Pitch Wars Wish List 2017


This year, I’ll be co-mentoring with KELLI NEWBY (EEEEE!). Kelli and I were co-mentees under Jaime Loren back in 2014, and she’s become one of my best friends and most trusted critique partners. So this is wicked exciting for us.

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 are we and why should you submit to us?

>> Head. << over and read Kelli’s bio here for more proof that she’s amazing.
(Then come back and get wooed by me.)

Oh good, you’re back? Let the wooing begin!

So I’m the mentor littering your #PitchWars feed with pictures of hot men. Not even a little bit sorry about that. But here’s the more pertinent info:

  • 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, and I’ve written a bunch more since. 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.
  • I was a Pitch Wars mentor in 2015 and 2016. I was also a slush reader for Pitch Slam and a judge for Query Kombat in 2015. And I mentored Pitch Madness in 2017. I have a ton of posts you can read about those experiences if you dig around my blog.
  • 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 blog for an explanation and a breakdown of the submission guidelines, dates, and other rules.


Our Wishlist:

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

Kelli and I are accepting only accepting manuscripts in the Adult and New Adult categories.

I’ll elaborate on all the specifics below, but suffice it to say, we like kissing books. Hot, hot kissing. Seriously, read this once and believe it twice: If your book has no kissing in it, you can stop reading right now.


So bear in mind with all the categories below, we will also want a strong, sexy romantic element.

DO send us:

Contemporary Romance (duh)
Romantic Comedy
Women’s Fiction
Chick Lit
Epic Fantasy (Not Urban Fantasy)
Magical Realism
Time Travel
Fairy Tale Retellings
Literary Fiction

We are super keen for LGBT Romance and wide open for your diverse #ownvoices manuscripts.

We don’t care whether you label your work as commercial, upmarket, book club or literary. We’ll happily gobble up any of these up, provided they are plot-oriented, populated with characters we love, and written in a strong voice.

My turn-ons include a wicked smile and … oh sorry, we’re still talking Pitch Wars.

If you want to grab our attention, get us to your love interest early, and give us a hint of the sparks to come. We’re also a fan of a slow burn done well.

Show us your voice, and make us feel like we can settle in for a page-turning ride. Make us laugh or make us cry. Just so long as you make us really care about your characters and root for their happy ever after.

We love all kinds of Romance tropes done well or subverted completely. We’re both suckers for enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, co-workers to lovers, strangers to lovers, lovers to lovers. Are you spotting a trend?

And while neither of us are into a sweet Romance that promises but doesn’t deliver on the heat, we take our heroes and heroines both sweet and saucy. Bring us your perfect boyfriend or your damaged bad boy. We love alphas, betas, anti-heroes, traditional heroes (just not superheroes), rich, poor, rock star, diamond in the rough, whatever you got. Surprise us.

Some other tidbits: I’m the one who loves music. Kelli’s the one who loves theatre. I’m the nerd who loves computers. Kelli’s the nerd who loves LARPing. We both love Hamilton. We both like nerdy, geeky stuff. We also share a staggeringly similar taste in writing styles, so if you can win one of us over, you’ll likely win us both.

If we’re interested in your premise and love your voice, we may ask you to send 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”)

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

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

Urban Fantasy
Suspense (nope – no Romantic Suspense either)

If we didn’t specifically rule it out, feel free to ask us 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 we’ll be looking for manuscripts that we can help improve, but we’d rather not spend our time putting out grammar and punctuation fires. And please be cognizant of acceptable word counts for your genre. If you’re far outside that range, we’re far more likely to pass.

Bear in mind that this is an extremely subjective selection process, and at the end of the day we can only pick one mentee. Also, remember we’re not just looking for something we love, but also for something we 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.


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. We’ll be sending an edit letter with our opinions on how you can tighten or re-arrange or slash and burn. We’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. We’re likely to make you write a scene map or an outline.

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

I hope this will be a partnership, but if we pick you, it means we 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 us if you’re not open to criticism or if you don’t want to do the work. I promise we’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
Sally Thorne, The Hating Game
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 have a Zelda addiction. I love Monty Python, Doctor Who, IT Crowd, Community, Parks and Rec, Gilmore Girls, This Is  Us, Hamilton, 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. I speak French and German, and I spent the summer learning Spanish solely to be able to be able to sing along convincingly to the only version of Despacito that matters (hint, there’s no Canadian involved) and now have an addiction to Reggaeton.

Dear lord, if you wrote anything as steamy as this song, set in a Spanish-speaking country, I need it. Yesterday.

I also love Chris Pratt. He is the best Chris. I shall brook no argument.

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.

Some random other comments.

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk to us on Twitter. But also, don’t feel like you have to. We will make our decision based on the submission, not any of the rest. However, there’s a lot to be gained by participating on the hashtag.
  2. I consider myself friends with people I met on the #PitchWars hashtag who never subbed to me. If you don’t think mentors want to talk to you on Twitter, let me tell  you we do. Hit me up. Honestly, mentors wouldn’t be doing this contest if we didn’t want to connect with fellow writers.
  3. Caveat to the above. I don’t follow back after the sub window opens only because I know how easy it is to read that as a hint when it’s not. I’ll try to get you after the picks go live. If you want a follow though, just ask.
  4. I request material from subs I’m seriously considering. Kelli will be requesting subs she’s interested in. I’ll also ask you a bunch of questions about query history,  your time commitment, etc.
  5. If I find a sub I think is intriguing, but not for me, I’ll send it to another mentor. So even if I don’t request from you, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like  your sub or that your chances are dead.
  6. If you take only one thing away from these bullet points, let it be this: Not getting requests and not getting into Pitch Wars does not reflect at all on your work. We have limited time. I can’t ask for everything. The writing could be incredible, but there might be another MS that has a premise that appeals to us more or that has the kinds of issues we feel most capable of helping.
  7. Even the MS we pick will need work, otherwise we wouldn’t pick it.
  8. I can’t guarantee feedback. We have our own deadlines and we’ll be spending our time on our chosen mentee. As much as we’d love to help everyone, it’s just not possible. I understand that feedback is gold, but so is our time. If we can, we’ll reach out.
  9. Use this time to find critique partners. Every single Pitch Wars alumnus will tell you that the main thing they got from this contest is community. Find yours.
  10. Repeating #9. I found all of my critique partners through Pitch Wars or another contest. When I formed my circle, all of us were unagented. We were all Pitch Wars hopefuls. Now some of us are still unagented, some are agented, some have books out, and one is a New York Times bestseller. Look around at your fellow contestants. Make your circle and go through this process with them. You’ll forge amazing bonds.

And if you want MORE advice about how to handle the sub window, I blathered on about that here.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet us (but no pitches, please) @maryannmarlowe or Kelli @kellinewby.


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