Pitch Wars 2020 Wishlist!
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Note: This post contains GIFs throughout. To read a GIF-free version, click here.
Guess what? I’m a Pitch Wars YA mentor again this year!
[GIF of Rapunzel in Tangled jumping and saying, "I am so excited!!!]
SO WHAT IS PITCH WARS? Well, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose a writer to mentor and spend three months helping them revise their manuscript. It ends in February with an agent showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. There’s also a wealth of info on www.PitchWars.org, including the schedule.
A BIT ABOUT ME:
To begin with, I’m super excited to be mentoring a young adult writer this year! This is the first time I’ll be mentoring in Pitch Wars on my own, though I mentored in 2018 with the amazing Tobie Easton. Tobie chose my YA historical manuscript, Dangerous Alliance, to mentor in Pitch Wars 2016, and I seriously can’t express how happy I am that she did because we’re now agency sisters and good friends! HarperCollins published Dangerous Alliance at the end of last year, and Tobie actually flew all the way across the country to help me launch it into the world (she’s seriously the best)! Here we are at my launch (#PitchWarsInTheWild):
[Photo of me and Tobie Easton holding up copies of my Pitch Wars book, Dangerous Alliance, at the book launch in December 2019. I'm the cute one on the left and she's the cute one on the right 😉]
So, as you might imagine, Pitch Wars means quite a bit to both my life and career!
My next novel, My Fine Fellow, is a gender-flipped Pygmalion retelling set in an alternate 1830’s London that will be published by HarperTeen in January of 2022 (which you can read more about here or add on Goodreads if you’re so inclined😉). Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that I’m going to have two YA books out when a few years ago I was wondering if I’d ever be able to get Dangerous Alliance to the point where an agent would want to represent me. Of course, there are no guarantees in this business, and anyone who says differently is probably selling something, but applying to Pitch Wars really did change my life. It helped propel me toward my goal of being a published author, and I truly hope to be able to help someone achieve their goals as Tobie and Pitch Wars helped me.
SO WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM ME/MY MENTORING STYLE?
Over the years, I’ve worked as an editorial intern at Prima Games (a former imprint of Penguin Random House), as a writing consultant to Silicon Valley tech companies, as a nonfiction ghostwriter, and as an assistant to a literary agent, so I’ve seen many facets of the publishing industry first-hand. I also have a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in professional writing from the University of Southern California, so I tend to treat writing and publishing as a business.
I’m really looking for someone who has a professional approach to their writing, publishing as a whole, and deadlines specifically. Of course, the world being what it is right now, I will understand if extenuating circumstances come up, and we can always make adjustments to deadlines if we need to. But . . . publishing is not for the faint of heart. That may sound harsh, but having a thick skin (or figuring out how to develop one) is a HUGE part of anything as subjective as writing. You may be thinking, Wow, Jennieke, that makes you sound like you’re a no-nonsense, all business type of girl. Really, I'm saying all this up front to let you know that I take writing and publishing seriously, and I'm looking to help someone who will do the same.
I also completely understand the struggle that comes with putting your writing out in the world and the fact that we writers often need emotional support. The stage where you’re querying and hoping against hope to find that one person in the industry who gets what you’re trying to do and recognizes your talent, is without a doubt one of the hardest places to be, and really, my goal is to get you out of that stage with enough skills to be able to handle whatever comes next!
So, to start, we’ll get your YA manuscript to shine! I’ll definitely tell you what I absolutely LOVE about your MS—but I won’t sugarcoat what needs tweaking, so please be ready for some honest feedback. I think it’s very important for information to flow freely from both my side and yours, so other than your written edit letter, I usually find phone conversations and video chats to be better ways to communicate. We'll probably DM or text for smaller things that'll pop up, but over the phone or via video, we can brainstorm together and discuss things in real time, rather than me sending a long email, you agonizing over it for days (because that’s what we writers tend to do when we get feedback), and not feeling better about it until we talk again. Whenever possible, I want to spare you those days of stress! I know phone calls can be daunting, but we now live in a time of Zoom and other web meetings, so hopefully this won’t dissuade you from sending me your manuscript if you think I’d like it. Plus, it’s great practice for a future day when you’ll have similar conversations with your agent and editor!
