Pitch Wars 2016: You Might Be Our Mentee If…

Selecting a Pitch Wars mentor (or co-mentors in our case) can seem daunting. There are so many of us. And let’s be honest, everyone involved in Pitch Wars is pretty great. So how is a potential mentee supposed to choose?
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Well, we’re here to make it super easy on you. Pick us! Okay, kidding. (Mostly kidding, anyway). But if you have a Women’s Fiction, Literary, or Magical Realism book, and it’s fresh and shiny (to be clear, to us “shiny” means polished, not first draft material) and you’re ready (we mean really ready) to get a solid critique, PRETTY PLEASE SEND IT TO US. No, really. Go to the submission form (on August 3rd), put Karma Brown and Susan Bishop Crispell down as a top mentors pick, and hit send. For everything you need to know about how to submit, including the amazing agents playing along, head on over to Brenda Drake’s blog.

Since you’re still reading, we’ll assume that either A) your manuscript fits one (or more) of the above descriptions or B) you just want to get to know us a little better. Either way, we’re glad you’re still with us. Especially because now we get to convince you why should you pick us:

1. You just might get the most thorough critique of your life. That might sound like an exaggeration, but we are seriously thorough. Between the two of us, your manuscript will get the full range of macro and micro edits. We’ll look at big-picture stuff like the story’s hook, pacing, tension, and characterization, as well as the smaller details like word choice, consistency, unnatural dialogue, and character actions that don’t feel organic to the story. When we’re done, we promise you a manuscript riddled with track changes. If that level of revision scares you, another mentor/team might be a better choice for you. But if you can handle tough but constructive feedback and are excited about taking your book to the next level, we’re all in. (Not sure if that much work is worth it, check out Susan’s success story when Karma was her mentor in 2014!)

2. We’re with you for the long haul. Pitch Wars is so much more than simply getting a solid critique of your book. That’s a huge (invaluable) part to be sure, but our cheerleading, advice, and all-around support can make the solitary act of writing feel much less lonely long after the contest has ended. We’ll be there to celebrate your successes (and tell the world about them too!), encourage you when the writing isn’t going as planned, and share our experiences working with agents and editors as well as all the roller-coaster of emotions that come with the pursuit of publication. To quote J.K. Rowling, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other…” Hopefully you won’t encounter a twelve-foot mountain troll like in Harry Potter, but if you do, we’ll be there for that too.

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3. We’re firm believers that reading makes for better writing. We read a lot, and from a wide variety of genres. For one, we’re readers first, but also because we believe reading books — even those outside your particular genre or age category (or maybe especially those!) — is the best way to improve your writing. We both write upmarket women’s fiction (Karma’s books are realistic, heartbreaking yet hopeful stories of love and loss and finding strength amid it all, and Susan’s are magical and quirky and end with a happily-ever-after), but we read everything from young adult, to (light) urban fantasy, to thrillers, to everything in between. And each one of those books has something to teach us. Whether it’s about voice or world-building or plot techniques or creating an instant emotional connection to the main character. Then we take what we’ve learned and apply it to our books to continually improve our own craft. And that’s exactly what we want to help you do!

If you missed our Pitch Wars mini-interview you can check it out here.

Still want to know a bit more about us?

KarmaBrownKarma: I live near Toronto, Canada (if you would like to know the appropriate way to insert ‘eh’ into a conversation, I’m glad to help), am happily married and mom to a great, early-rising kid who has trained me well for my #5amwritersclub group on Twitter. I’m also an award-winning freelance journalist, a member of the Tall Poppies writers group, and am on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Workshop. When not writing you’ll find me reading, baking muffins, running, bing-watching Netflix, and adding items to my very long bucket list. I’m represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists, and am author to the bestselling and one of Globe & Mail’s Top 100 Books for 2015 COME AWAY WITH ME (Mira/HarperCollins – 2015) and THE CHOICES WE MAKE (Mira/HarperCollins – July 2016).

