My Pitch Wars Mentor Wish List

Hi there! My name’s Brian and I’m glad to meet you!

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Who am I? Just a YA mentor, standing in front of a group of prospective mentees, asking one of them to give me a novel I’ll love to pieces. So, you know, nothing big. Yeah, right!

First, let me congratulate you. You wouldn’t be looking at this bio—or any of the other mentors’ bios—if you didn’t have a completed novel handy, so kudos to you for getting that far because there are loads of would-be writers who never complete a draft. You are way ahead of the curve already.

Second, you have come to the right place, because Pitch Wars is an unbeatable experience and I applaud you for planning to enter. You’re going to meet many, many wonderful members of the writing community here, so I’m excited for how much you’re going to get from this experience regardless of whether you get selected by a mentor or not.

Finally, thanks for checking out my bio. This is my first time as a mentor, and I’m stoked! I was selected as a mentee last year, and my mentor, Holly Faur, got my novel and pitch into such good shape that I landed my agent–the fantastic Laura Crockett with Triada US Literary Agency–a few weeks after the agent round took place. A Silence Worth Breaking was my sixth manuscript, so perseverance really can pay off! None of this would have happened without Pitch Wars and I hope you’ll have a great story to tell about this experience once it’s over.

So, a bit about my background. I studied English and creative writing in college, have edited novels and short stories, interned with publishers, and now work for one in addition to my own writing, so I definitely have a love affair with reading, writing, and publishing going on. I read while walking around the block on lunch breaks, and I’m still peeved that Gavin Kwong won our fifth grade book reading contest after I’d won the previous three years, so hopefully you have an idea of how much I love books!

As a mentor, here are some things you should know about how I plan to work with you. I will have an edited version of your novel back to you close to the selection date (ideally within a few days), as well as an edit letter with more general points to consider for strengthening your book (a quick tip: look for crutch words in your novel right now and get rid of as many as possible!). I want you to have as much time as possible during our two months together to work on your book; I’m hoping we’ll be able to do two significant edits of your book, so I hope you’re ready to work! I was fortunate not to have to give my novel a drastic overhaul last year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t suggest one for your book if I think one could make your book awesome, so I hope you are open to this possibility.

I’m going to be looking for a story that is polished, at least to some degree. If you’ve just ripped through a first draft and are submitting it without having done serious work on it, we’re not going to be a good fit. Some typos here and there aren’t going to be deal-breakers for me, but if I’m having to stop every sentence to figure out what’s going on, or if you haven’t at least run your novel through Spellcheck at least once, I’ll be passing pretty quick.

I’ll be available via email, Skype, social media, and maybe text in a pinch, so we’ll have chances to connect whenever you need help with anything. I won’t always be immediately available (say, during work hours!), but I’ll be responding ASAP as often as you need me to. Bounce ideas off me, get clarification on suggestions I’ve made, tell me how much you hate working on your 50-word pitch (you will) and need a shoulder to cry on (I did); I’m going to be here to help, so never worry that you might be inundating me with questions or whatever—that’s why I’m here. We’re on the same team (we’ll need to come up with a good Twitter team name, by the way, so bring your thinking cap!) and I want you to succeed!

All right, so now that all of that’s out of the way, here’s what I’m looking for in a YA submission:

–Literary/Drama (not melodrama)

–Contemporary

–Sci-Fi

–Friendship stories/some Romance (but nothing smexy–not my thing!)

–Magical Realism

–Dystopian

–I’d love a YA version of a big ensemble story like Love, Actually

WHAT I’M NOT LOOKING FOR:

–Historical

–Steampunk

–Horror

–Mystery

–Western

–Erotica (I’m a YA mentor, so this should go without saying, but just in case it’s not clear…)

–Stories with tired tropes (milquetoast hero from middle of nowhere saves the world, love triangles that are as manufactured as the Kardashians are)

If I haven’t covered any genres here, feel free to ask, but if it’s not coming to my mind then chances are good I’m not going to be super open to it.

