When I told Brenda Drake I’d be willing to be a mentor for PitchWars, I truly had no idea how gratifying it would be. From the fun of being checked out by mentees and meeting new writer folks, to the teasing taunts as we worked our way through our inboxes, to narrowing down those final selections, each step was exciting and I found myself being a bit obsessed by it all.
Now that the mentor selections are in, I felt it might be of interest to hear my reflections. First, I had outstanding entries in my inbox. Out of 59 pitches:
6 ended up being chosen as mentees
8 were chosen as alternates.
That was 23% of my Inbox!
Of the 13 pitches I requested more pages from:
5 ended up being chosen as mentees
5 ended up as alternates
That was 77% of those I requested pages of!
I’m not sure if others’ statistics were similar but I did have some strong stories and writing come my way.
As I read through there were three things that made me not choose a story.
- The writing didn’t have the level of sophistication I look for. I highly recommend Renn & Browne’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. There’s a whole chapter on sophistication that will help refine your words. Not that the writing was bad, it was perfectly serviceable but it didn’t have that special something to catch this reader’s eye.
- The story was muddled at the start. Either the world wasn’t explained well enough, or the characters jumped around, but the first pages left me feeling a bit confused as to what I could expect as a reader. In those first pages, I want a contract from the author on what I can expect as I read on.
- Pacing. Beautiful writing, stories that intrigued, but my attention wasn’t held.
- Just not for me, either a voice I couldn’t connect to or a story I felt like I’d seen before. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong but I knew I wasn’t a fit as a mentor.
So who did I pick, and why?
Nina Morena and HURRICANE DAUGHTER
When I started reading Nina’s contemporary southern Gothic romance, I was immediately pulled in. Her characters literally lifted off the page and into my imagination. I knew them and cared about them by the end of her first page and reading her first three chapters it got even better. Her story had the heart and soul and nuance of family and friends and setting that makes a story my favorite kind of read. I wanted to travel with Beau and Daisy (and their dual POV’s) till the fiery end. She made that promise to me as a reader right off the bat and there were moments that I wanted to squeeze her sentences they were so perfect. In addition, when I stalked Nina, her website was just as charming, and her musical taste like the soundtrack to my life. I figured we’d work well together. She also personalized her query letter in such a way that I felt like she got me and had given careful consideration to me being one of her possible choices.
Sarah Cannon and CELERITY
I’m not sure Sarah and I would have found each other until she tweeted something about “Anybody interested in teen male protagonist, Browncoats, and a female captain sci-fi?” I immediately pinged her back with a “Go ahead and kill me with your brain.” I’m a huge Firefly fan, I love boy POV, and Mal as a girl?, sign me up. Hers was one I hoped I’d find in my inbox. And I did! Her writing didn’t disappoint and I waffled and even pimped her out to Ninjas in hopes somebody would take her as their mentee, but lucky for me, I got to keep CELERITY and Sarah. This story has a killer plot line (and she was ready with a synopsis when I asked) and a realistic scientific future issue. If I’d lost her to another I’d already planned on begging to read it. That folks, is a sign you’re a match. Like Nina, Sarah sent a well-personalized tight query and though her web presence was slight, her tumblr page and Pinterest page were full of things that made me say, “oh yes, we will be friends.” So I’ll get to sail with Sarah on the Tethys as it fires across the night sky!
Chelsey Blair and DISSONANCE
Chelsey woke me up from boring lunch duty with this first line: “I came to in an ambulance with a drag queen holding my hand.” Boom. She had my attention and I was ready to ride. Then as I grew to know Meridian in those first 5 pages, I wanted more. Wry wit, great emotion, well-rounded characters, and poetry - not to mention music. I wanted this manuscript from the first day. Plus I really thought the subject matter was something not touched on much in YA contemporary. I liked the fact that Meridian was dealing with a new-found disability after she loses her leg, learning not only how to cope with the disability, but how to keep on being musician Meridian, pursuing her passion and firing up her guitar on stage. Like Nina and Sarah, Chelsey had a tight query letter and a well-personalized note to me. Chelsey also runs the blog, Sense and Disablity, about her own issues with being disabled. In my mind, this made her somewhat of an expert to write this particular book. Like Sarah’s manuscript, I waved DISCORDANCE like chocolate in front of a tired teacher, hoping a NINJA would snatch her away from me, but the winds were blowing toward me, and Chelsey remains mine.
I still feel pinch me lucky. These three manuscripts stood out to me early on, all have a way with language and that nuance of character and voice I love, and they were always on my shortest list. I had others I loved, but as they were chosen by other mentors my list tightened and tightened until #TeamOnFire became reality.
And we’re going to burn the competition!