Saturday, August 2, 2014

Julie Sondra Decker, PITCH WARS MENTOR!

Hi! I am Julie Sondra Decker. You may call me Julie. (I also answer to "Fairy Princess of Queries" or just "Goddess.") I'm accepting Adult and New Adult applications this year in Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest! This is a contest for agent-seeking authors to get paired up with mentors who can help make their publishing dreams come true. Yes, we are in the business of granting wishes here! (Good thing I brought my wand.) If you want the particulars on how to submit your completed, edited, unpublished, ready-to-query manuscript to be considered by mentors, check out the details. Now on with the reason you're here: THE PITCH WARS MENTOR BIO THAT WILL MAKE YOU CHOOSE ME AS YOUR LEADER AND DIVINE RULER, I mean, your mentor. If you have questions about if your work is right for me, "me too!" comments, or want to introduce yourself, post a comment or say hey on Twitter (@JulieSondra)--personalized queries aren't possible this year so now's your chance. ;)


Short and skinny, get it?
*knee slap*
I'm Julie. It's totally my mom's favorite name. I write everything except screenplays and stage plays: that includes novels, short stories, essays, rants, and bad poetry. 

My fantasy/fairy tale retelling trilogy, Bad Fairy, is represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary. (It's on submission.) My nonfiction book on asexuality, The Invisible Orientation, is represented by Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger. (It comes out September 2.)

I refuse to be married to one genre--I'm a free-spirited writer, for cryin' out loud!--but I usually end up writing stories in the speculative fiction field--fantasy, science fiction, and anything sort of weird. I do like writing YA fiction, but I primarily write for grown-ups. Here's what I've been reading!

I'm a music nerd and a soprano. I love musicals and was once a music major. I sometimes pretend to be an artist--I do two webcomics, and one's about the author life! I like baking bread and cake. I've been a beta reader and professional editor since 1999. I always wear two different colored socks. I have no desire to get married or have kids, but I'm the coolest aunt ever (and this is an objective fact). I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I have appeared in most of the types of media known to humankind, including movies/TV. I live by myself like a cool hermit. I am a fun-size tiny adult at just under five feet tall. I live in Florida. I love nostalgia. I enjoy playing Dance Dance Revolution. I love babies. I hate onions and will react violently if you try to make me eat them. I'm always too busy to take on any more projects, but I'm always taking on more projects. (Apparently I love pain.)


  • I am a little bit evil. But I serve the greater good. Meaning I take no crap from manuscripts that dare to offend my eyes by not being perfect. I will KILL all your typos, murder your bad grammar, and make your punctuation mistakes wet their pants. I dig in HARD and give sophisticated feedback--way beyond sitting there with a red pen circling all the times you wrote it's when you should've written its.

  • What I do works. I am a query pro. The first query letter I ever wrote got requests from more than half the agents I pitched to, and it got better from there. I've signed two projects to two different agents, so it would seem I know what I'm doing. And speaking of which. . . .

  • I give lots of feedback. I was a somewhat popular mentor last year--74 submissions--and I gave feedback to everybody, generating a total of 49,400 words/125 pages of feedback over the course of a week. This year I'll be busier (my book comes out during Pitch Wars week!), but I do plan to give some personal reactions to those who apply to me. If I don't pick you, I'll at least give you a few lines (maybe more) about how come, and maybe you'll walk away with a little bit of guidance as to what to do next time and how to query better in the future. And if I DO pick you, I edit extensively--not just your language, but I comment on your content, react to your dialogue, ask questions, and let you know what I'm thinking. I have also been known to talk back to characters while commenting in the margins.