Crispell_Full_Size_for_Printing01Susan: I live in Wilmington, North Carolina with my husband and our orange tabby cat, Pippin. Aside from writing, I obsess over swoony fictional boys and baked goods; spend all my spare money on books, art, and going to hard rock concerts; and fangirl over quirky TV shows, most of which got canceled way before their time (and I have a wax lion to prove it!). My debut women’s fiction novel THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES comes out Sept. 6, 2016 and THE PROBABILITY OF FATE releases fall 2017, both from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. I am represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and love that I can truthfully say I use my degree for my day job (I’m a proposal manager for a clinical research company) as well as being an author.

We haven’t scared you off yet? Fantastic! Now, for the part you’ve been oh-so-patiently waiting for…

In general, the books we’re most drawn to have a voice that jumps off the page, complicated issues, big hearts, and pretty words. Give us layered friendships and family drama and characters we can love, flaws and all. We particularly love stories that include food, magical realism, and strong women. Most of all, we want to be awed by your book.

Penelope_MagicSpecifically, what we’d love to see:

  • Women’s Fiction — think book club/upmarket (commercial with a literary feel): WHAT ALICE FORGOT (or anything by Liane Moriarty), AFTER I DO (Taylor Jenkins Reid), THE PILOT’S WIFE (Anita Shreve), ME BEFORE YOU (Jojo Moyes), WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE (Maria Semple), APRIL & OLIVER (Tess Callahan).
  • More literary (still with a commercial feel) — LITTLE BEE (Chris Cleave), THE DINNER (Herman Koch), THE NIGHT CIRCUS (Erin Morgenstern), FATES AND FURIES (Lauren Groff), STATION ELEVEN (Emily St. John Mandel).
  • Magical Realism — books with charming towns and magical elements that are full of quirk and whimsy (and in a perfect world, magic AND food): GARDEN SPELLS (Sarah Addison Allen), LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (Laura Esquirel), PRACTICAL MAGIC (Alice Hoffman), LANDLINE (Rainbow Rowell), OF BEES AND MIST (Erik Setiawan).

We’re not looking for genre books, so Fantasy & Sci-fi, Romance (though we do like romantic storylines!), and Crime are not for us. If you’re not sure, give us a try. We’re open to having our minds changed by spectacular writing.

Scavenger hunt time! This wishlist was brought to you by the letter O.

Don’t forget to check out the other mentors’ blogs — click below and start doing your homework …

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Psst. Yeah, You. I Have Agent News!

I’ve been on the query roller coaster to find an agent for a few years now. More years than I’d like to admit, but that’s life. It started with my first definitely-not-ready-to-query manuscript that I was so damn proud of. Looking back, I’m not at all surprised that I only got a few full requests and mostly form rejections. Parts of it were good. Most if it was not.

But I learned so much from that book. How to create well-rounded, relatable characters, how to develop a more exciting plot, how to hone my voice. I also learned how to move on from a book that’s going nowhere.

Fast forward to 2014. I finally became a published author. I caught the eye of a small digital-first publisher in an online contest and publishing LOVE AND CUPCAKES became a reality. But I still desperately wanted an agent. I wanted a champion of my writing, someone whom I could bounce ideas off of and work with toward a common goal of getting more of my books published. *Fingers crossed many, many more.* But I continued to believe in the advantage of having an agent, not just for their ability to sell me and my work to larger publishers, but also for the support and enthusiasm that comes from someone loving your work enough to want to sell it.

Then this past fall I was selected to participate in Pitch Wars, a two-month long intense revision contest in which I worked with my mentor on revising my manuscript for an adult magical realism novel WISHES TO NOWHERE. I shredded a lot of the book and with the help of my amazing mentor, Karma Brown, put it back together again. But in a much stronger, more exciting story. Though I only received one request in the agent round of Pitch wars, I was confident that this book was the one that would get me an agent. I could just feel it.

And guess what? It happened.