It’s also worth noting that if your book has any of the following details in it, we won’t be a good fit:

–Child abuse/death, especially infants and toddlers (I don’t care how essential it is to the storyline, I can’t handle it)

–Animal abuse

–Holocaust romances, which have apparently become a thing

–Extended religious bashing, regardless of the religion; this goes for religious bigotry as well

Here are some of my favorite books regardless of genre, target audience, etc., so you can get a sense of some of the kinds of stories/writing styles I like:

Wonder Boys – Michal Chabon

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Waiting – Ha Jin

Sky Blue – Travis Thrasher

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

The Legend trilogy – Marie Lu

The Dominion trilogy – Robin Parrish

The Maze Runner trilogy – James Dashner

One Day – David Nicholls

The Princess Bride

The Lord of the Rings

Harry Potter

The Chronicles of Narnia

So whaddayasay? Are we a match? I hope so! If you have questions about what I might or might not be interested in, you can find me on Twitter at @Brian_C_Palmer.

Good luck!

Oh, and I have a blog hop letter for you scavenger hunters out there:

Oregon O

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How the Rock Band The Joy Formidable Reminded Me about the Complexity and Power of Art

A little over a month ago I had the chance to tick an event off my bucket list: seeing The Joy Formidable in concert. In an age where rock and roll has largely become homogenous, shallow, and forgettable, this Welsh rock has blown my mind over the course of three English-language studio albums (some Welsh releases are out there for the lucky few who can find them), and seeing them in concert exceeded my expectations.

But this wasn’t just one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to (I rocked out the whole time and was feeling it the morning after, believe you me), it was also a perfect example of the amazing power and complexity of art in all its forms. A few things happened which spoke to me as a writer:

  1. At one point, singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd came down into the crowd and performed an acoustic song. I was right behind them, which was pretty cool, but as I looked around during the performance, I was more struck by the mile-wide smiles I saw on several faces, as if this one moment was making the fans’ entire year. They looked blissfully happy that these two were sharing this moment with them like this. I want my art to do that for even one person, not because it will be some feather in my cap, but because something I have created will have touched a person that much. This power is real, and it needs to be harnessed and channeled so others can experience it too.
  2. On a related note, the trio had PHENOMENAL stage presence, and the way they fed off each other and connected with the audience was outstanding. They joked with the audience, had full-blown conversations a couple times about completely random things, and every last second of it worked. These three were just rock stars on a stage shooting the breeze in between songs as naturally as if they were having a beer with their mates. They didn’t just shoegaze on stage either, they played to the crowd, they engaged them, they reminded us that they were happy to have us there. Are you doing this with your fans? If not, you should try to. It doesn’t take much to let your readers know they matter to you and that you’re thinking of them even if you don’t personally know most of them. Build some trust with them, and they will return the favor and stick around for the ride, believing it’s completely worth it, and isn’t that part of the point? Going on a flippin’ fantastically awesome journey together?
  3. The final thing I learned is they aren’t afraid to do the unexpected, and you shouldn’t be either. I was shocked that they didn’t play two of their bigger hits–“This Ladder is Ours” and “Little Blimp”–but their absence did not make the concert a waste by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in a way it was refreshing because they felt free to play other parts of their catalog. Similarly, their just-released new album, Hitch, is a sonic departure for them that a lot of people aren’t jiving with as readily as their previous releases, but I give them five thousand kinds of props for their decision to do some risk-taking in an effort to explore new facets of the creative streaks that are inside them. We as writers should be doing this as well, no matter how scary it seems. If you aren’t stretching yourself, what’s the point? One of those worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard is “Write what you know.” Bollocks. START with what you know, if you like–that makes perfect sense–but if you stick with things you know, your art will suffer, and readers will suffer by extension. Don’t be afraid to try something new; after all, you can’t please everybody.

Art has the power to be something spectacular. Rock music, paintings, books…all of these creative avenues can help us express who we are, learn more about ourselves, and connect with others in ways no one else can. Being an artist is an enormous responsibility, but it’s also an enormous privilege, and as The Joy Formidable showed me (on April Fool’s Day of all days!) it’s something that can bring people together and blow their minds in the best way possible.

Now what’s not to like about that?

Deal Announcement: Jared Reck, YA Contemporary

An awesome story from my agent about a massive sale she made today. Congratulations go out to her, Jared Reck (can’t wait to check this one out!), and all of the Triada US family! I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did! Here’s to the Anti-April Fool’s Day shenanigans!

Scribbles & Wanderlust

dealannouncement

Deal Announcements feature my most recent deal as an agent and the story behind it. Writers and readers should experience how an agent knows when they’ve struck gold and sign an author, the beginning of the journey to publication.

I’m excited to announce the publication of Jared Reck’s You’re the Nerds!

Erin Clarke at Knopf has preempted two YA novels by debut writer Jared Reck. The first of two stand-alone titles, You’re the Nerds, tells the story of JV basketball player Matthew Wainright and what happens when he falls for his childhood best friend, Tabby. Publication is scheduled for fall 2017; Laura Crockett at TriadaUS negotiated the six-figure deal for world rights and Uwe Stender will handle film rights.

Once upon a time…

One mid-January day, I received a query from Jared. He jumped right into the heart of the book, not wasting any time to capture my attention. I…

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Art is Beautiful, and so are the People Who Engage in it (Or, Why Old Navy can Kiss My Grits)

So I was working on another blog post and was going to end this year’s blog journey with a more upbeat, possibly insightful (depending on your perspective) writing-related post, but then I saw this tweet tonight:

I’ve spent the last thirty minutes listening to the first half of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” on repeat and trying to look at this rationally, but I’ve pretty much been feeling like this the whole time:

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I’ve had a little time to calm down though, so here goes.

First, please follow the man who posted this tweet because it is the best. You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

Second, to Old Navy, shame on you. Way to take a beautiful life choice and try to make all those who don’t aspire to it, but actually live it, feel less than, to say nothing of the tens of thousands (if not more) of young people who might wish to do something artistic. The fundamentally misguided notion at the center of these images is the belief that you cannot do something great, or even worthwhile, unless you choose to be one of these other things. This is, of course, false to the nth degree, and a classic case of bullying, but thanks for trying–that is, unfortunately, the American way to some extent. Way to try and make money off of tearing others down in the name of capitalism. It’s not even tearing someone else down so you can feel better about yourself and what you do, because only a handful of people on the planet combined have been, or are, Presidents or astronauts, so neither profession is one a significant number of people engage in, and I’ll bet my life not a single person who buys these shirts falls into either category. No one is going to be wearing these shirts to make themselves feel better than an artist, so you’re doing this for no other reason than to make money.

Third, to any artists who are reading this–painters, photographers, sketch artists, musicians, writers of any ilk, etc.–if you aren’t already aware of it, this is just the way we are going to be treated by certain segments of the population. Ignorant, shallow, eyes-blinded individuals all over the world believe this; even worse, some people won’t even blink at this because they’ll think it’s clever. Don’t buy into this for a second, because what you do is every bit as valid as what anyone else does. Your work inspires people. It makes people feel something real. It stirs people’s hearts, souls and minds. It makes our world a better place. You have a chance to touch the world with your art form just as easily as the President has the power to lead the world, and an astronaut has the power to explore space beyond our world to see what else is out there. Your work is valuable even if it is not always obvious how much. Not just anyone can do what you do, so don’t for a second think that what you are doing isn’t important.

And finally, artists, strike the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary, or at least your frame of mind. You are a writer right now. You are a painter right now. You are a musician right now. You are a photographer right now. Right. Now. You may aspire to be better at your craft, and maybe you aren’t published, signed, contracted, etc., but you already are this thing you want to be! Keep at it, improve, and never give up, but don’t forget to remind yourself (as often as necessary) that you already are this thing you want to be! You’re letting your creative streak run wild, rather than thinking about it or just talking about maybe doing something artistic at some point.

You. Are. An. Artist. Be proud of this!

A final note to Old Navy. I will confess that many, many years ago you did something–once–with one of your often inane ads that actually didn’t make me want to throw my shoes at my television–you put Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am” on in the background. Excellent song. It’s ironic, though, that by producing t-shirts like these, you are stating that you do not feel like taking artists as they are, and that’s to your shame and discredit. But more than this, you have finally found a way to make me like your ridiculous ads by comparison because at least those were just vapid and generally inoffensive. These t-shirts are something far worse, however. Be ashamed, Old Navy. Be very ashamed.

