Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pick me for Pitch Wars!

Are you ready for this? WELL OF COURSE you're ready for this!

Psst--do you read my blog and don't know what Pitch Wars is? Well, it's a contest hosted by the illustrious Brenda Drake, designed to connect un-agented writers with mentors. Authors apply, cross their fingers to get selected, and end up getting their pitches and full manuscripts shined up for perusal by agents. Yay! I'm here as a mentor this year to guide one special author through all the hoops, as well as providing cheerleading and moral support. Sound great? That's because it is!

If you want to apply to a mentor or four, head to Brenda's Blog and read the full rules, signup directions, and important dates!

About Me: Accepting Adult and New Adult Applications!

Hey there. I'm Julie. I write everything except screenplays and stage plays: that includes novels, short stories, essays, rants, and bad poetry. I dabble in a whole fudgy mess of genres, 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, and have completed nine novels and one nonfiction book. Here's what I've been reading!

Personal Trivia: I'm a music nerd and a soprano. I love musicals. I sometimes pretend to be an artist (I have a comic about being an author!). I like baking bread and cake. I edit freelance. I always wear two different colored socks. I have no desire to get married or have kids. I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I have appeared in most of the types of media known to man, including movies. I live by myself like a cool hermit. I am a fun-size tiny adult. I live in Florida. I love nostalgia. I have Rapunzel hair. 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.)

My fiction agent is Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary, and she has my fairy tale retelling trilogy on submission to major publishers. My nonfiction agent is Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, and she represents my book about asexuality (and--update--she sold it). Huzzah! I'll be accepting applications for the Adult and New Adult categories this year. I can't wait to hear from you.


Genre preferences and concepts include the following:

  • Fantasy in modern settings.
  • Softer science fiction.
  • 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 who are recovering from a huge change or blow, coming of age, or transitioning to something new.
  • Characters with history--they didn't start living on page one (unless they were born on page one).
  • Alternate realities 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.
  • Invented religious beliefs or spiritual beliefs that are solid and have weight.
  • Mythology, folklore, or fairy-tale-derived inspiration.
  • 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.
  • Men use women as accessories to the point that the ladies don't seem like characters.
  • 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 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. I'm afraid I just don't get it. (I won't rule it out entirely if you promise your characters are awesome, though.)
  • Fantasy plots involving a person from our world traveling to another world and Saving Everyone because they're special.
  • Fantasy or alternate-world plots that primarily focus on warring clans and battle strategy, with a war hero at the forefront. 
  • 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.)
  • Plots revolving around saving a trapped or kidnapped person (usually a woman or child). 
  • 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.

About You: My Ideal Pitch Wars Mentee
  • 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." 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 written an Adult or New Adult book in any genre (though you know I'm personally partial to science fiction and fantasy). Its characters run the show and I won't be able to see any puppet strings.
  • 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.
  • 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. I murder all typos! You want me for your mentor if your baby could use some tough love along with the sweet talking.

I judged the "Come and Get It" contest last year with Cupid, and if you'd like to see examples of my critique in the feedback I gave to entries, they are still available to read here and here.

I also love new writer friends. Even if you're not applying to me--or even if I don't pick you--feel free to be my pal on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

And who are the participating agents, you ask? THESE FABULOUS FOLKS!
  1. Louise Fury - Bent Agency
  2. Suzie Townsend - New Leaf Literary
  3. Nicole Resciniti - The Seymour Agency
  4. John M. Cusick - The Greenhouse Agency
  5. Sarah LaPolla - Bradford Literary Agency
  6. Victoria Marini - Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency
  7. Jessica Sinsheimer - Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency
  8. Pam van Hylckama Vlieg - Foreword Literary
  9. Quinlan Lee - Adams Literary
  10. Jen Udden - Donald Maass Literary Agency
  11. Emily Keyes - Foreword Literary
  12. Brianne Johnson - Writers House
  13. Carly Watters - P.S. Literary
  14. Lana Popovic and Natasha Alexis - Zachary Shuster Harmsworth
  15. Molly Jaffa - Folio Literary Management
  16. Evan Gregory - Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
  17. Stefanie Lieberman - Janklow & Nesbit Associates
  18. Rena Rossner - The Deborah Harris Agency

If you want a chance to get these folks' attention and make it to the agent round . . . PICK ME FOR YOUR MENTOR! ADULT AND NEW ADULT CATEGORIES ONLY!

And here's the rest of the party--click to meet the others before deciding who to apply to! YOU CAN ONLY PICK FOUR!
1. Cora Carmack
17. Fiona McLaren
33. S.P. McConnell
2. Stacey H. Lee
18. Tina Moss
34. Veronica Park
3. Heather Webb
19. Joy McCullough-Carranza 
35. Trisha Leaver
4. Elizabeth Briggs
20. Mónica Bustamante Wagner
36. Lori Goldstein
5. Agent Assistant Lioness
21. Sarah Henning
37. Rin Chupeco
6. Susan Spann
22. Mina Vaughn
38. Evelyn Ehrlich
7. Marieke Nijkamp
23. Skylar Dorset
39. Lindsay Currie
8. Shelley Watters
24. Meredith McCardle
40. Naomi Hughes
9. Erica M. Chapman
25. Jen Swann Downey
41. Laura Tims
10. Jennifer Malone
26. Jaye Robin Brown
42. Julie Sondra Decker
11. Veronica Bartles
27. Gail Nall
43. Diana Gallagher
12. Brent Taylor
28. Dannie Morin
44. Sarah Nicolas
13. Molly Elizabeth Lee
29. Elizabeth Penney
45. Nazarea Andrews
14. Lindsey Sprague
30. Natalie Knaub
46. Shannon Duffy
15. Megan Whitmer
31. Jessie Humphries
47. Pitch Wars Host
16. Michelle Painchaud
32. Stephanie Garber

Psst: Secret letter is Y!


  1. Oh man, this totally sucks. For me, not you. Very cool for you!

    I think my ms could really benefit from your help, but I decided to step back from the contest thing after doing a bunch over the last year. I stopped querying my ms because the biggest thing I got back was 'not connecting' with my character/voice.

    I think I over-edited and lost the voice of my character. So I'm gonna try do some writing of backstory and stuff to try get her going in my head again... sometime.

    Anyways, I wouldn't mind doing another contest again, but I've queried about 3/4 of these agents already. Some looked at partials, but came back with the voice comment. :) So won't take up one of those few contest spots when someone who's got something new fresh and unqueried to submit should have it.

    Whoever gets you will be a lucky writer though. Have fun!

    1. That sounds so hard. I'm sorry you've had that experience. :(

      And it's solid to not do a contest if you've already hit the agents!

      Thanks for the compliment. :)

  2. You are absolutely my top choice for a mentor, because you like fairytales, mythology, and identity struggles all in one, but I have a key question: should I query you under my pen name or my real name? My tiny little platform is already built under my pen name and I don't really know how I feel about breaking that fourth wall, ever. It's to the point where I've thought out which (local-level theatre) actors I'd hire to be me if I ever got to the point of a book signing... but maybe this is all a terrible idea, pen names are so passe, I should just give my real identity, etc. Once the fourth wall is broken (like things getting announced on twitter), though, it's broken. What do you think?

    1. Jerry, at this point it absolutely doesn't matter. We're not considering platform in this contest, and for fiction, platform matters zilch next to your story (though it's always nice to have). The matter is different if you're self-publishing or if you're writing nonfiction, but fiction authors who want a mainstream/traditional contract don't need to worry about platform in the process of getting signed to an agent or publisher.

      When you query agents, you generally do so under your real name, and there's a spot for your pseudonym in your contract if you want that. For purposes of this contest, just use the name you want us to call you. If that's your pseudonym, that's fine. If an agent chooses you, you'd want to disclose your legal name to them for legal documents, but if you prefer to have all public conversation about your book be under a different name, you have that right.

