It’s Pitch Wars time and this year 4 members of The Winged Pen are sharpening their pencils and cracking their knuckles, getting ready to help a lucky mentee revise their ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT so that it shines in the agent round! We know what awesome advice these ladies have provided on our own manuscripts and we want to make sure anyone considering submitting to Pitch Wars chooses them!
The Winged Pen Pitch Wars mentors are:
Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis – co-mentoring middle grade
Gabrielle Byrne – mentoring middle grade
Marty Mayberry – mentoring adult
Have you ever been on the other side of a writing contest…submitting? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
Julie: I was a hopeful in 2014, but wasn’t selected. Then I entered a new manuscript in 2015
and was selected by the amazing Juliana Brandt. She managed to cram what I think of as an intensive MFA into two months, teaching me about story structure and writing emotion and so much more.
I’m a big fan of contests (having also been in Pitch Slam and a few others), but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone needs to find their own path. I didn’t get my agent with my Pitch Wars manuscript, but I still think everything I learned during the contests allowed me to write the manuscript that got me my agent.
Jessica: The one and only writing contest I ever entered was…Pitch Wars! I was absolutely sure my manuscript was as polished as I could make it on my own. After 120+ rejections on my two previous manuscripts, I was desperate for a mentor to help take my work to the next level. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. *cue wails of despair*
The good news? I got a call from my agent (who had seen my manuscript during WriteOnCon) offering representation the day after the mentees were announced. This whole experience taught me several valuable lessons: don’t rush the process (after I felt the manuscript was “ready,” I set it aside for a few months and then read/edited with fresh eyes before sending it out, which was something I hadn’t done with the two previous manuscripts), there is no one right path in this industry, and most important of all: NEVER GIVE UP!
Gabrielle: I’ve entered several contests, including Pitch Wars. The first time I entered, I didn’t get in. The second time, I squeaked in as the very last alternate. What did I learn? I learned tons about revision, and diving in, and persisting. I also learned that without fail, the writing community would bolster my spirits and push me forward, if I reached out. That book eventually got me represented, in no small part because of those Pitch Wars revisions.
Along the way, I made some really good friends as well as critique partners, and I’ve had the privilege of watching people I know and love rise to the top of their game and get published.
Marty: I was a PitchWars Alternate in ’13, but got no requests. This hit hard, but I ultimately signed with my agent (for that MS) through a Twitter pitch event. So, hang in there. There are many different paths to success.
What draws you into a story?
Julie: There is a magic combination of fresh premise (even in a retelling!), compelling voice, and starting the story at the point where stakes and conflict will come together in the right way to make questions pop into my head as I read. Then I know I’m hooked.
Jessica: Voice, voice, voice, and voice. Oh, and did I mention voice? (Also: an intriguing premise accompanied by superb writing.)
Gabrielle: I want to connect with the character. That’s partly about the voice, but it’s also being clear about what’s at stake, and what those stakes mean to the MC. The world building (fantasy or otherwise) is a huge draw for me too. A well written world can be such a vivid experience, and if it’s accompanied by clear stakes, and a unique voice, it’s pure gold.
Marty: There’s probably an echo here, but Voice. Hook me with a character I want to follow for 80,000 words.
Julie: I’m very big-picture oriented. So I’ll be deep diving into the character arc and major plot structure in my edit letter, along with looking for themes, motifs, and imagery that can be used not only to up tension in the story, but to reinforce the character’s arc. I’m also a big believer in homework, so my mentee can expect a list of comp titles to check out, as well as craft articles/blog posts and maybe even books to refer to during revision.
My amazing co-mentor, Jessica Vitalis, is way better with the line edits than I am, although I’ll also take a look for repeated issues like wordy dialogue, junk words, emotional telling, and saggy pace/lagging tension in a second pass.
Jessica: Typically I start with a detailed (and lengthy) edit letter covering big picture elements (plot, structure, character development, etc.), which leads to a week or two of intense brainstorming. After the big stuff is done, I go crazy with my red pen. Along the way, we’ll get to know each other really well and become critique partners and BFFs (you did say in my ideal world, right?). Of course this year I’m co-mentoring with the inimitable Julie Artz, so we’re going to be double trouble the whole process is going to be extra amazing.
Gabrielle: Like with the other pennies, my mentee will get a long edit letter. Depending on what I think the issues with the manuscript are, I’ll share my thoughts about the pacing and character arcs, the world/setting, the dialogue, the secondary plot lines, the character relationships, and the prose. If there’s a big change–to plot or character–that I want to recommend, I’ll probably already have mentioned it to them, but we’ll have a more in-depth conversation about it early in the process.
It’s possible I’ll give my mentee a week or so of “homework”. This might consist of reading a book or two critically, with particular things in mind, or it might be short writing exercises to strengthen particular skills, or both. After my mentee’s done their edits, I’ll comb through the manuscript a second time and we’ll tighten things up, and smooth things out. Voila!
Marty: I’m co-mentoring adult with Léonie Kelsall year. We’ll offer our mentee what I gave my prior mentees: Complete read-through with edit letter, ongoing discussion about edits & support as needed, plus a second read-through if there’s time, which will include line edits. We’ll also help with the synopsis, query, and first page/pitch for the agent round. We’ll be there for our mentee after PitchWars when they get requests, offers, etc., and then promote their books when they sell. We’re the complete package. LOL.
Lightening round! Fasten your seat belts!
Favorite writing snack?
Julie: Macadamia nuts or roasted almonds. With oodles of tea, of course.
Jessica: I don’t necessarily have an all-time favorite, but right now I’m on a peanut M&M binge.
Gabrielle: Sourdough toast with almond butter, popcorn with Siracha, or cashews with Thai spices, depending on the scene. Coffee. That’s a snack, right?
Marty: Lately: pickles, especially Sweet Chili Thai. And Earl Grey Tea.
Favorite 5 minute break between writing/revising chapters?
Julie: Twitter! Or loving up on my kitties, who typically sit in my lap while I’m working anyway.
Jessica: I often get cold when I write, so I occasionally do jumping jacks or burpees to warm up.
Gabrielle: 5 minutes? Sheesh. Make coffee, I guess. Light a candle maybe? If I need a real break though, I take a long hot shower, or go on a walk. Both really help work through blocks and problems.
Marty: Walk, walk, walk. I aim for >14,000 steps on my pedometer daily.
Favorite writing craft book?
Julie: Story Genius by Lisa Cron changed my writing life.
Jessica: I’m currently obsessed with Story Engineering.
Gabrielle: My newest obsession is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, but I’ve long loved Stein on Writing by Sol Stein as well. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.
Marty: Stephen King’s On Writing.
Thanks to Julie, Jessica, Gabby and Marty for being on the blog today! Thanks also to Brenda Drake, queen of Pitch Wars, for hosting the awesome contest and to the whole team that helps her run it!
If you want deep a little deeper on our mentors, you can find last year’s interview of the Winged Pen Pitch War Mentors or click their names below to find their Pitch War bios and wish lists.
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.