efforts, Sarah is a hopeless wanderer, partly because she married a newsman. She’s lived in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, and Indiana. She earned her B.S. of Ed. from Ohio University, and has taught everyone from the earliest readers to college students who need writing help. She homeschool her three kids, and is a freelance writer. She pens all kinds of speculative fiction for young people, inspired by everything from Browncoats to Dutch folklore to TED Talks. She is always happier surrounded by hills.
When not writing or teaching, she grows food, knits, spins, geeks out with her family, and sometimes even runs on purpose.

ONE: I’ll be looking for sample pages that grab me and don’t let go! Thoughtful contemporary can do that just as well as madcap adventure. It’s all about how engaging the character is and how real the stakes are for that character, regardless of what those stakes are. In MG, voice is everything, so a killer voice will draw my attention right away, but so will a hooky premise, even if the pages aren’t quite there.

That said, if I see a pattern of errors that indicate a lack of command of grammar and mechanics, that’s going to concern me. If length is one of your primary issues, that’s another red flag, because it will make me concerned that you’re not ready to kill darlings. If your manuscript still has a lot of filler and I can also see plot, pacing or character edits that need attention, I’m going to worry we won’t be able to get it done in time.

I will totally be asking for synopses from entrants I’m interested in, so if you’re sending to me and you don’t have a one-page synopsis, please write one now. I may also ask to see more pages or even your full.

TWO: Right off the bat, I’ll be watching for places where plot or character are muddy. Sometimes you have a bunch of back matter floating around in your notes/brain and it’s just an issue of getting some of that into the ms. Other times you haven’t had a chance to think those details through, and none of your readers asked about them before. It’s entirely possible that previous edits improved your manuscript enough that only now are these aspects standing out. So I will ask you some clarifying questions. Once I have those answers, I’ll send you a more extensive edit letter and you can really dig in. We can do multiple rounds until your manuscript is where it needs to be. I’m a skilled copyeditor, but we’ll save copyedits until the heavy lifting is done!

Big edits can be scary. I am happy to hand-hold. We can email or fb chat or Skype— whatever works for you. But be hungry. Dig deep. Take the time to really do your edits right. Most agents will tell you that when they offer an R&R and the writer turns the ms around in a couple of weeks, they groan internally, b/c they’re pretty sure the writer failed to deeply and thoughtfully apply their feedback. Learn that skill now!

THREE: Oh man, this question is so unfair. It’s like asking which is your favorite parent/child. Ultimately, though, I’m going to say that my favorites always offer me deep truths about what it means to try, fall down, and get back up again, regardless of genre. So, while I’m a huge fantasy and SF geek, Beverly Cleary’s and Paula Danziger’s work would have to be on that list alongside Robin McKinley’s and Peter Beagle’s and Charles DeLint’s and Cynthia Voigt’s and C.S. Lewis’s and D.M. Cornish’s and Anne McCaffrey’s and Phillip Pullman’s and Susan Cooper’s and Lloyd Alexander’s and and and…see? I’m hopeless.

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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