A final note to artists everywhere: take yourselves the way you are, like the wise Ingrid says, and make sure to keep doing your thing, knowing that others who will take you the way you are are going to love the hell out of you for what you do.

Pitch Wars Post #8 – The Inspiration Behind A Silence Worth Breaking

Here’s a quick introduction to how A Silence Worth Breaking came to be.

In Silence, the main character, Annaliese Emmerick, learns in a dream that she has ten thousand words left to speak before she dies, and she must decide how to navigate her life in light of this news. Though the opening line of the novel and indeed Annaliese’s primary conflict came to mind in–what else?–a dream in August of 2013, shaping her character actually goes back to the spring of 2006. My then-girlfriend, now-wife, was up visiting me for the first time (we met on MySpace of all places!), and at one point during her stay I got sick and basically couldn’t talk for a couple days. I vividly recall one moment where she and I were sitting on the floor of my kitchenette. I wasn’t able to say anything so at one point I started writing her notes. Sometimes she would write back, sometimes she would respond verbally, but my unique and uncomfortable situation forced us to have to find slightly unusual ways of communicating.

This got me thinking about the kind of struggles Annaliese might have as someone who chooses not to talk much. What methods would she use to try to communicate with others? What problems would that pose for her? What problems would that pose for the people around her? Would she go radio silent for the rest of her life and run off all her words when she’s ninety and just wants to end it all? Would she find a way to live her life more intentionally through the careful use of her words? And how on earth would a person handle being given a proclamation like this?

The premise seems so simple and yet so big, and that moment in the kitchenette that feels like it was forever ago gave me the frame of reference I needed as a jumping off point for making this story happen.

So that’s my story, but there are others from my fellow Pitch Wars mentees you should have a look at. Check out these writers’ tales:

Pitch Wars Post #7 – The Agent Round is just Around the Corner!

I can’t believe it’s almost here. We mentees have been talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it, dreading it, and otherwise stewing over it in one fashion or another since we submitted our entries to Pitch Wars back in the middle of August (and for those who knew about Pitch Wars prior to this, significantly longer!). Yes, I’m talking about the Agent Round.

November 3-5 is when the fabled event will take place, and by this time next week each of the mentees will know whether any of the dozens of participating agents would like to see more of their work or not. Fingernails are being chewed on. Chocolate is being inhaled. Wine (or Writer’s Tears Whiskey, if that’s your speed) is being imbibed. All manner of internal and external emotional chaos is being let loose by the minute among the mentees. Will anyone want to see more of our work? Could one of these agents be The One? What happens if no one makes any requests? The questions, wondering, and emotional roller coaster ride go on and on and on.

But this is part of what we signed up for, so it’s all good. This year’s Pitch Wars finalists have bonded and commiserated, and the community of people we connected with during the submission period in the month or so leading up to when the finalists were selected was priceless. I have met scores of wonderful people who are in the same boat as me–they write because they love it, they have to do it, and they hope to get agented and published some day, even if that day is not today.

That’s one of the risks here: I could get zero requests for materials. I knew this going in, but I wanted to try anyway because if nothing else, I have a much stronger manuscript now than I did when I submitted two and a half months ago, and that’s nothing to be upset about. I know I might find an agent here, or I might find one outside of Pitch Wars once I start querying other agents starting on November 6th. You have no idea what’s going to happen, so you have to plan for the what ifs. So many people from previous Pitch Wars contests have received no interest during the Agent Round, only to land an agent within a matter of weeks or months outside of Pitch Wars, and people have received significant attention during the Agent Round only to end up with no representation in the end. It’s a total crap shoot.

But that’s what we signed up for: a chance to have the agents come to us for once rather than the other way around, and see what happens. That’s all you can ask. It’s exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, and that’s why the majority of us mentees are waiting with bated breath for November 3 so the fun can begin.

Are you ready?