I will accept any Adult or New Adult manuscript, and all I ask is that fantastic characters take the lead and make me love them. I want to hear their voices, believe them, root for them, connect to them. Make me believe that the characters, not your plot outlines, were running this show from beginning to end. However, I have more experience with and more enthusiasm for some genres than others, and if all things are equal, I will give preferential treatment to my favorite genres and story elements, just like an agent would. I may be the best mentor for you if your book contains one or more of the following:

  • Fantasy in modern settings.
  • Softer science fiction. 
  • Literary fiction with a clear plot trajectory beyond "she finds herself" or "he explores the human condition." 
  • Genres that defy easy categorization or are being pooh-poohed as "that's not selling right now."
  • Characters struggling with identity.
  • Cerebral characters who still have heart.
  • Romance that doesn't become a character's sole reason for living.
  • Queer characters.
  • Characters from marginalized and/or rarely featured demographic groups--represented authentically in a visible fashion, but not as a token. (Meaning if your "diverse" character could have been a majority character without being written any differently, it's not what I'm looking for.)
  • Real connection to the characters' thoughts, especially if it's first person. 

  • Characters who are recovering from a huge change or blow, coming of age, training for something, or transitioning to something new.
  • Characters with history--they didn't start living on page one (unless they were born on page one).
  • Characters who buck tradition and have a good reason to do so.
  • Fat characters who remain fat throughout the story and definitely don't lose weight as a metaphor for becoming better or healthier or more worthy.
  • Characters with "mixed" identities--are they human + magical creature? raised by a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom? born to a Chinese family but residing in South America? living as part of a multiple system (a.k.a. split personalities)? GIMME!
  • Alternate realities/secondary worlds with natural worldbuilding that doesn't take over the story.
  • Lots of dialogue. Artfully rendered so you can always tell who's talking even if you don't use cheap tricks.
  • Character-led narratives. Give me PEOPLE (who do things or to whom things happen), not THINGS HAPPENING (oh yeah, to some people).
  • Invented religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs that are solid and have weight.
  • Elemental or nature-based magic.
  • Mythology, folklore, or fairy-tale-derived inspiration. 
  • Magical realism. (Usually today's world with something odd about it and it's just no big deal.)
  • Longish books that aren't self-conscious about taking their time. I'll wait. You're great.
  • Characters with agency, full personalities, and compelling motivations.
It's fine to have stories that depend on suspension of disbelief because of magic, pseudoscience, and supernatural happenings. But as soon as you ask me to believe in a character who behaves in an internally inconsistent, nonsensical way to forward the plot, I'm outta here.

I am not the best mentor for you if any of these describe your book:

  • Major plot and action is geared toward a romantic relationship, without much else to it.
  • "Will she play it safe or follow her heart?" She always follows her heart. If that's all there is, I don't need to read it now.
  • Men use women as accessories to the point that the ladies don't seem like characters.
  • Men are motivated by women (or by threats to "their" women) to get revenge, prove their worth as a mate, or engage in extended rivalry with other men. Basically if "win" or "avenge" the woman is the motivating force for a male character, I'm not into it.
  • Traditional "quest" stories that feature an adventuring party. 
  • Distant storytelling style that does not allow me to connect with the protagonist(s).
  • Historical fiction that depends heavily on knowledge of the period to figure out what's going on.
  • Alternative historical fiction that changes the outcome of an event--or future dystopia fiction that creates a catastrophic event--only to lead to a majority group (such as white people, men, or straight people) becoming The Oppressed under a new world order.
  • Dystopias with weak what-ifs at their heart.
  • Steampunk and cyberpunk. I'm afraid I just don't get it. (I won't rule it out entirely if you promise your characters are awesome, though.) 
  • Anything heavily influenced by role-playing games or video games, as well as tropes, character roles, or quest motivation associated with gaming culture.
  • Purple prose, especially scenery description. I'm not a very visual reader, so if your characters are constantly taking adjective baths, I will stop caring. 
  • White authors/white characters who include characters of color only incidentally as a vehicle for "color blind" or "look at me, I'm progressive" or "I don't see color!" narratives. If a character is a person of color, we SHOULD see their color, and it needs to be an authentic part of who they are, not written off as not mattering so you can highlight another character's "tolerance."
  • Fantasy plots involving a person from our world traveling to another world and Saving Everyone because they're The One.
  • Fantasy or alternate-world plots that primarily focus on warring clans and battle strategy, with a war hero at the forefront. 
  • Fantasy that heavily involves humans' magical bonds with dragons, horses, or animals. I know it's weird but I'm definitely not a dragon person or an animal person.
  • Magic with cutesy or poorly conceived systems, or incredibly complex magical "rules" that are dumped on the reader through tiresome recitation.
  • Plots depending heavily on a Chosen One or a prophecy.

