Writer, Editor, Blogger

My 2014 Pitch Wars Wishlist: Young Adult!


Aug 2, 2014 35 Comments

Hey guys! I am SO freaking excited to be a Pitch Wars mentor this year, and I can’t wait to see all your wonderful YA submissions! I participated as an alternate last year, and the contest helped me prep my submission materials and rack up quite a few agent requests. I signed with Jim McCarthy only 2 months later, and I definitely owe at least part of that success to Brenda Drake’s wonderful contest! YAY BRENDA! YAY PITCH WARS!

Pitch Wars mentor badge

To start, here’s a little about me (aka why you should choose ME as your mentor!):
I’m a YA writer (represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich) and a freelance editor. With my help, many of my clients have found agents such as Louise Fury (2 clients!), Lucy Carson, Christa Heschke, Carolyn Forde, and Marlene Stringer, among others. I’m a voracious reader of YA, but I’m also well read in other age categories thanks to my BA and MA in Literature and my unhealthy obsession with buying every book I see. I’ve now interned for three literary agencies, so I know not only how to write/edit YA, but how YA agents think and what they’re looking for. In fact, I’m hoping to be one myself one day 🙂 Hmmm what else…oh yeah! My clients have great luck in contests! Just last month my clients made it to the finals of #QueryKombat AND are now agented! YAY!

But what can *I* do for YOU, you ask?
–As your mentor, I’ll use my writing, editing, and internship experience to help you make your manuscript the very best it can be. But warning! I’m a tough critiquer, and I’ll expect you to give revisions everything you’ve got!
–I’ll provide you with developmental feedback in the form of a reader report, AND a line by line critique once you’ve revised. That’s 2 critiques for the price of one!
–I’ll also help you develop a pitch and query that’ll knock the socks off all the agent judges. We’ll not only get to the heart of your book, we’ll leave them wanting much, MUCH more!
–Finally, we’ll work on your first chapter until it’s absolutely the best it can be. That means striking the perfect balance between voice and conflict, with an eye to your genre and teen audience. We’ll put special focus on the first 250 words, since that’s where most agents stop reading.
–I participated in Pitch Wars last year as an alternate, and I was lucky enough to be chosen by two mentors. I know the importance of making your first chapter really shine, but I also know that most alternates end up relying on their query to find an agent. That’s why I’ll put just as much time into helping my alts with the pitch/query as my mentee. By the end of our mentorship, I want my alternates to be ready to participate in the agent round AND query widely!

I’m going to be mentoring YOUNG ADULT MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. I’m interested in tightly plotted, character-driven stories with heart. I tend to enjoy things on the darker/issue-driven side, so hit me with your creeptastic settings, your emotionally bankrupt villains, and your doomed-from-the-start relationships. Just make sure any and all submissions have a clear hook. I like my books to be on the commercial side!

Didn’t write a dark YA? Don’t fret: I might still LOVE your manuscript.

Here’s what I’m looking for in particular:

–Dark, Literary Contemporary: I love books that make me feel, especially when they do so with beautiful prose. Just make sure they have a clear hook! (Examples: Thirteen Reasons Why, Paper Covers Rock, Sea of Tranquility, I’ll Give You the Sun, We Were Liars etc.)

–Historical/ Retellings. I just finished CODE NAME VERITY and it made me cry for days. I’m probably going to start crying just thinking about it. ::blows nose:: If you have a heart wrenching, gut twisting historical/retelling, send it to me! Just make sure it has a clear hook, ie a commercial element. (Examples: Code Name Verity, Sekret, The Book Thief–I like books about war!)

–Fantasy/Magical Realism. I love immersive worldbuilding and character-driven fantasies. (Examples: The Raven Boys, Scorpio Races, Sabriel, Shadow and Bone, etc. No dragons or elves, please.)

–Thriller/Horror. The book that landed me an agent was a YA Psychological Thriller in the vein of MISERY meets LIVING DEAD GIRL…cheerful, huh?!I I’d *love* to read another dark thriller. BUT! If you’re going to send me a Thriller, make sure it’s got an edge to it. I’m not interested in heists or fugitive-type stories, for instance.  (Examples: Dangerous Girls,  Anna Dressed in Blood, maybe a YA Gone Girl/Sharp Objects?)

