What is Pitch Wars?
This year I’m a mentor for Pitch Wars, a fabulous writer mentorship scheme that has helped many writers find agents and publishers. I’ll have the honour of choosing a writer to work with for three months, developing their manuscript to be the best it can be before we present it to agents in the February showcase.
Who am I?
I’m 31, female, and live in London with three cats. I’m debating how soon is too soon to go for a fourth and really cement my path on that ‘old cat lady’ road. 32?
I’m a professional nonfiction writer and editor for a day job. In my spare time I read, write fiction, play PC games, and get bullied by the cats.
I’m represented by Amanda Jain at BookEnds. My first publication was a novella, with a small press, at the end of 2018. My debut novel was released right at the start of the pandemic by Headline, an imprint of Big 5 publisher Hachette. I’ve been through an agency change with my agent. I’ve signed contracts with publishers on two continents. I’ve seen the publishing industry from a lot of angles, and I have ADVICE!
I do a lot of critiquing and beta reading and I’m mentioned in a couple of books’ acknowledgements, which is one of my proudest achievements.
You can see a short critique from me – of a contemporary romance query and first page – on the Pitch Wars website:
I know you have a tonne of wishlists to get through (though mine is definitely the best, just ignore the others) so let’s get straight into it.
Genres I’m looking for (in no particular order):
- Women’s fiction
- Thriller / suspense
- Mystery and crime
- General contemporary / mainstream
I haven’t expanded on contemp / mainstream below, because it’s such a broad category I can’t narrow it down to a list of likes and dislikes. I’ll just say I enjoy all kind of stories from the light-hearted to issues-driven. Feel free to ask for more specifics!
Genres I’m not looking for:
- Graphic novels
Whoa, that’s a lot of genres, Anna.
Yes. I really do love ALL THE BOOKS. I read around four books a week across all kinds of genres – the goofiest romcoms to the sickest horror. If the premise grabs me or the characters engage me, I want to read it no matter which section of the bookshop it lives in (with the few exceptions noted in this wishlist).
All the genres and sub-genres here are ones I’ve read widely in and feel confident in mentoring. I do read literary and fantasy, but I don’t know enough to be a good mentor for them.
Because of my wide-ranging interests, I’m very open to cross-genre works or manuscripts that don’t seem to quite fit one neat box.
My (short) list of automatic no-thank-yous.
If any of these applies to your MS, I would urge you not to waste a submission on me. I’m very un-fussy in general, but these are hard nos.
- Manuscripts in present tense. I only read past tense. I like both first and third person narration.
- Manuscripts focused on the military, political arena, or spies. I’m fine with these in subplots, but they don’t hold my attention as the main thrust of a novel.
- Manuscripts with no significant female characters, unless there’s a very good plot reason. But if Andy Weir managed to get multiple women into a story about a lone man trapped on Mars, I don’t think anyone has much of an excuse.
- Animal abuse. If there’s a good reason for it and it’s a very small part of the manuscript, we can work it out, but I 100% skip those scenes in books.
I also have an unreasonable prejudice against books where protagonists are novelists. This isn’t a hard no, but if your MC is a writer I’m going to need to really, really love everything else about the manuscript.
What if you’re not sure whether your manuscript is my thing or not?
Ask! You can leave a comment here, ask me on Twitter (@AnnaKaling, DMs are open), or email me at anna.k.pitchwars at gmail.com.
Please only ask me high-level questions, like, “Would you consider a single-POV romance?” (answer: yes) or “Do you like seeing centipedes as protagonists?” (answer: no). Please don’t send me your whole query / pitch until the submissions window opens.
More details about what I look for in each genre:
Horror is my first love and I will never have enough of it, either in books or in movies.
I love pure psychological horror without a drop of blood on the page. I also love slasher horror dripping with entrails.
I love bone-chilling terror. I love black humour.
I love a well-worn trope (like a haunted house) with a fresh twist.
The crucial element is that I either care about your protagonists and desperately want to see them survive, or I like your villain so much that I kind of want to see them do their murder-y thing (e.g. Hannibal Lecter). Bonus points if you do both.
Favourites and/or horror I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special horror loves:
- Demonic possession / exorcisms / the occult
- Curses or cursed objects
- Cryptids / monsters / man-eating animals
- Creepy children
- Villains with personality
Not for me:
- Traditional vampires, zombies, or werewolves. I don’t mind a fresh twist on the old monsters, like 28 Days Later (2002).
I’m looking for contemporary, romcoms, scifi, and erotic romance.
I’m probably not a good fit for inspirational, historical, westerns, fantasy, or paranormal romances.
I look for a romance that makes me care so much about the characters that I bawl into my pillow when it looks like things won’t work out, and then ugly cry when it all turns out okay.