  • Plots depending on the "star-crossed lovers" trope to manufacture all or nearly all of their angst.
  • Plots revolving around something really gruesome, gory, or horrifying. (Sorry, not a huge horror fan. Though I kinda like if you can horrify me with something psychological. Violence and battles are okay. Just as long as they don't dominate the storytelling.)
  • Plots revolving around saving a trapped or kidnapped person (usually a woman or child). 
  • Plots that take shortcuts to motivate women or make them complex/tragic by throwing poorly realized sexual violence into their past.
  • Plots that are "pure" mystery genre; clue-gathering whodunnits turn me off a lot, unless they're also funny.
  • Stories that are only compelling if the reader is intrigued by erotic situations or the "hotness" of a protagonist/love interest.
  • The world, plot, and concept are clearly more important to the author than the characters.
  • The story and characters are only there to frame a spiritual or religious message, a political agenda, or a supposedly revolutionary philosophy.
  • Characters do things--solving mysteries, winning fights, finding love, assuming responsibility--without experiencing any personal growth or change.


  • Your book is done. Honestly, actually done. It's not a first draft. It's not a second draft. You would never describe it as "rough around the edges." You aren't still deciding how to organize it. It's been read by your test readers and it's polished. It's ready to be agented. It's ready for professional feedback.
  • You have fantastic language skills. You don't struggle with awkward prose or stilted dialogue or frequent typos or punctuation glitches. (Or if you do, I won't be able to tell.)
  • You're serious and you want it badly. You didn't enter this contest thinking lol okay whatever. You have a passion for writing and a matching drive to get it out there.
  • The beginning of your book does what it's supposed to: gets my attention and gets me invested. You realize that a book's first pages aren't for back story. You know I don't have to be here, that your reader has no obligation to humor you until it REALLY gets started, and that it's your job to pull me in and make me want to stay.
  • You want my feedback. (Sounds obvious, but sometimes when I work with authors, they argue with my comments and defend their work instead of trying to improve.) You welcome criticism and you'll be dedicated to applying it.
  • You're already almost there.

I value good execution over good concept,  but I hope you have both. I am an editor but I'm not a literary janitor, and what I want to see is someone who's done their homework. I am very thorough in responding to a manuscript--and that means I tell you what you're already doing well as well as what you might need some work on. I am very friendly and fair, but I am also borderline merciless. You want me for your mentor if your baby could use some tough love along with the sweet talking.

I have stayed in touch with some of the people I met through Pitch Wars last year, offering and receiving help and support both publicly and privately. Even if you're not applying to me--or even if I don't pick you--feel free to be my pal on social media; I'm @JulieSondra on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

Despite the big talk we mentors throw around sometimes about crushing each other and leading the winning team to victory, this is ultimately a community; we're all writers helping writers. We cheer on the Pitch Wars success stories every year. We all want you to be one of them. I'm dedicated to the relationships we form during this contest, and to supporting writers during and after the contest. If you'd like to check out some resources I created during and after Pitch Wars last year--which may help you succeed this year!--check out a post in which I describe the most common problems I saw in last year's entries,  some Pitch Wars hints for what makes me thumbs-up or thumbs-down your project, and Five Common Querying Mistakes. And if you have a question about any of my preferences or want to ask if I have an opinion on your genre, leave a comment and I will answer it!