  3. Hi Julie,

    Your mention of both folklore and worldbuilding that doesn't take over grabbed me right away, but I found myself nodding through both lists (though more anxiously as I went along, hoping to not hit a big stop sign ;). The struggle with identity, characters with history, romance that doesn't become a character's nucleus, etc. all caught my attention. I think your critiquing style would be invaluable, and I've been wanting that final set of expert eyes with similar preferences.

    I think what grabbed me most was, "Longish books that aren't self-conscious about taking their time. I'll wait. You're great." I'll wait. You're great. I think I want that on a bumper sticker. ;)

    Best wishes, and I hope your lucky choice makes the most of your feedback!


    1. Great to hear. I've actually gotten into trouble with my fantasy worlds having too LITTLE worldbuilding, so I know most people prefer more than I like, but it really does drive me up the wall when a scene, chapter, or plot line is clearly inserted almost entirely because the author wants to show off the cool details they thought up. ::sigh::

      The appreciation of long books is also born out of selfishly wanting to read writing that's similar to mine; my word counts are always high. (People usually assume that since I'm a fantasy author and I have longer books, the length must be due to incessant worldbuilding, but nothing could be further from the truth.) I would much rather read a book that is a little on the long side than a book that skimps on authentic presentations of their characters' situations.

      Glad to hear from a kindred spirit. :)

  4. I'm so excited by the Pitch Wars opportunity and the chance to query you as a mentor! You've provided a lot of information about your tastes, and the strange thing is how helpful AND how totally nerve-wracking that's become for me.

    See, I have a longish fantasy that's driven by an adaptation of a piece of Jewish mythology. So, check those details in the "query Julie" column. But it's steampunk -- more in the sense of a Dickensian world of highly developed, interrelated characters, full of debtor's prisons and dastardly souls and a few lost ones, too. But, you're not a fan of the steampunk subgenre. Check against applying. I consider dialogue-writing to be my strong suit, and my world-building a close second, so, check for querying there. But, there is a kidnapping that occurs in the story, and eventually the characters have to deal with that (check against again!). However, the kidnapping is a side-effect of the real motive issue in the plot for the core characters, not the actual focus of the plot or driver of their individual character development.

    So I guess I'm confused. I'm having a terrible time trying to process these checks and balances, and unsure of whether an ms that seems 1/2-2/3rds what you like and 1/2-1/3 stuff you're rather cool on would be a waste of your attention.

    Julie, can you help? Am I overthinking this?

    Thank you,

    1. I'll clarify the likes and dislikes in light of what you've said and hope that helps you. But ultimately I think if there are four other mentors you like as well, you might choose them instead. If it's between querying me or querying nobody, query me.

      * Mythology and retellings: I like it but it's a crowded genre. However, if it's a Jewish myth it's probably not one of the overdone ones. (Also, I'm from a Jewish family, so yay.) I don't like when most of the appeal of a piece comes from a reader's connection with the original story, so as long as it has standalone appeal even if you don't know the myth, cool.

      * Long length: I like meaty work and stuff that takes its time with the characters; I hate rushing, and I hate all-action/no-talk. What I like people taking their time for is character development and authenticity in the action--I hate feeling like I'm watching someone fill in their outline.

      * Dialogue: I love when people talk because I feel like I can get to know them. I don't like when they have dialogue because they're explaining everything. So what your dialogue is for will matter.

      * Kidnapping: I have no problem with kidnapping as a plot point. My problem with kidnapping is when it's a cheap motivation for characters to go on a quest, race against time, or develop an unhealthy fascination with the kidnapped person to the point that it's insta-love when the character is rescued or something. So basically, zero points against you if the kidnapping isn't a plot coupon without which there'd basically be no plot at all.

      * Steampunk/Worldbuilding: This is gonna be tough. You'll have to decide this. But I am really turned off by really, really complex worlds and really high stakes and really epic fantasy. You can still save a fantasy like this for me if it's kept personal and character-focused, like, say, Shannon Hale's work; big things happen in her fairy tale-based worlds, but EVERYTHING has personal consequences and make it clear how real and complete these people are. If your world is really big and complicated and I have to understand all of its multi-layered workings to appreciate the story, I will probably admire you an awful lot for being able to do it (I can't!) but I won't be drawn to it. Really tough call. For the record, I'm going to guess this is multiple POV? If so, that's another thing I tend to dislike, though it's not a rule.

      But the biggest "rule" is the first (non-bulleted) one ANYTHING WITH BELIEVABLE AND COMPELLING CHARACTERS. Even if it has other things I won't usually like, that will sell it for me.

      That and a polished manuscript. I really will toss great ideas if the writing is sloppy/full of mistakes. I know I will end up doing that in this contest.

  5. Julie,

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify. Hopefully, that long and thoughtful answer will be helpful to people other than me! I think I will send you what I've got. Ultimately, I think there's a lot more in the "you'll like this" column than the "you'll not," and while it's a big, developed, world (IMHO), it focuses on just one place and just one overarching set of circumstances.

    There are multiple POVs, but since it's character, character, character for you and my rationale for moving between several people's perspectives is to build and connect those characters, maybe that's a net plus.

    In any case, I appreciate your time, and I wish you a week of good reads and tough decisions starting December second!


  6. Hi, I found myself wanting to explain the characters and plot a little more in response to your wishlist likes and dislikes as part of my query. But are we supposed to query you as we would an agent--keep everything short and snappy--260 words?

    1. I personally don't mind if it's a little longer, but I'd prefer to see something like "I see your preferences include queer characters and fairy tale inspiration, so you may appreciate my Rapunzel retelling with a trans* protagonist" as opposed to some kind of bulleted or itemized list of what you've got that I like. I like personalization, and so do agents (everyone likes to know you've done your homework instead of just chucking things at us), but I would prefer that most of the reasons I would like your book would be obvious to me in your blurb. If they're not, you can tweak it so they are. Hope that makes sense?

  7. Yes, I think so. The blurb would be the first paragraph of the query--or the back of a book jacket?

    This question is only if you have time. It concerns professional boundaries, and I want to be respectful of yours. I have been learning how to shlep my novels around using social media, and given my tendency to do über research on agents, I find that I just naturally become interested in them as people (your blog makes you sound fascinating.) And that creates these squishy sorts of boundaries or false intimacy that didn't exist back in the days when most correspondence with agents happened via the postal service (I'm old). So do you have thoughts about finding the right balance of being professional, using the personal information agents choose to share in their twitter accounts, blogs, etc. productively, respecting boundaries, but not completely wrenching out normal human desires to interact?

    As I said, the above is only if you have time. You strike me as someone who might have already given this some thought.

    1. Well, the first thing I'd point out is we aren't agents--we are after all in a very weird in-between place right now where we're using an oddly social blog-related contest to connect you with agents. And whoever I pick, I will be very informal with them. I certainly wouldn't mind a little bit of personal stuff in the query as long as it didn't seem like it was aiming for butt-kissing if you know what I mean. I think most agents like it when you have noticed something they said on Twitter or on their blog, though they don't like it if you use it like "I know the password, now I'm going to sit in your lap and we'll be chums." Most people, agents and mentors included, like to know you're paying attention!

      Here's a "between personal and professional" phrase that was in one of my query letters back in the day:

      "I saw on your Publishers Marketplace entry that your agency partially specializes in fantasy for adults. I promise not to bore you with an infodump in my first chapter."

      This agent had said she hates it when fantasy novels ramble with backstory at the very beginning, so I thought she would appreciate that. :)

      But I think when you're talking to agents, erring on the side of professional and brief is usually the safest bet, and more than a couple sentences identifying personal connections sounds stalkerish (even though they also paradoxically want you to read everything they've written). The secret is probably to figure out how to cram your enthusiasm into those lines rather than using many lines to show all the ways you've connected. If they become your agent, you can share that gushing during your follow-up conversations, and if they're on Twitter, they probably won't mind you playing around if they are.

