Monday, July 24, 2017

Quick Links to All the Pitch Wars Info

I know there's a lot of information flying around out there this year, so if you want quick access to all my info, use these links:

1. My Bio and Wishlist (with links to all other YA mentors at the bottom.)

2. My Ask Me Anything thread on the Pitch Wars Forums. 

3. The breakdown of my selection process and what criteria I use when reading submissions.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pitch Wars #SaltyCrit - Query Mentor Critique

(If you're looking for it, you'll find my Pitch Wars bio and wishlist here)

A couple brave souls agreed to have the critiques they won from me last week posted on my blog. Let's give them a hand, shall we?

Here's a query from one of your co-hopefuls!

Seventeen-year-old, art obsessed Ros swears she’s hallucinating when an eccentric witness’s footage shows her beloved father as he’s yanked inside Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream. So, when Interpol comes knocking, asking questions about her missing art dealing father—the only family she ever had—her heart wrenches, and she refuses to tell the authorities about viewing the strange abduction, fearing they’ll lock her up.

Okay, so premise-wise, this sounds fantastic. But I have a big, big, big question: Why would she not just show the Police the footage? Since that would, at the very least, let them see that she's not hallucinating, but has this abduction belief based on something tangible. I fear we may have a significant problem here, but I'll keep reading to see if it applies.

One detail note which may/may not apply: There's actually four versions of Scream, only one of which is in the US. It would be worthwhile to identify if your protag is in a different country than the US.

On a field trip to the Louvre, she takes matters into her own hands, seizing the opportunity to poke around for unsettling shifts inside other paintings, willing to do anything to uncover a way to retrieve her father. 

So, she is in a different country than the US? You'll need to indicate that at the beginning. International settings are important to some agents, and add flavor, regardless. It's a plus. 

My question on this blurb point, however, is that if she's willing to do anything, why did she have to wait for a field trip? Why wasn't she actively pursuing access to the paintings? And none of the versions of Scream are at the Louvre, are they? So why would she go there? Why not go to wherever she saw her father be abducted? That would be the logical goal. 

When movement within the Mona Lisa catches her attention, she locks eyes with a guy about her age inside the painting holding a photo belonging to her father. The young man reaches out to her, and when they touch, she’s transported into the famous art piece. 

So, I love, love, love this idea of being transported into the paintings. In terms of a query however, you don't need to say "a guy about her age". You can just call him a guy, or a strange man, or whatever. I assume he's going to be a love interest (yay!) 

In terms of the actual writing, rather than "the young man reaches out to her", which is kind of distant and lengthy, I'd go simple and more tactile with something like "When the two touch, she's transported . . . " or something like that. Queries don't have to tell all the detail. We'll see in the book how that happens.

Ros asks him to guide her through a maze of masterpieces to save her missing father. 

Again, there's nothing wrong with this, but it lacks punch. Try something like "With NAME as her guide, Ros must navigate the maze of masterpieces in search of her father." (We already know he's missing.)

While exploring, she always finds herself one step behind a shadowy figure lurking within the labyrinth. She must survive and outwit his barrage of traps disguised in each painting, preventing Ros from escaping.

I think you've missed an opportunity here to give us a really clear picture of the conflict. Mainly because you're telling, rather than showing (which is sometimes necessary in a query, don't get me wrong). But in this case I think you'd really open this query up if you gave an actual example of the person and kind of things she has to outwit--especially if they're very imaginative, or compelling. My advice would be to provide the name or nature of the villain, then take the approach of, "But Ros is forced to endure ACTUAL OBSTACLE at the hands of NAME OF VILLAIN," or "The search becomes deadly when Ros is faced with ACTUAL EXAMPLE OF OBSTACLE," that sort of thing. Like, be specific. 

If she fails to rescue her father before her adversary ensnares her in his ultimate trap, she’ll become art herself, entombed like her father in a nightmarish still life, forever.

Again, all the right elements, and great stakes, but the phrasing lacks punch. Try something like "Then Ros learns that unless she can (do X), NAME-OF-VILLAIN will entomb Ros and her father forever in the nightmarish still life of the paintings." Or something along those lines. Like, give us a picture of the choice or obstacle she faces and what the stakes will be if she fails.

