18
JUL
2017

Pitch Wars 2017 is Here!

Hello, all you amazingly awesome people! Did you do something new with your hair? It’s absolutely lovely and makes you look super fine.

(It should shock exactly no one that I’m recycling my wishlist format from previous years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…)

I am ready and super pumped to be back for my fourth year mentoring in Pitch Wars. (Four years, whaaaaaa??) I can’t believe it’s been that long already, but I’m so excited to be back for another year!

IMG_2303About me:

My official bio can be found on my website, or the back of my books, or Amazon, or Goodreads, or…well, you get the picture. But I had so much fun creating my unofficial bio last year that I wanted to—you guessed it!—recycle it for this year since no one will let me use it on my books.

Aficionado of smut, tiaras, and tutus, Brighton Walsh has spent her last *coughmumble* years searching for the perfect dessert, finding any excuse to wear a dress, and swearing as much as humanly possible while not around her children. Fortunately, she can now make her characters do the latter for her, sometimes in extremely satisfying ways. She does not enjoy walks on the beach (sand gets everywhere, and if she wanted a workout, she’d go to the gym), but she does enjoy walking on the nice trail near her home that surrounds the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. A big lover of romance—both writing and reading—she takes her HEA very seriously, and if you mess with that in any way, you are dead to her. She lives in an average home in an average neighborhood with two (above-average) kids she loves dearly but who drive her crazy and a(n also above average) husband who puts up with her bullshit.

***

Okay, so that was fun, but probably not exactly what you’re looking for as you choose the mentors to submit to. In that case, let me point you to 2014, 2015, and 2016‘s posts, as well as my legitimate bio, so you can get a better idea of me. Annnnnnd now’s the time I get serious and whip out my virtual resume to tell you all I’ve accomplished in hopes of swaying you to PICK ME. *cough*

I’ve been published since 2013 and have had the opportunity to work with several publishers (digital first, as well as big five), including Harlequin’s Carina Press, Penguin Random House’s Berkley, and Macmillan’s St. Martin’s Press. I also incorporated my own publishing company in 2016 for my independent publishing adventures. What’s that mean for you? No matter the path your career takes you—be it Big 5, small press, digital only, or independent—I’ll have a pretty good idea of how to advise you. 🙂

In 2015, Caged in Winter was named one of the top 10 best romances of 2015 as well as one of the 101 best romances of the past decade (!!!), and Exposed was named one of the best romances of 2015. My work has also garnered starred reviews (also this one!) as well as top picks from industry review outlets. I’m repped by the super fabulous, gif-wielding agent extraordinaire Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency, and one of the amazing agents who will be participating in Pitch Wars. Most recently, I started a brand new pen name with my writing bestie, and we’ve published five (six by the time the submission window goes live!) books so far, with several more on the docket, including one with Harlequin’s Carina Press.

Still on the fence about me? *cracks knuckles* Time to get serious.

I’ve picked some amazing mentees the past several years, and now I get to brag about all their successes like the proud mama bear I am. Kelly Siskind, my mentee from 2014, became agented and snagged several book deals shortly after Pitch Wars 2014 ended. Her Pitch Wars novel also garnered her a Golden Heart nomination (RITAs are the Oscars for published romance novels and the Golden Heart award is for their unpublished counterparts). Suzanne Marie, from Pitch Wars 2015, is agented and just sold a book series to Pocket. Both my mentees in 2016 received multiple offers of representation and accepted rep shortly after Pitch Wars. I warred for a chance to mentor Jen DeLuca (and won, whoop whoop!), who’s now on submission with her Pitch Wars novel. And Helen Hoang, also my 2016 mentee, just announced a three book series that sold to Berkley in a good deal. (I mean, seriously, are my mentees freakin’ amazing or what?!)

In addition to Pitch Wars, I’ve been beta’ing and critique-partnering (yeah, I just made up a verb) for nine years, for both agented and unagented, published and unpublished writers, not to mention the hundreds upon hundreds of romance novels I’ve read (staying current with the trends…this job is super rough, you guys). What I’m saying is, I love romance and I know what makes one good.

