I’m SO EXCITED to be back as a Pitch Wars mentor 2021, this time in the adult and new adult categories.
Pitch Wars is a mentoring programme where experienced authors (the mentors) help unagented writers (the mentees) prepare for the publishing journey. I’ll have the honour of choosing a manuscript I love and working with the author to make it as shiny as can be before it’s presented to agents in the February 2022 showcase. For more information please visit the official site https://pitchwars.org/
NSFW / Trigger warnings: This post includes occasional swearing and references to plot elements including sex and violence. All images are safe for work (unless you look very closely at the erotica one…)
Punctuation warning: I seem to have kicked my em-dash addiction but swapped it for wayyy too many parentheses and exclamation marks. Also note if we email or DM, I will overuse emojis and exclamation marks to make sure I don’t sound stern!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Links to each section of my wishlist:
- Who am I?
- Genres I’m accepting and not accepting (including subgenres)
- Do Not Wants
- Random wants in any genre
- Contact info for questions
- Detailed wants and don’t wants for each genre
- Why submit to me?
- My critique style
- Tips for Submitting to Me
- My mentoring style
Who am I?
Hi, I’m Anna.
I’m 32, female, and live in London with three cats called Charlie, Pepper, and Joey. As well as being a published fiction author, I’ve been a professional nonfiction writer and editor for over 10 years.
I read around 100 books a year, roughly half fiction (in all sorts of genres from extreme horror to fluffy romance) and half nonfiction (particularly popular science and history). My other main hobby is gaming – typically strategy, puzzle, and simulator games. Currently playing Return of the Obra Dinn and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but long-time favourites are Stardew Valley, Minecraft, My Time at Portia, The Sims, and Tropico.
If you think I sound like a nerdy geekface, you’re not wrong.
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 recently parted ways with my agent and I have super secret plans that I cannot talk about!
I have personal experience with physical disability, mental illness, and LGBT+ issues. I love books about all these issues (as well as fat-positive characters) but I also love books that aren’t issues-driven at all. Just know that my inbox is a safe space for writers of any gender (or no gender), sexuality (ditto), colour, nationality, age, and neurodiversity. You don’t have to disclose any aspect of your identity, but if there’s something I can do to make the experience more accessible to you then please let me know.
Wishlist and Genre Overview
I would love to see manuscripts in the following genres and subgenres – click on them for more detail:
- Mystery (including cozies)
- Romance, including these subgenres:
- Romantic suspense
- Science fiction, including these subgenres:
- Alternate history
- Near future
- Scifi with romantic subplots
- Time travel
- Thriller / suspense
- Women’s fiction
I’d also love to see cross-genre works combining any of the above.
Please don’t send me your manuscripts in the following genres as I am almost certain not to choose them and that makes me sad:
- Contemporary (to be clear, I do want to see contemporary romance)
- Graphic novels
- Romance in the following subgenres:
- ‘Inspirational’ / religious
To put it simply, I’m looking for a great story that I don’t want to put down – I’m very open as to how that looks. It might be funny or dark, with characters I love or love to hate, with a focus on gorgeous prose or on a rip-roaring plot. I know that isn’t much help in narrowing down your list, so I’ve given more details below about what I love in each genre.
We only have three months to revise before the showcase, so I’m looking for a manuscript that can be polished to a publishable level in that timeframe. On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is a raw first draft and 10 is polished to perfection, I’m looking for something in the 5-9 range.
I’m pretty flexible with word count. I’m very good at helping writers revise down, so a high word count doesn’t faze me too much. I’m more cautious with low word counts, because wording up is usually harder for the mentee and we do only have three months for revisions.
For that reason I’m unlikely to choose anything below 50,000 words, and below 40,000 would almost certainly be a no.
I’m much less concerned with higher word counts, so I really can’t give a hard limit. I’d be most comfortable with MSS lower than 170,000 words, but two of my favourite books are way outside genre norms – 186,000 and a whopping 400,000 – and I certainly wouldn’t have said no to either of them. If you have a long MS and you think we’d be a good fit, I say submit.
New Adult manuscripts
There’s no NA category in the showcase, so if you have a NA manuscript we will be revising it to fit the adult market. This could mean some big revisions, like taking the protagonist out of college and into a job. Make sure you’re happy to do that before submitting to me!
My Short List of No-Thank-Yous
- Manuscripts in present tense; I only read past tense. I like both first and third person narration.
- Stories that would make a great action movie starring someone like Tom Cruise. If it’s all about terrorists, criminal gangs, lots of bombs and guns, and/or car chases, probably not my kind of thing. I prefer personal stakes to Saving the World With Lethal Weapons stakes.
- Manuscripts heavily focused on the military, political arena, or spies.
- Manuscripts with no significant female characters, unless there’s a very good plot reason. But Andy Weir managed to get multiple women into a story about a lone man trapped on Mars, so I don’t think anyone has much of an excuse! As stated above, I’m totally open to stories with male protagonists, but I don’t tend to enjoy stories that completely ignore women.
- I’d appreciate a warning if your MS has on-page animal abuse, so I can prepare my black little heart. Unless it’s centipedes. Kill as many of those as you like.
I also have an unreasonable prejudice against books where protagonists are novelists, because it makes it hard for me to forget about the author and focus on the story. But this isn’t a hard no.
Random things I’m into in any genre
I probably won’t get half the things on this list so don’t be discouraged if your MS doesn’t fit. I asked for sharks last year and got none. Not that I’m still bitter or anything.
- Elderly protagonists
- Animals in general
- Disability, mental illness, and LGBT+ representation
- Fat characters who don’t hate their bodies
- Characters who act grumpy but are soft-hearted really
- Nerds, geeks, and gamers
- More sharks and dinosaurs
- Treasure maps and mysterious manuscripts
- Satire, dry humour, and black humour
- Settings in Asia, Africa, South America (and Antarctica I guess, especially if the MC is a penguin)
- Seriously though, add some more sharks and dinosaurs
Not sure if I’ll like your story? Ask!
You can contact me on Twitter (@AnnaKaling, DMs are open) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please don’t feel like you’re bothering me – I would much rather you ask than potentially waste one of your submission slots on me. I’m nice, promise! Unless you’re a centipede in which case get out.
Please don’t send me your whole query / pitch until the submissions window opens; it puts us both in an awkward position, and I’m awkward enough to start with.
But do ask me high-level vague-y questions, like, “Would you consider a single-POV romance?” (answer: yes) or “My historical novel could also be considered literary; would that be an automatic no?” (answer: no) or “Do you like seeing centipedes as protagonists?” (answer: no and what is wrong with you).
What I’m Looking For – The Detail
I love adventure stories, from the ancient (THE ODYSSEY) to the golden era of adventure in the late 1800s/early 1900s (THE LOST WORLD) to the modern (LIFE OF PI).
I especially love adventure combined with a mystery. I drool over codes, treasure maps, and exploring unknown territory (e.g. CONGO). I would really love to see manuscripts based on real life treasure hunts like The Money Pit / Oak Island. I also love list-driven stories, like a character ticking off a bucket list.
In general, if your characters are going on an adventure I want to join them!
LGBT+, menage, alien, Rule 34… bring it on. Just know I am ALL ABOUT CONSENT and healthy boundaries.
- Sex involving animals.
- Dodgy power dynamics between the protagonists, unless these are fully addressed as part of the story.
- Protagonists who buy sex or are involved in the porn industry.
- Anything involving fluids that one would usually direct into a toilet.
- Manuscripts involving underage sex (below 18).
- Rape or other abuse between the protagonists. All sex between the protagonists must be fully consensual. Rape/abuse as a backstory is okay, but not between the main characters.
I adore historical fiction, though I’m picky about historicals set in more recent times. If you’re not sure whether I’m a good match for your 20th century histfic, feel free to use the contact info above to ask!
I gravitate to histfic about ordinary people more than to kings, queens, and nobles, though I’m not closed to the kingy-and-queeny stuff. It’s more that I don’t enjoy books all about court intrigue or political play between powerful people.
I REALLY love novels about lesser-known historical figures, or novels that show real historical figures in a different light.
I wouldn’t be a good mentor for a pirate story, as fun as they arrrrr.
Elements in histfic I definitely love:
- Prehistory, right back to the dawn of man. Think THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR without the cringey cave sex in later books (good cave sex is welcome).
- Non-European settings. Two of my favourite histfics are WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. (I do like books set in Europe, too.)
- Another reason I like both WHITE CHRYSANTHEMUM and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is that they showcase fascinating historical careers that have pretty much died out. I want to read more of these! Is it okay that I’d love a novel about a night soil man or should I get help?
- The plague / Black Death / hideous old diseases in general. I have an unhealthy obsession with pandemics that pre-dates 2019.
- Medieval life. I have re-read PILLARS OF THE EARTH and WORLD WITHOUT END many times.
- Currently fascinated with ancient South American cultures after reading THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS, and Ancient Egypt after reading THE RISE AND FALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT.
- Greek mythology. Always.
Horror is my first, enduring love. I can’t get enough of it. Please don’t let the fact that I write fluffy romances put you off: I’m more of a dybbuk than a fairy godmother.
I love purely psychological horror as well the most extreme gore and spatter. It’s very hard to gross me out: send me your tales of cannibalism and mutilation. But also send your subtle, beautifully-crafted psychological tales. Dark humour is welcome, as is unadulterated terror.
My inner dybbuk would love to see:
- Haunted houses
- Demonic possession and/or exorcisms
- Cursed objects
- Cults (currently obsessed with Midsommar)
- Creepy children (which, to me, is all children tbh)
The only tropes I really don’t like in horror are supernatural creatures like zombies, werewolves, and vampires. But even they can grab me if there’s a fresh twist on the old monsters, like 28 Days Later.
I’m totally obsessed with real-life unsolved mysteries and crimes (I’m a Shaniac, and if you know what that means then we need to be friends please). I will read pretty much any mystery novel, from Agatha Christie to Harlan Coben. I love cozies to detective novels to the barnstorming but faintly ridiculous (hi Dan Brown).
The only mysteries I don’t read are those based on spies/espionage, political plots, or hardboiled PIs. I also stay away from the more action-y gun-y bomb-y mystery stories; if your book’s movie could star Tom Cruise, it’s probably not my kind of thing.
I particularly love quaint cozies, crime novels with a forensics/pathology focus (like the Rizzoli and Isles series), whodunnits, claustrophobic mysteries (where the cast is trapped, e.g. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), and anything involving codes, treasure maps, or real life mysteries.
Let’s face it – romance authors are the best (hopefully writers in other genres skip this section. I love you too!) I’m multi-published in romance so I know what I’m talking about but, on the downside, I am picky – especially about heroes in M/F or M/M romance. I’m not a fan of the traditional alpha male or controlling behaviour dressed up as romance or protectiveness. I DO like respectful alpha males.
Send me your flawed protagonists, bad boys and girls, nerds, and socially-awkward heroes/heroines.
And do send me your LBGT+ and diverse romance!
I’m open to any heat level from sweet to erotic romance. On the sweet side I’m *not* open to religious or ‘inspirational’ romances, or characters who are celibate for religious reasons. I *am* open to, say, romance featuring asexual protagonists. However, if your characters are super horny and the sexual tension drips off the page, then I will feel shortchanged if there’s no on-page sex. In that situation I’d almost certainly want to add a sex scene or two, so make sure you’re open to that if you submit to me.
- Forced proximity
- Forbidden love (but let’s not get too weird; looking at you, mother-son incest blurb that will forever be etched into my brain)
- Enemies to lovers
- Friends to lovers
- Second chance
- Opposites attract
- I LOVE YOU BUT YOU’RE TOO GOOD FOR ME
- ANGST ANGST SO MUCH ANGST I NEED AIR
- OH NO THERE’S ONLY ONE BED
- OH NO YOUR SHIRT IS RUINED WE’D BETTER TAKE IT OFF WE HAVE NO CHOICE NONE
- I NEED TO CALM DOWN (this is not a trope, just a fact)
Not for me:
- Sports romance unless it’s gymnastics (Is gymnastics romance a thing? Can you link me?)
- Alpha-hole males
Send me your alien invasion or first contact novels, time travel, epidemics and pandemics, cryptids and monsters, science gone bad (think Black Mirror), natural or unnatural disasters (think THE MIST or The Core), alternate histories, and anything involving meddling with genetics. If you can compare your novel to Michael Crichton or Tess Gerritsen, I want it. Also send me anything so weird that I didn’t even think to include it on my list.
DINOSAURS AND SHARKS PLEASE.
I’m not looking for anything dystopian or post-apocalyptic, including cyberpunk. The real world is dystopian enough for me right now, sadly. I haven’t even read THE HANDMAID’S TALE because I know it would make me too sad and angry. I don’t need manuscripts to be all sunshine and roses, but I don’t want anything so bleak that I need to go cry into my cats’ fur.
I prefer scifi that is vaguely plausible in today’s world or in the near future. By ‘vaguely plausible,’ I mean something like JURASSIC PARK, which gives a reasonable explanation for how the dinosaurs are made in this reality, even if the explanation doesn’t actually hold up. THE MARTIAN is another good example: we couldn’t actually establish a base on Mars at the moment, but the book gives reasonable explanations for how it happens within the next century or so. If your book is set in the year 3300 with people travelling via teleportation and robots in government, it’s probably not for me.
I buy too many thriller and suspense novels for my own good. I read all sorts of subgenres from domestic suspense to scifi thrillers. I do prefer more personal stakes, e.g. the protagonist needs to save her son from a kidnapper vs the protagonist needs to save the world from a corrupt government.
I have a particular fondness for thrillers set in claustrophobic conditions – like. where the cast is trapped on an island or a boat or some other place they can’t escape the antagonist/s. I also love a mystery/thriller crossover.
As I said under Mysteries, I stay away from the more action-y gun-y bomb-y stories; if your book’s movie could star Tom Cruise, it’s probably not my kind of thing.
Women’s fic is another genre I love but am pretty picky about. I like a protagonist with a concrete goal rather than a more general “finding herself after divorce/ after her children have flown the nest” kind of plot. I’m also happily single and child-free, so I find it difficult to relate to protagonists entirely focused on dating or becoming pregnant (though there are exceptions – I really loved STAY WITH ME, for example).
I’m especially drawn to women’s fic set outside of Europe like A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS or GIRL. Those books are also a good example of another preference: if a woman goes through hell in her book, I need the story to have a happy or hopeful ending.
I would love to see older / elderly female protagonists. I’m also fascinated with sister relationships.
Why Submit to Me?
Pity? Clicked the wrong name? All the other mentors eaten by wild raccoons? Don’t worry – getting stuck with me won’t be the end of the world.
I’m published with multiple publishers in multiple countries and spent five years with an agent across two agencies. I keep my eye on the market and I read widely. I have all the advice and some of it is even good.
I’m an excellent punner and occasionally funny.
You will get lots of pictures of my cats doing fascinating things like sleeping, staring into space, and moving slightly.
I *will* highlight what could be stronger in your MS but I’m also very encouraging and positive and will cheer you along. Also if anybody is mean to you ever I will FUCK. THEM. UP.
My Critique Style
See a sample critique from me on the Pitch Wars blog here, with a new one for 2021 coming on 16 September. You can also find a lot of critiques from me on the Pitch Wars messageboards, where my username is annakaling.
I point out everything I think could be stronger, but I’m always constructive. My in-line comments will frequently involve puns, lolling, and shouting things at your characters like, “OH JUST KISS HIM ALREADY” and “DO NOT GO IN TO THE BASEMENT. DO NOT.” By the way, please send me any manuscripts in which I could leave both those comments.
My self-imposed guidelines for critiques are:
- Highlight what I love as well as what I think could be improved.
- Always give a reason why I don’t think something works, and a suggestion for how it could be improved.
On my first read through of a manuscript I’ll note all my impressions, which normally results in about 45% “I LOVE THIS,” 45% “What do you think about changing X to Y here?” and 10% puns. Sorry.
Once I get to the end I read over my comments, sit back, and digest the manuscript as a whole. I then write a summary of what I think is strongest (could be pacing, dialogue, descriptions, characterisation, conflict, etc) and what I think could be improved. I’ll give examples and try to refer to well-known published works that handled the same issue.
In a nutshell, my aim is to give you confidence in making your manuscript as shiny as possible, and in such a way that you can apply any advice to future MSS.
Tips for Submitting to Me
Obviously the most important thing is to follow the Pitch Wars official rules. But if you’ve decided to submit to me (I’m honoured!) here are some things you might want to know.
I request a lot – about 1 in 8 manuscripts in 2020. That may seem like a good thing for writers but there is a downside: I can only pick one MS no matter how many I request, so please please please don’t set your expectations too high. Please DO take it as a massive compliment, because if I request it means I see something very special in your writing. But try not to get your hopes up too much, because honestly letting down so many writers is the worst part of this for me (I know, I know, get out your tiny violins. But also know I absolutely do not enjoy requesting MSS and then not being able to choose all of them.)
I don’t request everything at once but go in batches. You might get a request on the first day or in the last week of the reviewing period. A late request doesn’t mean you were a back up or that I’m not as enthusiastic about your MS as I was about others: it’s totally random. Please don’t lose heart if you don’t hear anything in the first week.
My criteria for requesting is pretty simple: if I get to the end of your writing sample and I get that disappointed feeling of “Ugh, I want to know what happens next!”, I request. Sometimes I will request MSS where the first chapter doesn’t grab me, if the concept is super intriguing.
Of the three things you submit (pitch/query, synopsis, and pages) the pages are the most important to me. I read every writing sample, even if the pitch is a hot mess. Both queries and synopses are incredibly hard to write, so as long as you make an effort then I really don’t judge.
All I’m looking for in a synopsis is that you have a coherent plot with a sensible ending, and that you meet core genre requirements (e.g. if it’s a romance, the couple must have a happy ending). I don’t expect synopses to be beautifully written.
I don’t need trigger warnings for any content, though this may not be true of the other mentors you pick so absolutely include TWs if needed. I would appreciate a heads up if there’s on-page animal abuse in the MS, but I know you have limited space for your submission materials so it isn’t a requirement.
My Mentoring Style
I want to be your writing lobster. Do I need to say more?
Okay, I’ll say a little more. Ultimately I want to be your trusted friend and advisor who you can come to with any questions or worries (even after Pitch Wars is over). Mostly I mean questions and worries about writing and publishing, but writing is so much affected by our personal lives that I don’t have any issue talking about that, too!
I’m strongest at helping with pacing, structure, character motivation, and deepening POV. I’m very good at helping to pare down manuscripts, either to reduce word count or just to make the writing tighter. (Yes I know this is the longest wishlist ever SHH DON’T JUDGE ME). I’m also a great proofreader. I’m not the strongest at copy editing, e.g. noticing that your story has two Mondays in a row or your character was wearing high heels at the beginning of the paragraph and ballet pumps by the end. My own copy editors have saved me a LOT of embarrassment!
The details of how we spend our three months from November to February (the showcase) will be led by you and how you like to work. E.g. if you like to retreat into a revision cave with no distractions then we’ll keep check-ins and updates to a minimum in that period. If you like to talk things over and get continual feedback then we can chat every day. But I do have some basic ground rules for us both:
- Anything you say to me will be kept in confidence. I won’t discuss any details of you or your work with others unless you give permission (e.g. if I wanted to show another mentor our draft pitches to get their opinion, I’d ask if you were okay with it).
- In return I expect you to be honest with me if you’re struggling, have concerns, or are unhappy with how things are going. I’m not going to abandon you or admonish you if something happens and you can’t meet a deadline, or even if you decide you don’t want to enter the showcase. You can always tell me how you’re feeling.
- If you have animal companions you MUST send me regular pictures. Non-negotiable.
You might come into PW with the aim of getting yourself an agent. I really want that too, but my actual goal is that you come out of PW feeling like it was a good experience and made you a better writer. I can’t guarantee that you’ll get an agent from the showcase. I can’t even guarantee you’ll get requests, especially as I’m very open to taking on a manuscript that might not get much attention in the showcase (some genres are more popular than others with the agents who take part). If we need to go to traditional querying afterwards then I’m with you in those trenches, too.
One of the first things we’ll do after the mentee announcement is agree on how often we’ll communicate and by which avenue – email, Twitter DM, Facebook messenger, Skype, Slack, Discord, an artificial language composed solely of imitation cat meows at different pitches… I’m in the UK so we may be in different time zones, but I’ll be available pretty much all day UK time. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with video calls over the pandemic, but I will always be a much better communicator in writing. If you like video calls we can totally do that, but they’ll be more successful if you tell me in advance what you want to discuss so I can get my ideas together and not just blurt out something about dinosaurs.
Within a few days of the mentee list going up, I’ll give you an edit letter. This will set out everything I think should be done to make the MS as good as can be. But this is a discussion starter, not an instruction manual: if you disagree with a suggestion then we’ll talk it out and hopefully come to an agreement we both believe in. If we can’t agree, then you get the final say and I will *not* hold it against you – it’s your MS and you have to be happy with it!
Did I just win an award for the longest wishlist ever?
Pitch Wars 2021 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Anna Kaling (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
- Jackson Ford
- Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
- Jesse Q. Sutanto and Grace Shim
- Charish Reid and Denise Williams
- Saara El-Arifi (Accepts NA)
- Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
- Carolyne Topdjian
- Falon Ballard and Brooke Abrams
- Mary Keliikoa (Accepts NA)
- E.A. Aymar
- Amanda Elliot (Accepts NA)
- Kelly Siskind
- Vaishnavi Patel and Sarah Mughal (Accepts NA)
- Mary Ann Marlowe and Laura Elizabeth (Accepts NA)
- Mia P. Manansala (Accepts NA)
- Peggy Rothschild (Accepts NA)
- Natalka Burian
- Courtney Kae and Jenny L. Howe (Accepts NA)
- Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
- Swati Hegde (Accepts NA)
- Nanci Schwartz and LL Montez
- Paris Wynters
- Hudson Lin
- Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
- AM Kvita (Accepts NA)
- Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
- Melissa Colasanti (Accepts NA)
- J.A. Crawford (Accepts NA)
- Michella S. Domenici
- Yvette Yun and Marith Zoli (Accepts NA)
- Sari Coritz and Rosalie M Lin (Accepts NA)
- Stephenie Magister and Noreen (Accepts NA)
- Regina Black and Nikki Payne (Accepts NA)
- Farah Heron and Namrata Patel
- Alicia Thompson and Amy Lea (Accepts NA)
- Lyn Liao Butler
- Preslaysa Williams (Accepts NA)
- Keena Roberts and Molly Steen (Accepts NA)
- Alexandria Bellefleur (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Ashley Winstead
- Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
- Rob Hart
- Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
- N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
- Katherine Lim
- Alexia Gordon
- Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)
Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.