VANISHING POINT is a YA contemporary fantasy complete at 74,000 words and has series potential. It would appeal to those who are fans of Brenda Drake’s, Library Jumper series and Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I’m a member of SCBWI, a 2016 Nightmare on Query Street mentee, and have also attended LDSTORYMAKERS conference for the past four years.

Ah ha ha! I see what you did there! These are great notes under the circumstances, but be aware that agents will be less impressed by competition mentorships (except for Pitch Wars, of course, which has developed something of a reputation *Insert Winky Face*.) They'll like your comp titles and professional affiliations more.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I have a hunch that the writing behind this story is much stronger than the query. You definitely understand what the important elements of a story are, and where they need to be communicated here. So that's the hardest obstacle overcome.

Unfortunately, I know if agents read this they would have the same concerns I do that there might be issues with a passive protagonist, or passive writing. But your premise is great, so I suspect you'd get requests anyway. So you need to make sure your pages sing. And, if applicable, switch the focus of your query markers at the beginning so Ros sounds like she's pursuing her father's case, because the Police have dismissed her, rather than that she's waiting around to get somewhere where she might be able to look into it, and letting someone else call the shots. 

I believe if you actioned the notes I've offered here, it will combat that. But if you choose not to, maybe Google "passive versus active writing" and get a feel for what you can do to adjust your phrasing as it's currently written. That will help also.

Either way, good luck!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pitch Wars #SaltyCrit - First 500 Words Mentor Critique

(If you're looking for it, you'll find my Pitch Wars bio and wishlist here)

A couple brave souls agreed to have the critiques they won from me last week posted on my blog. Let's give them a hand, shall we?

The first is a YA fairy tale retelling from the irrepressible (and very funny) Amelia Hollingsworth. She's @AmeliaHWorth on Twitter. And you can find her blog here where I believe she'll talk about the process of being critiqued, and the revisions she undertook based on this advice.

Now for the critique!


"A spell from the North by the looks of it." Cook’s hands shook as she gathered a few tarts, some cheeses, and a loaf of bread. She took the dish cloth draped reliably over her shoulder and laid it in the center of the table.

I love being dropped into the action without preamble, but because Cook isn't your MC, I think you either need one sentence immediately before this putting Kate in the setting (Like, she's looking around to see if anyone is looking for her, or maybe standing in the kitchen at a fearful loss, which also lets us see where she is), OR you need Kate's immediate emotional response to Cook's words with the same kind of setting details. You have all the right character details, but we're getting them in an emotional and setting vaccum until we get a couple paragraphs in. Setting is CRITICAL to your opening sentences.

Kate’s voice was tight between her sobs. "Can it be undone?" She watched Cook wrap the lunch in the cloth.

"Black magic can always be undone, Katy." Cook's fingers fumbled as they tied up the parcel. She placed it in Kate’s open hands.

In everything above, give us a touch of sensory detail—the callouses on Cook’s hands, or the smells of the kitchen.

Perhaps Kate feels cold and you can give us her pebbled skin, or something like that? 

Whatever it is, don’t wax lyrical. But drop in one detail with each blocking action to make it all feel real.

"How?" Kate asked.

"I don't know,” Cook said, shaking her head. “You'll find a way, though. I'm sure of it. But now you need to run." Cook took Kate by the shoulders. Tears threatened to run down her cheeks and fear creased deeply in the wrinkles around her eyes.

These details are telling. Instead, show the glint of a tear slipping down her cheek, or the tightness around her eyes that are normally so warm.

"You're not safe here. You need to run now. Far away. Understand?"

The hot summer air swelled inside the kitchen.

While I think I know what you're going for, I'm not sure, which means I can't feel it. Better if the heat begins to suffocate her so she can't breathe, or the smell of the damp stone turns her stomach. Make it clear, and sensory. Do you see what I mean? Figure out the most powerful sensation of the moment, and describe it through Kate's skin/senses.

Annie bleated softly at Kate’s side. The smell of the surf lingered in the air, and the sound of the waves hummed in her ears.

This is really close. But be specific. Instead of "smell" and "sound" replace with "salt" and "pound" or something like that. (and in my opinion, you want to give the sound/sense of the sea before this so it's part of the setting details right at the top because you can work with that a lot to ground the reader).

Away. Far away from ocean breezes and white sand. Far away from her mother and stepfather. Far away from the warmth of Cook’s kitchen and the comfort of the court. And farther away still from her stepfather's influence and friends. Away. Until the memories of home—and the stories—were all that remained. Kate nodded.