 

Last year, I asked hopefuls what they wanted to see on mentors’ wishlists and bios. Because it gives a lot of good info that you’ll (hopefully) find informative, I’m…yes, recycling it.

Why do I mentor?

For me, the why of becoming a Pitch Wars mentor is an utterly selfish reason. It makes me feel good. That’s it. It makes me feel good to be able to share whatever knowledge I’ve gleamed in my time as an agented and published author with someone who’s feeling as terrified, anxious, and uncertain as I was in the beginning. It makes me feel good to be able to help my mentee work and mold and polish their manuscript until it shines. And then I love seeing that mentee go on to do amazing things.

Bottom line: It makes me feel good to watch my past mentees succeed in this very fickle industry, in part because of the help I gave.

My strengths:

Pacing
Plotting
Characterization
Deep POV
Realistic dialogue and plot
Plot holes
Bringing out visceral emotion
Sex scenes (I’m totes the reigning Smut Queen of 2015-2016)
Sexual tension

If any of those are a concern for you, I’m your girl. If, on the other hand, you’re worried about world building? You should probably cross me off your list.

Communication style:

While I prefer e-mail, gchat, and/or text for ease and efficiency, I’m pretty open here. If phone calls do it for you, I have no problem doing that (though finding a time to be able to sit uninterrupted for a phone call may take a bit longer). Same for Skype. Basically whatever flips your pancakes will work for me.

My plan for my mentee:

As much of a planner as I am, I hate setting down specifics here, because situations can change (and because I don’t want to dissuade anyone from submitting to me because I didn’t say I’d read your book fourteen times, and that was your magic number). Plus, not everyone’s book will need the same level of work. However, going by what I’ve done in past years, I’ll read over your manuscript (several times—pre-selection, post-selection, and additional times if necessary and if time allows) and give it back to you with an edit letter as well as developmental edits. This is where we’ll focus on characterization, pacing, arc, plot holes, etc. Once that’s done, we’ll delve into the nitty gritty. You’ll get homework (yes, I said homework. I’m fond of the teach a person to fish philosophy) to do on your own so you can learn the parts of your writing that need work, what crutches you use, etc. Doing this will help you with each and every future book you write. Because while I’m here for the long haul, I also want you to be competent on your own so you’re not relying on me forevermore. Then we’ll polish that baby and get it prepped and shiny for the agent round. We’ll also get your query in tip-top shape.

What I’m looking for in a mentee:

First and foremost, I’m only interested in working with those who are accepting of everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, etc. Xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist or otherwise intolerant people need not apply, please and thank you. Which is to say, if you’re a supporter of the current administration, we wouldn’t be a good match. Still with me? Great! Since this isn’t just a two month process for me, I’ll be looking for someone I think I’ll click with for the long haul. Bonus points for a great sense of humor.

What I expect out of my mentee:

You must be willing to put in the work. A lot of work. You must also be open to feedback and be able to take critique and suggestions. I think this is a no-brainer if you’re entering a contest like this, but it’s super important to come into these things with an open mind. If you’re looking for a quick fix, I’m not the mentor for you. I want someone who wants this bad enough to bust their ass for it without complaint. The publishing industry is hard. Trust me when I say this is nowhere near the hardest.

What you can expect from me as a mentor:

In addition to all the sparkly edits I’ll be doing, I’m also on tap to offer advice, encouragement, snarky e-mails, therapy sessions, hand-holding (but not too much hand-holding…I’ll shove you when needed), cheerleading, and inappropriate jokes to cheer you up or just for the hell of it. One of the things I love most about Pitch Wars is the community. There are life-long friends, critique partners, and relationships to be made.

I don’t see this as a two month job. My previous mentees all know I’m here as a sounding board, critique partner, or idea bouncer, forever. If I choose you, I have to like you–and vice versa!–because I plan to be with you for a while. If that sounds good, and you want to grow your writing and are willing to strip down your manuscript and rebuild it if necessary, then I think we’d be a good fit!

Say hello to my tribe. Aren’t my bitches lovely? And you see those arrows? Three of my past mentees. Told you I was here for the long haul!

What I’m looking for:

GIMME ALL YOUR NEW ADULT AND ADULT ROMANCES! GIVE. THEM. TO. MEEEEEEEEE.