Romance must have a happy ending – not just for me but for agents, editors, and readers. It’s a core requirement of the genre. If you have a love story with an unhappy ending then it may be women’s fiction or a general contemporary novel, but it isn’t romance: please submit it under another genre.
I love protagonists anywhere on the LGBT+ spectrum. I love heterosexual romances too.
Any heat level is fine, though I have been known to convince certain authors to add on-page sex, and I have no regrets.
I like meaty obstacles in romance – if the core conflict is based on a misunderstanding that could be cleared up with one short conversation, then it isn’t for me.
The most important thing I look for in romance is healthy relationships. The protagonists absolutely need to face obstacles, and they don’t have to behave impeccably at all times, but none of their problems should stem from any protagonist being abusive, controlling, or acting on dubious consent. I actually really like power imbalances in romance, but I like them to be an obstacle rather than something the ‘powerful’ one takes advantage of.
Favourites and/or romances I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special romance loves:
- Forced proximity / trapped together
- Forbidden love
- Vivid side characters
Not for me:
- Sports romance, if I’m required to know (or care) about the sport
Women’s fiction can be a tough genre to pin down, but I love stories focused on women. I love strong and/or complex female relationships, especially sisters (I don’t have any sisters. Sniff).
I love seeing a female protagonist gain confidence, break out of constraining societal expectations, or throw off the reins and go on an adventure.
I also appreciate (‘enjoy’ is probably the wrong word) books showing women’s suffering, though I do prefer a somewhat hopeful ending. Many of my favourites (below) show women surviving through oppression and cultural expectations.
Favourites and/or women’s fiction I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special women’s fiction loves
- Books showing the lives of women in non-Western cultures (though Western settings are fine, too!)
- Fat female characters who aren’t obsessed with losing weight. Maybe they’re fat-positive or maybe they’re just fat and it isn’t a big deal.
Not for me
I honestly can’t think of anything. Send me your WF!
Similar to my romance wishlist, consent and healthy relationships are absolutely core. I don’t want to see any protagonist being abusive, controlling, or acting on dubious consent.
Ménage+ is fine, as are protagonists anywhere on the LGBT+ spectrum.
Special erotica loves:
- Boundaries! Healthy relationships! Consent!
- Hot sex. Obviously.
Not for me
- Anything, shall we say, involving bodily fluids one would normally dispose of.
- Hopefully it goes without saying, but nothing illegal. As PitchWars is international, I’ll specify that I need all protagonists to be at least 18, and the closer to 18 they are, the more uncomfortable I am with power imbalances and age gaps.
- Protagonists involved in buying sex, or involved in the porn industry.
I buy pretty much every psychological thriller or domestic suspense I pick up, so definitely hit me with those! I can’t resist a blurb/pitch that poses a question I NEED to see answered.
Examples of premises that grabbed me right away include The Boy from the Woods – Harlan Coben (where has the boy come from? who is he?), The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty (what was the secret?), and Airframe – Michael Crichton (what on EARTH happened on that plane?)
(P.S. I didn’t intentionally choose three examples from Penguin RandomHouse. Other publishers are available.)
(P.P.S I haven’t read any of those three yet so NO SPOILERS PLEASE.)
Favourites and/or thrillers and suspense novels I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special thriller / suspense loves:
- Domestic suspense
- Psychological thrillers
- Medical or science thrillers
- Natural disaster thrillers
- Missing people
- Codes or ciphers
- Forensics and pathology
Not for me
- Only, as I mentioned above, anything focused on the military / spies / politics.
I’m happy to accept all types of mystery and crime novels including cosies/cozies, detective novels, police procedurals, and everything in between.
As with thillers and suspense, I’m a sucker for any blurb that poses a question I NEED to see answered.
Examples of premises that grabbed me right away include The Lady Vanishes – Ethel Lina White (how can someone go missing on a moving train?), Perfect Little Children – Sophie Hannah (how can two children not age in 12 years?) and The Last Thing She Told Me – Linda Green (why does an elderly woman have three corpses buried in her garden?)
Favourites and/or mystery and crime novels I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special mystery / crime loves:
- Novels based on real-life mysteries, particularly historical mysteries like the Voynich manuscript, the Roanoake disappearance, and the princes in the tower
- Codes and ciphers
- Science / medical mysteries (think Tess Gerritsen and Michael Crichton)
- ‘Locked room’ mysteries or anything that seems impossible
- Forensics and pathology
- Missing people
Not for me
- Espionage / spies
- Hardboiled PIs
I’m a science nerd and I love seeing what authors can do when they take science out of the realms of what’s currently possible.
