Updated: Sep 16
Welcome to Pitch Wars! I'm so honored to be mentoring Adult SFF, Historical and Contemporary.
I know not a single person looking at this right now is unfamiliar with Pitch Wars (because I literally made this just for the blog hop) but in the unlikely event someone got terribly lost in cyber space...
Pitch Wars is an annual mentorship program where experienced authors and publishing professionals help emerging writers get their manuscripts submission ready. You can find more information at pitchwars.org
Now who am I and why should you sub to me?
I've worked at Nelson Literary Agency since 2018, assisting in various capacities but mostly as an in house reader. Before that, I interned with two other agencies while managing an independent bookstore.
Reading manuscripts, identifying their strengths and opportunities to improve, considering how they'd stand out in the market-- it's what I do. For over four years I’ve had a front row seat to how agents size up manuscripts and what separates the offers of rep from the narrow misses, so I’ll be able to talk you through your revisions with both a craft and an industry framework.
That said, I think my bookstore experience is my secret weapon as a mentor. The vast title knowledge needed has made me a comp maven, and knowing how books are marketed to stores and readers has helped me perfect the art of the pitch. I also write and have been mentored in programs through SFWA and POC in Pub, so I have a sense of what it's like to be on the other side.
The Mentor-Mentee Relationship
As a mentor, I would like to do two passes. The first will be focused on big picture things like plot, continuity, pacing, and structure. The second will be polishing: language, tone, descriptions, atmosphere, etc. I’d love to have a lot of communication with my mentee and for them to feel comfortable talking through suggested edits.
I am hoping to work with someone who is comfortable making big changes in the service of their story. My ideal mentee is someone who’s polished their manuscript to the best of their ability but knows that they need outside help to get it to the next level and is willing to do that work. If you’re only going to be comfortable with surface-level changes, like word choice or shaving off a few words, I might not be the best mentor for you. If that’s the level your manuscript is at, you’re probably ready to query anyway!
I love fiction and the art of writing, but I work in publishing because I also love sales. I’m hoping to find a mentee who is in this business for the long haul, interested in how the industry works and will take advantage of my experience in that realm (not to mention my access to Publisher’s Marketplace).
Finally, I’d like the mentor-mentee communication to be open, respectful, and fun! Best case scenario, it becomes a relationship that will continue past the showcase.
What am I looking for?
Regardless of genre, I'm looking for atmospheric, character-driven stories with literary or upmarket writing. I want clear internal and external struggles, and characters that actively propel the story rather than react to events. I also love stories with complex character relationships that make the casts more than the sum of their parts. But above all, I'm hoping to find something with a compelling, unique voice. I can help fix a sagging pace or a convoluted plot, but your voice is distinctly yours.
I’m also particularly interested in narratives from underrepresented voices, including from creators who straddle cultures (i.e. people who identify as bi/multi-racial or were raised in a culture not their own).
Now let's get genre specific:
When it comes to secondary world fantasy, I’m pretty wide open. If it has castles, backstabbing, and ambitious women, I’m in. I’d love something that features worlds based on cultures outside the Western hemisphere, especially #ownvoices. I tend to gravitate towards stories that are heavy on politics and intrigue. My parents were diplomats, so if it features civil servants at the forefront (i.e. A Memory Called Empire) or a multicultural world (i.e. The Traitor Baru Cormorant) send it my way. Beyond castles and kingdoms, I also love closed setting fantasies like schools, military encampments, or prisons.
I still love some royalty, but I might not be the best fit if the end goal is purely maintaining/reclaiming a traditional power structure. But I do love a good succession crisis.
As for magic, it's a must. I prefer magic that's more mysterious and unwieldy rather than clear cut elemental stuff or neat and tidy spells. It can be huge and earth-shattering (like The Poppy War) or small and crafty (Torn is a good example). I especially love magic that comes at a cost to its users.
I’m also open to contemporary fantasy but I’m a bit more selective. I’m more likely to be interested if it’s atmospheric enough that it feels like a secondary world. I’m not a good fit for straight urban fantasy or paranormal, but if you’ve written something you can comp to Ninth House or Certain Dark Things, I am here for you.
While I’m open to anything from historical fantasy to non-speculative, I’m most excited about historical fiction that straddles genres. Something mysterious and magical like The Miniaturist, history braided with fantasy like Bitter Greens, or a cosmic story set against a historical backdrop, like Life After Life. I’m particularly keen on less-represented periods and regions by authors descended from those cultures. The more recent and centered on the Western world it is, the less likely I’ll be a good fit (i.e. WWII set in Europe will be a tough sell).
I’m mostly interested in softer SF that uses tech/science to look at human and social issues rather than hard SF or space opera. The more techie/space-oriented it is, the less likely I’ll be able to help. If your story could be a Black Mirror episode or flips the world order on its head like The Power, please send it my way. This includes dystopias and alternate histories.
Finally, I’m open to very select contemporary that has some kind of speculative bent. If your story isn’t quite a fit for the SFF section of a bookstore but has some slight SF/fantastical twist (i.e. The Immortalists), I’d love to take a look.
Now to better help you gauge my tastes...
I love stories with:
Diverse settings and casts
Close 1st or 3rd person narratives
Protagonists over 40
I'm not a good fit for stories with:
Creatures like elves, goblins, angels, demons, etc.
Long prologues. A short, snappy, prologue is great, but if it’s several pages long and lots of worldbuilding and doesn’t center on the protagonists, I will probably ask you to shave it way down.
Stories that fail the Bechdel or Mako Mori tests (assuming the story has women characters)
Graphic sexual violence used for titillation and shock. If your story does contain sexual violence in a nuanced way, you are still free to sub, but I would greatly appreciate a content warning in your query letter.
Some Books I Love
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Circe by Madeline Miller
How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Bitter Greens/The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins
And I Darken by Kiersten White
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham
Anything by Isabel Allende but especially The House of the Spirits
Still not sure if I'd be a good mentor for you?
I welcome questions here or on Twitter (@mariatheheater) to help you decide if you'd like to send me your work. I also added a thread with some nitty gritty specifics about my tastes that you can check out here.
And please check out the other fabulous mentors here: