Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pitch Wars 2017 Mentor Wishlist for Team Pusheen

Welcome to the Team Pusheen Wish List for Pitch Wars 2017! My co-mentor Joan He and I had a blast working together last year, whipping our mentee’s book into tip-top shape (and what do you know, you can now look forward to buying this book in 2019!). We’re back again to boost you to PW success and shower you with all things Pusheen. If you’ve got a YA manuscript of the speculative fiction vein, we want you to be a part of our fam!

Who are we?

I'm Mara, a 2014 mentee and ‘15 and ‘16 mentor. Along with my diplomat husband and two sons, I have lived in Yekaterinburg, Russia and Lima, Peru. We will be moving to Belgrade, Serbia, next August. In addition to writing and reading, I love exploring new places and cultures, doing pretty much anything with my identical twin sister, and chatting with my Pitch Wars writer friends, who are my support system no matter where in the world I am. They are without a doubt the BEST part of Pitch Wars. I am represented by Uwe Stender of Triada Literary.

And from Joan: Hi guys! I’m Joan, a psychology major at UPenn, a major lover of wombats, anime, and art (writing included, obviously), and represented by John Cusick of Folio Literary. Mara and I were mentor and mentee in 2015 (respectively), and I’m eternally grateful for all the guidance and support she provided me. Giving it back in 2016 as a co-mentor was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to do it again!

What we're looking for in a manuscript: So, the heart of our wishlist hasn’t really changed from last year’s (which you can find below--definitely do take a look for juicy details). We still want all the YA speculative fiction (scifi, fantasy, a mix of the two, or something with a fantastical/scifi TWIST). Here’s an updated list of the particular things that are likely to put hearts in our eyes.

  • New worlds. “New” can take many forms. Got something culturally new (own voices is a huge plus if you’re modeling your fantasy culture off an existing one)? Or a cool, never-seen-before magic system? Or a mythology that’s weird but so rich it’s almost real (think STRANGE THE DREAMER)? WE WANT. Bonus points if this “new” element seeps through all levels of the book. Let it add texture to your writing and influence the way your characters look at things.
  • Adventure AND/OR political intrigue. We’re seriously down for both as long as it meshes well with your premise and the character arcs you’re trying to get across (e.g. FLAME IN THE MIST and AND I DARKEN)
  • Beautiful writing (duh). Nothing purple, please, but writing that is succinct and makes each word (not just the adjective, but the verbs) count. (e.g. THE WINNER’S CURSE)
  • Emotionssss (e.g. STRANGE THE DREAMER). PAIN. TRAGEDY. ANGST. Give us gritty characters who’ve been through a lot and struggle to see the good in the world. OR give us characters who are about to see that their world is a LIE (seriously, MY WORLD IS A LIE is a great mid-point/turning point).
  • If there’s romance (n.b. Joan doesn’t need romance; Mara loves it), a LI who is there for the PLOT and the MC’s journey, not just for the swoon-factor/sassy banter scenes.
  • DARKNESS. The darker the better (think Leigh Bardugo).
  • We don’t need a ton of magic, but if there is magic, huge bonus points if it leaps off the page and every time the characters use it, it's framed around emotions (e.g UPROOTED).

  • Anything mentioned in the fantasy section that can apply here!
  • Especially for scifi, we want stories that are framed around the characters and not necessarily the tech. This doesn’t mean the tech can’t be advanced, but that the ultimate conflict should primarily raise themes that make us look closer at humanity. (e.g. the twist and climax of ENDER’S GAME is super character focused) (e.g. the philosophical questions raised by WESTWORLD) (e.g. the whole conflict of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON) (e.g. the character stakes of INTERSTELLAR).
  • Well-drawn worlds (THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR). In scifi especially it’s easy to fall back on tropes, so the right details in the right places really does a lot.
  • Psychological elements (WESTWORLD, INCEPTION).

