Pitch Wars 2021 Wish List – YA

Click below for a plaintext version of my wishlist.

It’s Wish List time, Pitch Wars hopefuls. One of my favorite days of the year! For those of you new to Pitch Wars, it’s a mentoring program that matches unagented writers with writers who are a little farther down the publishing path and/or have editing/publishing experience. As a mentor, it’s my job to help my future mentee make their manuscript the best it can be over the course of a few (very intense) months of revision so it’s ready for the Agent Showcase and querying.

Pitch Wars image that says "I am a 2021 Young Adult Mentor"
I am a 2021 Young Adult Mentor

I’m Susan (Sus to almost anyone who’s known me longer than five minutes). I was a mentee in 2014 (with the book that got me my first agent and two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press) and have been an adult mentor 2016-2019 (four of my five mentees are agented, and two found a publisher for their PW book!). I had to take 2020 off from mentoring as I was moving home from living in Scotland for 15 months. This year, I’m switching things up to mentor in the Young Adult category.

If you have a Young Adult Magical Realism, Contemporary (lighter side, please!), Romance/Rom Com, or Light Sci-Fi/Fantasy book that’s been revised and polished (no first drafts, please!) and you’re ready to do some major work to take it to the next level, I want to see it.

Veronica Mars sitting on a car, waving.
Gif from the TV show Veronica Mars: Veronica Mars sitting on a car, waving.

WHO I AM…

I live in Wilmington, North Carolina with my husband and our kittens, Whisky and Peat. 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 drinks of choice—depending on the time of day—are coffee with cream and sugar, a good saison or sour style beer, and whisky/bourbon on the rocks.

I write magical southern fiction, including women’s fiction books THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES (Sept 2016/Thomas Dunne Books) and DREAMING IN CHOCOLATE (Feb 2018/St. Martin’s Press). My YA debut, THE HOLLOWAY GIRLS, comes out June 7, 2022 from Sourcebooks Fire.

I am represented by Jenny Bent at The Bent 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 as well as being a published author.

Check out my social media to get a better idea of what I’m like in real life:
WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | InstagramPinterest

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR…

Now, let’s get to the heart of things. The books I’m most drawn to have a voice that jumps off the page, characters I want to be friends with, complicated relationships, big hearts, and stunning words. Give me layered friendships and family drama and characters I can root for, flaws and all. Most of all, I want to be awed by your story. Specifically, I’m looking for…

Magical Fiction/Magical Realism

Gif from the movie Penelope: Penelope watches bubbles in the air in magical wonder.
Gif from the movie Penelope: Penelope watches bubbles in the air in magical wonder.

Yes, there is a difference between contemporary magical fiction and traditional magical realism. I love both! Give me your whimsical, quirky, fairytale-esque, magical stories grounded in the real world. This means anything similar to:

  • The Weight of Feathers by Anna Marie McLemore
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
  • The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffith
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
  • The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacy Lee
  • A Million Junes by Emily Henry
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • If you have something like the movie Penelope, I need it yesterday

Contemporary

Gif from the TV show Everwood: Ephraim argues with his dad, saying "Oh yeah, because you're life is always so much worse than mine."
Gif from the TV show Everwood: Ephraim argues with his dad, saying “Oh yeah, because you’re life is always so much worse than mine.”

Give me relatable characters in emotional situations. I want family drama or friendships that feel like family and found families. And MCs finding or reinventing themselves and grabbing onto their little slice of happiness amidst the teenage angst. I’d love to see books like:

  • I’ll Give You the Sun and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
  • Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
  • Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert
  • Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
  • The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis

I like my books to have a happy(ish) ending. That doesn’t mean there can’t be heartbreak and death in the story, I just like to have hope at the end, please!

Rom Coms and Romance

Gif from the TV show Veronica Mars: Logan tells Veronica "I thought our story was epic, you know?"
Gif from the TV show Veronica Mars: Logan tells Veronica “I thought our story was epic, you know?”