Hey, future super-special mentee, are you out there? 

Now onward and upward to visit some of the other mentors! HOP AWAY!

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  1. I'm so excited that you're mentoring this year! I write literary adult fiction and I look forward to submitting.

  2. Hi Julie, thanks for offering to mentor! I just spent an hour reading your blog and your past experiences mentoring, and I'd love a Hiruma to whip me into shape.

    You noted you're not a dragon person, but how about a girl hunting a dragon in a modern-day, magickafied South Korea? There's something of a bond involved, but since I draw from Asian mythology, the dragon has a human form.

    1. Another potential mentee who wants a Hiruma! ::drools::

      As described here, your concept isn't one that would make me say "Oh, gosh, I've got to have that!" But setting is always way less important than character for me, and if your character is fully fleshed out and authentically rendered, she should be able to make me understand why she's hunting this dragon and what goes into it and how she feels, and at that point I won't care if I would feel the same thing in her place because it's enough to convince me that SHE feels it.

      Having the dragon have a human form adds more possibility for me to latch onto it, and having it set in modern times is preferable for me, but just keep in mind I won't be bringing any of that fanboy love for dragons to the table myself, so any majesty and magic you want them to have is going to have to be part of the story, not assumed on my part. It's all about execution. I can't say this sounds like the perfect story for me, but I'm not about NO DRAGONS. If you can make your character someone I connect to, it's fine if there's a dragon in it.

    2. Thanks for the honest reply! Uh, moment of truth: I realize I was way too eager to get to your incredibly detailed and helpful list that I ended up skipping the kinda important preface that you're taking only adult/NA this year (and you'd even highlighted it...).

      I'm very sorry! But again, thank you for your thoughtful answer and I hope you find wonderful MSs to mentee this year.

    3. I'm sorry to hear that! Might've been fun to work together, but at least you noticed before submitting. So far, some haven't. (I'm receiving YA submissions, and I have to disqualify them. Hopefully some of the mentors they picked actually are YA. . . .)

  3. My dear, Julie Sondra, first of all, I am SOOOOO thrilled to be pitching into the war this year! And so doubly thrilled at the prospect of pitching YOU. (You had me at propinquity!) Well, no. Not pitching you but pitching my ms TO you. (And I hope you want to catch it!)
    So, I have meticulously gone through your "No" factors and scratched every one of them off the list. Yay! However, I then went through the two dozen "Yes" factors and, darn it. I didn't even make half of them. Maybe nine or ten, but not half. :P
    But I truly feel what I've got is right in your wheelhouse. No fantasy or even science fiction though. And it's NOT a romance. More like the antithesis thereof. The two mains have a love hate relationship. HE hates working with women and SHE loves to torment him over it. (And it's still not a romance.) And their boss constantly wonders which one is going to kill the other first.
    The problem is, it's not exactly a mystery, though a mystery propels the story. It's just not the one they think it is. It could be a detective story since both of the MCs are Federal Agents – government detectives, as it were. Did I mention it is most definitely NOT a romance? (But there is a LOT of sexual tension.) And, although there is no fat, Jewish-Catholic, Chinese guy, there is a peak at a bit of Prague.
    Anyway, I think it's exactly what you are looking for and I reeeeeeally hope we have a chance to work together. Pleeeeeeease. Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please?! =D
    Sorry. Didn't mean to ramble. Just got over excited.

    (OH! And, if you can be bribed, I have the world's absolute gratest carrot cake recipe and an Italian cream that has gotten me proposals (both decent and… otherwise!)

    1. Thanks for the thoughts. I hope you didn't think my list of likes was an overall description of my perfect manuscript, because actually I think it'd be awfully difficult and weird to have all of them. It shouldn't be a disappointment for you if you only have some of the stuff on my favorites list.

