I’m giving away a query and first 250-word critique to a random person who makes a comment on this post between the time it goes up until 8am Central Time on September 24th, 2018 (that’s Monday). All you have to do to qualify is tell me one small thing you did to help someone else within the last week. It could be a smile, taking someone coffee, laughing at someone’s terrible joke. I don’t care. I just need to see some good people doing good things.
Thank you to every single person who shared their experiences and good deeds. I know it’s not usually in our nature to toot our own horn, but I also think it’s uplifting to see all the good that’s being done in the world.
McKelle: So, I was never a Pitch Wars mentee, but I did enter my book (now about to debut with HarperCollins) in one of the Pitch Madness contests, and it was the rush of attention from agents during that time that ultimately got me my agent now. I love the community of Pitch Wars, the hustle of so many hopefuls working hard on their craft. I love the way it really does feel a little like putting on armor and chest-bumping each other before going into the fray.
Heather: I was never a Pitch Wars mentee either. I did enter one year, was rejected and didn’t hear a peep from any of the mentors. I didn’t immerse myself in the community at all, because back then, I didn’t have Twitter. Determined to find out why I wasn’t chosen or why my queries weren’t getting full requests, I applied for a few jobs in the publishing community. Over the years, I became Managing Director of Pitch Wars, ended up becoming an agent intern, and finally an editor with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. I fell in love with editing and Pitch Wars. I’ve seen and helped mentees get agented, get book deals, find amazing CPs, and felt the support and encouragement of literally thousands of Pitch Wars contestants. I love you guys!
Today we are truly honored to be able to participate as co-mentors this year, and so, without further ado—
The real reason you’re here (ie, not to hear us blather):
(Ha ha, get it? Because yaay is like a YA sandwich?)
magical realism (think A.S. King and Andrew Smith more than Leslye Walton)
[*Speculative, IF high concept (examples: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Every Day by David Levithan, The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich, The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness) –> in other words, portal or magic fantasy will be harder sell, but we do like books that seem to defy genre because they’re based on one “what if?”-type idea.]
GENRES (more specific)
Alternate history/history with a modern spin (example: My Lady Jane; And I Darken)
Unconventional love stories
Diversity (I’m particularly interested in characters who struggle with dualities of nature and/or culture; characters who straddle two different worlds)
Villain origin stories
Gothic in the vein of Penny Dreadful or Crimson Peak
THINGS WE LIKE
Semi-recent contemporary books we’ve loved:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Garber
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Rainbow Rowell books
Warning: We do love contemporary books, but I (McKelle) been subbed a lot of them recently, so we’re really looking for something gritty, real, fearless, and unapologetic about its story.
If you’re an artist WE WOULD LOVE to see ways we can integrate your art with your manuscript.
Magical realism books we love:
Anything by A.S. King
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Whimsical and family-centered books, like Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman
Magical realism/mental illness blends: like Andrew Smith, or Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes, or Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Again, if you’re an artist WE WOULD LOVE to see ways we can integrate your art with your manuscript.
Historical books we love (including alternate history!):
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
And I Darken/Now I Rise by Kiersten White
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Sidebar: (McKelle) I’m feeling the history right now, guys. My own debut is set in the 1920s. If you have a historical novel, I AM A REALLY GOOD BET. Bonus if it has: gangsters, LGBT characters, girls who misbehave and make history.
We don’t want to mislead those with high fantasy books, but there are a lot of unique, rich, political, awesome books we wouldn’t want to miss out on by banning the genre. So!
Here’s an idea of what we do like:
Fantasy and sci-fi books/trilogies we’ve recently enjoyed (things they have in common: a bit darker, complex and mature in plot, not overly romance-heavy, unique brand of “magic”):
The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows duologyby Leigh Bardugo
The Raven Cycle and Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Seriously, write me the YA version of this book, and I’m sold.)
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
Any books by Victoria Scwab
The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown
Fantasy and sci-fi books/trilogies that we can completely understand why people love, and are totally great books, but we tried and just really not to our taste so if your book is more along this vein, we might not be the best bet:
The Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard
The Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas
Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch
City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
The Selection, by Kiera Cass
Do you have a sci-fi/fantasy/horror book that you think I would just love [for example: (Heather really loves Maas’s books, so we STILL might be a good choice after all, never say never], even though we’re not strictly looking for that genre? Can you submit them to me anyway?