 

*cough* *smooths hair*

Sorry, I get a little excited when we start talking wishlists. So what do I want? Adult and/or new adult romances of the contemporary, paranormal or suspense variety. I love character driven stories, and while high concept are always a bonus, I won’t turn my nose up at quiet books. Things I’m not looking for? High fantasy, magic realism, historical romances (unless by historical you mean set in the 80s or 90s, in which case *grabby hands*), sci-fi romance, or inspirational romance. I’d also say no to horror (egads!), crime, thriller, non-fiction, mystery, fantasy, memoirs, and women’s fiction (<—-this is important! Don’t waste your mentor pick on me if your manuscript is solidly in the WF genre. Not sure if it is? Hop over to Twitter and we’ll chat.).

PLEASE NOTE: I AM ONLY ONLY ONLY ONLY ONLYYYYYYYYY INTERESTED IN ROMANCE. R. O. M. A. N. C. E. If romance isn’t included in your genre designation, do not sub to me. The only exception to this is Urban Fantasy, and that must have a heavy romantic arc. For more info, continue reading.  

Let’s narrow down those very broad contemporary / paranormal / suspense genres, shall we? Here’s more of what I’m looking/not looking for from you:

1. I only do HEAs. HFNs (happy for now, i.e. there doesn’t have to be a wedding and babies) are also acceptable. That should be pretty self explanatory in the romance category, but I just want to be clear. If your “romance” doesn’t have a HEA/HFN, it is not a romance“But what if—” No. “Okay, but how about—” Still no. “All right, but see what I did—” Nope. There is one rule in romance and one rule only: HEA/HFN.

2. If you have a cheater, mosey on out of here. I don’t care the circumstances. This is a hard limit for me and will never not be. Please note: This only applies to the h/h. I don’t care if anyone else in your story cheats. And because there are always extenuating circumstances, feel free to clarify with me on Twitter.

3. I love tropes done well–brother’s best friend/best friend’s brother, marriage of convenience, enemies to lovers, BFFs to lovers, second chance romances, and on and on and on. I love almost all of them, and if you execute them properly, you’ll have me eating out of your hand.

4. Writing trumps everything. I love purple prose as much as the next guy, but it can’t overwhelm your manuscript. I want to read something that stands out, something that makes me anxious to turn the pages. I want your query to leave me having to read the rest. Also, because I will do copy as well as content edits on my mentee’s manuscript (seriously, I can’t just leave an error if I see it), you must must must have a decent grasp of grammar to help me stay sane.

5. Humor is always welcome. I knew I’d pick 2014’s mentee’s manuscript because I laughed out loud three times in the opening paragraph. If you can do that to me, you’ve got a fan for life. I love a fresh story that will make me laugh. While the entire MS doesn’t have to be a romantic comedy, a few well placed lines are fabulous. My favorite author example of this is Jill Shalvis. Light-hearted and funny.

6. If your goal is to rip the reader’s heart out, I’m probably not the mentor for you. I like my heart just where it is, thank you very much.

7. Sex is my favorite. You can take that however you want, but right now I’m talking specifically in books. If your characters are doin’ it, I want to read about it. Fade-to-blacks are my nemesis. Romance and erotic romance are both welcome. Dirty talkers are my jam. Erotica? Not for me. Also not for me? BDSM (in any variation, even light).

8. I have absolutely no preference on POV or tense. Whether it’s first or third, present or past, your story should transport me. I expect to get lost in it. That’s the bottom line. You can do that with any of the above. I read and love all variations (though I’m not a fan of omniscient), and I’ve written in first/present, first/past, and third/past. To check out samples of any of my books, you can download them from Amazon.