All good stuff that hints at the conflict.

Cook let go of Kate’s shoulders.

Telling again. Let the rough skin of Cook's palms catch on the fabric of Kate's sleeves as her hands slip away (or whatever). The point is, make us feel it rather than just understand the blocking.

"I'll find another lamb to serve for dinner. That should buy you a little time—”

Annie bleated impatiently.

“A very little time,” Kate repeated aloud.

Is Kate repeating what Annie the goat said? If so, make that a little more certain for the reader. You can do that by having Kate look at her with a nod, or something to acknowledge the animal so we know for sure what's going on there. If not, then the use of "repeated" is confusing. Just have her answer without a tag, or the tag could be "agreed" or something like that.

Memories unraveled with use. Poor Kate had used the memory of their flight from home until it was a threadbare story that haunted more than it consoled.

I understand that this is important, but I don't understand what it's actually saying. Is it literal--that memories are a tool she uses for magic? Or figuratively something she uses as a coping mechanism? This needs to be very clear. Especially this early, your world building is crucial. If memories are how she fuels her magic, you need to state that outright. Every moment the reader is trying to figure something out, they aren't falling into your story.

“I’m sorry, Annie.” The white lamb stood in the mountain road, chewing on the hem of Kate’s cloak. “Our story is so thick sometimes…”

Wait, I’m confused. I thought they were in the kitchen? And I thought Kate was talking to Cook?

Annie stared up at Kate with her obstinate, big brown eyes.

“I get lost in it.”

The lamb tugged at her rope and bleated angrily.

Kate ran a hand through her tangled tresses. “Yes, I know you don’t like the rope. But as I said before, it’s for appearances only. I promise.”

This is one of those moments dialogue has the right content, but is phrased in a way that feels unrealistic. Give it some thought: We rarely say to someone else "I know you know this thing but I'm going to tell it to you anyway." When we know someone knows something, we either don't refer to it at all, or only obliquely. So that phrase "I know/you know" is a huge red flag to me that THE AUTHOR NEEDS TO TELL THE READER SOMETHING HERE. The fix is simple though. You can trust the reader to understand if you SHOW it. Have the lamb butt the rope with her nose, and Kate respond as if that was the words "I don't like this." So, Lamb butt rope with nose and bleats angrily:

"It's only until we get to X, Annie. People will ask questions otherwise." (Or something like that that's accurate to what you want the reader to know.) With a simple sentence you can clue the reader in to Annie being different, Kate understanding her, and that they have a relationship much more of equals than of master/property.

Annie snorted and headed straight across the lawn toward the manor. Her hooves carefully picked out the driest tufts of grass.

“You have to promise not to give us away,” Kate told her. “You remember our plan?”
Annie looked back at Kate, and bleated. The rope was now taut.

This is all the right indicators, but it feels a little too pointed. A touch too obvious the author’s talking to the reader. Consider what you’d actually say/do if you were in her shoes and din’t know you had an audience? You’d probably mutter something about not giving us away, or scold. But presumably they’ve had this conversation already, so “you have to promise” and “you remember…?” sounds a little forced. Try to make it more organic and trust the reader to understand what you’re showing them.

“Yes, I’m coming,” Kate said. She stood up and shook the dust off her trousers and cloak.

The manor house, planted stoutly at the end of the lawn, would have been considered a castle if it had taken more architectural risks. A palace perhaps, if it had more finesse and subtlety. But the lines of the manor paralleled the plateau and hugged the safety this rare bit of flat land offered.

"Slow down, Annie." Kate tugged on the rope tied around Annie’s neck.

Because we have a cut off, you might already have done this in the upcoming material, but after “land offered” I’d put in Kate’s intention. You’ve just given us a nice block of setting so we know where we are. Now show us what Kate wants, where she thinks she’s headed, and why. Character intent and motivation drive your story. They have to be the launching point for everything else.


There’s some really solid writing and story elements here. It’s clear you know your characters and what they need to be doing/showing the reader. While I’ve nailed you on the sensory detail, it’s because the rest is strong. So now you need to finesse the characters and action you have with stronger setting and character intent. I think if you work on that throughout your manuscript, you’ll be surprised how much stronger it gets, even without any changes to plot or character arc.

I hope this is helpful, and I hope I get to see more from you in the future. Thanks for being such a great sport!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

PICK ME, PITCH WARS! My YA Mentor Bio and Wishlist


I'm Aimee L. Salter, the author of Every Ugly Word (an Amazon #1 Book for Teens) and Dark Touchboth through Alloy Entertainment's newest traditional imprint. I'm a YA mentor, and I can't wait to fall in love with your book!

This video gives you a pretty clear idea how I work, what process I'll take a mentee through, and what's important to me. But before you spend the time with that, scroll down. Below this video is a list of things I don't want as a mentor. If your manuscript or process fits that list, then you can move on without me wasting your time!

I'm committed to offering as much information to potential mentees as I can at each step (including letting all applicants know if they're in the running before the announcement date--keep reading to see how). But I don't want to waste your time if we aren't a good fit. So first, let's figure out if you shouldn't apply to me:

I'm *NOT* the mentor for you if:

You're querying . . . 
  • An adult, NA, or MG novel. (I will consider YA with NA crossover.)
  • Anything with a tragic ending (All the Bright Places ruined me.)
  • Anything with a character battling cancer (too close to home in my personal life.)
  • YA Horror (or anything with more than a couple scenes of gore.)
  • YA Mystery/Thriller/Suspense (only because I don't have enough skills to help with plotting.)
  • YA High Fantasy or Science Fiction.
  • YA Historical--with the exception of Regency Romance (See below for more info).
  • YA Speculative Fiction--with the exceptions of romance-heavy paranormal, or magical realism (see below for specifics, but be certain that I'm not the mentor for urban fantasy/creature-centric worlds.)
  • If you're a committed pantser who doesn't like to outline, plan revisions, or use craft/structure to mold your story. Because all of my advice is going to center around how your novel can be refined by established story development techniques. (Check out some of my old blog posts on story structure and character development to see what craft approaches I advise writers to use to refine a story). 
Still reading? Awesome! Here's a little get-to-know-me video. But if you can't watch, don't stress!

All the information you need about my wishlist and preferences are written below. And I'm happy to take questions in the comments, or on Twitter (I don't bite, promise.)

I *AM* the best mentor for you if:

You're querying . . . 
  • YA Contemporary Romance, including those with NA crossover. (My favorites are The Sea of Tranquility, My Life Next Door, and Saint Anything.
  • YA Dark Romance Think Heather Demetrios's Bad Romance, or a firmly YA version of the Dusty duology, Innocents and Delinquents. (If you're not clear on what defines Dark Romance, check out the free Kindle sample of my book, Dark Touch. In short, it's when romance drives the plot, but the character(s) are dealing with extreme issues which are depicted in the story--abuse, addiction, crime, etc. NOTE: To be a romance, it can't have a tragic ending.)
  • YA contemporary "issue books" My favorites are my book, Every Ugly Word (though I may be biased), We Need to Talk About Kevin, 13 Reasons Why, and All the Rage by Courtney Summers. An issue book should have something to say to help readers understand an important issue, without preaching. Personally, I like to see a romantic sub-plot. But I will accept issue books without one.
  • YA Magical Realism I write these too! Read the free kindle samples on my books to get a feel for how magical realism works, (in short, it's set in the real world with a single, fantasy or magical element--usually a magic or power only accessible to the protagonist). Yours doesn't have to work like mine for me to enjoy it. Another excellent example is mentor Katy Karyus Quinn's Down with the Shine.
  • YA Paranormal Romance where the characters live in the real world, but there's a magic or power wielded by humans, not by creatures or fantasy elements. Good examples are Beautiful Creatures, or The Love that Split the World. (I am not the mentor for your creatures--vampires, werewolves, shifters, dragons, etc--however I will enjoy humans wielding dark powers as the antagonistic force).
  • My outlier is YA Regency Romance It must be genuinely witty, a la a YA version of Julie Anne Long's Penny Royal Green books--my personal favorites are How the Marquess was Won, I Kissed an Earl, and To Love a Thief. This is a harder sell, so don't send these to me unless you've really done your research, your manuscript is very polished, and your voice is funny!
  • Romance-centric anything as an #ownvoices, or young writer (under 25 years old). I'm always eager to assist these writers. So if you fit one of those categories and your book is a romance (i.e. the romantic relationship drives the plot), or has a strong romantic sub-plot, please send it to me!
  • You're an author who genuinely desires to work hard on a technical level to refine and improve your story. To my mind that means you regularly invite constructive criticism from people who aren't friends/family, and seek out opportunities to learn about the craft of fiction. Your book has been critiqued before, and you know the value of having someone else identify story flaws.
If you're still reading because you and your book might be a fit for me, give me a few minutes to tell you about myself, and why I can help you:

What I Can Do For You:

1. You'll (yep, that's my blue word) know ahead of the announcement if you're in the running to be my mentee (or not)

I'll be on Twitter a lot as I go through the process of narrowing down my pick. Yes, I'll tease, especially with queries. But I'll also offer solid, practical advice to help all potential mentees

Once I narrow my choice to 2-3, I'll be corresponding with those people to ensure I've got the right vision for each project. 

I'll announce on Twitter as soon as I know for sure my mentee is in that pot, and I'm not requesting any further materials. So if you follow my feed, you'll know if I'm going in a different direction before the announcement date. (Or, if you're under consideration, you'll hear from me directly). 

2. I have studied the craft of fiction, so my critiques aren't guesswork--but I respect that it's your book, and your vision:

Fear not! I won't steal your creative mojo. I've just learned that all stories can be improved by known strategies, and all of my advice will revolve around the structures and techniques I've learned through study. Check out the first 500 word critiques on my blog for some indication how I would work with your manuscript.
    I plan to do at least two rounds of review with my mentee (an over-arching edit letter, followed by line edits.)


    - Pacing
    - Character development.
    - Romantic plot/sub-plot development and pacing.
    - Emotional connections with the reader.
    - Plausibility. Or the lack thereof. (I have a finely-tuned BS-o-meter. You won't get thinly veiled plot vehicles, or unrealistic character reactions/motives past me).
    - I'm also a naturally wordy writer who's learned to cut-down word count without losing story.

    But, the good news is, I won't just identify the negative, I'll also highlight what's working.

    3. I'm in this for the long-haul, and I'll always be honest with you

    We'll need to work really hard if you want to take the next step in your career. We'll set agreed deadlines for revisions, as well as refining your query. But I'm also here for you down the road with advice on everything from how and when to nudge agents holding your material, to how to conduct yourself on social media in a way that will appeal to publishers. 

    If we work together, I will do everything in my power to help you, even if we aren't successful through Pitchwars. 

    4. I understand what it feels like to be where you are, and I will be your cheering squad: 

    I was a Pitch Wars mentee and didn't get in.

    I got an agent in 2010--who left the industry in 2011. I got another agent in 2012 who later became an internationally bestselling author and stopped agenting. 

    I got my first publishing contract as one of three flagship publications for Alloy Entertainment's new PbA imprint in 2014 (then got a contract for a second book with them which was released last year). But I haven't had a new book out in over a year. 

    I know the ups and downs of this industry, (my own, and others with different stories) and I'll share my knowledge and experience with you. My advice will always be geared towards helping you take the next step--or finding someone who can, if you go further than I have!

    If you still have questions or need clarity on any of these points, I'm answering questions on the NEW Pitch Wars forum! My "Ask Me Anything" thread is here. Or you can tweet me.

    (Scroll down for query advice, or for the other mentor links to move on to the next blog.)

    I think that's everything! Jump on my Pitch Wars forum post linked above, or tweet me with your quesitons (I'm @AimeeLSalter - don't miss the "L" in the middle, it's easy to do). I'm here to help!

    And whether we work together or not, I'm really glad you're a part of Pitch Wars, 2017. It's an AMAZING community, and you're going to grow as a writer because of it.

    God bless,


    Query advice:
    The best query gives me a stunning blurb of no more than 250 words, followed by a brief summary of what is important to you in a mentor/mentee relationship.

    A "stunning" blurb, in my opinion...

    ...WILL: Introduce protagonist, antagonist, what's at stake, where the conflict lies, and ends with a sense of specific, impending doom. (i.e. I should be able to describe what will happen to the character if they don't succeed in their quest--or if the antagonist succeeds in theirs.) 

    ...WON'T: Try to introduce the whole cast, explain deeper themes, or summarize your twist ending. And definitely isn't vague.

    Example of vague, "Sarah's darkest secrets rise as she grows closer to Ethan and threaten their relationship . . . " Example of not-vague, "Sarah's trauma over the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her father makes intimacy with any man feel impossible . . . " That's not a great example, but it gives you an idea of what I mean.)

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