Like we said, what we’d really love to find is something that no one has ever done before, so please send to us!
CURRENT NON-BOOK OBSESSIONS THAT SPEAK TO MCKELLE’S TASTE:
Hamilton (the musical)
Saga (the comic series)
Monstress (graphic novel)
THINGS THAT HEATHER LIKES TO REVISIT:
Dragon Song, Dragon Singer, Dragon Drums by Anne McCaffery
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Jane Austen’s Complete Works
Yes, I’m a classics junkie.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Harry Potter Series, books 1-6. I’ve never re-read 7.
The New Testament
Whew. And now, if you still think you have a book that would mesh well with our tastes and specialties, a little about us:
McKelle: I was formally an acquisitions editor with Jolly Fish Press, a small press publishing house, and now work as a contract editor with Flux Publishing. Some of my recent titles and projects include: JERKBAIT by Mia Siegert, SEEKING MANSFIELD by Kate Watson, WELCOME HOME, an anthology curated by Eric Smith, and NOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood. I also have experience working as an assistant at A+B Literary Agency, and an editorial intern at the Friend, a children’s magazine.
I’m a young adult author, and my debut, SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins, Sept. 19, 2017—it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set in Prohibition-era New York. I’m represented by Katie Grimm, of Don Congdon Associates.
Heather: I’m Managing Director of Pitch Madness, Pitch Wars, and #PitMad (and occasionally #PitMatch). I was an editor with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy as well as a Pitch Wars Mentor for two years. I’ve helped agented authors prepare manuscripts for submission, as well as helped unagented authors land agents.
McKelle: I live in downtown Salt Lake City with a huge white German Shepherd. If I’m not editing or writing, I’m working at the Salt Lake City Public Library, which I humbly consider one of the best libraries in the world.
I love the theater (even though I have no talent for it myself), and traveling. I have two other talents besides books, and those are: eating, and doodling. I got my associates in Illustration, and if I hadn’t become a writer, I would have been an illustrator, with a focus on character design and graphic novel work. I’m definitely out of practice, but I still love it. (Do mentees get a drawing of their mc? Why yes, even if they don’t want it.)
Heather: In my spare time I love marathon TV, kayaking, bicycling, and cooking. And eating. I love to eat good and interesting and new types of food. Especially if it’s a recipe by Paul Hollywood.
We’re thorough—in addition to two eyes and opinions on your ms, you will get an edit letter, a phone call (if you want one), in-document comments, and then probably line edits—and occasionally we will suggest things that might fix the problem areas we see, but we like hearing your solutions even more. We like a good brainstorming session. If we choose your manuscript, we guarantee there was something about it we couldn’t pass up. We will celebrate and make sure you know the ways your book is beautiful and unique—however, if your book is pretty fresh off the friends-and-family feedback glow, we’d still love to see it, just, you know, brace yourself for slightly tougher treatment.
It’s been a long week of reading through all the amazing pitches. Our wonderful readers have narrowed the slush, and your team hosts have chosen seventy pitches for the agent round. To meet the slush readers and hosts go to this post here. And you can find out more about the participating agents on this post here.
For those of you not familiar with Pitch Madness, it’s a contest where agents compete in a game against their peers for pitches and you can find the rules and instructions of the game here.
Our team winners worked so hard on revisions this week, and their pitches, queries, and first chapters are better than ever. I’m co-hosting with the amazing Nikki Roberti! Check out her site and follow her, you’ll be happy you did.
Scroll down to view all 10 picks for my team and click on the links to each entry …
H1: Paranormal Adventure with Southern Roots: BOOGERMEN, HOODOO, AND HAINTS
Three Charleston seventh graders with abilities inspired by the proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” must trust their powers and each other to save their favorite teacher from a mythical creature. READ MORE . . .
H2: Mystery: FOOD TRUCKS AND FIREWORKS
When fourteen-year-old aspiring chef Natalie helps family compete on a cooking reality show, she must uncover a nasty saboteur before Boston’s food truck community is ruined—even if that means risking her chance to win. READ MORE . . .
H3: Contemporary: BOOK OF MINIATURES
Art prodigy, Kenan, trades his paintbrush for a tattoo needle and falls for an anxiety-ridden girl. But overcoming the needle and repainting her fears doesn’t mean she’ll ever love him back. READ MORE . . .
H4: Science Fiction: THE LAST RELIC
When a vengeful warlord invades her planet with his cyborg army, Princess Lusi must work with exiled rebels to stop a galactic war and unravel a conspiracy to end her race. FROZEN meets STAR WARS. READ MORE . . .
H5: Dark Fantasy (Own Voices): VITIUM
To resurrect her brother, seventeen-year-old Daniela becomes one of Death’s Aspects: avatars of the Seven Deadly Sins tasked with killing immortals. But failing will transform her from hit-woman to target. KILL BILL meets FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST. READ MORE . . .
H6: Contemporary: ALL THE STARS IN THE OCEAN
Surviving high school trapped on Kauai? Manageable. Avoiding a dangerous stalker? A little harder. Trusting a football star who shattered your heart to be your bodyguard? Downright impossible. PRIDE & PREJUDICE meets GILMORE GIRLS. READ MORE . . .
H7: Contemporary LGBT: A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES
ROMEO AND JULIET with HOUSE OF CARDS twist. Paris seems like the perfect son for an aspiring Republican Presidential candidate, except Paris has a secret: it’s not Julia he wants, but her forbidden boyfriend. READ MORE . . .
H8: Fairy Tale Retelling: EVERY CINDERELLA HAS HER MIDNIGHT
Seventeen-year-old Hazel is the youngest godmother L.A. has seen in eons, but that’s no excuse to fall for her client’s ‘Charming’. After all, she knows fairy godmothers don’t make their own dreams come true. READ MORE . . .
H9: Contemporary Womens’ Fiction: DESIGNER YOU
Pam checked every box: marriage, kid, career? Check. When her husband dies suddenly and their DIY empire goes on life support, Pam must fix the relationship with her troubled daughter and save the family business. READ MORE . . .
H10: Speculative Thriller: THE NURSERY
When Kenleigh Maize learns a mysterious DNA sequence is the cause of her infertility, she’s invited to participate in a misleading clinical trial. It won’t treat her infertility but may explain the origins of life. READ MORE . . .
Comments are set to moderation so that agents won’t see the other agents’ requests. Please no comments other than those from the agents. After the agent round, we’ll release the moderation and let you all comment on the entries.
We’ll reveal the agent requests on March 17 starting at 4:30 pm Eastern time. All the twitter fun will happen on the hashtag #PitchMadness, where we’ll tweet the results of the agent round.
Join us for the Twitter Pitch Party on March 23 from 8AM to 8PM Eastern time on the hashtag #PitMad. It’s open to everyone!
How do you twitter pitch? You can find all the details here.
A huge HUGE thank you to my team and to the wonderful agents!
Go to all the other hosts’ blogs to read more winning pitches …
Three Charleston seventh graders with abilities inspired by the proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” must trust their powers and each other to save their favorite teacher from a mythical creature.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Tingling on the left side of my neck froze my pencil on the last question of the bio test. Someone was doing something they didn’t want anyone else to see. Those prickles meant I should look. They demanded I look. But I so didn’t want to.
The only thing to my left was the window, which meant the person who didn’t want to be seen was outside. Probably the janitor digging a wad of wax out of his ear. I’d had to watch him do that several times in the past.
Yesterday the prickles insisted I watch while my geometry teacher pried an enormous chunk of spinach from her teeth. Last week I’d been alerted to a classmate digging out a particularly stubborn wedgie. So gross.
It was like the harder a person thought, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me,” the stronger my compulsion became.
I shoved my long, brown hair to the left side of my neck in an attempt to smother those stupid prickles. Of course, it didn’t work.
The compulsion became overwhelming. Whoever was outside really didn’t want anyone to see them. I chanted to myself, Don’t look, don’t look, don’t – My shoulders drooped. I braced myself for whatever disgusting thing I was about to see and turned to the window.
The schoolyard was empty. Weird. Was it a prickle false alarm? My eyes were drawn to the woods behind the school.