      Good luck in the contest. It sounds like you've got a jumble of genre possibilities and though I understand you're enthusiastic, you WILL definitely have to choose a genre to describe it. If you write your characters in an authentic, organic way, I'll get them, and I'll understand their relationship without you having to tell me how it's defined--you'll have already shown me. I'll believe them.

      Your bribe may be unfortunately targeted, I'm afraid: I dislike carrot cake and coconuts. (Funnily enough, one of the videos of the mentors has me talking about hating coconuts! Weird eh?) We'll just have to hope your book recipe isn't a poor match. :)

    2. Hi, Julia! No. I wasn't trying to 'qualify' all 24 likes into one ms. That really would be beyond weird, yeh? Not sure how that would fall together even. I just wanted to know how my ms stacked up against your wish list.
      No carrot cake. No Coconuts. Hmm. Just hope my ms is to your taste! And thanks for putting yourself in the line of fire.

  4. Hi Julie, it's great to meet you. I was thrilled to see someone willing to tackle genres that aren't quite definable or just not "in" right now. I hope we hit it off this year, but even if we don't, I'll absolutely be following your comics from now on. Already read all of So You Write and started Negative One.

    1. That's great, nice to meet you too. For purposes of contests, agent pitches, and publishing, you generally have to pick something to call it and really stand by claiming it's that (or you look like you don't know what you're doing), but everybody in publishing knows not everything fits in a box! They just grow impatient of people flicking their hair and saying they need a new box prepared specially for them. ;) Yes, last year I picked a kiss-of-death genre--urban fantasy--from my slush, and he still got signed even though that's a really rough genre right now. I still believe rough genres are worth taking chances on.

      Glad to hear you are interested in the webcomics, too! Negative One is gonna take you a while since I've been drawing it weekly for nine years. So You Write only updates once a month, though. I've got my concept ready for this month's. I'd better start drawing soon.

    2. That's impressive that you've kept Negative One going for so long. I started a comic ages ago and only got through half an issue before I gave it up. :( Couldn't do that, plus writing, plus art trades, plus full time job. Something had to give.

      In terms of my novel, the issue I'm facing right now is that my theme is something that was recently in the spotlight and has since fallen out of it. Which is frustrating because the theme is still good, but because there's so much of it in the market right now, it's pretty much an insta-reject for a lot of agents. Unfortunately, my head is made of brick and I'm not willing to give up on this story. It's going to get out there, one way or another.

    3. Oh yeah, keeping a comic going is a commitment and quite an endeavor. I just do it no matter what, even if life gets in the way, and so far I've managed to do it even through having to draw while in a moving truck and having to draw sitting on the floor in the hospital while my mother was sleeping. I do have trouble balancing everything sometimes--in addition to writing and drawing two comics, I work, read a book a week, make two videos a month, make karaoke videos, run four blogs, and create additional content or help others with their writing sometimes, plus trying to find time to have a social life occasionally. At least I don't have kids. :)

      I know what you mean about insta-rejects, but the truth is, if something speaks to people, there will still be some ears out there willing to listen. "The market is too saturated" will still be said to you a lot, but if worse comes to worst, publishing is eventually cyclical. . . .

  5. I hope this doesn't post twice. Google ate my first comment. :)

    I'm so excited reading this! My novel hits so many of your points. My MC is a half-human, half-elf who travels to find her father. There's romance that is secondary, and my novel is very character driven. I'd love to work with you!

    1. Google ate some of my comments trying to reply to comments earlier this week! So annoying.

      Sounds like you have some of the elements I love seeing in stories. We'll see how it works out!

  6. Hi Julie.....sooooooooo... I came across this while snooping:

    "I'm not into sex. I'd prefer subtle. But as long as it's not porn, OK."

    If you have the time, could you go into some more detail about the yay's and nay's? Are sex scenes major no-no's for you? What do you regard as subtle? I'm assuming porn would be the kind of scene you'd find in erotica.

    I have two sex scenes in my book, one to each of my protags. One is brief, the other more detailed. (My story is told using dual male POVs.)

