Pitch Wars 2017 Mentor Wishlist!

Hello, there!

If this is your first time doing Pitch Wars, you can find all the nitty-gritty details here. Also, you’re awesome, and you make good life decisions, and is that a new hat? It’s very fetching.

If this isn’t your first time, then we both know exactly why you’re here.

Because you’re determined. Because you eat rejection for breakfast. Because you have a story you want to share, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make your dream a reality. Because maybe you feel you’ve done all you can for your manuscript, and you desperately need a fresh perspective.

Whatever your reasons, I’m glad you’re back. You wonderful writer, you.

Welcome to Pitch Wars 2017!

Some people look forward to Christmas the way I look forward to Pitch Wars. For a little history, I was a mentee prior to becoming a mentor in 2015, and have had the honor of mentoring two amazing writers in the past. I love what this contest represents, and all the opportunities it gives to its participants. Pitch Wars is about more than simply getting an agent; it’s about honing one’s craft and creating lasting relationships between writers. In an industry as tough as this one, having the support of a fellow artist is invaluable.

And that’s why I’ve come back this year, to pass on my knowledge and experience to a fellow writer, and continue paying forward all the encouragement I’ve received myself from this wonderful community.

Now, I know you’re here because you want to know what I’m mentoring this year, so I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.

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

I prefer sci-fi with a literary bent, ala Margaret Atwood, but would also be interested in a zany space opera (think Scalzi).  Regarding fantasy, my tastes lean more toward high fantasy, though I will accept urban and contemporary fantasy as well, as long as it brings something new to the table. Humor almost always wins me over, regardless of the genre.

I would kill for a solid epic fantasy in the vein of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series or Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker saga, or even something more intimate like Sabriel by Garth Nix. Anything with a strong voice, unique ideas, or strange execution is likely to hook me.

Still unclear?

Here are some of the qualities I’m looking for in a PW manuscript:

  • messy characters who don’t fit easy definitions of good and evil
    • With that said, I wouldn’t mind reading about a feel-good heroic character either, someone who is genuine in their good intentions (think Wonder Woman)
  • smart female characters with agency
    • bonus points for women in positions of power
  • POC and queer characters in prominent story roles
    • #ownvoices a plus!
  • romantic subplots with realistic depictions of sex
  • strong platonic relationships
  • a nice balance of humor and drama
  • non-Western fantasy settings
  • detailed worldbuilding
  • historical periods or cultures not given as much attention
  • fairytale retellings with a fresh spin
  • hopeful endings
  • snappy dialogue
  • sharp, wicked prose

Basically, I want speculative fiction that lives up to its name, bringing a sense of wonder and awe. A book that makes me feel deeply and isn’t afraid to take risks. Show me characters who make mistakes, who fail but keep trying anyway. Bring me into the story and keep me guessing with the narrative.

Additional Note: Explicit language, sex, and gore don’t bother me, but they must ultimately serve the story. Don’t toss it in for shock value.

For a better idea of the kind of stories I’m after, here is a list of books I’ve enjoyed recently:

  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
  • Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
  • The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power
  • Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
  • Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples (I would love a space opera novel like this.)
  • Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue (Technically a short story collection, but this is the kind of prose I love.)

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 as plot, etc.
    • Women in Refrigerators
    • seriously, nothing is more aggravating to me than when a female character gets fridged to give the male character angst or motivate a revenge plot
  • Genres I’m not interested in:
    • Romance with no speculative elements
    • Mystery/Crime/Legal thrillers
    • Women’s fiction
    • Literary with no speculative elements

What I’m Looking For in a Mentee

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.

In the past, I have also asked mentees to do major revisions such as cutting or adding whole POVs. While this may not be the case for your manuscript, you should be prepared for a significant time commitment. I will offer thoughts and suggestions on everything from big picture to line edits, but I won’t rewrite the book for you. I’m looking for a mentee who is willing to learn, as much as work.

With that said, this is your novel we’re talking about, and I will always be sensitive to the story you’re trying to tell. At the end of the day, I want you to be happy with the changes you’ve made, and proud of all the work you’ve accomplished.

So Why Choose Me As Your Mentor?

I’m a traditionally published author with two Penguin Random House novels under her belt. My debut sci-fi novel, Machinations, was selected as an Amazon Best Sci-fi & Fantasy Book of the Year for 2016, and its sequel also met with similar praise. I have an upcoming story appearing in Fireside Magazine, and over the past two years, I have provided feedback to hundreds of writers as a judge for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

I know stories. I’m passionate about the role stories have in society, and believe they can influence great and necessary change.

But while I come to Pitch Wars with the heart of a writer, I also come with the hard stomach of an editor. With years of freelance editorial experience—including my current role as an acquiring editor for a small, independent press—I have an eye for spotting a manuscript’s trouble areas, and an instinct for making plot lines more dynamic. My strongest editorial talents lie in streamlining wordy prose, improving pacing, and making sure every character comes to life on the page.

A final note: I’m not here to simply shuffle you on to an agent. I’m looking to create a lasting relationship with my mentee that will continue into the future. 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 gladiator, always ready to defend you against doubt with a word of encouragement or advice.

If all of this sounds great, then you should definitely choose me!

(Or any of these mentors! To be honest, they’re all pretty great!)

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  1. Hello Hayley,

    I have broken my Pitch War Mentor search into 4 categories; Not a match; Maybe a Match; Pretty Good Match; and Killer Match. I’ve been going through mentors in order and you’re my first Killer.

    Almost positive I will be subbing to you in a few weeks! Excited regardless of outcome.

    Best regards till then.

    1. Author

      Awesome, Michael! It sounds like you’re definitely doing your due diligence in researching mentors. I look forward to reading your entry!

  2. Hi Haley,

    You mention not wanting to see rape as plot, or a female character “fridged” to give a male character angst or to motivate a revenge plot. If the rape (spousal abuse) motivates the victim’s revenge plot (and not the revenge plot of an affiliated male), does this run afoul of your wishlist, particularly if it’s something I’d be willing to change?

    Thank you!

    1. Author

      It’s hard to say without seeing the execution, but I’ll allow it as long the story centers on the victim’s perspective, their emotions, which it sounds like it does. Hope that helps answer your question! 🙂

  3. How do you feel about SF written in journal format? The framing device for my story is that the journals from 2012 were unearthed in 2072. A future investigating agent writes funny clarifying footnotes about the 2010s and the characters. It is like the Jane the Virgin narrator without the charming voice and hashtags. Is that something that would interest you, or is it a little too “out there”?

    1. Author

      Hmm. I do think epistolary is a difficult format to do well, and I’m wondering how speculative the story is, if it’s just a person from the future reflecting on our present. I’m certainly not opposed to taking a look, but it’ll probably be a tough sell for me.

  4. How do you feel about fantasy without any supernatural elements, i.e. a completely fictional world, but without the typical fantasy trappings? Technology roughly equivalent to early 20th century. It matches a lot of the more specific qualities you’re looking for. I just worry about a genre mismatch.

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