9. Things I’d love to see (include but are definitely not limited to): 

  • BFFs turned lovers (triple bonus points if they’re roommates)
  • Non-BFF roommates (for the love of Pete, someone give me roommates already)
  • rom-com
  • banter
  • snarky heroines with backbones
  • bromances
  • Jordan Catalano in book form
  • sexy camp counselor NA
  • blue collar heroes
  • traditional gender roles reversed (in occupations, life, everything)
  • dirty talking alphas
  • Buffy or Angel comp titles
  • super sexy stuff (still no BDSM)
  • bad boys gone good (or plain old bad boys)
  • romances set in another country (bonus points for a study abroad NA or a finding her/himself adult CR)
  • pierced heroes…*cough* pierced. Yes, I mean there. (Is this my lucky year?!) And tattooed. Gimme
  • a spin of basically any 90s cult classic movie
  • fun, quirky romance set in the 80s or 90s
  • any romances set in the 80s or 90s
  • small town romances
  • “unlikeable” (blech, I hate that term) heroines
  • nice guys (I like alpha heroes, but I also like beta heroes, and gamma are my absolute favorite)
  • nerds
  • NA a la Gilmore Girls when Rory goes off to college (gimme Logan!)
  • heroes who wear scrubs
  • hot single dads
  • h/h forced together through extenuating circumstances
  • PNR including witches, made up creatures, or shifters (bonus points for dragons)
  • An amazing mashup of CharmedPractical Magic + hot guys & hot sex.
  • Urban Fantasy if it is heavy on the romance and follows a romance arc
  • romantic suspense with an uber alpha man who’s gaga over the heroine
  • gritty, emotional romance that will stay with me long after reading
  • contemporary fairy tale retellings (would love a Beauty & the Beast remix)
  • sports romance–pretty much any sport, but bonus points for hockey, MMA, football or baseball
  • firefighters (bonus points for lady firefighters!)
  • band of brotherhood
  • diversity of any kind is welcome and encouraged, especially #ownvoices
  • LGBTQ+ welcome

 

10. Things that aren’t for me (i.e. DO NOT SEND ME THESE THINGS. YOU WILL WASTE YOUR SUB.):

  • super dark romances
  • cliffhangers
  • love triangles
  • abuse disguised as romance
  • graphic or over the top child abuse or rape (used as a backstory or character history is fine)
  • non-consent or dubious consent
  • everyone dies
  • closed door (aka sweet) romances
  • BDSM
  • Erotica (aren’t sure if your book is erotica, erotic romance, or steamy romance? Go here.)
  • Former fanfiction. (This is nothing against fanfic—my writing roots are in the fandom and I owe my career to what I learned there. I love fanfic (both reading and writing)! That said, I’m not interested in reworked fic.)
  • previously mentioned: historical (unless 80s-90s), inspirational, any/all fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime, thriller, non-fiction, mystery, memoirs, magic realism, upmarket, women’s fiction, and any other genre I’ve forgotten that isn’t contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, or urban fantasy with heavy romantic elements

Some of my favorite books in the genres I’m seeking:

Time Served by Julianna Keyes
Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor series (or all her books, tbh).
Elle Kennedy’s Off-Campus series (specifically The Deal and The Score)
Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl
Make Me by Tessa Bailey
Sustained by Emma Chase
Elle Kennedy’s Killer Instincts series (specifically Midnight Captive)
Tessa Bailey’s Crossing the Line series
Mia Thorne’s Protecting Their Mate serial
Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Undecided by Julianna Keyes

Also, this isn’t the genre that I’m seeking, but my favorite book of all time is How to Kill a Rock Star by Tiffanie Debartolo

Still unsure?

Head over to Twitter and chat with me. If you’re unsure if your book is something I’d like, please swing by and chat. I’m always available to answer (vague) questions regarding if your book would be a good fit for me, so hit me up! Too shy to start talking? Hit me with a joke. My favorite are that’s what she SAID. You can fit one in anywhere. (see what I did there?) Also, have you checked out my FAQ? I answer lots of burning questions, including my feedback style.

For more information on how to submit, go to Brenda Drake’s site!

So now I think there’s only one thing left to say…

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To see what the other mentors are looking for, here’s a comprehensive list! (But still submit to me…)

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27
AUG
2016

Assignment #4: GMC

Your next assignment goes hand in hand with assignment 3. GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) is another peek at into the mind of your character. It’s also a great reference point to make sure each scene is moving the story forward based on these things.

