::thunderous applause ensues::
Nice to meet you, everyone here for the contest. I'm Julie Sondra Decker and I will be mentoring Adult and New Adult manuscripts this year in Brenda Drake's excellent contest Pitch Wars. If you're participating, you'll find entry details on Brenda's site!
Pitch Wars is an event for writers with completed novels who are looking for literary agency representation! The contest pairs these newer authors with more established writers and industry professionals for guidance, editing, and advice on their completed novels, eventually putting their best work in front of agents who have agreed to consider their work. We mentoring authors will be evaluating query letters and writing samples pretty soon, but first . . . applying authors have to pick which five authors are their dream mentors, and this is my plug for y'all to pick ME!
Will you apply to me? Will you become one of my favorites? Will I choose you for my mentee? All that and more will be decided in the next few months!
The extremely short version of this post: I'm accepting Adult and New Adult manuscripts. I prefer science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tales, and speculative fiction. If your story is literary, adventure, thriller, humor/parody, historical, contemporary, dystopia, or women's fiction, I would still prefer to see a clear speculative aspect. I would prefer not to consider straight-up romance, western, or traditional mystery, though romance and mysterious happenings can be elements of your story. And I will not consider erotica, horror, YA, or MG. Now you should probably read the details below if I might be the mentor for you based on this.
About Me (so you'll know what kind of nerd you're dealing with):
I write SF, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale retellings, and nonfiction--mostly for adults but sometimes I dabble in YA. Since I write for wildly different markets I have double representation--one agent for nonfiction, one for fiction--so I've been through this whole rigamarole successfully more than once. One of my books sold and won a bunch of awards. I've sold a few pieces of writing, including short stories and articles. And I get interviewed by various media frequently. I do a fair amount of blogging, and while this is my main writing blog, I also post a lot of less dignified content about asexuality and fan stuff on Tumblr.
I've been doing Pitch Wars for three years now. Some of my previous mentees/alternates are agented and published, and I've stayed in touch with some of them. I like to give feedback, though it remains to be seen how much I'll be able to give to applicants who don't get picked this year. (Probably at least some, though.) I have a really nerdy "grading" process for my entries (here's my description of it from last year), and here is my reflection on the feedback I gave last year. You can see advice I've given during previous Pitch Wars at my contests tag.
Outside my writing life, I'm a big reader, a music nerd (was once a music major, with voice as my instrument), a webcomic artist, a baker, and a gross cartoon fangirl. I've done editing in some professional capacity since 1999, so I tend to be really picky about typos, and I've done a decent amount of beta reading. I'm a vegetarian, an undertall adult, a nail-biter, a goofball, a soprano, a queer spectrum woman (asexual/aromantic), a Floridian, and an unrepentant geek.
I want to mentor you if your book is honestly polished and done; if you have really good language skills and won't make me spank your typos too much; if you are here to take/apply criticism and share your passion; and if you're ready for this ride. You may comment on this blog post if you have questions about specifics, or contact me on Twitter @JulieSondra, but please do not share query letters or specific pitches in the comments of this post.
I'LL BE WATCHING YOU. AND JUDGING WITHOUT MERCY.
About your book (genres and subgenres I want to see in my inbox now gimme gimme):
- Science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, magical realism, and speculative fiction gets preferential treatment. I'd love to say it's ultimately about quality, but every year I get enough great manuscripts in multiple genres that I can also pick something I personally enjoy.
- In fantasy, I prefer modern/urban settings over period fantasy/historical fantasy/alternate world, but I can be convinced to love just about any fantasy with fully realized characters.
- In science fiction, I prefer soft to hard.
- In magical realism, it's got to be casual and charming, with setting that's convincing while still taking a back seat to character.
- In fairy tales, I prefer dramatic and rich to lighthearted or funny.
- In literary fiction with speculative elements, I want to see something more concrete and robust than "he finds himself" or "this is an allegory about the human condition."
- Characters struggling with identity.
- Cerebral characters who still have heart.
- Characters who embrace their romantic relationships without their significant others becoming their sole reason for living.
- Queer characters of all stripes. Bonus points if it's not an "issue novel."
- 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.
- 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!
- If a character lives in an alternate reality/secondary world, it has natural worldbuilding that doesn't take over the story.
- Lots of dialogue. But please don't use poorly rendered accents or catch phrases to help us figure out who's talking, and don't send me stuff with "creative" permutations for the word "said."
- Invented religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs that are solid and have weight.
- Characters whose gender is between, outside, or fluctuating around the gender spectrum, and who don't make that fact their whole personality.
- Male characters whose masculinity isn't threatened by women or dependent on dominating/bedding them.
- Female characters whose strength as a female character isn't dependent on mocking traditional femininity or embracing traditionally masculine pursuits/roles/attitudes to show how strong they are.
- Authentic portrayals of underrepresented populations, including mentally ill, disabled, and chronically ill folks.
- Elemental or nature-based magic.
- Mythology, folklore, or fairy-tale-derived inspiration.
- Characters with agency, full personalities, and compelling motivations.
I am not the best mentor for you if any of these describe your book (so please don't waste your submission):
- Major plot and action is geared toward a romantic relationship, without much else to it.
- 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 "rescue" 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.
- 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.
- 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 any animals. I know it's weird but I'm definitely not a dragon person or an animal person.
- Magic with cutesy physics, 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 and fantastical.
- Stories that try to be "edgy," "dark," or "gritty" by overusing the same elements frequently present in other stories of their genre. Hardass male detectives with a five o'clock shadow, a cigar, and a drinking problem learning to love again after a decades-old heartbreak ruined their lives are honestly a dime a dozen. And if your magical races have a centuries-long feud, I don't want to see the same ones everyone else uses. (Nor do I really want to see "hilarious" reimaginings of these tropes where the comedy comes from just reversing the roles.)
- Stories that are only compelling if the reader is intrigued by erotic situations or the "hotness" of a protagonist/love interest.
- Worlds, plots, and concepts that 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.
So that's really about it, folks. Get your query letters ready, follow the rules and don't try to fake us out, respect your work and our time enough to really polish that writing sample until it's shiny, and remember that the mentors and agents are all just book nerds like you--we won't bite! (At least, most of us won't.)
AND FOR CHEESE'S SAKE, DO NOT ENTER WITH A FIRST DRAFT.
ALSO, SPELL-CHECK IS YOUR FRIEND.
ALSO, SPELL-CHECK IS YOUR FRIEND.