2016 Pitch Wars Mentor Wish List

I’m a Pitch Wars mentor again this year!

Update: I’ll be co-mentoring with Jaime Loren (who was my mentor in 2014) so woohoo!! You can read what Jaime is interested in here. We pretty much totally overlap in our interests anyway, so this is a two-for-the-price-of-one mentoring package.


So who the hell am I and why should you submit to me?

  • First and foremost, I’m an author, just like you. You can check out what I write here.
  • I made the rounds of the contest circuit in 2014, but I found my agent the old-fashioned way–through querying. I queried three novels before I found a home, but I learned a lot along the way, and I’ll be more than happy to share whatever I’ve gleaned.
  • I was a mentee in 2014–incidentally, my entry won the Adult category in 2014–so I know what it’s like to be on the other side of this contest, checking out blogs, hoping to find a love connection, waiting nauseously for my edit letter, revising like a mad woman. You can read all about my experience with the amazing Jaime Loren: here. (FYI: Jaime’s a mentor again this year… If you’re submitting to her, you should also be submitting to me. Heh.)
  • I was a mentor in 2015 to not just one, but ultimately three awesome mentees. I was also a slush reader for Pitch Slam and a judge for Query Kombat in 2015. I have a ton of posts you can read about those experiences.
  • I can turn an MS around quickly and give you both high praise and necessary hard truths, both big picture feedback and nitpicky line edits. I like to make a sandwich of praise and criticism with some chips on the side (because mmmm chips).
  • For the first half of my life I was an academic and am ABD (PhD all but disseration) in French Literature which means I spent a decade of my life analyzing literature. I’ve worked as a copy editor for literary journals. I’ve been writing in some capacity as long as I can remember, and I read and read and read.
  • And if I pick you, I’ll be ready to throw down for you.

If you’re unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, check out the inimitable Brenda Drake’s post for an explanation and a breakdown of the submission guidelines, dates, and other rules.

My wishlist is nice and easy (that’s what she said). I want peen!  Am I allowed to say that?


If that made you blush, then we may not be right for each other because I seriously want all your polished,  steamy Contemporary Adult or New Adult HEA/HFN Romance.

What I DO want you to send me (aka “I’d hit that”)

Romance, romance, romance. You don’t need to be writing category romance, but as I’ll elaborate below, I want to read how x meets y and then things got all messy until that other thing happened and now there’s kissing!


If you have a novel that falls between Women’s Fiction and Romance, or Chick Lit and Romance, send it on over. If it doesn’t have strong romantic elements (ie. the focus of the novel is about discovering the magic of a sister’s bond, with a minor romantic sub-plot), I’m not your girl. I’m definitely willing to take a chance on those genre-bending straddlers, but only if it’s secretly a romance in disguise.

You’ve got a Romantic Comedy on your hands? Yes, please. I love the funny. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Then make me laugh again.

If you’ve got an LGBT Romance, I’d love to see it provided you can write a compelling, sexy love story about your characters. I’m especially keen on m/m and would be interested in seeing a well-done transgendered or gender fluid Romance.


My turn-ons include a wicked smile and … oh sorry, we’re still talking Pitch Wars. If you want to grab my attention, get me to your love interest early, and give me a hint of the sparks to come. Show me your voice, and make me feel like I can settle in for a page-turning ride. As I said, I love humor. I also love all kinds of Romance tropes done well or subverted completely. I’m a sucker for enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, co-workers to lovers, strangers to lovers, lovers to lovers. Are you spotting a trend?


And while I’m not into a sweet Romance that promises but doesn’t deliver on the heat, I take my heroes and heroines both sweet and saucy. Bring me your perfect boyfriend or your damaged bad boy. I love alphas, betas, anti-heroes, traditional heroes (just not superheroes), rich, poor, rock star, diamond in the rough, whatever you got. Surprise me.


I don’t care whether you label your work as commercial, upmarket, book club or literary. I’ll happily gobble up any of these.

If I’m interested in your premise and love your voice, I may ask you to send me a synopsis. Probably will. Like you should go ahead and write your synopsis because you’ll need it anyway.

What I Don’t Want to See (aka “It’s not you, it’s me”)

I cannot take any age group other than Adult and New Adult. So please do not send me your YA submissions, or you’ll be wasting a chance.

I’m NOT looking for the following genres, no matter how heavy they are in romantic elements:

Magical Realism
Suspense (nope – no Romantic Suspense either)


If I didn’t specifically rule it out, feel free to ask me on Twitter.

I think all mentors will say that we will be highly unlikely to accept an unpolished entry. If you send us something that has mechanical problems, that’s going to throw up a red flag. This is pitch wars, so I’ll be looking for manuscripts that I can help improve, but I’d like to be able to spend our time not putting out grammar and punctuation fires.


And while I do very much want to see your sexy, sexy sex scenes (no fade to black for me), I’m not going to be asking for straight-up Erotica, mainly because I don’t write that and wouldn’t be your best advocate. Spice it up as much as you want — the hotter the better — but the sex needs to support character development and further aspects of the plot. If you have a true romance “with erotic elements,” I’ll be all over that. But at the end of the day, I want to see a story based on a relationship with an HEA (happily ever afer) or an HFN (happy for now) ending.


Bear in mind that this is an extremely subjective selection process, and at the end of the day I can only pick one mentee. Also, remember I’m not just looking for something I love, but also for something I can see a way to help improve. This is a very selective contest, so please try to have fun with what you can control — make friends on Twitter, connect with mentors (we aren’t going anywhere), find a new CP. There’s a lot you can get out of the contest beyond mentorship.

Gratuitous Chis Pratt:


My editing style

I like to read through a first time to help identify the overarching issues with plot, tension, character arc, chemistry, and your opening and closing. I’ll be sending an edit letter with my opinions on how you can tighten or re-arrange or slash and burn. I’ll also mark up your MS with in-line notes (and smiley faces) so you can zero in on trouble spots (and know where things are working because that’s also important).


Be prepared to do some extra-novel work, too. I’m likely to make you write a scene map or an outline. It’s possible I’ll ask you to write a synopsis. (Fair warning: I might ask for a synopsis if I’m considering your submission). If you decide to create a Play-Doh sculpture in my likeness to burn in effigy, please just don’t let me know.

Time permitting, I hope to read at least once more to vet the revision and also to give you line edits. In addition, I will be helping you hone your pitch and query to get you completely ready to hook an agent.smfist

I hope this will be a partnership, but if I pick you, it means I think there’s work to be done. That means you can expect critical feedback that might hurt like a mofo. Please don’t submit to me if you’re not open to criticism or if you don’t want to do the work. I promise I’ll be open to your rational counter-arguments, but not heels-dug-in resistance to consider changes. There will be hundreds of applicants who are eager to improve their novels.

Also, I’ll be stalking you on twitter. Be kind. Be respectful of the other applicants, other mentors, traditional publishing in general, agents, people you don’t know from squat, etc. It’s a small community.

Please note: As a general rule, I *try* to follow anyone back who talks to me on Twitter. So say hi or wave at me, and I’ll try to follow you! (And if you don’t know what to say, shoot me a hot pic of your MC — or you know, any hot pic.)

My communication style

I talk a lot as you can see, but almost always through writing. I’m not likely to ever want to phone or skype, but I respond psychotically fast via email and at normal speeds via Twitter. If you are socially awkward and have developed the perfectly normal hesitancy about irritating agents, which then translates into a fear of irritating me, you’ll have to get over it. We’ll be in constant communication. Hopefully I won’t irritate you.


More random stuff

Here’s a list of some of my favorite books pertinent to my wishlist:

Choderlos de Laclos, Les liaisons dangereuses
Sophie Kinsella, Can You Keep a Secret
Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary
Colleen McCollough, The Thorn Birds
William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
Susan DiPlacido, Shuffle Up and Deal
Emma Chase, Tangled
Kelly Siskind, My Perfect Mistake
Santino Hassell, Sutphin Boulevard
Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
Tiffany Reisz, The Siren
Tiffanie DeBartolo, How To Kill a Rock Star

Other random things about me: Next to writing, maybe ahead of writing, I’m a music freak. Like, embarrassingly so. I currently work as a computer programmer and have my geek card. I love Monty Python, Doctor Who, IT Crowd, Community, Parks and Rec, Gilmore Girls, Douglas Adams, and lots of other nerdy comedy. I also love all things Pixar. I read a ton of fantasy and wish I could write it, but alas, I keep trying to make everyone kiss. I’ve lived in a dozen states and several countries. I love to travel. I love foreign languages and books/movies that transplant me.

Gratuitous Jon Snow with baby Ghost:



You can find out a little more about me (more books I love, more pop culture stuff I’m into) here. Click around my site — I have a bunch of tips on contests, query writing, PitchWars, etc.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet me (but no pitches, please) @maryannmarlowe or Jaime @jaimeloren.




ood luck with the contest!



Scavenger hunt letter

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4 Responses

  1. Lisa Leoni
    Lisa Leoni July 22, 2016 at 2:07 pm | | Reply

    I appreciate that you mentioned your process may include components outside the MS like scene maps. I’m learning that to grasp onto shreds of my sanity I need to create these extra documents.

  2. Kelly Allan
    Kelly Allan August 1, 2016 at 5:51 pm | | Reply

    You had me at ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow! It’s definitely her best work.

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