Okay, now that you know a bit more about me and how I view the Pitch Wars process, here’s why you came here! My Wish List:
YOUNG ADULT! (I’m only mentoring YA this year, so if your MS is MG, NA, or Adult, mosey on over to one of the other amazing Pitch Wars mentors.)
Historical: Obviously, I write historical YA, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVE reading almost anything in a historical setting. It’s a passion I’ve had since I was tween when I first started reading a number of books set in historical England (including all the works of Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, and Karleen Bradford’s The Nine Days Queen) and soon became a bit of an Anglophile.
[GIF from Northanger Abbey: Henry Tilney giving Catherine Morland a knowing look]
My first book, Dangerous Alliance, is set in Regency England and my next book is set in an alternate 1830’s England, so if you have a UK-set historical send it my way! Do you have a YA version of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series, a fun or ridiculous reimagining of historical characters like My Lady Jane, or a feminist love story like Samantha Hastings’s The Invention of Sophie Carter or The Last Word? I’m definitely excited to see it. I also really love small corners of history that not many non-historians know about, so if your book covers new ground in YA in ANY setting, I want to see it too! Surprise me with a time period or story I haven’t seen before or a culture you know personally. Bonus if your book has a diverse cast of characters or protagonists of color (this goes for every genre on my wishlist also). In general, my taste tends to skew toward the commercial rather than the literary, but I can be persuaded if the book deals with an issue close to my heart.
Retellings: If you have anything fairytale or literature-related, I am SO ready for it!
[GIF of Brandy as Cinderella ready for the ball to begin]
Dangerous Alliance is my homage to Jane Austen and my upcoming book, My Fine Fellow, is a retooling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion so I’m always looking for the next redux, homage, or straight retelling to fall for. Do you have a Shakespeare retelling set in another world? A gender-swapped Sleeping Beauty? A take on a lesser-known folktale with rich world-building? You get the picture! SEND IT MY WAY!!
Fantasy/Speculative: I’m open to a whole number of subgenres of fantasy, but I’m especially drawn to fantasy that has some kind of root in the real world like Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass or Neil Gaiman's Stardust. So obviously, if you have a historical fantasy I can’t wait to read it. 😉 Got a fresh YA take on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Susan Carroll’s The Dark Queen series? Send it to me!
[GIF of performing magic in a water basin in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell]
For otherworld fantasies, I enjoy books with detailed, thought-provoking world-building and interesting plots I didn’t see coming like Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Kalyn Josephson’s Storm Crow duology. High fantasy can sometimes be a tougher sell for me unless it has a strong romance subplot.
For contemporary fantasy and paranormal, I love books with adventure, romance, and great world-building (sense a theme here?) like Tobie Easton’s Mer Chronicles series or something with a bit of whimsy or fun in the vein of Lucifer. [GIF of Lucifer saying, "The party's just begun."]
No strong opinions on vampires, fae, shapeshifters, or other creatures (that is, I can like any of them in the right story!), though zombies are NOT my fave. For sci-fi, I’m only taking time travel this year. Though they’ve generally not been so popular in YA, I quite enjoy them, and who knows, maybe a bit of rebranding is in order for this genre? I’d love a YA version of Michael Crichton’s Timeline or even something light like Mandy Hubbard's Prada and Prejudice (though you might classify this as more of a portal fantasy, which I’d love to see as well 😉).
Mysteries/Thrillers: All mysteries, thrillers, or suspense novels are fine by me! If you have something twisty and clever like One of Us is Lying, a YA version of a Wilkie Collins or a Daphne du Maurier novel, a cozy mystery set in a small town or village, or anything with Agatha Christie vibes, I’m excited to see it—even better if it has a unique setting, gothic elements, or diverse protagonists.
[GIF of girl writing down possible clues in a notebook]
Other Contemporary: Besides the genres already mentioned, I’d LOVE to see some great romantic comedies this year so send me anything with a strong voice and a romance that makes me go “aww.”
[GIF of To All the Boys I've Loved Before: Lara Jean saying, "Let's Do This!]
I can be pretty particular about the teen rom-coms I like, but I tend to go for ones that employ a trope I enjoy (My top 3 are probably friends who fall in love, fake boyfriends, and overcoming culture differences) or turn it on its head, as well as those that have a clear hook. Again, bonus points if you’re highlighting a culture or part of society you know well/have experienced! Keep in mind that if your contemporary is light on plot or if it’s something you’d consider an issue book, it’s probably not right for me.
Adventure: I don’t really know why there aren’t more straight adventure stories in YA (usually they get classified under another genre umbrella), but I personally think there should be more of them! Do you have a YA version of Zorro, The Princess Bride, Indiana Jones, or The Three Musketeers? A well-written action sequence always gives me a thrill, and I love the romantic tension that you can inject into life and death situations, so whether your book is a straight adventure or your book has a healthy dose of adventure woven throughout (and falls into the categories above), I WANT!
[GIF of Vizzini in The Princess Bride saying, "I'm waiting!]
Romance! Seriously, I LOVE a swoony, heart-pounding romance and the romance plot of a book is usually what keeps me turning pages. If your book has a strong romantic element and falls in any of the categories outlined above, I really want to see it!
Other things I’d love to see in any of the genres mentioned above:
-Books from traditionally under-represented/marginalized points of view
-Multi-ethnic, biracial, and Jewish main characters/stories
-Books with a commercial bent, high concept, or something that hasn’t been done before
-Settings that feel like characters
-Magical systems that make perfect, satisfying sense
-Anything like Clueless, Downton Abbey, Tangled, Enchanted, Bridget Jones’s Diary (For more on my favorite movies, check out my website FAQ’s)
[GIF of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider kissing 😍]
-Anything with a Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde air
-Protagonists in STEM
-Old Hollywood vibes
-Small town or quaint village settings
-Beautiful gardens and/or gowns
-Smart guys with a sense of humor
-Sensitive, well-spoken guys
[GIF of Rashida Jones shrugging]
Things that aren’t the best fit for me:
-Sci-fi other than time travel
-Novels in verse
-Quieter or more literary novels
-Issue books or books written to teach a clear, moral lesson
-Books with very sad endings
-Christian inspirational books
-Anything with a lot of gore
-“Sick lit” or books where a disabled character is “fixed” by a magical cure
-Main characters who find love with Nazis or fascists
-Suicide as a key component of the story
-Torture described on the page
-Rape described on the page
Ok, finally we get to WHY you should pick me:
[GIF of Elle Woods from Legally Blonde saying, "Me!!]
First and foremost, I don’t see Pitch Wars as something that only lasts for the next few months.
As I said earlier, my Pitch Wars mentor, Tobie Easton, has been there for me from the start of Pitch Wars 2016 all the way through the publication process. If you’re my mentee (provided we work well together, you’re professional, and I fall in love with your MS), I’d love to help you as much as I can moving forward. Though, realistically, the mentor/mentee relationship doesn’t always lead to a lasting friendship, I will always be ready to answer your questions, help you through a difficult roadblock, remind you that you can do this, or just listen. Pitch Wars can be stressful, so I also consider much of my responsibility to be keeping my mentee as stress-free as possible while still giving them the tools to make their manuscript as strong as we can make it in the time allowed. Ideally, our relationship would be one of mutual respect, and if after we figure out the best way to make your manuscript shine, we find we’re both interested in continuing the mentor/mentee relationship (or having it evolve into a friendship) that would be a wonderful bonus!
Querying after Pitch Wars is another thing to be ready for, and I would love to help you through that harrowing stage. I read countless queries when I worked as a literary agent’s assistant, and I’ll help you tweak yours until it’s as clean and catchy as we can make it. You can check out my query for Dangerous Alliance and my agent’s commentary here. I can also fill you in on what happens AFTER you have an agent and even a publishing deal (that’s where the online info begins to dwindle). As I said earlier, I’m really interested in the business side of the industry, so on everything from agent-author and editor-author relationships to marketing and publicity, I’m all about sharing the knowledge I’ve gained so far with my mentee!
[GIF of a fawn grooming a kitten]
PHEW, that was a lot! (Here's a cute GIF for those of you who made it through all that.😻) But if you’ve been reading through this nodding and smiling and getting progressively more excited, then I hope you’ll submit to me. I’m SO honored to consider your work!
Meanwhile, here are the links to the other fabulous YA Mentors this year: