Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dear Pitchwars 2015

Dear Pitchwarriors--

(Including my own! Who is, as I write this post, still undetermined . . . )

Some of you will be reading this before the actual mentees are announced. Most of you are probably sick with dread, looking squint-eyed at the #pitchwars feed, half-hoping, half-fearing you'll see something that will tell you the fate of your manuscript.

I know. I was there last year. Right before Brenda announced the mentees on her blog, I was so nervous my entire body shook. I'm a pessimist by nature, so I was pretty sure I was out. And then my mentor followed me on Twitter just moments before the announcement and my hope immediately shot up.

It was painful.

And then elating. For a few days, I was on top of the world. Someone LOVED my manuscript. I was going to do a few edits, make it shiny, and send it out into the world for agents to shower me with praise and book deals.


Um. Not quite.

When I got my five-page single-spaced edit letter from my mentor, I wondered for a wild moment if she'd regretted picking my manuscript. Maybe she was overwhelmed and hadn't read all the entries and she was now cursing herself because she was stuck with this flawed manuscript.

(Turns out, this feeling is really common. Almost every successful writer has this moment, whether it's getting the feedback from your mentor, doing revisions with your agent, or that first edit letter from your new editor.)

For a day or two I couldn't even respond to my mentor. I was sure she hated me.


She didn't--in fact, she had a vision for my story that made it MUCH better. But it took me a few days to wrap my head around the changes (they were daunting) and start to be excited. Over the next two months, I cut nearly a third of my MS and rewrote it. I finished just before the agent round. It was brutal--but so worth it.

So what does this mean for you? 

If you don't get picked

This is the part that kills me. The contest is set up so that each mentor only chooses one. But really, most of us could have chosen dozens. I just want to hug everyone who's disappointed when the picks come out. And maybe add this:

It's not the end of the world. Really. This kind of contest is highly subjective, and not making it in really only means that your chosen mentors felt another manuscript was a better fit for them. Another set of mentors might have felt differently.

You've already done a brave thing by putting your work out there. If you keep putting yourself out there, if you keep looking for feedback and ways to make your writing better, it will happen. (And if you're looking for other contest opportunities, here's a start). It probably won't happen as fast as you're hoping it will--but it will happen.

Pitch Wars IS a great contest, but it's not the only way to an agent. None of my Pitch Wars requests ended in offers. (I actually met my agent at a conference. Two of my other offers were from cold queries).

Take a little time to wallow, if you need it (with your favorite poison: mine's chocolate). Revise, if you get feedback from the mentors that inspires you to. And then send your work out again.

I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

If you do get picked: 

Know that the roller-coaster doesn't end here. Some of you have already been in the query trenches: you get this. But the wild elation of being chosen and the crippling insecurity of reading through your mentor's notes and thinking, "How did I get picked if my story has that many flaws?" keeps going.

A lot of it will be hard:

It's hard to put your ego aside and take the critique that will make your story better.

It's hard to take your story apart without any assurance that it will be better on the other side. (It will be. Probably.)

It's hard to realize that no matter how much you think you know about writing, you still have more to learn.

It's hard to watch other people get more requests than you--in the agent round, and later when querying. (Tracie has a wonderful post on this, if you haven't already read it).

But there are wonderful parts too, so make sure you hold onto those.

Someone LOVED your manuscript. They loved it enough to champion it in the face of other mentor interest, and they're excited to work with you. You're about to get detailed, quality feedback for free that can help you turn your story around.

The community of writers is the best part of Pitch Wars. Really. Some of you have already connected on the #pitchwars feed, and that's a beautiful thing. Last year, as several people have mentioned, most of the mentees/alternates formed a private Facebook group that's still going strong. We've answered each other's questions, cheered each other on when agent offers arrived, and mourned when deals fell through or agents did. Reach out to your fellow mentees--you're all on this writing journey together, and it's so much easier in company.

And celebrate!

I'm learning that with this writing thing it's easy to focus on the next milestone (get into Pitch Wars, get an agent, get a book deal, get a foreign rights deal, get a starred review . . . ). But the milestones are never ending, so remember to celebrate the good things while you can.


To read the rest of the letters, please see the bloghop at Tracie' s blog. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Indulgences

I turned in my edits last Monday and spent the rest of the week indulging in a bit of a reading binge. Among this week's offerings: 

Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Before picking up this book, I'd been hearing how adorable it was--and the book didn't disappoint. Simon Spier is the kind of warm-hearted, cynical, Harry Potter loving teenage boy you just want to hug. His voice carries the story, which is, in its essentials, pretty simple: Simon has been emailing with a boy (Blue) whom he may be falling for, and he's perfectly happy with his friends and his not-quite-out yet romance, until another boy sees their emails and not-so-subtly blackmails Simon into playing his wingman--or he'll tell the school Simon is gay. But the story isn't really about the blackmail, or Simon coming out, or even the question of who is Blue? (which I figured out fairly early). The story is more about what it feels like to be human, to fall in love for the first time, to navigate your changing self around family and friends who have known you forever, and figuring out how to be yourself. The story exudes warmth and humor--and can I just say how much I loved that Simon has a healthy family relationship? His parents are together, he actually likes his sisters, and while they're not perfect, Albertalli didn't unecessarily pad the story with angst in the form of family drama. I smiled a lot while reading this. Sometimes it even made me laugh.

Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, by Ann Jacobus.

Romancing the Dark in the City of Light I got an ARC of this book from the author, for review purposes. She attached a sticky note warning me that the story was not for the faint of heart, so I started reading with a little trepidation. But while it's true that the story IS dark, it's also a story about hope and redemption. Summer Barnes is in Paris for her last semester of school, hoping not to get kicked out here as she has every other school she's attended. She just wants to get through, and maybe hold a boy's hand. She meets Moony, a classmate recovering from a serious car accident--and Kurt, a hot older guy who shows her a part of the city she's never seen before. And while Moony charms her, Kurt stirs something dark and dangerous inside her. But this is not your typical love triangle, and the unfolding relationship between these three is surprising and even shocking. Much of the tension of the story comes from Summer trying to master her demons (drinking, a haunted past, feelings of loneliness and isolation) before she succumbs to the lure of ending everything.

This definitely isn't a story for very young readers (drug abuse, sexual situations, some language), but it's beautifully written and thought-provoking.

Courting Kat, by Stephanie Burgis

Courting Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3.5) Stephanie Burgis has created such a perfectly delightful heroine in Katherine Stephenson (Kat), that it's almost impossible not to be charmed by the novels. In this novella, Kat is all grown up (18), and enduring her social debut to please her sisters. When she's asked to take on Guardian business to find an illusionist who's been impersonating nobility and stealing from them, she's relieved--something to make this society business more endurable. That is, until she finds that three other Guardians have been assigned to the case as well, and they've been asked to "court" her to make their presence at the same balls less suspicious. Of course, since one of the young men is someone wholly ineligible from her past (not that this has made her stop thinking about him for the past five years), things get problematic very quickly. For me, this was the perfect mix of fantasy, humor, romance, and Regency and I adored it. Except, of course, that it wasn't nearly long enough!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cover Reveal! Monica Wagner's FROSH

Monica has been a fixture in the YA writing community for the last few years, mentoring everywhere from Pitch Wars to the Writer's Voice. But she just got her cover for her upcoming NA, Frosh, and the book looks like so much fun!

Here's the blurb:

During welcome week at Hillson University, the FROSH will hit the fan.

Type-A aspiring journalist Ellie plans to take freshman year by storm. But hell-bent on breaking a huge on-campus scandal, she risks becoming one herself—and getting the mysterious, heart-melting QB in serious trouble.

Grant, star quarterback and charismatic chick-magnet, is hiding a life-altering secret. The last thing he needs is an overeager (absolutely adorable) journalist asking questions. He’s got a reputation to protect.

High-society legacy student Devon is ready to catch the football hottie of her dreams. If the tabloids feature her with the “it” boy on her arm, her tainted past will be buried—or so she thinks.

Charlie, pre-med, is done being the sweet and funny geek that girls like Devon ignore. But if he tries to impress her with a new edgy, spontaneous attitude, will his heart end up in the emergency room?

FROSH intertwines the stories of Ellie, Grant, Devon, and Charlie in Mónica B. Wagner’s sexy NA debut series, about falling in love and falling apart.

 Without further ado, here's the cover!

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The book releases October 20th, and you can add the book to Goodreads here.

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Mónica was born in a Peruvian city by a snow-capped volcano. Growing up, books were her constant companion as she traveled with her family to places like India (where she became a vegetarian), Thailand (where she *almost* met Leonardo di Caprio), France (where she pretended to learn French), and countless other places that inspired her to write. Now, Mónica lives in Chile with her husband, three boys, eleven hens, and stray dog.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pitch Wars Mentor Bio

Writers are supposed to be good with words, but all I can think to say is--I am so thrilled to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year! (If you're not familiar with Pitch Wars, it's a fabulous contest hosted by the equally fabulous Brenda Drake, where unpublished writers work with a mentor to polish their work before agents request pages. You can read a fuller explanation here).

