Meet The Winged Pen’s Pitch Wars Mentors

Laurel joked on Twitter, “I kind of hate to tell other writers that our @WingedPen CP’s are #PitchWars mentors. I mean, they’re a trade secret!”

I agree! But they are so generous to donate their time and wisdom to helping other writers get through a major manuscript revision. So, all of us at The Winged Pen want to make sure everyone knows how awesome they are. That way they get ALL THE MANUSCRIPTS! This post is to introduce them to the Pitch Wars crowd.

gabrielle byrne2Gabrielle Byrne lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. She writes fantasy for middle grade. You can read her full bio here, but the bottom line is that her background is eclectic, as is her taste in music. Things she loves: green curry, thunderstorms, purring cats, and nudibranchs. Her agent is Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. You can find her wish list at

Marty_MayberryMarty Mayberry lives in New England with her husband, three children and three neurotic cats. She works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist during the day and writes YA/Adult fiction whenever she can find a spare minute in between. In addition to PitchWars, she mentors/judges for Michelle Hauck’s Sun vs Snow and QueryKombat. This year will be her second time mentoring for PitchWars. She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Dijkstra Agency. Her wish list is at

jessica vitalisRepresented by Saba Sulaimain of Talcott Notch, Jessica Vitalis writes middle grade fiction. In addition to mentoring Pitch Wars, Jessica volunteers with the We Need Diverse Books campaign and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and our very own The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate). You can find her Pitch Wars wish list at

Rebecca: Being a Pitch Wars mentor is a huge time commitment! Why do you do it?

Gabrielle: Like so many mentors, I participated in Brenda’s contests. My book, MANTICORE, was chosen for the 2013 Pitch Wars (Steph Funk was my ninja hero). With her guidance, the book got so much better, and with a new title–GETTING RID OF LUCKY, it got me repped. I met great friends and colleagues, and remember how much the support and belief meant to me then—and still means to me now. I want to help perpetuate that in the writing community.

Marty: Many writers have helped me grow as an author. I wouldn’t be where I am without their help. PitchWars is a chance to pay some of that back. It’s a win-win for everyone, because I learn just as much from my mentees as they learn from me.

Jessica: I wrote for years before developing a solid set of writing skills and signing with my literary agent. Along the way, I was desperate for someone—anyone—who could help me understand what was “missing’” from my writing. I love sharing the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years and having the opportunity to provide the kind of guidance that I longed for earlier in my career.


Rebecca: How would you describe your critiquing style? What kind of help could a mentee expect?

Gabrielle: I’m definitely tough love. I’m very kind, so being blunt has been hard won. I’ll let you know what’s working for me, and what isn’t. I’ll offer support, and compliments, where appropriate, but I won’t sugar coat the work. You’ll get an in-depth editorial letter, as well as line edits. I’ll help you find solutions, and to understand where things are going wrong. I’ll also never push you to do anything to your story you don’t want to do. It’s yours, and taking my advice, or not, is your call. Rock on.

Marty: Last year, I gave general feedback about pacing, plot, and ways to improve the MS overall within 2 weeks of the pick announcement. My mentees and I discussed what they felt worked best regarding the issues I identified, and we brainstormed if they wanted to take the MS in a different direction. After all, this is their MS first, and I respect that. After my mentees revised, I did line edits, then a third read to polish just before the agent round. I also helped my mentees with their pitches, queries and synopses. I believe I give a kind critique, although I won’t hesitate to be plain if needed. My goal is to help another author take their writing to next level, and this only works if we’re honest with each other.

Jessica: According to one of my mentee’s from last year, my 2016 mentee should expect enough red ink on their pages to give them a heart attack! That may be true, but I’ll also provide a lengthy editorial letter talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript and outlining suggestions for big-picture changes, as well as a suggestions for how to manage the Pitch Wars timeline. I’ll work closely with my mentee throughout the process, brainstorming ideas, providing feedback on revisions, and helping polish the manuscript for the Pitch Wars round.

Rebecca: Pitch Wars is a tough contest. Less than 10% of the writers who submit are chosen by a mentor. What advice did you get when you were entering writing contests and querying that you would like to pass on to the Pitch Wars crowd?

Gabrielle:  Most offers of representation do NOT come through contests. Contests are great for the feedback, the network of support, and for the feeling of quick turn-around that we all crave. They are NOT the end-all, or the be-all.  Practice. Be Patient. Persist. Getting in (or even close) is a lovely confirmation of your level-up, but not getting in, does not necessarily mean you’re not ready.

Marty: Each person gets there at their own speed and in their own way. Respect  yourself and your writing, but be open to listening to a differing opinion. And, even when you’re discouraged, never give up.

Jessica: I rushed into querying two full manuscripts before putting the brakes on my third. The extra time and care I spent polishing paid off because I received an offer of representation from the first agent who read the work (at an online conference rather than via the traditional query process). So it’ll come as no surprise that my biggest piece of writing advice is to not rush into querying and contests. After your manuscript is “finished”, put it through a rigorous round of reviews (maybe even several rounds) with critique partners and beta readers. Set it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it out loud. Print it in a different font and read it again. Only after you are convinced it’s the very best you can make it is it time to send it out into the world and even then, I’d suggest doing so in small batches so that you can make revisions and reevaluate the manuscripts readiness based on the feedback you receive.

Rebecca: Lightening round – coffee or tea?

Gabrielle: Coffee.

Marty: Earl Grey, please. Black.

Jessica: Coffee—blegh! I’ll take a lovely cup of peppermint tea any day of the week.

Rebecca: Sweet or Salty?

Gabrielle: Salty.

Marty: How about both? Chocolate covered pretzels.

Jessica: Both! (Preferably in the form of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Rebecca: Dog, cat or other?

Gabrielle: Cat.

Marty: I enjoy dogs, but kitties are my kryptonite.

Jessica: Cats all the way.

Rebecca: Plotter or pantser?

Gabrielle: Plotter, with flexibility

Marty: A mix of both. Once a plot bunny grabs hold of my mind, I take long walks and expand the idea to determine if it’ll hold up for a full-length novel. If it passes the walking test, I think up a hook, midpoint, and ending. Then, I write a query/pitch and run the idea past my agent for marketability. After that, I jump in and write, letting the characters take me on the journey they wish to tell.

Jessica: That’s a tricky question for me. I’m a pantser at heart, but find that my work benefits from plotting at some point during the process. I wrote a blog about my hybrid process here.

I’ll close with a shout-out to Brenda Drake, the Queen of Pitch Wars, a thank you to Gabrielle, Marty, and Jessica, and wishes of luck to all the potential mentees in the Pitch Wars crowd!

RA 2951Rebecca J. Allen writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.


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