Hey everyone! So, Pitch Wars. I’m a mentor this year! I’m excited. Don’t know what Pitch Wars is? Click this link. Or, here’s some sample text I copy and pasted because I’m a little lazy!
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 a pitch/first page and can request to read more.
I am looking for books in the adult category, and in a broad sense, in the crime-thriller and/or sci-fi-speculative realm (we’ll get to that…), and here is some relevant info that you will hopefully find helpful:
I’m the former publisher of MysteriousPress.com, at which I published and edited more than a dozen books in the crime/mystery genre (A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride, several Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough). I wrote a five-book amateur PI series and a collection of food-noir short stories, all for a small press, Polis Books. I co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson, and my latest novel, The Warehouse, is out from Penguin Random House—it’s been sold in more than 20 countries and been optioned for film by Ron Howard. My non-fiction articles have been published widely—Daily Beast, Salon, LitHub, Electric Literature. This is all to say… I’ve seen the industry from a couple of unique angles and I think I’m at a point where I can offer some useful advice.
I want you to write the best book you can. I want you to do it. I want to give you the insight to recognize where your story can be stronger, and the tools to make it happen—then get the hell out of your way. I want you to come out of this process with a shiny new toolkit. I’m going to push you because the story has to win in the end. I love big picture stuff—I’m ok with copyediting but a few misspelled words are not going to hurt you as much as a plot that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so I’ll be focusing slightly less on the former.
What I want:
- Mixed genres: I like books that straddle genres. A murder mystery with time travel? A heist story set on a Mars base? Please and thank you. I won’t say no to a classic PI novel if it really lights my fire, but this is where my head is at: big, sprawling, challenging ideas.
- Strong social themes: I’m a big fan of books that get to the root of crime. I care less about the street crime created by the heroin crisis and more about the pharmaceutical companies that started it. Blue-collar crime? Yawn. White-collar crime? All day long. I like politics in my fiction. My latest book is an indictment of capitalism and consumerism wrapped in the language of a thriller, so, that’s my sweet tooth.
- Diverse stories: I’m a straight white guy. I have read a lot about straight white guys in my lifetime. I’m not saying I won’t accept something with a straight white male protagonist—making a visceral connection to the narrative is the ultimate goal here. But as of late, I’m more interested in stories different from my own upbringing and experience. Think American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (black Cold War-era FBI agent), the Roxane Weary mysteries by Kristen Lepionka (LGBT private investigator), Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican fantasy), and Three-Fifths by John Vercher (noir featuring a bi-racial protagonist).
- Deeply, deeply human stories: Let’s use American Spy as an example because that book legit made me cry. It’s a spy novel, about a black woman in the FBI during the Cold War, so there are themes of racism and sexism. And the book could have just been that and it would have been really good. But it’s also a romance, and it’s a story about a mom and her kids. And those are the things that make it great. So… plot is great. Ideas are fun. Character is the most important thing. And I want deep emotional honesty more than anything else.
What I don’t want
- Game of Thrones– or Wheel of Time-style fantasy: Not my wheelhouse. A book with elements of fantasy (see genre-straddling above), I’m cool with. Got a PI who also uses magic? Great. But full-on fantasy, I don’t think I can offer effective guidance.
- A first draft: I want something you’ve worked over a few times and you think you’re done, or close to it. Spoiler alert: you’re not even close! But one of the best pieces of advice I ever got is: your book is ready for the next step when you don’t know what else to do with it. That’s the point when you need to bring in another perspective (like me!).
- Transgressive fiction: It is really, very rare for transgressive fiction to be done well. I cut my teeth on Chuck Palahniuk but I want emotional honesty a lot more than I want subversive, explosive violence for the sake of itself.
- A violent act against a woman as the inciting incident: Most any trope can be reinvented and done well but this one really needs to just… go away.
I like e-mail, and occasional Skype session is cool. If you’re local to NYC or you’re visiting, I’d be open to getting a drink/coffee/cupcake. I know a really good cupcake place.
Find more wishlists below!
Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Paris Wynters
- Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes
- Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
- Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
- Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
- Carolyne Topdjian
- Natalka Burian
- Tim Akers
- Alex Segura
- Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
- Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
- Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
- Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
- Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
- Rob Hart
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
- Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
- Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
- Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
- Damyanti Biswas
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)
Hi Rob, I hope this message finds you well.
I have a question, if you have the time.
When you say you don’t want a violent act against a woman as the inciting incident, are you referring to something specific (like abusive relationships, rape, or something else that might qualify as graphic) or is it a no-go 100% of the time and in every situation?
I ask because I have something that definitely fits the weirdness of something like “murder mystery with time travel” but my murderers kill a lot of people, including women, and including in the inciting incident. It’s never graphically shown, but it’s there.
Is that a deal breaker for you? Or is it ok if I consider pitching to you?
Thanks in advance for any reply.
I have a generally low tolerance level for violence against women–I think too many writers use it as a crutch–BUT that doesn’t mean you used it that way. When in doubt, submit. My issue is more… I’m sort of out of runway on books where the plot is set into motion by the death of a woman that a man was in love with and now he has to go avenge her memory or something. Which, frankly, was the plot of my first book, but looking back on it now I wish I’d done it a little differently. John Wick is a good example of this… it’s not about the wife, it’s about the dog. Anyway. Send it over.
Got it. Thank you for your answer!
Hi Rob! I love your wishlist! Yay! I have a speculative historical fiction story set in reconstruction-era America with snarky ghosts and a steampunk energy. It’s OwnVoices for the LGBTQ+ romance subplot and disability rep. I’m not sure if it fits into the sci-fi-speculative category. Certainly not neatly. Would you want to see something like that in your inbox?