Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Letter to the Pitch Wars Hopefuls Who Didn't Get In

Dear Heartbroken Hopefuls,

As someone who didn't get into Pitch Wars (or land an agent) with my first book, I know the sting of rejection. I know how much it sucks to anticipate and hope and wait and then not have things work out the way you wanted them to.

I'm here to tell you, it's okay.

It's okay to feel really, really sad. It's okay to cry. It's okay to be jealous of those who got in. It's okay to be upset, to question everything, to wonder if being a writer is really worth it. To wonder if you want to keep going.

All of these feels are normal feels.

I love the scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory has broken up with Dean and is acting totally okay but Lorelei knows she is, in reality, not okay at all.

This is me telling you it's okay to wallow.

Let me say it one more time.

It's. Okay. To. Wallow.

Take a break. Stay off Twitter if you need to. Set aside your manuscript or WIP for a day or two and indulge in a Netflix binge.

And then come back.

My pastor said in a recent sermon "Bitter experiences in life aren't optional, but becoming bitter is." I know that's super heavy and serious after all those Gilmore Girl gifs, but it's true. Disappointments happen. If you're a writer they happen A LOT. But don't let it cause you to miss out on great things. Don't wallow for too long. Don't go into permanent hiding. Don't stop writing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The opportunity to learn from the mentors, and your peers, doesn't end now that the Pitch Wars mentees have been chosen. We'll still be writing blog posts and answering your questions on Twitter and sharing encouragement and advice. The feed is still full of other writers looking for CPs and beta readers and just a friend to talk to who understands what they're going through. Embrace that community. Trust me when I say you'll not only want it, but NEED it as you continue to work toward your goals.

And of course, I'll tell you everything you've already heard from us mentors over the last week: Pitch Wars is not your only shot at an agent. It's not the only path to publication. Even those who did get in have no guarantee of either of those things. Keep writing, keep revising, take feedback into consideration, find good CPs, polish to best of your ability, and start querying. All this is great advice, and some of you have already put it into practice. But some of you want to punch me in the face right now because even though you know it's true, it doesn't make you feel better. If that's you, first let me extend you a virtual hug. The pizza guy is on speed dial. There's ice cream in the freezer. And I'll say it one more time.

It's okay to wallow.

We'll be here when you're ready to keep going. And we're already stocking up on confetti to celebrate with you when your time comes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop (Wish List Inside!)

Oh, hey. Is it the Pitch Wars Mentor Blog Hop already? So nice of you to stop by...

Um...I'm Ashley's nice to meet's my wish list and bio and I'm so excited to be mentoring middle grade and PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME!!!!

Whoo! Now that that awkwardness is out of the way, allow me to introduce myself.

I'm a wife, homeschooling mom of two, proud member of the Pitch Wars class of 2015, dedicated bookworm, and writer of middle grade novels. Which basically means I'm a night owl who manages to exist on minimal sleep and copious amounts of Earl Grey tea and baked goods.

As a middle-schooler I read mainly adult fiction, and now that I'm an adult I can't remember the last time I read a book with a protagonist older than twelve (which I'm totally cool with). I'm kind of obsessed with personality tests (I'm a Hufflepuff and solid INFJ), fall is my favorite season, Seattle is my favorite city, I love independent films, and I think Gilmore Girls is the best show ever to appear on television.

My obsession with books started the moment I learned how to read. Whenever I got in trouble as a kid, my mom would still give me my allowance, but I'd be banned from the bookstore for a week. No joke. I was a very, VERY well-behaved child. 

Here are some of my favorite books:

  • THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern
  • ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery 
  • BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo
  • FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria J. Coe
  • FORTUNATELY, THE MILK by Neil Gaiman
  • THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien 
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by J.K. Rowling (I mean, the whole series is amazing, but this one is my favorite.)
  • THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
  • LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre
  • THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie King (I do read adult fiction occasionally.)
  • MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan (Okay, that's enough grownup stuff in this list.)

Pitch Wars has been a huge part of my writing journey—I submitted in 2014 and was chosen as a mentee in 2015, which led to me signing with my agent, Marietta Zacker, in February!—and I am so excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the community that means so much to me. Whether you're chosen by a mentor or not, I can assure you from experience, you will not regret entering. It's such a wonderful place to learn more about your craft and connect with other writers. I hope you'll take full advantage of it!

Now for what you've all come here for...


Give me all your middle grade fantasy, magical realism, heartwarming contemporary, and mystery! 

Here are a few more details on what specific elements will give me a serious case of the grabby hands...


All of it. Seriously. But especially if it involves fairy tales (original or retellings/reimaginings), or any connection to classic children's literature. I love wild and intricate worlds (think Catherynne Valente's Fairyland), and outlandish adventures (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH). I also love fantasies that feel like they could be real; the ones that take a historical event, reimagine it and add a fantastical twist, like THE BOUNDLESS by Kenneth Oppel. (Also, I mention below that I don't want sci-fi—however—fantasy with some sci-fi elements is something I'd love to see!)

Magical Realism

I love magical realism with heart, where the bit of magic in the midst of everyday life is the thing that gives the MC hope and/or is part of a strong emotional journey, ala Natalie Lloyd's A SNICKER OF MAGIC and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY. 

Heartwarming Contemporary

Make me laugh, make me cry — better yet, make me laugh AND cry. Give me something funny and sweet, with a character who is spunky and audacious and determined, or something that leans more toward heartbreaking — especially if you've found a way to incorporate humor. This is one of the reasons THE MEANING OF MAGGIE is one of my all time favorite MG novels: it's equal parts snort-out-loud funny and I'm-not-crying-you're-crying emotional.


When it comes to mystery, I love a clever, original plot, in a rich setting with a full cast of quirky and vibrant characters. THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage and Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels are great examples.

No matter which of these genres your story falls in, I'm most likely to be hooked by two things: CHARACTER & VOICE. I'm particularly drawn to characters. Scenes can be strengthened, pace can be fixed, tension can be added—give me a character I'm emotionally invested in, with a voice that immediately paints a picture, pulls me in, and gives me ALL THE FEELS.

What I DON'T want:

I'm okay with dark elements, and some creepy, goosebump-inducing moments in fantasy (my own book has a bit of a dark side), but I'm definitely not the mentor to go to if you're looking to be the middle grade Stephen King. 

Christmas Stories
I promise, I'm not a grinch! It's just that I recently finished some extensive CPing for a friend who has written a Christmas-themed novel. If part of your novel happens to take place over the Christmas holidays, that's fine. But if your story revolves around Santa and his elves, then you'll be better off submitting to another mentor.

As much as I love books like Tony DiTerlizzi's WONDLA, there are probably other mentors better suited to straight up sci-fi. (But if you can give me a fantasy with a setting as vibrant and fascinating as the world of WONDLA, I'm your girl!) 

Added clarification (also noted above): Straight sci-fi would be best sent to another mentor, but fantasy with sci-fi elements in my inbox, please!

Why should you pick me? 

Some of my strengths: increasing tension, pacing, cutting passive voice, chapter endings, consistency in characters (voice and actions), and sentence structure/flow. I love being a CP, I love editing and revising, and I love helping talented writers make their books even more amazing. I'm also a super weirdo who actually enjoys the challenge of perfecting a query and synopsis, so rest assured I'll help you work on those, too. Also, I know what it's like to be in your shoes—I was a Pitch Wars mentee last year and my book went through plenty of revisionsand I know how hard and nerve-wracking and exciting and terrifying it can be. I also know how much it means to have someone believe in you and your story, and I can't wait to come alongside you and cheer you on! 

Thanks so much for reading and for considering me as a mentor! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or hit me up on Twitter (@papergram). And if you want to get to know me even more, I'll be part of the Pitch Wars live mentor chat on 7/21 at 8pm EDT. I can't wait to read all your beautiful submissions!                                


Visit the other MG mentors' wish lists!































Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pitch Wars Prep #5: Making Your Mentor Picks


When the Pitch Wars mentor blog hop goes live, there will be A LOT of mentors for you to choose from. You might feel overwhelmed looking at the list of names, knowing you have to narrow it down to your top 4 choices. So today I'll be sharing some of the strategies I used last year as a mentee hopeful to narrow down my list. 

The first and most important rule of choosing a mentor is to make sure you submit only to those mentors that want both your age group AND your genre. 

I cannot stress this enough. I know all of the mentors are amazing and you've probably checked them out on Twitter and there are a couple you think are super cool and you may even have your heart set on subbing to them, but when the wish lists go live, it doesn't matter that you both love nachos and that Kimmy Schmidt is your spirit animal, too. If your genre is not on their list DO NOT SUB TO THEM. The reason we have these wish lists is because we all prefer, and have better knowledge of, certain genres. If, after reading their wish list, you're not sure if a mentor would be interested in your specific genre, don't be afraid to ask! But subbing to a mentor who has specifically said they don't want your genre is not only a waste of an entry, it shows a lack of care and respect for the mentors and the submission process.

Now that you've pinkie sworn not to sub outside your genre, here are my tips for narrowing down your selection and finding the perfect mentor. This is actually very similar to the process I used for coming up with an agent list when I started querying my first novel. One of the many perks of Pitch Wars is that it's great practice for the leg work and research required when querying agents!

1. Read through the mentors' wish lists and write down the names of those who want your genre. 

2. Using your list, make a second pass and pay attention to the details.

It's important to read ALL the information the mentors provide to determine who is most likely to connect with your story. Just because a mentor wants your genre doesn't mean they're the best fit for your particular book. What do I mean? Last year, I submitted a MG fantasy. There were plenty of MG mentors who wanted fantasy submissions, but most of them went into further detail. Some explained that they weren't interested in stories that involved portals to other worlds, or that they weren't fans of talking animals. Since my book included both of those things, I crossed those mentors off my list. Again, it's just good etiquette to respect the mentors' requests, and finding a wish list that really meshes with your book is going to give you the best shot at being chosen as a mentee.

3. Come up with a wish list ranking system.

As you scrutinize the lists, it can be really helpful to use a ranking system to keep track of which lists best fit your book. For me, this meant I put one star by anyone whose list was a general fit for my novel, two stars for a list that was a good match, and three stars for a list that was a perfect match. 

4. Get to know your top mentor picks.

Once you have your mentor picks narrowed down to say your top 5-10, it's all about getting to know them better. You can do this by reading the mentor mini-interviews, following and interacting with mentors on Twitter, and watching the live Pitch Wars mentor chats. Whose strengths are your weaknesses? Whose personality do you think you would click with? Whose favorite book is one of your comp titles? These are all things to take into consideration so that you can make those excruciating final cuts.

5. Make your final choices.

I know, there are so many amazing mentors. There were last year, too (and many of them have returned this year) so trust me when I say I feel your pain when it comes to making your final choice! But if you're willing to put in the time and effort to do your research, you can submit with confidence, knowing that you've done your best to put your manuscript into the right hands.

And don't forget! Brenda is offering 2 extra submission slots to Pitch Wars donors who give $20 or more! Which means you'll only have to narrow your list down to 6 mentors instead of 4. Details here
*All mentors are donating their time to Pitch Wars and mentors do not have access to any donation records. Whether a potential mentee donates or not has zero influence on the mentors' final decisions.

Pitch Wars is fast approaching and I can't wait to share my wish list with you!! Here's a sneak peek at my favorite books list. ;)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pitch Wars Prep #4: Why You Should Enter (And What to Expect)

Okay, so you've got a polished manuscript, a perfected query letter, and you've conquered the dreaded synopsis. Congratulations, you're ready to enter PitchWars!

That queasy pit of nervous excitement in your stomach? Totally normal. 

Other feelings that are also totally normal:
Questioning Your Sanity

Also, voices. The ones that say things like, "Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to bare your writer soul to a group of strangers in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, they'll like your book?"

Yes. Yes, you do. Here's why:

Being a writer is all about putting yourself out there. And if you're serious about becoming a published author, it's unavoidable. It's also hard and scary. But at some point you're going to have to decide that you've done all you can do, your book is finished, and it's time for it to leave the nest. Pitch Wars gives you a great opportunity to let your book test its wings. 

The entire Pitch Wars process is the life story of a querying writer. If you've never queried before, it's a great way to dip your toes in the water. If you have queried before, well then you know the drill! Just like when querying agents, you have to polish your manuscript, prepare your submission materials, research the mentors' wish lists to see who would be the best fit for you and your book, submit your entry, and then...wait. (Waiting is also part of the writer's life story.)

But what if I'm not chosen? I hate the thought of being disappointed. I get it. I've been on both sides of the Pitch Wars coin: I submitted in 2014 and didn't get in, tried again in 2015 and was chosen as a mentee. I've felt both disappointment and elation on announcement day. But disappointment is something all writers have to deal with, through every stage of the writing journey. If writers weren't willing to risk disappointment, books wouldn't exist. It's totally okay to feel bummed and have a cry and eat the ice cream, just don't stay there. If you're not chosen, take any feedback you receive, apply it to your book, seek out CPs and Beta Readers, and KEEP GOING. Remember, Pitch Wars, and other writing contests, are not the only way to get an agent. Plenty of writers - myself included - get their agents through the slush pile and old-fashioned querying. Not making it into Pitch Wars does not spell the end of your writing career. DON'T GIVE UP.

And whether you're chosen as a mentee or not, there's something all you hopefuls gain: An amazing community of fellow writers. The energy on the #PitchWars feed this year has been amazing! You guys are already connecting, swapping manuscripts, and encouraging one another. That doesn't have to end when the mentor picks go live. Writing is a tough business, every step of the way. Having a solid community of people who know what it's like, who can help you strengthen your writing, and talk you down when you're ready to quit is so important. Keep cultivating those relationships.

But what if I AM chosen? What can I expect as a mentee? Hard work. There will likely be late nights, or early mornings, or lunches eaten in front of your laptop. You should be ready and willing to listen to critique and thoughtfully consider your mentor's suggested revisions. Some may resonate with you right away, some you might want to think about for a day or two, some might spark a different "Hey, what if we did THIS?" idea. You may have to kill some darlings and cut a few (or a lot) of words. The days until the agent round will both drag and fly by. And there will also be fun! Twitter chatting and team names and gif wars and taunting and all sorts of shenanigans. If I had to sum it up in two words: Challenging & Awesome.

But you can't experience any of it if you don't put yourself out there and jump into the fray! Don't let doubt, insecurity, or fear prevent you from taking the plunge. No matter the outcome, you'll have the chance to grow as a writer, and that my friends, is a win. 

I can't wait to share my mentor wish list with you so you can send me all your amazing middle grade submissions! (I mean, we all know MG is the best category, amiright?) Luckily, the Mentor Wish List Blog Hop is only 2 WEEKS AWAY!! Next week will be the final Pitch Wars Prep post and I'll be sharing some of my strategies for sorting through the wish lists and choosing a mentor. 

And since I'm obsessed with these adorable gifs, I leave you with a viable option for retrieving sustenance during the Pitch Wars insanity...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pitch Wars Prep #3: The Synopsis

In order to enter Pitch Wars you need two things: a completed manuscript and a query letter. But if you read last week's post on queries, you'll notice I mentioned there's a third thing that could be requested by potential mentors after they've read your submission. That third thing is...a synopsis.

Yes, the dreaded synopsis. It's practically a 4-letter word in the writing world. They're notoriously difficult and writers everywhere balk at the idea of having to condense their beautiful novels into a few paragraphs of factual prose that give away the ending. Tell us authors we have to write one and we'll go all April Ludgate on you.

As much as you may hate the prospect of writing one, if you're serious about getting published, you're going to need a synopsis sooner or later. Last year when I entered Pitch Wars, all four of the mentors who requested additional materials from me also requested a synopsis. Now, some of them also specifically said to send it only IF I had one, and no mentor is going to reject a stellar novel over a mediocre synopsis (after all, we're here to help you improve these things), BUT it's a really, really good idea to have one prepared. Why? Because 1) It shows you've taken the time to research what it requires to query a novel and you've come prepared, 2) There's a chance that requesting agents in the agent round will want a synopsis as part of their submission guidelines, and 3) Writing a synopsis can help you spot potential problems in your story and give you the opportunity to fix or strengthen those areas before submitting.

But why do some agents request a synopsis?

Agents get hundreds of submissions in their inboxes every week. Your sample pages are going to give an agent a glimpse at your main character, voice, and writing prowess (and hopefully hook them with all those things), but a synopsis gives them a more detailed view of your story, plot, and character arc before they commit to reading through your entire manuscript. Not all agents request them, but it's better to have one and not need it, than be scrambling to write one once it's requested, or to limit your querying options to only those agents who don't specifically list them in their submission guidelines.

How long should my synopsis be?

The answer — it completely depends on the agent you're querying. The general rule of thumb is 1-3 pages. My suggestion? Create a one-page synopsis (this will be perfectly fine for Pitch Wars) and only go longer if the agent's guidelines state they want a longer version. Now, before you panic about the prospect of having to write two different synopses, it's important to remember that when writing a one-page synopsis, it should be single-spaced, but when you move to multiple pages, it should be double spaced. My synopsis for FOLLOW ME was one full page (just under 600 words) single-spaced. When expanded to double-spaced, it becomes two pages. So if an agency specifically asks that your synopsis be no less than 3 pages, chances are you'll only need to add one more page, or 300 words or so.

What should my synopsis include?

Your main character, sidekick/love interest, antagonist, inciting incident, main plot points, climax, resolution and ending, with your MC's emotions, reactions, and character development sprinkled throughout. The general rule of thumb is to name no more than 3 characters, and to identify everyone else by their role (mother, co-worker, teacher, etc.). Now, I freely admit I broke this rule and named 5 characters in my synopsis for FOLLOW ME. But as with all writing "rules" I learned the rule first, then made sure I had a firm reason for breaking it: It was important that agents knew who my MC's mother was, and my MC's mother and brother play a crucial role in my story's climax and I hated how wordy and cumbersome it was to keep repeating "her mother" and "her brother" throughout the last paragraph. 

What are some basic tips for writing a good synopsis?

A synopsis should always be in third person present tense, even if your story is written differently. Leave out backstory and subplots. Be sure to use active voice, and avoid wordiness and unimportant facts. Strip your language down to only the most essential details. For example, instead of saying... 

On a hot and sunny afternoon, Marge goes to the beach to relax and take a swim, and while there she witnesses an argument between two strangers. Later that night, while watching the evening news, Marge is horrified to see one of the strangers' faces appear on the screen beneath the scrolling words "DEAD BODY FOUND WASHED UP ON SHORE."

...pare it down to the bare essentials:

Marge goes to the beach and witnesses an argument between two strangers. Later that night, she discovers one of them has washed up dead on the shore.

And remember, a synopsis isn't meant to be flashy or oozing with voice. It's meant to give the basic facts and show the story arc. Wow the mentors (and agents) with your sample pages and stick with the basics when it comes to your synopsis. 

What's the magic formula for actually writing this thing?

Here's the deal...I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, I'm going to direct you to my absolute favorite synopsis-writing formula of all time: HOW TO WRITE A 1-PAGE SYNOPSIS over at Pub(lishing) Crawl (also my favorite writing blog name of all time). There may not be one magic formula to rule them all, but in my opinion, this one is pretty dang close. It's the one I've found the most helpful, and the one I used when I wrote my synopsis for FOLLOW ME. Not only does it take you step-by-step through creating your own synopsis by using question prompts, in bonus nerdy brilliance it uses Star Wars as an example.

Now that you're ready to tackle the dreaded synopsis, take a deep breath. You can do this. And you're totally entitled to celebrate with pie/chocolate/wine when you're finished.

But just in case you need it...