Pitch Wars 2019 Wishlist

Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. Mentors read the entire manuscript and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for the agent showcase. The mentor also helps edit their mentee’s pitch for the contest and their query letter for submitting to agents.

During the agent showcase, each mentee is featured on a post that includes their pitch and the first page of their manuscript. Participating agents view the posts and make requests. For more information on the program and application process, please click here.

A cartoon owl poking its head up behind a badge reading, “Adult Mentor, Pitch Wars: Into the query trenches with you!”

Welcome to my 2019 Pitch Wars wishlist!

I am so excited to be a Pitch Wars mentor in the Adult category, and I can’t wait to see what prospective mentees have been working on. Please read on to learn a little bit more about me and what I’ll be keeping an eye out for once submissions open.

About Me

I’m the award-winning, bestselling author of Dear Daughter and two works of nonfiction. Pretty as a Picture, my second novel, will be published this February by Viking/Penguin Random House.

I was born and raised in St. Louis, the only child of two professors whose core parenting philosophy could be roughly described as, “Here, have some books!” Stroke of genius or cautionary tale? Only time will tell.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. But when I was a kid, I never once imagined that I might become a writer. I was far too practical for that—I might still be too practical for that. I’ve been writing full time for twelve years now, and even so, there are days when I have to remind myself that no, it’s not some kind of slow-roll cosmic joke. I feel incredibly lucky to get to write mystery novels (and hang out with other mystery writers) for a living.

I currently live in Los Angeles with my husband, son, and like 70 houseplants. I’m not on Facebook, but when I’m totally swamped and absolutely can’t afford to waste a single second of my day, you can probably find me on Twitter. If you’d prefer to get to know me via my humorless professional bio, definitely feel free to check that out here.

What I’m Looking For

Send me your psychological thrillers, your literary suspense, your P.I. procedurals, your locked-room whodunits, your whip-smart amateur sleuths. I’m open to anything that could plausibly be shelved in the adult mystery section. This includes genre mashups (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Magic for Liars, The City & the City) and women’s fiction/literary fiction with a substantial mystery component (Everything I Never Told You, Eileen, Special Topics in Calamity Physics). No matter the setting, no matter the tone, if your story’s inciting incident relates to murder, theft, kidnapping, or extortion, you’re probably in the right place.

I would be particularly excited to read a manuscript that features any (or all) of the following:

  • Sultry, sexy noir (Sunburn, Body Heat, The Big Easy)

  • Speculative elements (The Shining Girls, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

  • A+ one-liners (The Swallows, Hollywood Homicide)

  • Social/cultural/political commentary (Bluebird, Bluebird, The Witch Elm)

  • Big Will-They-or-Won’t-They Energy (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Red Dragon)

But at the end of the day, what I’m looking for is an unforgettable narrator. My books are character-driven; I am character-driven; the world is character-driven. Give me a sprawling, ensemble cast of diverse, vividly drawn characters or give me death. An author who takes the time to develop, with wit, insight, and empathy, every single human being who appears on the page—even the villains, even the victims, even the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them background extras—will always get my attention. Most of all, though, it’s messy, complicated, achingly specific protagonists that do it for me.

So if you’ve written Fleabag Confidential, congratulations: I will move heaven and earth to get my hands on your manuscript.

What’s Not for Me

I write crime fiction, I read crime fiction, I’ve seen the films of Lars von Trier: I’m no stranger to darkness or graphic content. If you think I might be a good fit for you and your work, I want you to submit to me. I will try anything.

That said, if your work contains explicit sexual violence, gore, or anything even approaching hate speech, please give me a heads-up. I’ll be better able to evaluate if I’m the right mentor for such material if I know it’s coming. Provided they’re used thoughtfully and for a compelling narrative purpose, these elements won’t necessarily exclude a manuscript from consideration. Be aware, however, that I tend not to respond favorably to stories that, say, consider rape a convenient backstory or racial slurs a shortcut to some imagined ideal of gritty authenticity.

Note: I am only accepting Adult submissions. Please don’t send YA, MG, or NA.

Why You Should Submit to Me

This is my first time as a Pitch Wars mentor, so if you’re looking for someone who knows the schedule inside and out—for someone who has their collaborative process down pat and doesn’t break out into a cold sweat when trying to figure out how the hashtags work—you might be better off submitting to one of the vets. Luckily, you can’t go wrong with any of the mystery/thriller mentors. They’re all amazing.

But if you’re willing to learn alongside me, let me assure you: Whatever creative challenges you might be facing, I have relevant experience and resources I can bring to bear. I’ve been writing and editing and generally thinking about books professionally for fifteen years now, and in that time I’ve given notes on countless queries and synopses and essays and manuscripts and pitches and screenplays. I have a comparatively expansive resume: I’ve published fiction and nonfiction; I’ve worked with small, mid-sized, and Big 5 houses; I’ve freelanced as a copyeditor and a developmental editor; I’ve taken courses in commercial and literary fiction; I’ve written things that have been relegated to the darkest depths of my filing cabinet and things that have sold in eleven countries (and counting).

Also, at the beginning of my career, I spent three years working at literary agencies. Granted, much of my work back then was clerical, but my time as an assistant still gave me a better-than-average understanding of the business side of publishing, which serves me well to this day. And after reading literally thousands of queries, I developed a strong sense of what agents (or their assistants) are looking for in those very early stages. I know what wakes a reader up.

More to the point, I love this shit. Talking shop, dissecting craft. Brainstorming, spitballing, outlining. Playing around in a safe, supportive, shared creative space. If I could, I’d do it all day, every day, because for me it’s just as satisfying to help another writer have a breakthrough as it is to have a breakthrough myself.

Why You, Unlike My Mother-in-Law, Shouldn’t be Turned Off By My Voicey, Sweary Books

I’ve been told I have a fairly distinctive writing style, and if you dig it, that’s great—most days, I like it too! But even if you don’t love my particular brand of psychological suspense, I might still be the right mentor for you. Because I’m not interested in helping anyone learn to write more like me. I’m here to help you write more like you.

Most writers would say that you can’t teach voice, and I don’t disagree. But I also think it’s kind of irrelevant. Because if you’re a writer—if you’re compelled, for whatever reason, to laboriously construct entire worlds with your mind—if you’re willing to mine the secrets of your heart for total strangers who will not hesitate to one-star you on Amazon—if you’re intent on throwing your hat into this admittedly thrilling but minimally profitable ring—you almost certainly already have a voice. But maybe you need help recognizing it. Maybe you need help honing it or deploying it. Maybe you just need help believing in it.

As your mentor, my goal will be first to identify the unique qualities that make your writing special and then to provide you with tools and strategies to help you highlight those qualities on each and every page.

But, Like, How?

Again, this is my first year as a mentor, so I’m not going to make any definitive statements about how things are going to go. But generally speaking, I’m hoping to find a mentee who’s willing to work—and listen—as hard as I am. In my experience, the most productive editorial collaborations are sustained conversations, with both parties keeping their hearts and minds open to each other throughout. Depending on the manuscript, it might start to feel a little like therapy; I will almost certainly try to get my mentee to dig into why they feel compelled to write their particular story. It won’t be easy. But if you’re brave enough to trust a random internet person with your dreams, I truly believe that you can find the courage to be emotionally honest with yourself.

I will provide my mentee with an editorial letter and an annotated manuscript, with comments focusing (at least initially) on big-picture issues. From there, I can’t predict what will come next. It will really depend on my mentee. For instance, line editing is my particular superpower, but not every writer wants or needs detailed advice on sentence structure. Fortunately, I’ve read about eight thousand books on craft, so I can be flexible in my methods.

Ultimately, we’ll find the best way forward together. We can outline. We can mind-map. We can put together mood boards on Pinterest and playlists on Spotify. We can look at cinematic beat sheets. We can shoot the shit over text until we animated-GIF our way to a solution. If it works, I’m open to it—provided we can do it over email or chat.

All I ask is that my mentee be open, too.

I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you, and I thank you in advance for trusting me to give your work the consideration it deserves.

Browse other 2019 Adult Mentor wishlists below—or head over to Pitch Wars for the complete list!