PitchWars: Send Me Your Middle Grade!

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Folks, I am SO EXCITED for PitchWars this year! I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen to serve as a mentor. While it’s my first year officially part of the community, I’ve been totally swept up in the excitement of PitchWars season for years. I’ve cheered friends from the sidelines and was a mentee hopeful myself a few years ago, so I’ve been on your side of the desk! While I didn’t get in, the feedback busy mentors so graciously offered helped get my revisions on track. That manuscript went on to attract the attention of my now agent! Bottom line, this is a community of amazing, supportive, dedicated writers and I’m so happy to have the chance to dive in with a mentee.

Me, you, and your manuscript? We’re going to take over the world and have an absolute blast doing it!

*ahem*

WHAT I’M LIKE IN REAL LIFE

Born and bred in the Philadelphia suburbs, I’ve been living in the Princeton, New Jersey area for the last five years. (FYI, just this weekend, we bought our very first house, an adorable 100+ year old brick home, in a little river-side town in Pennsylvania!!!! It feels so so good to be back on this side of the Delaware, though I’m counting boxes in my sleep at this point.) I double majored in English/Creative Writing and History with a minor in Professional Writing at Bloomsbury University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, I went on to the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and my publishing career has included copy editing for Entangled Publishing, serving as an editor at a small scholarly press, working on eBooks and the interior pages of books as a content manager at HarperCollins for 3+ years, and, as of a few months ago, I’m pleased as punch to now be the Managing Editor at Running Press in Philadelphia!

While my day job is process-based (a nice overview of what a managing editor is, exactly, here) broadly it means I like to dig into the mechanics, get up to my elbows figuring out what makes something tick, and tool around until the best potential version of a thing is revealed. This, methinks, translates well when tackling plot and structure and messy bits.

Also, since Addie is the absolute best and I have a high opinion of her opinion, I’ll just bring this to your attention:

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As for my writing, I have a few published short stories and  memoir pieces out in the world and a pictorial history book, BYBERRY STATE HOSPITAL (Arcadia Publishing, 2013). I signed with my fabulous agent, the one and only Kira Watson at the Emma Sweeney Agency, last summer. We’re on sub with a MG novel and I’m hard at work on revising another one.

In my free time not spent writing, I swim and nap by pools. I listen to First Draft, 88 Cups of Tea, Stuff You Missed in History, and Writing Excuses podcasts. I binge watch (and rewatch) MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES and PARKS AND REC. I like to experiment with new recipes and cocktails. I like dark chocolate, exclusively, and Pinot Noir and rosé, particularly. I spend a great deal of time cuddling my Welsh terrier and attempting to cuddle my little black cat. I have a Stephen and he and I can often be found at flea markets and used bookstores.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR

I LOVE MIDDLE GRADE. I love it so much. It is, in my humble opinion, pretty much one of the best forms of storytelling available. A major contributing factor of that is VOICE. Give me your particular, your quirky, your charm.

Yes Please: straight contemporary, contemporary settings with a magical twist (literary or contemporary fantasy), historical or historical fantasy (as a history major my interests were broad–Joan of Arc to the Ottoman Empire to Vaudeville–though I have a particular fondness of the Guilded Age and Progressive Era, but am eager for any obscure sliver of history that is less than well-tred. Surprise me!), mysteries (see MISS FISHER’S obsession above, also, I looooove SHERLOCK), diary format (loooooooooved Dear America series growing up), retellings (the more obscure the better), sister stories, multi-generation casts (grandparents, elderly aunts, be they sweet or crochety, love ’em!), summer settings (I was a lifeguard for years and love being whisked back to that special schools-out season!), diverse stories of all kinds, curses, sci-fi set entirely on Earth (think X-Files, “Darkness Falls” episode)

No Thank You: horror, second-world or high fantasy, sports-centric stories (excepting swimming–I was on the high school team), fairies or angels or vampires (I have tried and tried and tried and just never appreciated them the way other readers do), bullying or mean-girl plot lines, personification (chatting animals have rarely captured my attention, aside a long ago middle-school love of REDWALL), sci-fi featuring aliens or robots or set in outer space

Some of my favorite authors include: Neil Gaiman, Meg Cabot, Cornelia Funke, Eva Ibbotson, Victoria (V.E.) Schwab, Markus Zusack, Maggie Stievalter, Louis Sachar, Ann Rinaldi, Roald Dahl

Great examples of stories that have charmed me in the past:

ONCE WAS A TIME by Lelia Sales

YORK by Laura Ruby

THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT by Kate Hannigan

MY DIARY FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Jodi Lynn Anderson

FLUNKED by Jen Calonita

DOLDRUMS by Nicholas Gannon

SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd

DOLL BONES by Holly Black

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS by Claire Legrand

HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eagar

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Shelia Turnage

DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos

GHOST KNIGHT by Cornelia Funke

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN WORKING TOGETHER

I’m looking for a writer who isn’t faint of heart, someone familiar with critical feedback. Someone who’s ready to jump into thoughtful and possibly extensive revisions with energy and enthusiasm. You’re going to need a tank of that (and maybe a tank of your beverage of choice, too) to power through this process. Revision is hard, as you well know, but it’s totally worth it!

Though of course this is YOUR story and you know what’s best and you should only integrate the suggestions that resonate with you, I’m obviously going to pick a story that needs revision of some sort. So don’t expect a one-line revision letter stating that the story is perfect and nothing should change. I give detailed, thorough, big-picture feedback. I poke, poke, poke at plot holes and things that confuse me as a reader. But I also do not hold back when something completely delights me. There will be praise and all feedback will be constructive.

To those of you who have read to the end of this post, squealed with joy at my favorite book list, and are squirming in your chair because you’re so excited that YOUR manuscript might be MY thing–I can’t wait to meet you and your awesome characters! Looking forward to your submission :]

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8 thoughts on “PitchWars: Send Me Your Middle Grade!

    • hannahkarena says:

      Omg, I met her at a conference once and was stuttering. She just happened to be sitting at the same lunch table as me! And nobody else recognized her but I was like, bribing them so I could trade seats haha. As for favorite…hard question! I REALLY loved the Quilt Trilogy, starting with Stitch in Time. I think I also reread Mine Eyes Have Seen because I loved it so much.

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        I loved The Last Silk Dress and Ride Into Morning, but I haven’t read the Quilt Trilogy – my library only had two of the books, and I don’t know why I never got around to reading them. My all-time favorite book ever is Time Enough for Drums, though. I know passages of it the way other people know passages from the Bible. 😀

        And if I had been in your shoes at that conference, I’d have been stuttering, too! Lucky you!

      • hannahkarena says:

        That’s so funny–I’ve read about 90% of her books, but not any of the three you mentioned! I’ll have to check them out. I hope I still love them as an adult!!

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        That is funny! Time Enough for Drums is the first book I read of hers, and I still love it. If you give it a try, you’ll have to let me know what you think! 🙂

  1. Nancy McGinley Myers says:

    Hello! I have a quick question on how my book might/might not fit into your “no thank you” list. The main characters are human but a dragon plays a major role. He learns a few words of English (he’s being raised by English-speaking kids in Wisconsin). Would that be personification?

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