I’m a sucker for love stories and HEAs (or at least happy for now). For me there’s not much better than wanting to hug a book when I’m through with it because I loved it so much. Bonus points if you can make me cry from the epicness of the relationships! (I’m talking Logan and Veronica level epicness, you know, before the last few minutes of Veronica Mars Season 4.) Send me your swoony, first-love stories like:

  • Anna/Lola/Isla books by Stephanie Perkins
  • All books by Emma Lord (Tweet Cute, You Have a Match, When You Get the Chance)
  • Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
  • You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  • Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey
  • Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (but YA)

Romantic tropes I love: friends to lovers, second-chance romance, fake-dating-turned real, bad boys with a heart of gold. Feel free to ask me about others!

LBGTQA relationships welcome.

Light Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Gif from the TV show The Good Place: Janet says "It's sort of a glass half full, glass stops existing in time and space kind of deal."
Gif from the TV show The Good Place: Janet says “It’s sort of a glass half full, glass stops existing in time and space kind of deal.”

This could be lumped in with the magical books, but for me these tend to be a little weirder/darker. My main ask is that the focus of the story is on the characters–how they relate to each other and how the weird brings them together. When it comes to my strengths in these areas, I’m more of a weird science/magic in our reality or an alternate universe that feels like our reality kinda girl rather than a high/epic fantasy kinda girl. If it’s recognizable as our world with a twist, I’m all in. Send me books like:

  • All books by Victoria/V.E. Schwab (across age categories she writes in, she is just brilliant at mixing reality with the strange)
  • Laini Taylor everything
  • The Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Lynburn Legacy books by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The Colours of Madeleine trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  • The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
  • House of Salt & Sorrow by Erin Craig

I love Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkowski too, so would be open to something similar even though they’re higher on the fantasy scale. Sorry, no creatures/shifters/aliens/robots/fae, please. Other mentors are much better suited to mentor those epic worlds than I am!

*If you’re not sure if yours fits my style of Light SFF or if you want to clarify the “creatures”, send me a Tweet or use the AMA in the forums and I’ll try to answer as best I can.*

Random Things I Love: stories that feed my love of food (magical food all the better!), music (hard rock is my genre of choice, but music/musicians of any kind in stories steals my heart), sister/sibling stories, small town-settings especially in the South, stories set at the beach/small islands. Stories that fit one or more of these will probably grab my attention even if they don’t fit neatly into one of the categories above.

I am ALL FOR diverse books and #ownvoices stories. Stories featuring diverse cultures, LBGTQA, disabilities written by authors with direct experience? Yes, please!

WHAT I’M NOT LOOKING FOR…

To clarify things a little more, I’m NOT looking for:

  • Adult or MG
  • Graphic novels
  • Thrillers/Suspense
  • Mysteries
  • Horror
  • Historical
  • Hard SFF

I’m just not a good fit for those types of stories as I don’t read much in those genres. I’m willing to look at NA submissions, but I’d probably ask the mentee to age it down to YA. If you’re not sure, give me a try. I’m open to having my mind changed by spectacular writing and unforgettable characters.

WHY YOU SHOULD PICK ME…

Think your book fits one (or more!) or the items on my wish list? Fantastic!

Gif from the TV show/movie Veronica Mars: Veronica and Logan high-fiving in a car.
Gif from the TV show/movie Veronica Mars: Veronica and Logan high-fiving in a car.

Now, here’s where I tell you what I can give you as a YA mentor:

  1. A critical eye on character motivation, stakes, and consistency (and a whole mess of other topics!). I ask a lot (like hundreds) of questions in a manuscript I’m critiquing. I nickpick tiny details that can throw a reader and I also look at overall character arcs to ensure there is growth, both emotionally and story-wise. If you don’t have an outline, I will probably (read: definitely) make you develop one so we have a clear picture of the whole story and what needs fixing. Revisions will be intense. And it will mean cutting some darlings and writing whole new scenes and rethinking the core of your manuscript at times. If you’re open to that kind of whole-book makeover, it will be worth it. I’ll give in-documents comments and track changes as needed and I’ll also provide an edit letter at the start with what I love and think is working well and a detailed discussion of what I think needs to be reworked and why. It will be lots of emails and phone/Skype calls (if needed/wanted) after that as we work through the manuscript. It’s a definite team effort. I have a day job and a husband and a cat that require my attention, but I will give you as much of my time as you need during our few months together.
  2. Brainstorming and discussion. I know writing can feel like something that’s done in a vacuum, but there are times when bouncing ideas off someone is exactly what’s needed to get the creative juices flowing again. So, if I comment on something you don’t agree with or aren’t sure how to tackle, we can talk about it and find a way to make it work. It’s not an all or nothing situation with me. This is your book, not mine, so we’ll work on issues together until you are satisfied with the end result. The main goal of Pitch Wars (for me at least!) is to help my mentee grow as a writer. Yes, we’ll make the manuscript better and hopefully get it ready to snag an agent, but the end goal is to make my mentee a stronger writer moving forward.
  3. An insider’s perspective. As I mentioned above, I’ve been both a mentee and a mentor before. I cannot stress this enough, Pitch Wars will be HARD. And it will go by so fast you’ll wonder how you’ll ever get done in time. I know how that within two weeks of starting on your revision with me you might be cursing my name and wondering why you ever thought you could handle something as intense as Pitch Wars. Believe me, I’ve been there. And I got through it. I’ll make sure you do as well, with your sanity intact and (hopefully) with a manuscript you love even more than when we started. As a fourth-year mentor, I have been through this a few times with amazing, hard-working mentees and can honestly say it if I pick you, it’s because I believe in you and your book.
  4. A cheerleader beyond Pitch Wars. I’m in this writing life for the long haul. And I fully believe that one of the best ways to continue to grow (and stay sane) is to have a community of writers who support and love you and buoy you when it all feels like too much. Once Pitch Wars is over, I will still be here cheering from the sidelines, offering advice (when asked, of course!) and celebrating the victories.

Also, I *highly* recommend using the Pitch Wars Forums to get feedback from fellow writers (and some mentors too!) and ask questions of the mentors who have AMA posts (like mine here!). It’s a great way to find new critique partners (CPs) and get your submission elements all shiny before the submission window opens. I’ll definitely be popping in to give notes on queries and first pages as I have time.

You can find links to the rest of the YA mentors wish lists below:

Pitch Wars 2021 Young Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Mary E. Roach (Accepts NA)
  2. Amelia Diane Coombs (Accepts NA)
  3. Diana Urban
  4. Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
  5. TJ Ohler (Accepts NA)
  6. Laurie Dennison (Accepts NA)
  7. Justine Pucella Winans (Accepts NA)
  8. Zoulfa Katouh and Molly X Chang (Accepts NA)
  9. Sonora Reyes (Accepts NA)
  10. Abigail Johnson
  11. Rosiee Thor and Emily Grey
  12. Carlyn Greenwald (Accepts NA)
  13. M.T. Khan (Accepts NA)
  14. Sarvenaz Taghavian
  15. Emery Lee
  16. Margie Fuston (Accepts NA)
  17. Aashna Avachat (Accepts NA)
  18. Allison Saft (Accepts NA)
  19. Fiona McLaren
  20. Jessica Lewis
  21. Brianna Bourne (Accepts NA)
  22. Jamie McHenry
  23. Meg Long and Rochelle Hassan (Accepts NA)
  24. Laura Weymouth (Accepts NA)
  25. Natalie Crown and Angelica Monai (Accepts NA)
  26. Skyla Arndt and Alex Brown (Accepts NA)
  27. Charity Alyse and Cimone Watson (Accepts NA)
  28. Emily Thiede and Lauren Blackwood (Accepts NA)
  29. Anna Sortino and Annika J. Cosgrove (Accepts NA)
  30. Jenny Perinovic and Kyrie McCauley (Accepts NA)
  31. Carrie S. Allen and Sabrina Lotfi
  32. Jamie Howard and Meredith Tate (Accepts NA)
  33. KL Burd (Accepts NA)
  34. Jennifer Yu (Accepts NA)
  35. Hoda Agharazi and Lyssa Mia Smith (Accepts NA)
  36. Em X. Liu and Grace D. Li (Accepts NA)
  37. Carly Heath (Accepts NA)
  38. Kiana Krystle (Accepts NA)
  39. Sarah Underwood and Kat Dunn (Accepts NA)
  40. Joel Brigham (Accepts NA)
  41. Dante Medema and Liz Lawson (Accepts NA)
  42. Aty S. Behsam and Maedeh B. Saaina (Accepts NA)
  43. Kylie Schachte (Accepts NA)
  44. Gabi Burton (Accepts NA)
  45. Aaron Cole and Tamara Cole (Accepts NA)
  46. Hannah V. Sawyerr and Olivia Liu (Accepts NA)
  47. Bethany Mangle (Accepts NA)
  48. Lane Clarke (Accepts NA)
  49. Sunya Mara (Accepts NA)
  50. Karen Bao (Accepts NA)

Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

Pitch Wars 2018 Wish List

2018-A-Mentor-BANNER

Hello, Pitch Wars hopefuls. So happy you’ve stopped by!

