Pitch Wars 2016 Mentor Wishlist!


I’m Hayley, and I suspect you’re here to learn what I’m mentoring for Pitch Wars this year. Yes? Good. Well, come on in, make yourself comfortable…

riding naked jeff


Nahhh, I’m just kidding. You do you, potential mentee. You do you.


Welcome to Pitch Wars 2016!

pw logo 2016

All jokes aside, I’m thrilled to be back again this year as a mentor! For a little history of my participation in the contest, I was an alternate mentee in 2014, and volunteered as a mentor in 2015. Both were wonderful, humbling experiences, and I hope to pass on both my editorial wisdom and industry knowledge to my future mentee.

Could that person be you? Maybe so! Read on to find out whether we would be a good fit!

I’m looking for Adult science fiction and fantasy, as well as historical fiction.

In other words, if it has a strong speculative component, I’m probably interested. Verrrry interested.

Some of my favorite genres include: Soft & Hard Sci-fi, Historical Fantasy, Magical Realism, Epic Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy. 

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, she really likes fantasy!”

so wha cersei

Yep. Guilty as charged.

But! I also read a ton of historical fiction, and write sci-fi, so if you’re worried that fantasy will get preferential treatment, don’t fret. Many types of SFF and hist fic are welcome in my court…er, inbox. I will also accept Women’s Fiction, but it’ll have to be incredible to beat out the speculative submissions.

More specifically, here’s what I’m looking for:

  • smart female characters with agency
    • bonus points for women in positions of power
  • plots that feature political machinations
  • romantic subplots that don’t dominate the main storyline
  • realistic depictions of sex
  • stories that explore religion, its positive or negative aspects
  • villain or “unlikeable” protagonists
  • historical periods not commonly portrayed in fiction
    • American Old West, Viking Scandinavia, Puritan New England, and Tudor England also okay
  • a nice balance of humor and drama
  • POC and queer characters in important roles
  • non-Western fantasy settings
  • main characters who have good friendships, and are a good friend in return
  • endings that offer hope
  • lean prose that bites

I want MCs who are afraid of becoming what they’re fighting, and MCs who revel in their descent. I want good characters who do bad things for the right reasons, and bad characters who do good things for the wrong reasons. Complexity is king.

The poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” And so should your characters.

marco polo claudia kim

I’ll also point out that graphic language, sex, and gore don’t bother me, but they must ultimately serve the story. Don’t toss it in for shock value.

For an even better idea of what I enjoy, here is a list of some of my favorite books from the past year:

  • The Sorcerer and the Crown by Zen Cho
  • Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells
  • The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace
  • Sex Criminals series by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (graphic novel)

(Seriously, I would kill for a story similar to The Sorcerer and the Crown or the novel equivalent of Sex Criminals. Just saying.)

david tennant eyebrow

There are some exceptions to what I will consider, however, which you will find listed below.

Here’s what I’m NOT looking for:

  • a story that fails the Bechdel test
  • sexual abuse, rape, etc.
  • Genres I’m not interested in:
    • Romance
    • Mystery/Crime/Legal thrillers
    • Urban Fantasy
      • Exception: if it is set in a rarely seen location for UF, like Mumbai or Istanbul, and isn’t reliant on vampires or werewolves
      • Contemporary fantasy okay, but make sure you know the difference between it and UF
    • Steampunk

Now that you’ve been through my wishlist, you’re probably wondering:

Why should you choose me as your mentor?

I’ve been where you are.

I’ve survived the query trenches, the form rejections, the highs and lows of publishing. I know how it feels to put your heart and soul into something, with no guarantee that it’ll work. And I know how hard it is to continue believing in that publishing dream, especially when it seems far saner to just give up.

But we’re writers. No one ever claimed we were sane.

specialize in crazy

A couple of years ago, I was an aspiring mentee, too. Today, my debut novel, Machinations, is coming out from a Big 5 publisher, and its sequel, Counterpart, releases later this year. That’s in no small part thanks to my time doing Pitch Wars.

As a Penguin Random House author, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anne Groell, editor to George R.R. Martin and Nebula-award winning author Naomi Novik. So believe me when I tell you, I know what’s required to make it successfully in this industry. I plan to pass on my insider knowledge to my mentee, along with providing continuing support and guidance even after Pitch Wars is over.

In addition to being a published author, I also have extensive experience as a freelance editor, having provided edits for the bestselling The Paper Magician series by fellow PW mentor, Charlie Holmberg, and Inconceivable by Tegan Wren. I am currently a senior editor for an independent press, and have served as a judge for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge two years in a row.

At the end of the day, I’m not just here to shuffle you through to an agent. I’m looking to create a lasting relationship with my mentee that will benefit us both. In the short run, I will equip you with the skills to hone your talent, and help you get your book into fighting shape for querying. And in the long run, I’ll be your personal cheerleader, always in your corner with a word of encouragement or advice.

That said, I’m not going to go easy on you. Don’t sub to me if you can’t take constructive criticism, or if you’re too attached to your writing and unwilling to make necessary changes. Publishing often demands setting aside one’s ego in order to do what’s best for the story.

If you can do that, you’ll be one step closer to seeing your name on the spine of your very own book.

Sound good? Great! Then what are you waiting for?

Choose me!

avatar googly eyes

(Or, you know, one of these other awesome writers. You really can’t go wrong!)
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Scavenger Hunt: This post brought to you by the letter I, as in “I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”

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  1. Oh my, I think I’m in love…
    You’re definitely on the top of my list, Hayley. Can’t wait for August to arrive.

  2. Hi Hayley,

    How would you feel about a character-driven epic fantasy with mechanical elements?

      1. Whew; that’s good to hear! We already submitted to you 🙂

  3. Hi Haley,
    Picked you as my top choice right away. I hope the violence and the gore in the battle from first chapter are not a major turnoff.
    I also read the first chapter of Machinations in Amazon and I am humbled by the dialogue, the setting and the prose in general. (The bowing icon from Skype) 🙂
    Have a good mentee selection process!
    Regards, Alex

    1. Author

      Thank you, Alex! I look forward to reading your submission, and I hope you enjoy the rest of Machinations. 🙂

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