I want the science to be vaguely plausible. I’m not one of those people who forgets the “fi” in sci-fi and will present you with equations explaining why your premise is impossible (for a start, I can barely add up using a calculator) but I want some kind of basis behind it. For example, even though Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK couldn’t actually be done with current tech, he gave a good enough explanation for how it happened in the book. That’s all I need.
I generally enjoy past, present, or near-future sci-fi rather than anything set too far in the future.
Favourites and/or scifi I’ve enjoyed recently:
(That second cover is kind of hard to read – it’s War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells)
Special sci-fi loves:
- Medical sci-fi (including pandemics… COVID-19 hasn’t put me off!)
- Cryptids and monsters
- Alien invasions / first contact / terraforming other planets
- Time travel
- Alternate histories
- Science Gone Bad (think Black Mirror)
Not for me:
- Space wars (going back to my general aversion of all things military) unless humorous, like those in HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE
- Military sci-fi
- Dystopian or post-apocalyptic, including cyberpunk. The real world is dystopian enough for me right now, sadly.
I love novels focused on well-known historical figures. I also love novels focused on the daily lives of ordinary people centuries ago. I love novels that do both, such as PILLARS OF THE EARTH.
I’m looking for historical novels set anywhere in the world and in more or less any time period, though I do have some favourites (below).
Fair Warning: I love historical novels, but my history knowledge is very patchy, so I’m not going to the best at spotting anachronisms. Unless, like, you have your 17th century peasants playing Grand Theft Auto after they come home from the cinema. I’m pretty sure the PlayStation didn’t come out until the 1700s.
Favourites and/or historical novels I’ve enjoyed recently:
Special historical loves
- The Black Death. Yes, I’m morbid.
- Manuscripts featuring real historical mysteries like the princes in the tower or who Jack the Ripper was
- Pre-history, right back to the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons
- The Medieval Period
- Ancient Greece
Not for me
- Novels focused on political intrigue or wars (side plots are fine)
- Court intrigue and noblemen plotting against each other (side plots are fine)
I love adventure novels. If your characters go on an adventure, I want to join them, particularly if they’re following some sort of mysterious map or instructions – combine a mystery with an adventure and you’ve got me!
Favourites and/or adventure novels I’ve enjoyed recently:
(I see some of you raising your eyebrows at THE DA VINCI CODE, since writers love to trash it. Well, a gripping plot will win for me every time over beautiful writing, so shut down those eyebrows, fella.)
Special adventure loves
- Unexplored places
- Treasure hunts / task lists
- Codes and ciphers
- Survival stories like LIFE OF PI
Not for me
Honestly, I can’t think of anything in adventure that really turns me off. It’s such a fun genre!
And now some general questions…
YES THIS IS ALREADY TOO LONG, I KNOW. I just want to help you find the right mentor (me) and also I can’t stop talking.
What am I like as a mentor?
I’ll be your writing lobster. I’M THERE FOR YOU ALWAYS.
I want to agree ground rules with you, but the ones I’ve set for myself are:
- Everything you say will stay between us unless you give me permission to share it. The exception is if you tell me Will and Grace was good comedy, in which case I will HAVE to ridicule you on social media. But everything else stays in Vegas.
- I’ll reply to all messages within a day.
- I’ll have your back throughout the process, even if stuff goes wrong, as long as you’re honest with me.
- I’ll be your fiercest cheerleader to the outside world.
I’ll also tell terrible puns and will probably send you unsolicited pictures of my cats. Fair warning.
In return I want you to consider my feedback (you don’t have to agree, but at least consider it), keep me up to date with how you’re doing, and let me know if you have any worries – nerves about the showcase, fear you won’t do edits on time, or anything else. <breaks into Bill Withers> LEAN ON ME. WHEN YOU’RE NOT STRONG. You will also be required to send me pictures of any pets you have. If you don’t have pets it’s acceptable to source random cute animal pics on the web and send me those instead.
I’ll put in as much time to this as you and the manuscript needs. I typically spend about 20 hours on a standard beta read and a few more hours writing up my feedback. I expect PitchWars to take many multiples of 20 hours. I’m not expecting you to work yourself into the ground but you do need to have sufficient time to make edits – potentially substantial edits. This is something I’ll ask about before choosing a mentee.
I’m not just there for the manuscript but for you as a writer – talk to me about your career goals, your worries, the things you’ve always wondered but been too afraid to ask. I’ll share everything I know!
My critique style and strengths
I will point out anything and everything that I think could be strengthened in your MS, as well as what I think you’ve got spot on. I’m not one of those people who prides themselves on being blunt, harsh, or ‘cruel to be kind.’ Sugarcoating doesn’t help but nor does meanness. My aim is honest but constructive, and my rule is that I always explain WHY I think something isn’t working. If you want someone to tear you down, or you want someone to tell you you’re brilliant and need no help, I’m not the mentor for you.
My strengths in critique are pacing, character motivation, and conflict/tension. I’m not much use for creating beautiful, flowery sentences, and I don’t follow (or know about) any kind of formal structures like the three-act thing or the Snowflake Method. To clarify, I know good structure, but I don’t follow any specific method. If you want to talk about writing theory or technical terms for structure, I’m not your guy.
I will give you line edits, because we all make typos and that’s fine, but my aim is a developmental edit rather than a proofread.
I’ll read through your MS at least twice before I give you the first edit letter and line edits. I’ll suggest you read my comments and digest them for a few days before taking any action, but then we can discuss them as much as you like.
Once you’ve revised I’ll read the MS again and we’ll either do another round of edits or congratulate ourselves on a shiny manuscript and put our feet up.
Then we move on to the pitch and it starts all over again.
I will never force you to make any changes you aren’t comfortable with. It’s your manuscript, your story, and your voice. However, you do need to be willing to make changes in principle – it’s kind of what the whole mentoring thing is about.
Just don’t forget the animal pictures.
I’m not a phone person. Trust me, I make a lot more sense in writing than I do over the phone. I use Twitter DMs, Slack, Discord, and email. GIFs are mandatory.
We can do one or two Teams / Zoom calls if you really need to talk. It just won’t be our main method of communication.
I live in the UK so there may be a time difference between us, but I’m a loser who’s online all the time so it shouldn’t be an issue. Yay for not having a social life!
What I’m not as a mentor
I’m not a guarantee that you’ll get an agent from the showcase.
While I would love you to get an agent in February, I’ll consider it an equal success if that doesn’t happen but we go on to get you an agent through normal querying. If you’re pinning all your hopes on February, I’m probably not a great fit for you.
I’m not pinning everything on the showcase because:
- although the agents in it are fantastic, there are also fantastic agents that aren’t in it, and one of those may be a better fit for you;
- some of the genres I’m accepting are taken by very few agents, so we will probably need to query widely; and
- some of the genres I’m accepting are very competitive, so agents can afford to be very picky. It will come down to their personal tastes, not just the quality of your manuscript. And the way to deal with that, again, is to query widely.
Whatever happens, I sincerely hope the showcase won’t be the end of our relationship. I’m with you for the long run, if you’ll have me.
What am I looking for in a query?
I don’t need perfection. I understand queries are HARD. I’m going to be reading your pages first and if the writing is up to scratch, I’ll read the query to get a sense of your plot.
My advice is to try to get these four things into your query:
- A sense of your main character/s personality. It could just be one line or even one descriptor, like “Arthur Dent is a bewildered Earthling thrown into outer space when Earth is demolished…” or “Dr Hannibal Lecter is cultured, unerringly polite, and a convicted cannibal.”
- What your character wants. “Pi Patel is stranded in the Pacific Ocean, longing to reach dry land…” or “Sayuri knows to get close to the Chairman, she must become the kind of geisha that can command his attention.”
- The conflict – what’s stopping your protagonist reaching their goal? “Robert Langdon must follow the clues across Europe to catch the killer, if he isn’t caught first – the French police and a psycopathic monk from Opus Dei hunt him every step of the way.”
- The stakes – what happens if your protagonisit fails? “Rosemary must outwit the cult and escape before her baby is born, or they’ll snatch him from her and raise him to be the worst of them all.”
Romance queries tend to be a little different, as the conflict is more internal. There I want to know about your characters’ personalities, why they’re attracted to each other (the romance version of what they want), and what’s keeping them apart (the conflict).
I personally don’t need any trigger or content warnings, but please check the wishlists of other mentors you’re subbing to – we all get the same query, and they may appreciate warnings, particularly about sexual violence.
Now, send me all the books!
Pitch Wars 2020 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
- Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Mary Ann Marlowe
- Rachel Lynn Solomon
- Anna Kaling
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Rachel Howzell Hall
- Lyn Liao Butler
- Michael Mammay and AR Lucas
- Paris Wynters (Accepts NA)
- K A Black (Accepts NA)
- Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
- Hudson Lin (Accepts NA)
- Sonia Hartl and Annette Christie (Accepts NA)
- Taj McCoy (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Anne Raven and Janet Walden-West (Accepts NA)
- Charish Reid and Denise Williams
- Kalyn Josephson and Kat Enright (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Qin (Accepts NA)
- Tanen Jones (Accepts NA)
- Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
- Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Denny S. Bryce and L. Penelope
- Roselle Lim and Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Morgan Rogers (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Rob Hart
- Damyanti Biswas (Accepts NA)
- Maria Heater
- Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
- Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
- Carly Bloom and Sam Tschida
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)
- Alex Segura and M. J. Soni
- Roma Panganiban (Accepts NA)
- Tricia Lynne (Accepts NA)