I’m Susan (Sus to almost anyone who’s known me longer than five minutes). I was a mentee in 2014 (with the book that got me my agent and two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press) and have been a mentor since 2016 (both of my previous mentees are agented, and one had her PW book debut this year). And I am thrilled to be back mentoring again! I hope you find this community as magical as I do.

Penelope_Magic

If you have an Adult Magical Realism, Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, or Light Sci-Fi/Fantasy book, and it’s fresh and shiny (by that I mean a fairly polished manuscript, not first draft) and you’re ready to do some major work on your manuscript, PRETTY PLEASE SEND IT TO ME.

WHY YOU SHOULD PICK ME…

I know you’re really here to see if your book matches up with the specific stories I’m looking for, but before you scroll down, please give me the chance to tell you what I can give you as an Adult mentor…

  1. A critical eye on character motivation, stakes, and consistency (and a whole mess of other topics!). I ask a lot (like hundreds) of questions in a manuscript I’m critiquing. I nickpick tiny details that can throw a reader and I also look at overall character arcs to ensure there is growth, both emotionally and story-wise. It will be intense. And it will mean cutting some darlings and writing whole new scenes and rethinking the core of your manuscript at times. If you’re open to that kind of whole-book makeover, it will be worth it. I’ll give in-documents comments and track changes as needed and I’ll also provide an edit letter of sorts early on with an outline of what I love and think is working well and a detailed discussion of what I think needs to be reworked. It will be lots of emails and phone/Skype calls (if needed/wanted) after that as we work through the manuscript. It’s a definite team effort. I have a day job and a husband that require my attention, but I will give you as much of my time as you need during our few months together.
  2. Brainstorming and discussion. I know writing can feel like something that’s done in a vacuum, but there are times when bouncing ideas off someone is exactly what’s needed to get the creative juices flowing again. So, if I comment on something you don’t agree with or aren’t sure how to tackle, we can talk about it and find a way to make it work. It’s not an all or nothing situation with me. This is your book, not mine, so we’ll work on issues together until you are satisfied with the end result.
  3. An insider’s perspective. As I mentioned above, I’ve been both a mentee and a mentor before. I cannot stress this enough, Pitch Wars will be HARD. And it will go by so fast you’ll wonder how you’ll ever get done in time. I know how that within two weeks of starting on your revision with me you might be cursing my name and wondering why you ever thought you could handle something as intense as Pitch Wars. Believe me, I’ve been there. And I got through it. I’ll make sure you do as well, with your sanity intact and (hopefully) with a manuscript you love even more than when we started.
  4. A cheerleader beyond Pitch Wars. I’m in this writing life for the long haul. And I fully believe that one of the best ways to continue to grow (and stay sane) is to have a community of writers who support and love you and buoy you when it all feels like too much. Once Pitch Wars is over, I will still be here cheering from the sidelines, offering advice (when asked, of course!) and celebrating the victories. (Or, like with my last mentee, randomly texting about our new favorite CW show or brewery we went to.)

WHO I AM…

Crispell_Full_Size_for_Printing01I 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 drinks of choice–depending on the time of day–are coffee with cream and sugar, a good saison or other Belgian style beer, and bourbon on the rocks.

I write magical southern fiction, including THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES (Sept. 6, 2016/Thomas Dunne Books) and DREAMING IN CHOCOLATE (Feb. 6, 2018/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 a published author.

