Our Pitch Wars wishlist!

Who we are

Hi everyone, it’s Ava and Rachel, aka Avachel, aka your California Gothic dream team, and this year we’re mentoring Pitch Wars! Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an agent showcase, where agents can read the pitch and the first 250 words and request to read more. We’re thrilled to be a part of this amazing program, and we are mentoring adult fantasy.

(NB: While we will accept New Adult submissions, it is highly likely that we will ask you to revise it up to fit into the adult market.)

Why you should sub to us

We were both Pitch Wars 2018 mentees and, as such, we know what this process is like: the submitting and the waiting, the celebrating, the frantic revising, the pre-showcase panicking, the post-showcase panicking, the epic highs and dismal lows. With the help of my amazing mentor, Isabel Ibañez (seriously, if you are writing YA, SUB TO HER), I (Ava) signed with my incredible agent, Alexandra Machinist. My book went on submission and, a few weeks after the showcase, it sold in a five-way auction to Harper Voyager. My debut will release in 2021. I genuinely find writing queries and pitches to be a fun challenge, and I look forward to helping our future mentee figure out how their book fits into the market.

I (Rachel) have been teaching and critiquing creative writing for a decade. I facilitated the first peer-led genre fiction workshop at UC Berkeley, where I also worked as an academic writing tutor. In 2018, I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where I did nothing but write and frantically critique at least two short stories a day for six weeks straight. I currently work as an editorial assistant for the literary adventure fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where I read slush and write rejections with personalized feedback. Due to this latticework of experiences, I’ve developed a quick, incisive editorial method, delivering holistic feedback in an encouraging, positive manner. In essence, I know what it’s like to be both querier and queried. Whatever happens, I’ll be there for you through all of it.

What we’re looking for

We are primarily looking for character-centric, literary-leaning fantasy. We want beautiful, intentional prose with a distinct voice and and nuanced characters that transcend tropes. We are both more interested in second-world fantasy, but we could be charmed by historical fantasy or contemporary fantasy—though we would prefer it to lean more fabulist/magical realist than paranormal. In either, we want a vividly drawn world that feels fresh and unique. No generic white medieval settings, please.

In general, we love fantasy that is somehow anchored to the real world—inspired by contemporary politics, or by little-known periods of history, drawn from real-life cultures and mythologies. For example, Ava’s debut, THE WOLF & THE WOODSMAN, is inspired by the history of medieval Hungary and aspects of Jewish mythology. We would love to mentor fantasy from perspectives that haven’t yet been seen, in settings that haven’t yet been explored. If your pitch is basically “[political event/historical period] but with magic,” please sub to us.

We would love to mentor something epic and sweeping, with multiple POVs, or something quieter and with more personal stakes. In either, we would like the focus to be on character, and how that character’s choices propel the plot. We crave incredibly detailed character building; we want to laugh, cry, and scream with your characters. Essentially, we want human stories in a fantasy setting. Again, beautiful prose and unique voice are a must. No generic distant third-person POV (a lot of writers default to this in fantasy, but Ava’s debut is written in first-person, present tense!) Hook us with gorgeous and evocative language and then emotionally devastate us with your flawed, compelling, infuriating characters. We want ACTUALLY morally gray characters, and characters who have to earn their redemption arcs.

We want fantasy that subverts tropes and doesn’t take certain conventions of the genre for granted. For example, if your book takes place in an “empire,” what are the subjugated populations? What is the history of imperialism? How does that impact the economy and the politics of your world? (Incidentally, we would love to mentor fantasy that deals with themes of colonialism and diaspora). Please no fantasy states that are religiously/ethnically homogeneous—it’s just not realistic! We also love intricate, developed magic systems, particularly those that explore a relationship to science, religion, culture, or all three. Show us a magical response to resource scarcity, or explore the politics of hereditary magic. Give us a nuanced depiction of power dynamics and cycles of violence. In particular, we would like to see stories by marginalized voices and from marginalized perspectives, and we have a strong desire for LGBT characters and romances.

Favorites

Books

  • CIRCE and THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller
  • UPROOTED and SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik
  • SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
  • THE POPPY WAR by R.F. Kuang
  • GRACELING and FIRE by Kristin Cashore
  • THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee
  • HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, FIRE & HEMLOCK, and everything else by Dianna Wynne Jones
  • THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD by Rena Rossner
  • The Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden
  • Anything by Kelly Link
  • Anything by Karen Russell
  • HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado
  • FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff
  • THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson
  • JADE CITY by Fonda Lee
  • THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
  • THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker
  • HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor
  • DEATHLESS by Catherynne M. Valente

Tropes

  • Enemies-to-lovers/hate-to-love/rivals-to-lovers
  • The slowest-burn romance ever
  • Closed environments (schools, prisons, etc.)
  • Magic as [something] (magic as science, magic as religion—surprise us!)
  • Fantasy with horror/gothic elements—do you have a haunted house book with a twist? Something that reads like the novelization of a Guillermo del Toro movie? We want it! 
  • “Wait, that monster is more human than we thought” AND “wait, that human is more monstrous than we thought” (basically, we want Guillermo del Toro himself to sub to us)
  • Themes of religious angst. Both of our Pitch Wars books deal with religious conflicts and existential crises!
  • Necromancy. Please. Thanks.
  • Creepy, anthropomorphized trees
  • Anything that reads like a fairytale, or uses/subverts elements of fairytale

Other media we love

  • We’re both HUGE fans of book mood playlists. If, for example, your book reads like Hozier and Florence + the Machine collaborated on a magnum opus, we want it desperately.
  • We both grew up consuming massive amounts of anime and manga and slip many references into our work; if you, too, are an anime-inspired writer, we would love to see your submission.
  • I (Rachel) play a lot of video games and am particularly fond of RPGs and horror (especially gothic and psychological). Anything like the Final Fantasy series (VII, IX, and XII are some top favorites, but I love them all). Fantasy with horror elements that feel like Rule of Rose, the Silent Hill series, the Resident Evil series, or the Fatal Frame series (PS2-era horror!) would be fantastic (science fantasy, fantasy gothic, anything liminal, literary, and boundary-pushing).

Also, we’re not squeamish. Bring on the body horror.

What we’re not looking for

We are not the right mentors for epic fantasy dominated by straight white male characters, or fantasy with magical creatures (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.) where prejudice against these creatures is an analogy for real-world racism. Please no dead sex workers or fridged women. Also, while we LOVE a good romance, we are not the right fit for books where romance is the main focus. If you sub heterosexual romance, we would like to see the man actually respect the woman, and for there to be a compelling reason why she wants to be with him aside from his physical attractiveness.

We are open to mentoring books that tackle difficult subject matter, such as sexual abuse, and I (Ava) am particularly interested in nuanced portrayals of survivors. However, please, please include content warnings if your book contains explicit depictions of sexual abuse (especially child sexual abuse) so we can properly prepare ourselves and be in the right headspace to read.

How we can help you

  • We will guide you through two major edits, the first being a big picture edit that will look at plot, pacing, and broad strokes character arcs, and the second being smaller scale, assessing the changes made, micro-level line edits, etc.
  • We both like to look at big themes and make sure they’re resonating within each plot turn, each character’s arc, and even in the prose itself. We love to read a book that feels thematically cohesive, and like every choice the author makes is intentional!
  • We will be paying VERY close attention to character development and worldbuilding. I (Ava) studied politics and like to get very detailed with political and economic systems and have used game theory and rational choice theory to help me understand my characters and their decisions (really), and I (Rachel) am a stereotypical English/Media Studies major with a profound interest in character arcs (I’m here for emotion, internality, and relationships) and SYMBOLISM.
  • We are both total prose geeks and will help you root out ALL your clichés and repeated words.
  • Rachel is Ravenclaw good cop who will remind you to honor your vision and stay true to yourself and Ava is Slytherin bad cop who will force you at virtual knifepoint to use beat sheets (she will convert you to beat sheets; Rachel is now a believer).
  • We may not necessarily be the most forthcoming with praise (we don’t really use the ‘compliment sandwich’) but if you’re ever in need of moral support, PLEASE feel free to ask us and we will shower you with validation (we are also happy to supply book-related memes/vines). If we pick your book, that means we adore it and see the potential.
  • However, we may also ask you to make major changes to your book. As a mentee, I (Ava) rewrote half my book, completely changed my main character’s motivation, added a subplot, deleted and added secondary characters, and went from past tense to present tense. And my book is a thousand times better for making all those changes! I (Rachel) changed the nature of the main plot thread and magic system, added the entire concept of alchemy, rewrote many, many chapters, and completely removed one of the protagonist’s relationships.
  • We will make ourselves available for anything you need during the revision period, and you can feel free to contact us via email, text, phone call, Skype, Twitter DM, carrier pigeon…We live close by in real life, which means we can easily do Skype calls with you (and will also totally gush about your book together over coffee).
  • There are two of us, which means even if one of us is busy, chances are the other will be free!
  • We will also help you prepare your pitch and query for the showcase. I (Ava) genuinely love writing queries and am super excited about this part (seriously!), and Rachel loves crafting pithy pitches and titles. If you want help curating your query list, or just general industry advice, we are happy to talk about that, too! We are mentors because we want to put our vast reservoirs of publishing knowledge to good use by helping our mentee.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter (@asimonereid and @khymatos). While we ask that you don’t directly pitch us your book, you can ask us if we would like a manuscript with certain elements, i.e. “would you be interested in a book with a fresh take on witchcraft?” (The answer is yes, by the way.) Even if your particular trope/setting isn’t listed here, don’t assume we don’t want it! A lot of times we don’t know what we’ll enjoy until it’s right in front of us.

Please check out the other mentors’ bios below, or view the main Pitch Wars mentor blog post here.

Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Paris Wynters
  2. Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
  3. Ian Barnes
  4. Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
  5. Elizabeth Little
  6. Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
  7. Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
  8. Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
  9. Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
  10. Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
  11. Carolyne Topdjian
  12. Natalka Burian
  13. Tim Akers
  14. Alex Segura
  15. Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
  16. Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
  17. Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
  18. Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
  19. Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
  20. Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
  21. Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
  22. Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
  23. Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
  24. Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
  25. Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
  26. Rob Hart
  27. Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
  28. Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
  29. Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
  30. Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
  31. Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
  32. Samantha Rajaram
  33. Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
  34. Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
  35. Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
  36. Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
  37. Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
  38. P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
  39. Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
  40. Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
  41. Damyanti Biswas
  42. Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)

8 thoughts on “Our Pitch Wars wishlist!”

  1. Hey Ava and Rachel! So I have a question: what are your thoughts on monster manuscripts? I have an epic fantasy I think might be a good fit for you guys but it’s shaping up to be around 200k. Would something of that length just be a straight no? In my case, I’m willing to take a chainsaw to the thing if need be, though I realize it may be difficult for me to get to the point where someone TELLS me to take a chainsaw to it because of its intimidating word count at present. Any thoughts would be appreciated, thanks!

    Like

    1. Hi Hannah! I have to be honest: 200k words is a bit daunting. It is very, very difficult to sell a 200k manuscript as a debut, even in high/epic fantasy, and I suspect that for many – if not most – agents, it will be a huge turn-off, if not an automatic no. Most high/epic fantasy debuts are still under 150k, and even most of those reached that word count in revisions, once the book had already sold. (For reference, my debut sold at 92k.) I would say a safe/acceptable range to be in as a debut is no more than 125k. I find it hard to imagine that you could axe 75k in only a few months, along with making any other sort of major structural changes that we might suggest. I would strongly advise you to cut it down as much as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there! I’m excited to be submitting my MS this year, and after reading through your fantasy wishlist above, I *think* I’ve got something that you might be interested in. That said, this sucker is high concept, hyper-feminist fantasy meant to hold a mirror up to real world gender-based political power structures. There’s sex, though none of it graphic. And it’s a villain origin story. Think of Michael Corleone’s fall from grace character arch in The Godfather, except for a female character. Does this sound at all like something that realistically would interest you? With just four application chances, I’m trying to get a solid feel for who would be a good fit and who might be a reach as far as mentor interests go. Thanks for your time. – Kathy

    Like

  3. HI, I was intrigued by your list of likes, but the ms I have is not strictly ‘fantasy’ but more a fantastical eco-apocalyptic religious literary thriller that deepens into a modern fantasy, with a Luddite quasi-medieval community, Zoroastrian/Manichean religious hallucinogenic sequences, and lost cities under the Pyrenees by the last third (the opening is more classic thriller with autistic/medieval art themes). Something along the lines of neurodiverse Foucault’s Pendulum, Da Vinci Code and Cronin’s The Passage. It’s part of a trilogy. Not sure if this could be your cup of tea….
    tx in advance

    Like

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