I am thrilled to tell you that I am now represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. After a nerve-wracking R&R (revise and resubmit) and politely stalking her online (while trying to not seem like a stalker) and an hour and a half phone call that felt more like I was just talking to one of my good friends who fangirls over all of the same quirky, whimsical books and TV shows (Pushing Daisies! Wonderfalls! Daria!) that I do rather than someone I’d never talked to before, I didn’t even have to think about whether or not I wanted to sign with her when she offered.

Patricia is exactly the kind of agent I want on my side. Someone who not only gets me and my weird (in the best kind of way) books, but who also has ideas about how to make both me and my books even better.

Confessions of a Pitch Wars Mentee

Well, today’s the day. Pitch Wars. Today the pitches of the 75 mentees go live for agents to read and hopefully request more pages of their manuscripts.

For those of you who don’t know, Pitch Wars is a genius online pitch contest put on by the wonderful Brenda Drake, in which agented/published authors select one mentee and one alternate each from the many, many, many submissions (this year it was something like 1,200 entries!) and spend the next two months working on revisions to the mentee’s manuscript.

And as the title of this post suggests, I was so very fortunate to be selected as the mentee for the amazing Karma Brown. The first thing on her manuscript wishlist was “magical realism, and in a perfect world, magic AND food)”. Which, lucky for me, is exactly what my Pitch Wars manuscript, WISHES TO NOWHERE, is.

Pitch Wars (and you know, writing in general) isn’t for the faint of heart. Going into this, I knew it was going to be tough and time-consuming and possibly a tiny bit soul-crushing, just based on the nature of the contest (the “Hey, I love your manuscript so much that I choose you! But um, yeah, let’s talk about this crazy-ass plot and this character who is totally not-needed and I see what you were trying to do here, but you kinda failed. *Note: these are just made up criticisms for effect, not anything that was ever actually said!). On top of that, Karma told me point blank that she was going to rip my manuscript apart and help me put it back together.

And rip apart she did (but in the super-nice, encouraging, I-promise-you’ll-thank-me-later way that Karma has). The first two weeks were spent on the first 3-4 chapters alone. Karma helped me ground the magic in the story more, cut extraneous backstory/details that cluttered up the main story, and really focus on creating a character in those first pages who would appeal to a wide audience. (Apparently my love of snarky, sarcastic, kinda flippant characters isn’t something most of the world shares *le sigh*.) Then we moved on to working in 5-chapter chunks. I would revise my original manuscript based on those foundational changes in the beginning, send to Karma for in-depth critique and line edits, then take her comments and tweak, rewrite, and in some places throw out what I had and write something totally new. Sometimes I would email her with my reasoning for not wanting to change an aspect she was adamant about, and we’d talk it through, and then I’d get back to writing and realize she was 100% right.

Some days it was daunting to read through the comments and realize just how much work I had to do to the book. Some days, I wanted to just sit and cry and then apologize to Karma for having a book with so many problems and I would totally understand if she regretted picking me as her mentee. And some days when I was drowning in work and had so many chapters backing up for me to rework, all I wanted was to read a book, which just made the stress that much heavier because I didn’t have time to do something fun for me. The I started dreaming about Pitch Wars. One night in the middle of all this, I dreamed about getting emails from Karma where she told me the book completely fell apart in the middle and I would have to rewrite the last 40,000 words in a month. (As tough as she is, she is way, way nicer than that!)

But here’s the thing: all of that stress and self-doubt was so very worth it. Every page I edited, ever scene I cut, ever new scene I wrote made this book So. Much. Stronger. Every time I got it right, Karma was there to cheer me on. Every time I was close but still needed to push farther, she was there to talk me through what else was needed. And in the end, it’s still very much the story I set out to tell—my idea, my words, my characters, my plot—but each of those aspects is more polished, more refined. More the type of book that will *hopefully* catch and agent’s eye (and, fingers crossed, eventually an editor’s eye too).

Wishes and Pies: My Pitch Wars Novel Inspiration

My Pitch Wars novel, WISHES TO NOWHERE, is full of magic. The idea came to me as the opening lines of the manuscript, which haven’t changed much in the three years since I first wrote them as part of a NaNoWriMo novel:

Birthday parties made her nervous. Itchy. She didn’t mind the screaming kids, puddles of melted ice cream or even the clowns who twisted dogs out of skinny, colored balloons.

It was the birthday candles and subsequent wishes that did it.

Wishes tended to complicate life for Claire McCallie.

I knew from the start that this was a story of a girl who could make wishes come true just by thinking about them. I knew that this ability would have some serious consequences, you know like accidentally wishing her brother out of existence and having no way of getting him back. I also knew that fate would play a big role in the story because I am fascinated by how fate and human nature play off of each other.

What I didn’t know was that my love of the delightful—and cancelled too soon—TV show Pushing Daisies would infuse the story with even more whimsy and magic. (Oh yeah, and pie. Because you can never have too much pie. Seriously. Go check out my Pinterest board for this novel for some fun pie recipes.)

At its core, this book is about loss and guilt and regrets. It’s about family bonds and accepting who you are and moving on. And it’s about finding happiness once thought lost forever.

But as I started developing my characters and plotting how these things would fuel Claire’s story, it became clear that the things I’m drawn to most as a writer—and as a reader/TV-watcher/story-consumer—are quirky, out-there ideas and characters. And that’s exactly what I wanted to put into this book. What I want to put into all of my books, really.

So I created the town of Nowhere, North Carolina, which is a magical lost and found where emotionally lost people wind up so they can find whatever they are looking for; a spit-fire old woman who bakes the towns’ secrets into pies to keep them from getting out; fruit trees that have personalities like people and can be generous and jealous and loving and spiteful and stingy and a whole host of other things depending on their moods; and wishes that pop out of thin air on small slips of paper and refused to be ignored.

I used these different magical elements to add a whole ’nother layer to Claire’s story, providing even more tension and conflict and emotional upheaval along with the inherent whimsical flair. And they gave me some of my favorite scenes in the whole book.

Pitch Wars Blog Hop

If you want to hear the stories behind some of the other Pitch Wars books from mentees and alternates, click on the links below:

Carleen Karanovic: HOPE ON A FEATHER | Heather Truett: RENASCENCE | Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND | Susan Bickford: FRAMED | Rachel Sarah: RULES FOR RUNNING AWAY | Amanda Rawson Hill: GRIMM AND BEAR IT | Charlotte Gruber: CODE OF SILENCE | Kip Wilson: THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN | Mary Ann Nicholson: CALAMITY | Nikki Roberti: THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES | Anna Patel: EXODUS | A. Reynolds: LE CIRQUE DU LITERATI | Ron Walters: THE GOLEM INITIATIVE | Rosalyn Eves: THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION | Ashley Poston: HEART OF IRON | Mara Rutherford: WINTERSOUL | Janet Walden-West: Damned If She Do | Kazul Wolf: SUMMER THUNDER | D. Grimm: WITCHERKelli Newby: THORNVAAL | Tara Sim: TIMEKEEPER | Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES | Alessa Hinlo: THE HONEST THIEF | Rachel Horwitz: THE BOOTLEGGER’S BIBLE | Whitney Taylor: DEFINITIONS OF INDEFINABLE THINGS | Lyra Selene: REVERIE | Natalie Williamson: SET IN STONE | Robin Lemke: THE DANCE OF THE PALMS | Stephanie Herman: CLIFF WITH NO EDGE | Shannon Cooley: A FROG, A WHISTLE, AND A VIAL OF SAND | Ruth Anne Snow: THE GIRLS OF MARCH | Elizabeth Dimit: PHOEBE FRANZ’S GUIDE TO PASSPORTS, PAGEANTS, & PARENTAL DISASTERS | Gwen C. Katz: AMONG THE RED STARS | Jennifer Hawkins: FALSE START | Kelly DeVos: THE WHITE LEHUA  | Gina Denny: SANDS OF IMMORTALITY | Natasha M. Heck: FOLLOW THE MOON | Esher Hogan – Walking After Midnight | D.A. Mages: THE MEMORY OF OBJECTS