Check out my social media to get a better idea of what I’m like in real life:
WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | InstagramPinterest

WISH LIST…

If you stuck with me through all of that, thank you! If you skipped the getting to know me stuff, that’s okay. I totally get it. (We can still be friends, right?) So, here’s where I tell you what specific kinds of stories I’m interested in for Pitch Wars…

Daisies books

Magical Fiction/Magical Realism: Yes, there is a difference between contemporary magical fiction and traditional magical realism. I love both! Give me your whimsical, quirky, fairytale-esque, magical stories. This means anything similar to Sarah Addison Allen’s books, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, and The Weight of Feathers by Anna Marie McLemore (but for adults!) If you have something like the movie Penelope, I need it yesterday.

Contemporary Fiction/Women’s Fiction: Give me relatable characters in difficult emotional situations. Especially when in combination with small towns. I’d love to see books like Come Away With Me by Karma Brown, Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley, April & Oliver by Tess Callahan, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Also, Gilmore Girls, Everwood, Hart of Dixie, Pushing Daisies, This is Us, and The Good Place are high on my TV fangirl list, so anything in the same vein (family drama or friendships that feel like family) will make me swoon.

Romantic Storylines: I’m a sucker for love stories and HEAs (or at least happy for now). It’s not a deal breaker, but for me there’s not much better than wanting to hug a book when I’m through with it because I loved it so much. Bonus points if you can make me cry from the epicness of the relationships! This can mean romantic women’s fiction like Amy E. Reichert’s novels and The City Bakers Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller, as well as contemporary romance/rom coms like The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, and Netflix’s Set It Up. Medium heat level, please. I blush easily, so graphic sex isn’t my thing. LBGTQA relationships welcome.

Light Sci-Fi/Fantasy: I’m also very open to fringe-y sci-fi stories like Fringe, Orphan Black, Doctor Who, Haven, the 100, and Lost. But make sure the focus of the story is on the characters–how they relate to each other and how the weird brings them together. I read a lot of YA fantasy (Leigh Bardugo, Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor and Sarah Rees Brennan, to name a few) but not as much in the adult arena. When it comes to my strengths in these areas, I’m more of a weird science in our reality or an alternate universe kinda girl rather than a high/epic fantasy kinda girl. (No creatures/shifters/aliens or made up languages or names I can’t pronounce, sorry.) Other mentors are much better suited to those epic worlds than I am. If it’s recognizable as our world with a twist, I’m all in. *If you’re not sure if yours fits this category or if you want to clarify the “creatures”, send me a Tweet or use the AMA in the forums and I’ll try to answer as best I can.*

Random Things I Love: stories that feed my love of food (magical food all the better!), music (hard rock is my genre of choice, but music of any kind in stories steals my heart), sisters (or sibling) stories, life in the South, the beach, and fandoms (I’m a Marshmallow, a Ravenclaw, a Pie-holer, a Whovian, a Browncoat, and too many more to name) will probably grab my attention even if they don’t fit neatly into one of the categories above.

Hart of Dixie

But if it helps clarify things a little more, I’m NOT looking for memoirs, graphic novels, thrillers, suspense, mysteries, horror, historical (unless it’s magical), inspirational or religious, hard SFF, urban fantasy, or erotica. I’m just not a good fit for those types of stories as I don’t read much in those genres. I’m willing to look at NA submissions, but I’d probably ask the mentee to age it up to adult.

I am however ALL FOR diverse books and #ownvoices stories. Stories featuring diverse cultures, LBGTQA, disabilities? Yes, please!

To sum it all up, the books I’m most drawn to have a voice that jumps off the page, complicated relationships, big hearts, and stunning words. Give me layered friendships and family drama and characters I can root for, flaws and all. I particularly love stories that include food, magical realism, and strong women. Most of all, I want to be awed by your book.

If you’re not sure, give me a try. I’m open to having my mind changed by spectacular writing and unforgettable characters.

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Pitch Wars: Successful Query

As the Pitch Wars Hopefuls prep for submission in August, the mentors are sharing our successful queries as examples. (Check the #pitchwars Twitter feed for posts from other mentors.)

I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2014. The following is the query letter that helped me sign with my rockstar agent, Patricia Nelson, with my Pitch Wars manuscript, which was retitled as The Secret Ingredient of Wishes and published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books in 2016. (If you go to my book’s link after reading the query you might notice how this synopsis basically ended up as the back cover copy!)


Dear Ms. Nelson,

Rachel Monroe, 26, can make wishes come true just by thinking about them. But it’s a gift that has caused more harm than good. And after her mother’s death, which Rachel blames herself for, she decides it’s time to leave her hometown—and her past—behind.