I was lucky enough to be mentored by the fabulous Virginia Boecker last fall, and her insights made my book so much better. I got my agent (Josh Adams) a month after Pitch Wars ended, and sold my YA fantasy debut, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION (Fall 2016, first in a planned trilogy) to Knopf/Random House in February.

Pitch Wars was definitely instrumental in my success, and I'm so excited to get to pay it forward this year!

What I'm looking for:

 I'm a YA mentor.

I read widely in YA, so I'm open to anything, as long as it's well written. That said, I'm partial to fantasy (contemporary or historical) and historical novels. I love reading contemporary (Jandie Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun blew me away, and I adore Rainbow Rowell), but I was a bona fide nerd in high school and my high school experience is a bit dated. I do love a good sci-fi novel, but I lean toward space opera (think Miles Vorkosigan or Firefly) or light sci-fi. You can take a look at my Goodreads book shelf to see what I've read and liked, or scroll through some of the reviews on this blog.

I have a serious weakness for BBC period dramas: if you've got anything reminiscent of Poldark, Wives and Daughters, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Sherlock, etc., I will fight to the (figurative) death for your book! I take my historicals with or without magic. I'm not picky. But give me drama, an authentic setting, a bit of manners, smart dialogue, and a healthy dose of romance, and I will love you.

I also love fantasy: rich, sweeping epic settings with high stakes (think Marie Rutkowski's The Winner's Curse, Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books) or vivid worlds with a folkloric feeling (Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing), send them my way!

I adore contemporary romance (Kasie West, Stephanie Perkins) and would seriously consider anything in that vein, but I might not be as helpful as some of the contemporary mentors.

Mostly, though, I'm looking for someone who's not afraid of working hard to make their book better. If you're just hoping to make surface level revisions, or for someone to put their stamp of approval on the book, I'm probably not the right mentor. Good revisions take work--last year, I rewrote nearly 1/3 of my manuscript for Pitch Wars. While the revisions I suggest may not be that drastic, you need to be prepared to cut and rework.

I'm open to diversity as long as you've done your research and the characters are fleshed-out, compelling, and respectfully presented.

What I'm not looking for: 

I'm not a huge fan of thrillers or hard-boiled mystery novels; I also don't do straight-up horror or anything that's ultra violent. Dark, gritty realistic fiction is probably not a good fit for me either. I don't mind some sex or swearing in books, but lots of it is a turn-off for me (esp. in YA).

Anything above 100k words. Two months is not a lot of time to workshop an entire novel, and I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to give the level of attention I need to a longer novel.


What I can offer you:

I'm good at giving feedback on both big-picture and sentence-level issues. I have a PhD in English from Penn State, and I've taught college writing for over a decade. Giving feedback is part of what I'm paid to do professionally, and I love it. There's something so rewarding about seeing a piece of writing go to the next level.

For Pitch Wars, my feedback will focus primarily on big-picture issues: plot arc, characterization, setting, description, dialogue, etc. I won't focus on editing for grammar, though if there's a recurrent issue I will point it out.

Beyond that, my entry was fairly successful last fall in Pitch Wars (twelve requests and three ninja requests), so I have a reasonably good sense of what it takes to craft a compelling pitch and opening page.

My plan is to provide you with an edit letter that gives an overview to the strengths and weaknesses in your book, along with more detailed line edits in the manuscript itself. Ideally, we'll finish one round of revisions with time for me to do another read through before Pitch Wars.

Sometimes it's also helpful to know about mentoring style: I'm most comfortable working via email or google docs (I'm available to talk on the phone for crisis issues, but generally speaking talking on the phone makes my introvert self break into hives). I typically respond promptly to emails.

More about me:

If you're still reading, you're either unusually persistent or you're considering me as a mentor. Either way: hooray! I live in the red rock of the Southwest with three small children and a chemistry professor husband. When I'm not reading and writing, I enjoy cooking (if someone else cleans), watching BBC dramas with my long-suffering husband, hiking, traveling, and generally avoiding housework. I love: anything British, European cities, mountains, fog, rocky coasts, good chocolate, and sleeping.

If you think we'd be a good fit, send your manuscript my way! If you have questions relating to Pitch Wars, just send me a tweet @rosalyneves or comment below.

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