…or any combination thereof! I love Historical Fantasies (like The Diviners), and I would DIE for a YA Night Circus. Oh, one last thing! Quiltbag and diverse YA are welcome! So, if you have any of the above categories AND your manuscript features a diverse cast, I WANTS IT, THE PRECIOUS.

HOWEVER, I am NOT the right mentor for:

Didactic or Inspirational Religious/Spiritual (see comments for more information)
Novels told in verse
Young YA that walks the MG/YA line
Hard Science Fiction

Just kidding–that stuff is great! I’m just not equipped to provide feedback on those categories, and you all deserve a mentor who knows your genre like the back of their hand!

Oh, one last thing: I love animals, especially dogs. If you have a dog death in your book, please don’t send it to me. I lost a dog a few years ago, and it still upsets me a lot. So just send those elsewhere, please. Thanks.

A little about you (aka who I’m hoping to work with!):
I’m hoping to find a mentee who is a hard worker dedicated to craft. I want someone who is passionate and excited, and who will put everything they’ve got into revisions, since I’ll be putting my heart into their critique. I love YA and I love good story telling, so hopefully I’ll find someone who is excited about them, too!

If this describes you, then we’ll make an UNSTOPPABLE team.

Okay, I think that covers it! If you have questions or you’re not sure if something is up my alley, feel free to tweet me. I’ll do my best to respond. Just make sure you also include the #PitchWars hashtag! If you have any questions regarding the technical aspects of submissions (we’re using a form this year!), head on over to brenda-drake.com


Now go check out the other Pitch Wars Mentors!

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  • Quiarah Butler
    Aug 4, 2014 at 11:33 am Reply

    Hi there! I believe you helped me in a twitter contest before–#pitmad. You were awesome, and you never have up on me. I like your style and believe you would be an awesome mentor! I can’t wait to sub to you!

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  • Patrick
    Aug 4, 2014 at 7:09 pm Reply

    Hi Lauren:

    You want dark. (YAY!)

    I write very dark (YAY YAY!!)

    You don’t want religious *scratches head*

    This is kind of different depending on who you ask, so I’ll look like an idiot and ask: are you just trying to stay away from spiritual/inspirational fiction? Mine is none of that, it involves Christian conspiracies and killing deities–which isn’t spritual persay, but it is a bunch of anti-religious overtones.

    Just wondered if that stuff is ok with you.

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm Reply

      Hey Patrick! I certainly do like dark, and I also like conspiracies. When i said religious/spirituality didn’t appeal to me, I meant fiction that aims to instruct or inspire. I don’t mind if books have that effect, but I’m not looking for anything that does it overtly.That doesn’t necessarily mean I want *anti-religious* either though, if that makes sense. Critical, absolutely. Anti? Maybe not, since that’s potentially just as instructive as a purposefully spiritual book. I hope that helps answer your question! You’re also welcome to reach out to me on Twitter!

      1. Patrick
        Aug 5, 2014 at 1:11 am Reply

        Makes total sense!

        Mine isn’t so much to sway your mind, it’s just a fictional story where they kill God and go up against an esoteric group responsible for Judeo Christianity as we know it (established as a means of control). In fact if you thought Hunger Games meets His Dark Materials or DaVinci Code you’d have a good idea of how crazy it gets. It doesn’t beat around the bush though using terms and figures from Christianity as antagonists.

        1. Lauren Spieller
          Aug 5, 2014 at 1:13 am Reply

          Not for me, I’m sorry to say. It sounds like it also has a hint of dystopian about it, and that’s a VERY hard sell these days.

        2. Patrick
          Aug 5, 2014 at 1:14 am Reply

          And other religions. I don’t discriminate! It’s just kinda a “side to every coin” sorta vibe. Things could get taken as offensive, the last fight of the book is in the remains of Jerusalem for instance.

  • katz
    Aug 4, 2014 at 8:03 pm Reply

    An unstoppable team? Don’t you mean a sensational team?

  • Kristin
    Aug 4, 2014 at 10:59 pm Reply

    Can’t wait to send you my YA Historical Magical Realism. Hope you like alt POV, settings in 19th century Sweden, Russia, NYC, Vermont, and 1930’s North Dakota (my gang really gets around). When the Literati Circus comes to town, ecstasy and madness is sure to ensue.

  • Tracy Goeke
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm Reply

    Hi! You mention that you’re good with thriller (which my MS is), but you don’t specifically mention not-hard sci-fi (which my MS also is, at least a little). There are no aliens or alternate dimensions or planets and no past/future nonsense, but the major twist of the plot is related to a bit of sci-fi technology. Does this sound like something that might interest you? Or do you need more info to make that call?

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm Reply

      Hi Tracy! I do actually mention that I’m not interested in hard sci fi (see above). A single sci-fi element that works in the overarching story might be okay, but I’m not the right mentor for a sci-fi manuscript, if you see what I mean? You’re of course welcome to submit to me–I do love thrillers, especially dark ones!

      1. Tracy Goeke
        Aug 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm Reply

        It’s definitely a thriller and pretty dark, but the sci-fi thing, though very important, isn’t revealed until near the end of the MS. Did you watch the show Alias, spy thriller with the Rambaldi sci-fi element? My MS is similar to that.

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  • Tylia Gardner
    Aug 5, 2014 at 5:58 pm Reply

    So is the submission process done through your website, or through your twitter account? I couldn’t quite tell. I read through Brenda’s submission process and then I re-read your blog post (like five times, mostly cause I get stuck on the Harry Potter gif and forgot what I was doing.) Am i missing anything?

    My MS involves disabled YA characters trying to stave of a bleak future where they are being weeded out. I think it still fits what you’re looking for, but I’m not sure.

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 5, 2014 at 6:22 pm Reply

      Hi Tylia! You apply via a submission form on Brenda’s website. You can find more info here:

      As for my wishlist, I’m definitely looking for dark fiction and differently abled characters, but if it crosses into dystopian, I probably won’t be interested because the market it flooded w/ that genre. But if you think your manuscript stays on this side of the line, then I welcome you to submit to me!

  • Heather
    Aug 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm Reply

    13 Reasons Why is one of my comp titles. Same sort of “What was she thinking before she did this awful thing?” vibe in my MS, Renascence. You’re going on my possibilities list. 🙂

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 5, 2014 at 10:02 pm Reply

      I LOVED THAT BOOK. I read it in a single sitting–couldn’t put it down. Such a fabulous premise, and the subject matter hit me right where I live. Absolutely one of the best YAs I’ve read.

  • Jenna-Lynne
    Aug 6, 2014 at 2:05 am Reply

    I see you have a very nice GIF of Captain Jack Sparrow in there! Does that mean you like pirates? Except my pirates are Middle Eastern and it’s a fantasy romance not historical

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 6, 2014 at 2:35 am Reply

      .gifs are for entertainment only 😉 and no, sorry–you’ll notice that I list romance as a “no thanks” genre. There are tons of mentors that would love to see your ms though, I’m sure! 🙂

  • Karla
    Aug 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm Reply

    *Raises hand*
    I have shape-shifters in my ms. The ms doesn’t follow them around, but the fact that they’re shifters affects the novel and goals and motives of my MC and those around her.There is a romance too, but it is meant to create difficult moments. Are these deal breakers?
    Do you think that if I’m not sure if my ms is a right fit for you, it’s best to not submit to you?

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm Reply

      Hi Karla! I have nothing against shape shifters, and DEFINITELY nothing against romance. I’d want to see both those elements fully integrated into the story, though. IF that sounds like your manuscript, then you’re welcome to submit to me, but it’s important that you pick the mentors you think would be the best fit for your book and your critique style. 🙂

      1. Karla
        Aug 8, 2014 at 3:44 am Reply

        Hmmm okay okay. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks for replying!

  • Irena T
    Aug 11, 2014 at 10:52 am Reply

    I have a dark Contemporary YA that involves prep school kids on a survival trip in the Wilderness. It is also about the unraveling/survival of friendship and told in 2 POV. There is a love triangle involved and doesn’t necessarily have the fairy tale ending. How does this sit with you?

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm Reply

      It sounds like it might be my kind of thing, though the only way to know for sure is to read the submission 🙂 If you think we would be a good match, you’re welcome to sub to me!

  • Jerry Quinn
    Aug 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm Reply

    Hello! You sound like a perfect match, except for one question: I don’t know if my MS is acceptable as YA.

