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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors … mini interviews with YA & YA/NA mentors

Thursday, 13 August 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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For the past couple weeks we’ve been getting to know mentors on live chats on the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site and by hopping to our mentors’ blogs to read their bios and wish lists. Today we have some mini-interviews with the mentors who couldn’t make the live chats. At the bottom of this post you’ll find YouTube links to some of the live chats. There are three more live chats happening this week. The next one is tonight and the last is on this Friday. Check out the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site for the schedule and list of mentors joining the chats and watch them live. And there just might be a surprise happening on one of the upcoming chats.

But for now, here are the mini-interviews …

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’s their answers …


SamanthaSamantha Joyce


1. The biggest thing would have to be voice. I can forgive smaller technical issues if you give me a killer voice. I especially love sassy and snarky characters. We can fix plot holes or missing character arcs together, but if you’re lacking voice, that would probably make me set your entry aside.

2. I usually do two first passes—one on my e-reader and one in word—so I can track changes and add comments. Generally, I’ll remark on your ms as I go, including comments on both the things that do and do not work. No matter what, I try to keep it positive. If something isn’t working, I’ll explain why I feel that way and ask questions to see how we can make it better.

My plan is to do a first pass of the query/pitch/full ms and return them with notes. Then I’ll follow my mentee’s lead as to how they want to approach edits. If they want to ask questions as they go, that’s great. If they want to be left alone, that’s fine, too. We all have our own revisions process. However, I’ll be on them to make their deadline, and I’ll be available for any questions. We can also do another pass of everything to make sure all the pages are clean right before the agent round.

3. This is the hardest question! I think my favorite book changes daily. But the first book that really made me sit up and appreciate how an author can transport you to new worlds was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, for you Americans). I’m astounded by JK Rowling’s imagination and the ingenuity of the worlds and characters she weaved. I remember reading those books and thinking, “I want to do this. I want to create amazing characters, and new worlds, and clever stories.” I’d been writing since I could remember, but that was the first time I actually started to believe writing an entire book was possible.


SusanSusan Gray Foster


1. I’m co-mentoring with the amazing Mónica B.W. this year, but speaking for myself, voice, concept, and strong writing will make me want to read and spend time with a manuscript. Weaknesses in plot and pacing can be fixed (with hard work!) and I’ve learned that writing can always be strengthened if the writer is committed to doing so.

2. As Mónica, will tell you, I tend to be very nit-picky and thorough with my comments, while Mónica is a genius at big-picture plot issues as well as detailed editing. We would probably do one round focusing on big-picture edits followed by a second round of line-edits, and, throughout the revision process, we can be available for questions, ideas, and feedback (especially since there are two of us!)

3. All-time favorite is impossible to answer, but a current favorite is Rainbow Rowell’s ELEANOR AND PARK. I study it frequently, and it inspires me to strive to make my characters as authentic as I can and to make the reader feel their emotions.


Co-mentors …

TrishaTrisha Leaver


JenniJenni L. Walsh


1. Trisha: I am looking character-driven fiction with a literary feel. I would probably pass on an unsympathetic main character. I don’t have to like all the decisions your MC makes, but I do need to understand the emotional history behind his actions. On an easier note, don’t sweat the forgotten period or the occasional over-used word. Those are all easy fixes.

Jenni: Trisha Leaver and I are co-mentoring (yay!) and we’re open to various genres (contemporary, historical, science fiction, psychological thrillers, and fantasy). No matter which category a manuscript falls into, I’m looking to be transported to another world. I’m not saying your story needs to be in a fairy tale setting, but I want to explore a world so developed that I feel like I’m walking its streets, whether it’s set in NYC, a small town in Oklahoma, or a made-up world.

As far as what I’ll forgive in a writing sample, I’ll be broad and say plot, tension/pacing, and character-related elements. That’s a lot, huh? And that’s because I am eager to work with a writer with sound writing technique. Sure, there might be some problem areas Trisha and I will help you smooth out (that’ll be forgiven too), but if I get the sense you “know how to write”, then my eyes will be lighting up. It shows the author has spent time working on his/her craft and that he/she is essentially one more revision away from being ready to query, and if I can give a writer notes and feel confident the writing will come back shining with those edits, I’ll be one happy mentor.

2. Trisha: Two prong approach here. First we will tackle content and plot – tighten some lose threads, smooth out the pacing, and work out any character inconsistencies. After that, we will turn back to page 1 and start with line edits, watching for over used phrasing while subtly adding detail to enhance the characters plight.

Jenni: Yes! We’re going to tackle our mentee’s manuscript in two rounds. First, with a reader report. This is often what a writer will get from an agent or an editor, so we want to introduce our writer to this feedback style. The report will cover big-picture elements such as style, plot, tension/pacing, and characterization. It’ll also point out some grammatical problem areas to smooth out prior to the next round. Second, we’ll go through the manuscript line by line to help our mentee finesse, finesse, finesse. After each round, our mentee will do some heavy lifting to implement our feedback. Come ready to work. We sure are!

3. Trisha: This is a hard one, but I would have to go with Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. The setting, the literary prose, his ability to make the reader feel both desperation and hope in the same breath is truly remarkable.

Jenni: Ack, this question is hard. I love when I can get sucked into a series. A recent one I’ve really loved has been Megan Shepherd’s The Madman’s Daughter. I’ve also read J.D. Robb’s 30+ books in her In Death series. In fact, I’ve read 20ish of these books twice. These authors have inspired me because they’ve created character(s) so real to me that I want more, more, more.


WWendyendy Spinale


1. I’ll be looking for clean writing and competent knowledge of story arc and character development. I’m willing to forgive small copy edit stuff, those are easy fixes. A pass for me would be flat characters, saggy middles (they’re hard to fix in such a short time), or anything sent to me that’s not in my preference list. Also, I will be asking for a synopsis along with sample pages and possibly a full manuscript when I make my decision.

2. I’m a line-by-line editor. If you submit to me, plan to see lots of mark ups, comments, questions, suggestions. I also believe that this is your story and you have to go with your gut. Anything I give you is like the Pirates’ Code, they’re more guidelines.

3. Yikes! This is a hard question because there’s so many books that I love. I will say Ray Bradbury inspired my love for reading. I had a unique opportunity to meet him when I was 8 years old and I knew right then that I wanted to be a writer.


ChelseaChelsea Bobulski


1. I am looking for a unique voice paired with an interesting concept, as well as strong characters dealing with intense internal and external conflicts. I’m also looking for professionalism and a polished submission, as both of these qualities point to a writer’s dedication to their craft and their willingness to work hard at achieving their goals. Having said that, a typo in a submission is nowhere near a deal-breaker for me if the rest of the submission is well-polished. I can’t tell you how many queries I sent in the past that I read a dozen times before sending, thinking there wasn’t a single mistake, only to find a typo later on in one of my sample pages (*headdesk*). Thankfully, my submission showed enough promise to get requests despite this, and I made sure to fix the problem right away. So don’t stress if you submit to me and realize there’s a typo on page 3 of your submission. As long as the rest of your submission is well-polished, I will recognize this as a fluke and not a reflection of your overall writing abilities. 😉

Of course, a lack of professionalism and/or an unpolished submission will be an automatic pass for me.

2. My editing style is very encouraging and conversational. I love to make comments in the document as I’m reading so you can get an idea of my in-the-moment reactions to what you’ve written, as well as an edit letter that sums up all of my notes. As far as giving critical advice, I will point out any problem areas I see and may give suggestions of how that problem could be fixed, but it is ultimately your choice as to how that problem is addressed, or whether that problem is even addressed at all. All I ask is that my mentee approach the entire process with an open mind, a good work ethic, and a willingness to learn from criticism in order to polish their manuscript to a high, agent-ready shine.

3. Choosing an all-time favorite book is absolutely impossible, but if I had to pick one that has really inspired my writing, it would have to be The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater is the absolute master of voice, strong character arcs, and attention to detail, all three of which make her characters leap off the page, and keep them lingering in your mind long after the book is over. Victoria Schwab is another author who is amazing at this, especially in her novel, Vicious. The list could go on, but if you’re a fan of Stiefvater or Schwab (or Rowling!), chances are we’ll get along great!


JessieJessie Devine


1. I’m looking for character driven stories with strong voice and LGBTQIA main characters. I’m also looking for strong voice, sci-fi and fantasy concepts that feel brand new, and swoony romance I daydream about later. I can easily fix things like pacing, starting in the wrong place, character motivations, and plot holes, but I’d have to pass on a writing style I just don’t like. I would also have to pass on diverse characters that are stereotypes or tokens.

2. I edit in sandwich style: compliment, criticism, compliment. Generally, I do a readthrough of the full ms and then send an edit letter addressing both things I love and big picture things we need to fix. At this point, I also send inline notes. I use track changes and make a lot of inline comments when I have gut reactions as a reader. Then we talk things out, and you get to work! I usually do another read when you’re finished to make sure everything is working as we planned. The last thing we put together is the pitch.

3. My favorite book is UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. It inspired me to start writing at all! And I think it gave me a soft spot for flawed main characters who prevail against impossible odds.


Co-mentors #TeamMarch1st …

janet-b-taylor-2-e1426799094678Janet B. Taylor


KathrynKathryn Purdie





shannon_headshot-e1426800045731Shannon M. Parker


1. We are mainly looking for YA Fantasy/SciFi/HisFic w/Fantasy Elements or (Janet’s fave) Time Travel with a strong voice and even stronger writing. A pass for us would be a story that doesn’t allow us to connect with the voice or the character’s conflict. Easy fixes would be deepening character development or tightening up the story’s plotting, pacing or story arc.

2. We are a team of three mentors. Our initial approach will be to read the submission and provide big picture notes on the mentee’s work. We will be looking at character development, world building, and story arc, as well as plotting and pacing. As mentors, we will discuss all our notes and condense them into one response for the mentee. We will provide these edits in an editorial letter via email. The editorial letter will contain a synopsis of what is already working well in the manuscript and what areas need more attention. We are open to having a Skype session to answer questions the mentee might have about our notes. If we have time for line edits, those will also be provided for the mentee in one document via email.

3. Shannon: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd: This book inspires her every time she reads it, which is about once per year. BEES is filled with lush, literary language but manages to relate a story about love and longing that is so accessible and universal that the combination is both heart-breaking and dripping with hope.

Janet: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon: This book made time travel cool again. Never before or since has she read something that brings the characters to such vivid life. And this is one novel that once you’ve read it, you’ll never be the same again.

Kathryn: GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers because it’s a crazy original fantasy (assassin nuns!) with gorgeous writing, a super interesting and relatable MC, a slow-burning then hot romance, a power-packed opening, and vivid and well researched world building.

Thank you mentors for your fabulous answers! Everyone else, come back tomorrow for some more young adult/new adult and adult mentor mini-interviews. And check out the following recorded live chats to get to know some of our other mentors.



Filed: Pitch Wars

One Comment
  • Jason says:

    well that actually helped me narrow down my mentor list by 1… thanks for that. now I only have 3 to choose from for my fifth spot.

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