Art prodigy, Kenan, trades his paintbrush for a tattoo needle and falls for an anxiety-ridden girl. But overcoming the needle and repainting her fears doesn’t mean she’ll ever love him back.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Here, the needles mean forever, engraving ink into both flesh and time. The gray-black tint will last decades after I lift the tattoo machine from the practice skin, eyeing my design. I’m the only one inking. The other tattoo artists are gone, leaving only faded scents of the vinegar solution we douse over counters and tattoo beds and equipment trays.
My dad dangles my car keys in front of my face. “An hour, Kenan. It’s a––”
“School night. Yeah, I know.”
His prized Micky Sharpz liner sits in my hand, the custom script engraving of his nickname visible on the curved steel frame. Doc. Fitting, because everyone calls my father that. Even me, for as long as I can remember.
Tonight, my hand still shakes, like it has ever since he finally let me try the tattoo machine four years ago. Doc’s liner shouldn’t have been such a big deal back then. I’d swept and polished every inch of our tattoo shop for years. I’d cleaned every screw and coil and spring a thousand times. I knew the width and weight of the steel tube grip like other boys knew their first Rawlings glove. But at thirteen years old, I’d held the grip for the first time as an artist. A heavier weight had pressed into my palm, of what it really was––a tool with the power to draw both artwork and blood.
Doc shrugs into a black jacket. “Lock up the back, too. Sixty minutes.”
When a vengeful warlord invades her planet with his cyborg army, Princess Lusi must work with exiled rebels to stop a galactic war and unravel a conspiracy to end her race. FROZEN meets STAR WARS.
FIRST 250 words:
There are secrets, and then there are lies. My parents insisted all their lies were to protect my secret. But their lies to the Empire were nothing compared to the lie they told me.
“Hold still, Lusi.” My mother barely hid her impatience as she tightened her white-knuckled grip on my father’s arm beside her.
I couldn’t help the glare I cut her way. If I was shaking, it was Dr. Goetz’s fault.
“Almost there . . .” Dr. Goetz gently removed the needle-patch from my arm, careful not to smear the fresh swirls of deep purples and golds painted across my skin. It was Luz Fete: my seventeenth birthday and official crowning. In a few minutes, I would leave my suite of rooms to address the Empire and the League of Nine Worlds, revealing myself to the public for the first time.
My parents held their breaths beside me as they stared at the blood-filled pouch in Dr. Goetz’s hands. Behind them, armed guards encircled us, gripping pulse-rifles with bulging muscles and blank expressions. Their hard presence clashed with the delicate white flower arrangements decorating my prep room. And yet they had become a permanent presence in my wing of the palace.
“Relax,” my mother said, noting my focus on the extra security. “No one can get to you in here.”
“I don’t know.” I eyed each security guard. “They’ve been pretty creative in their attempts to reach me lately.”
To resurrect her brother, seventeen-year-old Daniela becomes one of Death’s Aspects: avatars of the Seven Deadly Sins tasked with killing immortals. But failing will transform her from hit-woman to target. KILL BILL meets FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
As an Aspect of Death, I know exactly when I’m supposed to die. Down to the very second.
But standing at the top of the New York Times Building, I’m suddenly not so sure. Ambulance sirens below me whirl in my ears and a warm April breeze caresses my face. My lungs expand as I take in a breath. It feels strangely final.
No. I won’t die. And, to prove it to myself, I leap into the open air.
The rushing winds lash against me and rip my cheeks. My blood surges in my ears.
Why the hell do I always do stupid shit?
Terror constricts my throat. For a moment, I can’t breathe. But just as quickly, my adrenaline kicks in. Confidence surges beneath my skin.
“Look at the world, Dani! You run this!” I shout.
Screams from below interrupt my boasting. A kid points in my direction and yells for help. The people on the ground will probably be calling 911 soon. Gotta act fast.
“Ignore me,” I command them.
My voice strains in the gusts of air blowing around my face. They can’t hear me hundreds of feet down on the ground, but another Aspect perk is that they don’t need to. As long as I can see them, my commands work. And sure enough, people return to what they’re doing—buying street meat from sidewalk vendors, laughing with friends, taking pictures.
As I turn my head from the crowds, the howling of my inner demon starts.