    1. Sex scenes aren't verboten. I prefer not to read straight-up romances and definitely don't read porn or erotica, but if it's a natural part of the story's progression, I'm fine with it if a character has sex. I'm not so big on sex being the big thing all the readers are waiting to see happen, though. If I'm supposed to get really excited about it, I assure you that I won't. Hope that helps!

  7. Hi Julie!
    I’m Rhonda :) I loved reading your post. So many things were going tick – fellow hermit, lover of musicals and bread and cake baking, no desire for marriage or kids – and I already know that great things come in small packages. My mom and sister battle it out for a quarter inch around 5 feet and my grandma and grandpa weren’t much taller. I like wands, and it sounds like as the “Fairy Princess of Queries,” you can resemble Glinda or the Wicked Witch of the West as required. (Did I just hear cackling?)
    I live up near the Abominable Snow Monster– Okay, maybe not that far north in Canada, but I might run into a black bear when I walk in the back woods in berry season. (Say that 5 times fast!) I lived in Rome for 5 years and go there almost daily in my writing imagination. Sometimes I even get there in person :)
    One of my characters needs some talking back to, and I’m glad to know you wouldn’t cut her any slack. The other characters will be glad to welcome you to the party.
    I’ll finish here, but although I’ve joked around, I am not messing around with this. I want it badly, I want your feedback, and I’m going to make the most of any valuable time and thoughts you give me.
    Thank you for volunteering as a PitchWars mentor. Thank you as well for all your amazing posts helping us whip our submissions into shape.
    Best of luck with your book release on September 2nd! I’m interested to read The Invisible Orientation – and I love the title :)


    1. Hi Rhonda,

      Thanks for the thoughtful rambles. Interesting you would point out I look like Glinda because I'm the same size as actress Kristin Chenoweth who played her in the Wicked play, and I have the same type of voice, so I like singing Glinda's songs from the play. (They're on video . . . somewhere. . . .)

      Thanks for declaring your determination and for the well wishes on my book! I'll need 'em. :) See you in the contest!

  8. Hi Julie,
    I wasn’t sure if I was “all in” for Pitch Wars. I am passionate about writing and I’ll work my ass off to get my novel published. I was researching Pitch Wars to decide if this was a methodology I could work with.

    When I read your wish list, I knew I wanted to work with you. Some of your preferences that I nodded along to are:
    • Softer science fiction
    • Genres that defy easy categorization or are being pooh-poohed as "that's not selling right now"
    • Characters who are recovering from a huge change or blow, coming of age, training for something, or transitioning to something new
    • Characters with "mixed" identities
    • Alternate realities/secondary worlds with natural worldbuilding that doesn't take over the story
    • Lots of dialogue
    • Character-led narratives
    • Invented religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs that are solid and have weight.

    When I got to your preference for “Longish books that aren't self-conscious about taking their time,” I felt like I had just walked in my front door into the A/C (heat index is over 100 degrees today in Minneapolis), sank into my couch and was greeted by my dogs. (I know you’re not an animal person, but I am a dog lover and my MC’s relationship with her dog is primary for her, so if that’s a deal-breaker, we might as well know now.) In other words, I’m confident I would feel at home working with you.

    Yes, saying “you want my feedback” in your wishlist does sound obvious, and I understand why you wrote that. I’m professional and expect others to be, too. I’m appalled at some of the idiotic things writers do in their search for an agent or mentor. I am definitely not that writer.

    I’ll save the details about my novel for the actual query because ultimately the manuscript needs to speak for itself.

    Thank you for your willingness to mentor other writers.

    I’m all in.

    1. I'm really glad you're excited about going forward with Pitch Wars! I'm not mentoring this year and you're commenting on a blog post from 2014, so I'm not sure how I'm getting this comment two years later, but I hope it's not too much of a disappointment that I'm not mentoring this year. Good luck!