I’m going to be honest and say I have a really hard time wrapping my brain around GMC before I write. I can tell you the GMC of any of my characters in books I’ve already written, but when it comes to characters I haven’t written yet or am writing now, I just can’t get GMC to work for me. That’s not to say I don’t know them in some roundabout way, because I do and it’s what I work toward while writing. But condensing it into three key pieces before the book is done is really difficult for me. If this is you, too, that’s okay! I’m a firm believer in trying new crafting tools, but not forcing anything that’s obviously not working for you.

That said, I have a lot of friends for whom this works fantastically, and you might be one of those. If that’s the case, let’s get down to it.

GMC is really very simple at its base. It consists of:

S/he wants X (goal) because Y (motivation) but Z (conflict).

My friend, Ellis Leigh, likes to use this very basic example:

He wants to get laid (goal) because it feels good (motivation) but his pants are in the way (conflict).

She also says, “But that example is super shallow. Some GMCs should be deep. Like, if a character wants to be married, the writer needs to unpack that. What does marriage represent to them? What is it that fuels that need? There’s a base desire at hand, more than love. Usually it’s something like security (physical, emotional, financial).”

I have smart friends.

So delving deeper into your characters’ goals and motivations could come directly from the character questionnaire you filled out, or vice versa. See how all this stuff works together?

For a more in depth look at GMC, check out Debra Dixon’s book. It’s something I own and a book that comes highly recommended. This blog post also goes much more in depth on GMC and may be helpful to some of you!

If you have a favorite GMC reference, don’t be shy! Share it in the comments.

26
AUG
2016

Assignment #3: Character Questionnaires

In case you missed the first two assignments I posted last year, you can find them on my blog. Assignment 1 is on beat sheets (super important for everyone, as I’ve yet to have a mentee who didn’t need help in some form with pacing. It’s a very common problem.) and assignment 2 is on finding a CP (also super important so you can find your tribe). For this assignment, we’re going to talk a little bit about character questionnaires. What they are, how they work, and why you need them.

character questionnaireWhat are they?

They’re pretty simple. It’s a list of questions you answer as your character. If you google character questionnaires, you’ll find loads of examples on questions you can use. I have a total of 300+ questions covering almost twenty pages. Yes, it’s a lot, but it has always helped me get in the mind of my characters. I use Scrivener and a couple years ago tackled the project to break them down into categories for ease of finding the answers I need at a later time.

How do they work?

The idea is to answer the questions rapid style (remember playing the word association game by saying the first thing that came to mind? That’s exactly what you’re doing here.). You don’t want to think about how your character would answer it; you just want to answer it. Another cool tidbit: the questions you leave unanswered sometimes tell as much about the characters as their actual answers do.

Why do you need them?

For one major reason: deeper and more consistent POV. If you know your character inside and out (which you will by the time you’re done answering these), you’ll have an easier time portraying that on the page and you won’t get as easily stuck when you come to a part in the book in which you’re not sure how your character would react.

I fill this out for my hero and my heroine in every single book I write. It’s a lifesaver for me and allows me to fast draft novels because I’m so in tune with how my characters think and act.

Any questions? Leave me a comment or head over to Twitter and fire away. And if any of you are super hardcore, Type A writers and want my ridiculously long character questionnaire, leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send it along. For the rest of you, just google “character questionnaires” and combine/cut/edit till your heart’s content to get something that works for you.

19
AUG
2016

It’s Almost #PitchWars Decision Time

As we’re nearing the end of #PitchWars, I thought I’d give you all a little peek into my inbox. It’s easy to be on the other side and start to feel defeated or unsure or nervous or unworthy. But I want you to know that you have absolutely no reason to feel that way. First of all: you wrote a book. That in and of itself is an accomplishment most of the world will never realize. Second of all: you wrote a damn good book. The quality of the subs are talked about every year, and every year it’s true. However, the quality I received this year has topped all of them. I didn’t have a single entry that I put into my “not ready” pile, reserved for those submissions that are basically just a rough draft delivered to the mentors.

You guys brought your A game. …which really makes my job hard.

