Pitch Wars 2020
Pitch Wars is "a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. Mentors read the entire manuscript and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for the agent showcase. The mentor also helps edit their mentee’s pitch for the contest and their query letter for submitting to agents." Click here to read more about the program and about the agent showcase!
WHO I AM:
This year, I'm excited to serve as a mentor for young adult (YA)! My first two YA novels, DAMAGE DONE and NEVER MISSING, NEVER FOUND were published by Random House Books for Young Readers in 2015 and 2016 and are dark contemporary thrillers; after a six-year hiatus, I'm excited to have another YA book coming in 2022 (which I hope I'll get to tell you more about soon!). I also write middle grade (MG) and adult books. My debut MG, IT'S MY PARTY AND I DON'T WANT TO GO, is coming out from Scholastic on 9/15, and is about a girl with social anxiety who decides to sabotage her own bat mitzvah and all the hoopla associated with it; I have another MG coming from Roaring Brook Press, THE TROUBLE WITH GOOD IDEAS, on 1/5/2021, which is a contemporary fantasy about a girl who builds a golem to take care of her ailing zaide… she, unfortunately, doesn't know that golems always turn on their creator. In the adult space, I write as Amanda Elliot, and my debut SADIE ON A PLATE – a romantic comedy about a woman who finds love on a cooking reality show – is coming from Berkley in March 2022.
Before full-time writing, I spent years working in the publishing industry. I was a literary agency assistant at Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents (then Lippincott Massie McQuilkin) for three and a half years, and before that interned at three different literary agencies. I know how to make your query, first pages, and manuscript enticing to the people reading the query pile because I spent so long as the person reading the query pile. I actually took part in Pitch Wars on the agent side a few years ago! I know what made things stand out to me, and I can help you get to that point.
At my old agency, my boss used to call me "the hatchet"—I was known for being tough on the manuscripts I edited, but very good at the process. You should apply to be my mentee if you're not afraid of hard work—I'm never mean, but I will go into detail about what isn't working in your manuscript (along with what IS working, too—I'm not a monster!) and help you brainstorm how to fix it. I love the editorial process, which is the thing I miss most about working in publishing. At the same time, I'm respectful of the fact that this is your book, not mine, and I won't protest if you decide not to take some of my notes. It's your book, and ultimately you know what's best for it. I'm also always there to answer questions or talk through anything writing- or publishing-related (especially if you bribe me with cute pet photos!).
WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR:
I'm open to the following genres within YA:
1. Fantasy – I love all fantasy, from epic/secondary-world to contemporary to historical to magical realism.
6. Light science fiction – I love things like twists on reality, time travel, and alternate universes, but if it takes place in space, it's probably too hard for me.
--Please note that I am not looking for new adult manuscripts.
--While I love a good romance as a subplot or as part of a whole (especially if it's a slow burn or enemies-to-lovers!), I am not looking for straight-up romances or rom-coms this year. I'm also a tough sell when it comes to urban fantasy (think vampires/werewolves/other creatures in our world) or horror if it's gory, though feel free to give me a try.
Here are some things I would especially love to see in my inbox:
—Books by underrepresented voices, books with feminist themes, and #ownvoices projects.
—Rich epic fantasies set in worlds inspired by places other than medieval England, preferably by #ownvoices authors. Give me a world inspired by ancient Mesopotamia, or feudal Japan, or the Aksumite Empire, or the Viking era, or… you get the idea! Think FOR A MUSE OF FIRE by Heidi Heilig or WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT by Isabel Ibañez.
—The above, but historical fiction examining underrepresented areas, times, or subjects of the real world. I love Stacey Lee's books for this (especially THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL), SPINDLE AND DAGGER and THE WICKED AND THE JUST by J. Anderson Coats, and THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY by Hanna Alkaf.
—Fantasy that examines rape culture, feminism, or class privilege in our world, a historical world or an alternate world, like TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachel Hartman.
—Books that are dark, dark, dark, no matter the genre! If you've read DAMAGE DONE, you'll know it's hard to go too dark for me. I love morally complex characters, anti-heroes, and villain protagonists like in NOT EVEN BONES by Rebecca Schaeffer and THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu.
—I love alternate history and historical fantasy that puts a new spin on familiar tales or puts a spotlight on a story I've never heard, like AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White or THE BIRD AND THE BLADE by Megan Bannen.
—Books that examine religion in a thoughtful way, like SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali or AGNES AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Kelly McWilliams.
—I have a soft spot for portal fantasies, but what I really want is a fresh spin on them, like in THE LIGHT BETWEEN WORLDS by Laura E. Weymouth.
—When it comes to contemporary, I tend to shy away from issue books and books that are too heavy on romance. Some contemporary books I really enjoyed lately have been THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA by Julia Drake, ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL by Nadine Jolie Courtney, and ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas.
—A super-twisty mystery where I can't guess the ending. Extra points for dead bodies! I love Kara Thomas's books for this.
—I have a soft spot for fantasy books that involve a magic school or apprenticeship of some sort. Some more fantasy tropes that I love: the deconstruction of the "chosen one" trope; magical books or libraries; secret passages and hidden rooms; faeries and the fair folk; necromancy; friends who have to go to war with friends; falling in love with the enemy; dragons!
—Other random tropes and things that immediately grab my interest if I see them in a description: food, cooking, and/or a restaurant setting; music (I played a bunch of instruments in high school and band was a big part of my life); amusement parks (I worked at Six Flags in high school!); mysteries in the woods; labyrinths; overachievers; the college admissions process; the beach or the ocean (I grew up on the Jersey Shore and am fascinated by the deep sea).
—A surprise: if your book doesn't have any of the above, please still consider sending to me! My favorite thing is to be surprised by a book I wasn't expecting.
Here are some YA books I loved that didn't fit neatly into the categories above, in case your book comps to one of them!
—DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland
—FIREBORNE by Rosaria Munda
—AMERICAN ROYALS by Katharine McGee
—THE GRACE YEAR by Kim Liggett
—SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson
—WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Elizabeth Acevedo
—WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Tehlor Kay Mejia
—PULP by Robin Talley
—STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor
—WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones
—SALTY, BITTER, SWEET by Mayra Cuevas
THINGS NOT TO SEND ME:
—I'm not looking for graphic novels or novels-in-verse—while I love reading both, I'm not confident in my ability to evaluate or edit them well this early in the publishing process.
—I'll specifically be avoiding topics and themes too close to what I'm currently working on (to avoid any conflicts of interest), which are fantasy books heavily featuring Jewish mythology or set in a world inspired by the shtetls of old, books about survivalism, books about marching band, and post-apocalyptic fiction set during or in the direct aftermath of a disaster (no, these are not all in the same book, but wouldn't it be cool if they were?).
—I'm not the best mentor for books centered around sports or plots about who's going to win the big game. I'm just not a sports person (except for marching band, which YES is absolutely a sport, though I'm not looking for marching band books right now due to the aforementioned conflict of interest).
—Sometimes I feel like the only person ever who hasn't watched any superhero movies, read any superhero comic books, or watched any of the superhero shows on Netflix. I'm just not a superhero person, and I'm probably not the best fit for your superhero book.
—I'm not the best mentor for your project if your main character has an eating disorder or practices self-harm, or if it takes place during the Holocaust.
—I have a soft spot for portal fantasy, but I'm probably not the best mentor for you if your portal fantasy story involves your main character getting sucked into the pages of a book they're reading.
—While I like books about boys and boy main characters, I'm probably not the best fit for your book if it doesn't have any significant girl characters, or if you have only one girl in the book who fulfills the trope of being "not like other girls."