  • This is a repeat from last year, but SERIOUSLY GIVE ME ALL YOUR GAMES. Mind games, board games, military games, cat and mouse games, etc. (THE WINNER’S TRILOGY, ENDER’S GAME, HUNGER GAMES). The key, though, is that the heart of the conflict should always go back to the characters
  • Characters who break away from the “tropes.” I’m VERY partial to characters whose voices aren’t primarily based on wit and snark. Wit and snark are great, but something I often find is that they’re covering up lack of substance. Your character’s “voice” is the way they express their worldview, which means you need to know their worldview and how it came to be (so bonus points to a solid backstory that actually makes sense). “Voice” should also affect the ways in which they handle all their relationships.
  • Introverted characters, characters who aren’t what they seem, characters who sacrifice for others and aren’t always diving head-first into things to make the biggest splash themselves, characters who are older than their years, who seem “grounded” but harbor secret demons OR are trying really hard to keep on their masks (think Sarai from STRANGE THE DREAMER or Kestrel from THE WINNER’S CURSE).
  • Smart premises (WESTWORLD, WOLF BY WOLF, Attack on Titan).
  • TWISTS. I AM YOURS IF YOU CAN CATCH ME OFF-GUARD. I’m always down for a fun read, but I LOVE reads that make me think and linger long after I’m done.
  • GENIUSES. Give me your Kaz Brekker’s, your L’s (Deathnote), your Lelouch’s (Code Geass), your Kestrel’s (THE WINNER’S CURSE). Morally shady geniuses are even better.
  • Unique structure (ALL OUR YESTERDAYS--please read this book and be wowed. It actually has a ton of the other elements I love e.g. geniuses and scifi that comes back to the characters).

As you can see, Joan is the brains of this operation lol. My tastes aren't as specific, but some of my eternal favorites are DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, THE SCORPIO RACES, SHADOW AND BONE, STRANGE THE DREAMER, etc. Strong female characters and amazing world building are basically no-brainers for me, although I like an MC who has soft spots and weaknesses to overcome. I like darker characters and themes (SIX OF CROWS) but I also love humor (MY LADY JANE). I still love retellings as long as they're unique. And I love a good romance.

Why Joan and Mara?

Joan: I’ve been told that I’m strong on big picture edits. I’m a super critical thinker (probably why I’m always guessing the twists :’D) and know the ins and outs of plotting + weaving plot points and character agency together. Do you struggle with your middles? Your endings? I’m your girl. We’ll achieve that tight, game-changing middle together, and keep the speed up all the way to the end. I’m also really good with world things (again, big picture) and will help you develop the best atmosphere to suit your plot. It should be noted that I will always respect your vision. I’ll first and foremost consider what you already have, and try to work with it before doing anything drastic.

While I’ll tell you straight up where your book needs work, I’m a huge gusher--and it’s all genuine, because we won’t pick your book unless we love it. So you’ll definitely have me in your corner as your personal cheerleader through this journey and beyond (because let’s be real, we’re all in this for the long run). I’m here for you!

Mara: I won't pick a book unless I love the premise, but in terms of big picture stuff, I'm told I'm good with pacing, world building, characterization, and dialogue. That said, I'm great at catching the small stuff - I was a copyeditor in a former life and I'm repeatedly told I draft very clean. Last year, Joan did a big-picture read-through first and I did a closer read after. We found this system worked well for us and we'll likely do something similar this year. I'm also awesome at pitches and queries (and titles, just ask Astrid!). You're basically getting two mentors for the price of one, which means double the help and cheerleading!

I like to think I'm equal parts reassuring and empathetic, because I've been at this for a long time. I'm a quick reader, and because I'm super deadline oriented, I won't keep you waiting for notes or feedback. Pitch Wars has been instrumental in both of our careers, and that's why we love paying it forward!

And if that's not enough, our 2016 mentee, Astrid Scholte, got a ton of requests for her novel FOUR DEAD QUEENS, resulting in multiple agent offers and a very quick sale to PRH. We can't wait to see her book on shelves in 2019!

What we're looking for in a mentee:

Simple: someone who’s genuinely nice and willing to grow. If it’s not necessary, we're not going to have you rewrite your book, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to work. If you can approach this experience with an open mindset, then we'll be a great match! Also, a love of Pusheen doesn't hurt.