But when Rachel gets stranded in small-town Nowhere, NC—also known as the town of “Lost and Found”—she realizes she can’t escape her past, or her gift. In Nowhere Rachel is taken in by a spit-fire old woman, Catch, who binds the townspeople’s secrets by baking them into pies, and who has an uncanny ability to see exactly what Rachel is trying to hide. She also meets Ashe, Catch’s neighbor with southern charm and a complicated past, who makes her want to believe in happily-ever-after.

As she settles into the small town, she hopes her own secrets will stay hidden—especially the one about how she wished her little brother out of existence when they were kids. But starting over is harder than she thought, and when her wish-granting secret is revealed, the town people’s wishes begin popping out of thin air everywhere she goes. Scared the wishes will go wrong like in the past, she tries to ignore them, which only makes the wishes more determined to get her attention. Then when Rachel is forced to confront the truth about her brother, she must accept her magical ability or risk losing those she has come to love—and a chance at happiness—all over again.

My magical realism novel, WISHES TO NOWHERE, is complete at 83,500 words and will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman. I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. Swoon Romance published my magical realism novel, LOVE AND CUPCAKES, in January 2014. For the past eleven years, I have worked as a marketing copywriter and proposal editor.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Susan Crispell


*Side note, I actually queried another agent at the agency because Patricia did not request from me during the Pitch Wars agent round so I thought she wouldn’t be interested. I was wrong. The other agent loved the pitch but was moving away from adult books so she passed my query to Patricia who requested immediately. I then went through an R&R (revise and resubmit) with Patricia before she signed me.

The Revision State of Mind

Revision

Writers seem to come in two categories 1) those who love drafting and dread revision and 2) those who put up with drafting and live for revising. (Raises hand.) The more books I write, the more I realize how hard drafting is. I just want it all on the page already so I can fix it until it matches what’s in my head.

But when people dread revising, it’s because revising requires a logical/structured approach, which goes against our creative natures. After spending months—or years—working on a book, we’re emotionally invested in the words already on the page. And it can be hard to cut scenes or characters or even half the book, if necessary. But here’s the thing: no book is perfect on the first try. Revising is the phase of writing when the book truly comes alive.

So, you have a draft of a manuscript. Now what?

Revisions can be daunting. You’ve spent all this time on your book and you thought you were done (you wrote The End, right?), but there’s still a ton work left to do. This is where the phrase “kill your darlings” really comes into play. You can’t be so in love with/attached to what you’ve written that you ignore when something’s not working and just needs to go.

I suggest doing your revision in waves to focus on a few key things each time. This method will keep the revision manageable so you feel like you’re making progress. It also allows you to get into an editing groove by letting your brain tune out everything except for the few things you are focusing on in that wave. Depending on what works best for you, there could be any number of waves. I’m going to focus on four big ones that work for me.

Wave 1: Big Picture
When you do your first read through of your draft, you’re looking to see if the overall story works before you get into the nitty gritty revisions. For this first step, you’re looking at the pieces that build the foundation of your story: character goals, stakes, and tension; logical story flow and pacing.

I recommend printing out the manuscript two-up on a page and putting in a three-ring binder. This format tricks your mind into thinking of it more like a finished book, which takes you out of the creative/writer mode and puts you in an editor mode so you can be more objective.

As you’re reading, here’s what to look for and questions to ask:

  • Character Goal: Does the main character (MC) have a goal that’s driving the story?
    • What does the character want? Most characters want something external and something internal (emotional need). The internal need should be what’s driving the external goal, though the character might not realize it until later in the story.
    • The goal/want needs to be clear early in the story so the reader can connect with the MC and have a reason to root for them from the start.
    • Does the goal reappear regularly as a reminder of what the character is working toward?
  • Stakes: Are the stakes clear (what will happen to the MC if they don’t reach their goal?)
    • It doesn’t have to be life or death, but it has to feel like life or death to the character.
    • This is what will give the story an underlying current of tension. If the reader knows there’s something bad looming, they’re going to keep reading to see if the MC gets what she wants before this bad thing happens.
  • Tension: Are things constantly getting worse for your character? Are they having to fight harder at every turn to get what they want?
    • Tension can be external (things happening to the MC through plot) or internal (how the character reacts to those external actions). You need both kinds of tension throughout your book.
    • Add in scene-level tension caused by what the MC wants/needs in that moment (may or may not be related to the larger stakes) to keep the momentum driving forward.
    • Constant tension also makes the payoff at the end that much more satisfying because the character struggled to reach their goal and achieved growth by the end of the story.
  • Logic: Is the plot logical? Does each scene make sense from a common-sense perspective? Is it plausible?
    • Readers are willing to suspend belief as long as what you’re asking them to believe is part of the fabric of the world you’ve built, but disruptions in logic that don’t feel true will have readers putting the book down.
    • Make sure each action occurs because it’s the only possible outcome for the story and not because you as the author want it to happen.
  • Flow: Does the story flow in a This happens SO this happens SO this happens structure? Stories are chains of cause and effect where one action/reaction always leads into the next.
    • This is where an outline comes in handy! Look at each scene and make sure that every action or reaction has a consequence that drives the next plot point.
  • Pacing: Is the story unfolding too slowly/taking too long to get to the heart of things? Or are things moving so fast the details and motivations get skipped over?
    • Split up heavy backstory or info dumps and weave throughout the story to give the reader just enough info to not be confused.
    • Do you need to remove or reorder scenes to make the overall story flow better?
    • Do you need to draft new scenes to fill plot gaps or connect an emotion thread?
    • Do the key side characters appear at regular intervals or do they disappear for chapters at a time?
    • Look at the word count for each scene/chapter to see how quickly the story is progressing and if there are any places that stand out as too long or too short.

Once you have your in-document notes, make a list of the changes and group similar changes together to work on one chunk at a time. (Color coding with highlighters or page flags works well here.) Then go ahead and make these edits before starting Wave 2.

Wave 2: Character’s Emotional Arc
Now that the foundation is solid, you need to make sure the changes are not only working but also that character is reacting to things in the right way at the right times. Readers fall in love with characters not specific plot points. So, it’s critical that the character’s experiences and emotional reactions are a constant undercurrent in the story.

Characters must also learn and grow throughout the story for the reader to feel satisfied at the end. In this wave, you want to:

  • Ask “So what” to make sure each scene connects the plot to the character’s emotions (Story Genius does a great job at laying out how to identify what Lisa Cron calls the Third Rail—this emotional current—and ensuring that it’s driving the characters actions).
  • Make sure the character motivations are clear to the reader. Lead the reader by weaving in hints throughout so decisions don’t come out of the blue.
  • Characters will notice different details and describe things differently depending on their mood. Use POV to layer in more details to give a fuller picture of both the story world and the character based on the MC’s emotional state.
  • Look for places where you tell instead of show and flip it to bring the reader into the story so they feel like they’re experiencing it with the characters and not just being told what happens.
  • End chapters on a strong emotion or decision to drive into the next scene so the reader is compelled turn the page to find out what happens next (even if it’s well-past bedtime!).

Wave 3: Line Edits
Now that all of the heavy lifting is done, this is where you’ll focus on the writing itself and not the content, such as:

  • Sentence and paragraph structure/length
  • Word choice
  • Consistency (names, timing, seasons/weather, character habits) – make sure you didn’t edit out something that now makes other details confusing.
  • Transitions between scenes
  • Grammar
  • Find and replace crutch words/phrases

Wave 4: Final Tweaks
This is where I move from paper to reading on my Kindle and a notebook to mark any necessary changes. This tricks the brain into thinking like a reader, not a writer or an editor. You’ll pick up on different things when you’re not reading it so critically. In this wave, you’re looking for:

  • Awkward phrasing
  • Typos
  • Overused words
  • Repeated words (within the same sentence or paragraph)
  • Overlong sentences and paragraphs
  • Anything else you might have missed during the previous revision waves

This is not a quick process. But revision shouldn’t be quick. If you’re skipping right to Wave 3 or 4, you’re probably missing out on some of the most important aspects of revising, and your story will show it. Don’t be afraid to make big changes. The only thing that should be off limits during revision is the heart of your story that made you want to write it in the first place. Every other aspect can—and should—be fair game.

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