      But as for the contest here, I think you can cross a couple more personal-content lines; I'm interested in the other writers as people too, and outside of the contest I would be more than happy to goof around on blogs and Twitter. :) Thanks for saying I sound interesting to you. :D

      Ah, and regarding the conversation by postal service . . . well, my first full manuscript request was by post, so maybe I'm not that far behind you. :)

    2. Thanks! Your friendship bracelet made from the entwined locks of our hair (I have some connections in Tampa) is in the mail.

  8. I am so excited you like long books! Most people look at my word count in contests and automatically think "that must be poorly written" :( Hopefully you won't think the same - there's definitely lots of worldbuilding and mythology involved :)

    1. So what's your word count? The longest book I ever queried was 255,000 words. ^___^

    2. Oh, the sharing-ness! Because I'm interested in bonding with my fellow long-writers, I can't help. Sorry to jump in, Rebecca. I want to know your word count, too!

      Mine is 122K after many, many rounds of cuts.


    3. See, I queried a 255k manuscript back in the day and STILL got to the full manuscript stage, but yeah, no dice. I rewrote it as a trilogy.

      The first volume of said trilogy was drafted at 171K. I chopped it down to 146K for a submission draft. And then my current agent, Michelle, loved the first 5 pages but wanted it to be between 85K and 115K before she'd look at the rest. I CUT IT DOWN TO 115K. Hardest thing I ever did.

      I'm learning to be more concise now. But it really doesn't come easily.

    4. Mine is also 122k after a LOT of cuts. I think you and I are going to be best buds, Tracy :)

      Wow. I can't believe you were able to cut it down to 115K, Julie! Hopefully you can help me with my 122k if you love it :) I'm sending it along now!

  9. Hi Julie,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer questions. My questions are regarding the pitches themselves. I know some may seem meaningless (the first one), but I've been struggling with them.

    1) I rarely see books being pitched as Space Operas, and was wondering if there's a reason for that. I know it's under the Science Fiction umbrella, but feel that Space Opera tells you a lot more about the novel than just saying SF.

    2) How do you feel about adding the "my book is a cross between X and X" line? I hear conflicting opinions on this, especially when the X, is a very well known book.

    Also, do you think it's better to avoid other mediums when comparing your book. My feedback has been consistent that my novel feels like a cross between Firefly and Mass Effect. And while I love the comparison, saying my novel is a cross between a TV show and a video game might raise some eyebrows.

    3) I'm struggling with "showing not telling" when it comes to tailoring the pitch to a Mentor's preferences. For example, one of my strengths is good dialogue. While there is a lot dialogue in my first 5 pages, it gets wittier and more enjoyably later. Should I not worry about "showing" and just tell say that I think you'd enjoy the dialogue?

    Thanks again,


    1. I think Space Operas should be pitched as Space Operas. However, I guess it's a genre that's fallen out of vogue, so people aren't so eager to use it anymore. I wouldn't mind seeing things called what they are, but marketing matters.

      The X meets Y technique is very popular now and publishers really like it. (I didn't have one in my query, and my agent added one when we went on submission!) I don't like when authors say they write like other (famous) authors, but I'm okay with hearing them describe their book combining elements of two well-known books (or, perhaps, "like [famous book x] with a fairy-tale twist"). This is not necessary, but it does help people get their heads in the right place for appreciating and marketing your book. I do not think crossing into different media types is taboo; I encourage you to do it.

      I don't think it's necessary to say that your book contains good dialogue. The way you might show that would be to simply mention characters' fast-paced banter as one of the elements your story contains, or hint at what they talk ABOUT (e.g., mention they're always arguing, bickering, or exchanging sweet talk). "My characters have a lot of dialogue and it's good" kind of falls flat.

    2. Thank you, I'll revise my pitch accordingly.