I received a total of 73 submissions. I requested additional pages on 25 of them. That’s right, I wanted to read more of a third of my subs. So then the ones that I didn’t request more of must’ve been bad, right? First of all, shut up with that talk. (Don’t make me turn this car around!) Second of all, nope. Not even a little bit. It usually meant one of a few things: a) it wasn’t my genre; b) it wasn’t my category (the first two took up 15% of my subs); c) I knew immediately the premise wasn’t for me; or d) I didn’t connect with the voice.

Now D is a tricky one, because on many of the ones I requested, I didn’t connect immediately to the voice, but I wanted to read more just to be sure. I was super liberal in my requests, because I wanted to make sure I gave every single submission that could possibly be The One a fighting chance.

While I’ve been plowing my way through 25 submissions to read, I’ve had a total of ten of them on The Spreadsheet at one point or another. I’ve read something like eleventy billion pages, though I only read until I realized the sub wasn’t for me. Sometimes that was 7%. Sometimes it was 82%. Sometimes I stopped because another mentor listed the sub as their final pick, and if I don’t have to fight someone for their one true love, I don’t want to. (So far, I’ve counted 11 of my submissions on The Spreadsheet.) My criteria for The One is pretty simple: I want something that gives me the feels. As of now, I have two that are in the running, with one I keep coming back to. (Is it yours is it yours?!)

As for the ones I’ve passed on, I’ve taken notes on all of them, and if I have time to send to 25 people, I’ll compile my feedback and send it on for those I’ve requested more from.

The mentors have to have our picks to The Queen in four days. During that time, I also have a new release (whoop whoop!), my kid’s birthday, my kid’s birthday party (four boys all by myself, lord help me), and 8 submissions I’d still like to read (some of which I haven’t made requests on). So I probably shouldn’t be posting blog posts about Pitch Wars, huh?

While I go dive into some awesomeness on my e-reader, I wanted to leave you with a couple things: The Power of Perseverance is a post I wrote last year during Pitch Wars, and it’s still very much applicable today. I’ve posted it about 652 times on the hashtag, but on the off chance you’ve missed it, take a gander at it. If you’re feeling like a fish out of water, like you don’t belong in this vast literary world, So You Feel Like a Fraud, Huh? is a good one. We’ve all been there (yes, even those bestsellers you envy). And Every Step is Worth Celebrating is important for every writer. Even if that step is writing a book, celebrate it. If it’s submitting to PW, celebrate it. You did something awesome. Now go have some wine.

01
AUG
2016

Holy Crap It’s Almost #PitchWars Time! FAQs to the Rescue.

(updated for 2017!)

I’ve been spending way too much a little time on the #PitchWars feed, and I’ve seen these questions come up time and time again. With nothing else to do, I figured I’d make a quick FAQ post on the ones I see the most.

Do I have to do #PimpMyBio?

You sure don’t. Many mentors (me included) won’t even read them—at all, or if they do, it’ll be after the sub window closes or when they’re narrowing their mentee choices. Having one or not having one does not affect you one way or another. Unless you’re a douchecanoe in yours, in which case…maybe don’t be?

How should I format my MS?

I have details on my catch-all post. Bottom line: standard MS formatting, and yes, it matters. If it’s not formatted correctly when I receive it and I request more materials, I’ll ask that you format it before sending them back to me. I’m reading 100% of my submissions on my tiny iPhone, so an incorrectly formatted MS looks like jkfljdkashfcjkdsajkckdsakjchjks. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

How should I title my MS?

The mentors get a lot of submissions. It would help immensely if you titled your submission and any subsequent material as: Last Name_TITLE_first chapter/50 pages/full/whatever. So: Smith_AWESOME TITLE_full.

Does it matter if I submit at the beginning or at the end of the submission window?

I’m inclined to say no. I can’t remember when any of my mentees’ submissions landed in my inbox. All I know is several I got from other mentors after going through all of mine, so they were some of the last ones I read. I’d rather you wait until the last day and deliver a polished MS than hurry up and sub early because you think it might give you a slight advantage. The polished MS will give you more of an advantage. Promise. Update: in 2016, I picked one mentee who was my first sub, and my other was within the last 5 subs I receive. It really doesn’t matter.

Do I need a synopsis?

Yes. Your chosen mentors may not ask for one, but they might. Better to be prepared than flailing about, trying to write a synopsis in twenty minutes. Hey, I get it. Synopsis writing is a real bitch. But here’s the thing—you’re going to need to write a synopsis for (probably) every manuscript you ever write. Ever. Might as well start polishing your skills now. The silver lining here is most (if not all) mentors aren’t looking for perfection or sparkling wit. We just need to see if your story takes any crazy turns or twists or jumps the shark. 1-3 pages is pretty standard in the industry (1 page: single spaced; anything longer: double). I’ll take 1-3 pages. I’ll take 4-6 pages. If you need 7 to tell me everything, fine. I’m not going to put a huge red X by your name if your synopsis is too long by industry standards. I might draw a mustache on you, but you’ll never know.

How long should my query be?

250-350 is pretty standard in the industry. You don’t win a prize if it’s significantly less than that. You also don’t get bonus points the more words you use. Keep it simple: characters, conflict, stakes. Good rule of thumb is for format is: hook (your log line or elevator pitch), book (character/conflict/stakes), cook (you!).

What if my query sucks donkey balls? Will you still read the pages?

Yeppers, I will. Queries, like synopses, mean little to me at this stage. In fact, I sort of expect they’re not at their best. A couple things you can do to make them be as good as they can? Proofread, get additional input, focus on CCS (see above), and don’t use rhetorical questions. (Will they get together and save the world or is her life doomed to hell? I think we all know the answer to that.)

How do I submit my work once the window opens?

There will be a form you fill out which has space for your name and contact information, your category, genre, the mentors you’re submitting to, and then a large field for you to paste your query. Then you’ll attach your first chapter as a .doc or .docx file. If mentors request additional material, they’ll let you know how they want it sent. (I’ll be asking for additional materials in .doc or .docx and standard formatting.)

Since it’s going to all four (or six) mentors, how can I personalize?

This is unnecessary, but if you really feel like you want to, add a P.S. line for each mentor at the end of the query, reach out to them on Twitter (but not via DM), or post a comment on their wish list.

Do I need comps in my query?

If you have them and they’re stellar, use them. If not, leave them off.

If you request more from me, what will you be requesting?

This varies greatly for me, year to year and MS to MS. Sometimes I feel like I need three chapters. Sometimes 50 pages. Sometimes 100 pages. Sometimes the full. I like to keep you on your toes.

How soon should I send the requested material?

ASAP, but preferably within 24 hours. If I’m requesting more, it means I’m excited to read more. Might as well jump on that, amirite? That said, if you’re going to be out of town/without wifi/out of touch, please make sure you either mention this in your query or you have an out of office reply saying this. Otherwise, mentors (me) may assume you don’t actually have your full polished and ready. Then you would get a big red X by your name.

I’ve heard talk that mentors can’t swap subs this year. What’s that mean?

It means you need to do your homework. In previous years, the mentors have been able to share manuscripts behind the scenes. My alternate from 2014 and one of my mentees from last year came from other mentors’ inboxes. With the option to donate to get extra entries this year, it wouldn’t be fair to those people if we just share all the manuscripts behind the scenes anyway. For this reason, it is imperative you do your homework and select the best mentors to fit your MS. Ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. I will be crushed if I miss out on what may be a perfect MS for me because a hopeful thought I wouldn’t like something that may be a non-issue for me. Update: Brenda is allowing us to swap manuscripts again this year! This is great news, but don’t get too comfy. You should still do your homework and select the 4 or 6 mentors who you think would be the best fit for your manuscript. Just because we can swap doesn’t mean that we will. And that’s not meant in any malicious way, just simply that mentors don’t have a lot of time to find out what others are looking for while they’re reading a hundred subs. So be sure to do your due diligence.

What if I submit my MG/YA/NA/A and a mentor likes it but thinks it should be MG/YA/NA/A?

If you submit your, say, MG novel to a MG mentor who thinks it should be aged up to YA, they can still mentor you! Brenda allows us to change categories after the fact if we think the submission we love should be aged up/down. That said, please don’t confuse this with submitting your MG novel to YA mentors. They won’t even be able to read it. It’s important to do your research and sub to those in the category you think your novel fits best.

How do I know if my MS is women’s fiction or romance?

The easiest way? Is your book about the woman’s journey or the couple’s journey? Former is WF, latter is R.

If I have XYZ, is it an automatic no?

I see this question probably the most on the feed, and it’s difficult giving a blanket answer, but I’m going to anyway: No, it’s not an automatic no. Even something on my no list could be an okay, depending on execution. Everything boils down to how you’ve written it and how your characters react to it and how it fits into your plot. Helpful, I know.

Will all mentors be giving feedback on the submissions?

This varies from mentor to mentor, so if it’s a deciding factor for you on who you sub to, I’d ask the mentors in question. Personally, I gave feedback on all subs I received in 2014. I only got 50-something subs, and it still took me about two weeks to compile it all. So you can see how someone who gets 200 subs probably wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. In 2015 & 2016, I got more subs and instead of giving feedback to everyone, I put out a call on Twitter (several times) asking for anyone who’d like to receive feedback to let me know. I’ll probably do this again this year (though I may cap it at a certain number, depending on how many subs I get). I liked doing it this way for a couple reasons. First, I’m only spending my time on people who actually want the feedback. Second, I’m more likely to get thanked for the time I spent doing it. That last one is important. If a mentor takes time to give you feedback—even feedback you don’t like or agree with—you had better take fourteen seconds to send a thank you back. Don’t be a jerk. Seriously, don’t. I still remember those who didn’t thank me for feedback, even after specifically requesting it. This industry is small. Don’t burn a bridge before you get started.

Are you expecting perfection in your submissions?

Nope. Not even a little. And this goes for all mentors. We are not looking for perfection. Does that mean you shouldn’t polish it to the best of your ability? No, it does not. You should be spit shining that sucker until you run out of saliva. We want polished not perfection. Go here and here for editing tips.

What if my word count is high/low?

Sometimes they are so high or so low, there’s just not enough time to get them ready for the agent round. In that case, I would more than likely pass, unless I was head over heels in love with it. For romance, I’ll look at anything ranging from about 60-100k. No, I won’t automatically discount you if your MS is 59k or 101k.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being sunshine and praise and 10 being brutal honesty), what’s your feedback style?

I’d say I’m somewhere between an 8-9. My feedback will be brutal and honest, but it will be sprinkled with compliment confetti. I think it’s important to know what doesn’t work so you can grow, but it’s also important to know what you’re doing right so you don’t wither in a pool of self doubt. And if you have a question on my feedback or mentor style, I’m sure my previous mentees would all be willing to tell you honestly what it was like to work with me.

What do you do if your mentee disagrees with your feedback?

I feed them to the alligators in the moat surrounding my castle. MWHAHAHAHA Or, you know, we discuss it like rational adults. I talked a little bit about it the video I did on all things Pitch Wars, but it basically boils down to: it’s your story. In the end, you have the final say. With that said, please think about where the urge to reject the change is coming from. If it’s emotional, take some time to let it sink in (the Five Stages of Feedback are a real thing and you should take the time to go through them all.) and then come back to it with fresh eyes and see if the suggestions would actually make the MS stronger. If it’s a practical place you’re coming from, discuss it with me. And this goes for all mentors, not just me. I think it’s safe to say we all want what’s best for your MS and if you don’t feel like XYZ is it, then tell us. But also be open to finding a different solution to the root problem that we can both agree on.

What does it mean if you’ve interacted with me on Twitter and we’ve become friends?

It’s means we both got a new friend! Yay! But, seriously, that’s all it means. There are so many amazing people I meet every year on the feed, and I wish I could mentor them all. Alas, I haven’t figured out how to clone myself, so that’s not going to happen. Even if I can’t mentor you, I hope you’ll stick around because I like having you there, and I like making new friends. Also, please note that I do not follow back (ever, but especially during Pitch Wars). After the mentees have been announced, I’ll do a mass following of those I’ve enjoyed interacting with. Does using Twitter freak you out because you don’t know what’s appropriate interaction? Go here.

If I didn’t answer your question, check here, here, here, and here, and see if fellow mentors have covered it! And, hey, have you checked out my wish list?

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