Surviving high school trapped on Kauai? Manageable. Avoiding a dangerous stalker? A little harder. Trusting a football star who shattered your heart to be your bodyguard? Downright impossible. PRIDE & PREJUDICE meets GILMORE GIRLS.
First 250 Words:
It’s a universally known fact that the back of a school bus is for the cooler, edgier kids. I avoid the back of the bus with a carefully crafted plan of perpetual lateness. No one in the back will deny me grabbing the first available seat when the bus is already moving and the potential of becoming a human missile grows exponentially every second. Especially after our bus driver has been smoking weed with aforementioned cool kids behind Mitsui Market.
The front of the bus is a landmine for the opposite reason. Students there are on the bottom of the sliding social-scale. Even sitting with them can knock someone’s rep down a notch or two.
The middle is the coveted neutral zone (Star Trek reference for my fellow closeted nerds). Those in the middle can be anything really. I prefer the ambiguity of the middle. And in the middle I can avoid Junior, the second-year senior (second time’s the charm) taking up a whole seat with his shoulders and ego in equal measure.
“Haole girl,” he bellows, as he does every morning. “Come sit by me.”
I pretend not to hear, as I do every morning, and snag a seat next to Calvin. I’m used to being called haole, the Hawaiian word for white. Technically it means foreigner, but in reality everyone knows it means you’re white as a piece of Love’s bread. The irony is I probably have more Hawaiian blood than most of the kids here.
ROMEO AND JULIET with HOUSE OF CARDS twist. Paris seems like the perfect son for an aspiring Republican Presidential candidate, except Paris has a secret: it’s not Julia he wants, but her forbidden boyfriend.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Expensive perfume, aged whiskey, and leather paneling—the room smelled like money, like all of these events I attended alongside my dad. He enjoyed being known as the sympathetic widower who single-handedly raised me to be “The Success I Am Today,” so I was always trotted out for the high-profile gigs.
Focusing on my role as official sidekick, I surveyed the scene from the top of the ballroom stairs and caught my first glimpse of him mingling below: Montae Romero was pure hotness, sharply contrasting with the older, fleshier crowd. I couldn’t ignore the heat rising in my cheeks and the sudden twist in my stomach; part dread, part anticipation, and part something I couldn’t—wouldn’t—name.
I struggled to compose myself and straightened my tie again. My dad brushed by, the odor of his overpriced cologne distracting me from my reverie. His aide, Sam, standing at attention, asked, “Ready, Mr. Secretary?”
Picking at imaginary lint on my sleeve, Dad examined me one last time, then nodded and gave a thumbs-up. “Born ready, Sam.” He let out his trademark guffaw, strutting in his custom-made designer tuxedo and Italian shoes. Music boomed from speakers hidden around the room, while lights glistened off the beadwork on the women’s fancy gowns.
Carefully, I trained my eyes away from that spot below where I knew Montae had last been standing. He was forbidden fruit in more ways than one.
Seventeen-year-old Hazel is the youngest godmother L.A. has seen in eons, but that’s no excuse to fall for her client’s ‘Charming’. After all, fairy godmothers don’t make their own dreams come true.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Wedding cake toppers are as varied as couples are themselves. You’ve got the high fivers, the piggybackers, the couple at the altar each with an ear to their cell phones, and the couch potatoes. And then there are the lucky ones—those who really are in impeccable, unshakable love.
Two pairs of beady, unblinking eyes stare back at me from my nightstand. My mother’s been foraging again and found me an addition to my collection. I cup my hand around the woman’s chiseled gown and bring it in for a closer look.
She smells like 5th and Grand. Rubino’s Italian Bistro. No doubt this figurine was mixed up in the dregs of one of Rubino’s paninis earlier today. My mother is one of the elite dumpster divers of the world. Some people have a weakness for puppies in boxes out in front of grocery stores. My mother has a soft spot for inanimate objects, items left on sidewalks next to handmade cardboard signs that say, “I need a home,” or “Free junk.”
The figurine’s not bad though. The couple faces forward, with the bride leaning up against her groom. He has his arms around her waist and she reaches back to touch his cheek. I picture them watching their band play, swaying to the music together. They look like they’re in love. I know he’s glued to her, but it seems he would hold her just as tightly on his own.
Then again, how would I know? Being in love is not in my job description.