    It is about protagonists classically in the YA age range, BUT because it’s historical (12th century Normandy) they are experiencing things that I have been told are too ‘dark’ for YA. I have also been told there is no such thing as YA historical because teenagers in the past were experiencing adult things.

    Of course, the fact that you both asked for YA historical specifically and said you like it dark gives me hope. I would like to pitch you, but I don’t want to offend you by then having the work turn out to be over the line (no gore! just historically accurate emotionally tragic experiences that a teenager might experience like witnessing death, warfare and the galling experienced of killing your first person, arranged marriages, miscarriages caused explicitly by being too young to bear to term) to be acceptable.

    Just wanted to be doubly sure. Thank you!

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 11, 2014 at 8:44 pm Reply

      YA Historical is absolutely a thing! I want historically accurate books, which often means a darker tone and upsetting events. I absolutely encourage you to submit to me if you think we’re a good fit 🙂

      1. Jerry Quinn
        Aug 12, 2014 at 2:09 pm Reply

        I certainly think so! You asked for dark, character-driven stories with emotionally bankrupt villains and relationships that are doomed from the start, and mine is all the above. I am thrilled by the number of times you said “literary” and “character driven” even amongst your genre fiction list. I’m a firm believer in Egri’s “Art of Dramatic Writing” school of premise and character being the foundation of everything, and that “literary speculative” (in my case, literary historical fantasy) is absolutely a thing. So yay! Looking forward to the 18th. I’m glad to hear your success story from last year’s PitchWars edits and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions 🙂

  • Sarah Carlson
    Aug 13, 2014 at 1:24 am Reply

    Hi Lauren. This is my first Pitch Wars, just trying to figure out the ropes. Excited! Would you be interested in Romeo and Juliet in modern Belfast?1st person YA, 2 POV, grief, family issues, and sectarianism? Thanks for considering!

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 13, 2014 at 1:39 am Reply

      Yes, absolutely. In fact, I have a MA in Irish modern lit, so this would be right up my alley. Thanks for thinking of me.

      1. Sarah Carlson
        Aug 13, 2014 at 11:57 pm Reply

        Wow, Lauren. You may well be the perfect person for me to submit to! My MS has been through 4 people in Belfast (one writer, two teens, and one professional development editor) so here’s to hoping I’ve gotten close to where it needs to be!! Thanks for the response 🙂

  • Tara Sim
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm Reply

    Hi Lauren,

    I’d love to submit to you, but I’m not sure what your threshold is concerning romance as a sub-plot. It’s definitely not the main plot, but it’s still very integral to the story. It’s a historical steampunk novel about a gay Victorian teen who fixes clocks controlled by spirits–and ends up falling in love with one. Would that be a problem?

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm Reply

      Not a problem at all!! I like romance, I just don’t want a book that is primarily a romance, if that makes sense.

  • Tamara
    Aug 17, 2014 at 8:57 pm Reply

    Wow. I just read through your whole page like three times and I’m super depressed that we both got too busy to continue working together. But I truly hope I get another chance to work with you in this contest cause I think it would be amazing!

    This is a totally new manuscript, nothing like the last one you read of mine.(not sure if you even remember my last one) It was also co-authored by my son, who bought a level of darkness to it that I wouldn’t have thought to include, but that I love. I always wrote romance but it turns out I have a talent for creepy–who knew? haha

    At any rate, I did ask you this on Twitter but, just in case you didn’t see the question over there, I wanted to double check that you are cool with lots of cursing, drinking, some drug use, sexual references (no sex) etc…in YA books. I’m not sure if you’ve read Going Bovine by Libba Bray but, if you have, think along those lines…

    My story is a urban fantasy with a sprinkling of horror. It’s fast paced, dark and narrated by two boys (no romance there, just in case you are wondering) The characters are definitely diverse (one half-Asian boy who suffers from severe OCD, and one black boy from the ghettos of Philadelphia) and I really think it would be right up your alley.

    Please let me know if you are cool with the upper YA themes–I’ll be looking forward to hearing back from you! 🙂

    1. Lauren Spieller
      Aug 17, 2014 at 10:06 pm Reply

      That all sounds great! I look forward to reading your query/pages.

      1. Tamara
        Aug 17, 2014 at 11:01 pm Reply

        Excellent! So excited! 🙂

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