Pitch Wars Wish List for 2018!

Heyyy! I’m Kristen, and I'm a Pitch Wars mentor in the adult category, interested in mystery/thriller/suspense/crime, literary fiction, and LGBTQ+ stories. If that sounds like you, read on!

First of all, I’m glad you’re thinking about entering Pitch Wars. It’s a total game changer--I know this because I was a mentee in 2015. The manuscript I worked on during the contest wound up snagging me an amazing agent a few days after Pitch Wars ended, and a 2-book deal with Minotaur Books within 2 months after that. Now, my debut THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK has been nominated for Anthony, Shamus, and Macavity awards for Best First Mystery novel, the 2nd book in the series (WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE) was released earlier this summer, my 3rd Roxane Weary mystery is turned in to my editor, and a 4th is under contract too. None of this would have happened without Pitch Wars! I've been a mentor since 2016 and have helped 3 amazing mentees with their stories.

I always joke that I grew up in a public library—but it’s only kind of a joke. I was at the library all the time when I was a kid, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I was that weird sixth grader reading John Grisham books on the school bus. I knew I wanted to write novels about as soon as I started reading them, and when I would go on trips with my parents, I would often take notes on locations, for “research.” Honestly, not much has changed. I still read nonstop, I recently finished up my 7th manuscript, and am currently in the heavy research phase of my 8th. (Also known as the Google searches for really weird stuff phase.)

Here’s a bit more on me, in alphabetized list form*: cat lover, feminist, fluent in sarcasm, graphic designer, INFJ, Mac user, Ohioan, queer lady, Team Oxford Comma, whiskey drinker, world traveler.

This is what I look like when a photographer tells me to "act natural."

This is what I look like when a photographer tells me to "act natural."

I’ve done a lot of critiquing, and I am most effective at character development, dialogue, setting, overall structure, plot untangling, and identifying even the smallest inconsistencies in all of the above. I have a sharp eye for typos, so I’ll definitely spot them, but I won’t hold them against you. Because when you’ve written upwards of 80,000 words, there are bound to be some typos. The only real deal breaker for me is voice. I want a manuscript with personality for daysssss. Everything else, even a crazy messy plot, can be fixed during Pitch Wars, but a strong voice and a solid concept need to be there to begin with.

So what exactly does Pitch Wars entail? A LOT of work. When I was a mentee, I wound up rewriting about ⅔ of the entire manuscript during the contest for my mentor (whom you may know better as our fearless leader, Kellye Garrett). So I know big-time overhauls are possible, and I’ll be looking for a mentee who is open to making major changes if necessary. If you think your manuscript is perfect already, or if you have a long list of things you absolutely will not change about it (no matter the reason) then I may not be the girl for you. I want to work with someone open-minded, someone humble and cool and, preferably, someone who will get my obscure music references**. A good sense of humor is important. But most importantly, I want a mentee who is willing to work hard. Otherwise, this amazing opportunity won’t help you. That being said, it’s supposed to be fun. And it will be! Inside jokes galore!


OK, now we’re onto the really fun stuff: my wish list! Show me your dark side, guys. Specifically…

  • MYSTERY! This is what I write, and what I read most too. I’ll also include all related subgenres: crime, noir, thriller, procedural, suspense, upmarket suspense, domestic suspense, suspenseful women's fiction, etc. I love it all. I tend to favor stories with urban settings, strong female characters, diversity, twisty but realistic plots, snappy dialogue, oodles of sexual tension, and edge-of-my-seat suspense. I’m not squeamish when it comes to violence, language, sex, or creepy subject matter. I usually gravitate towards the hardboiled end of mystery, but that’s not to say I don’t love a smart cozy too. If your manuscript's central conflict is a crime of some kind, I want it. 

  • LITERARY FICTION! I’m ready to see some smart, gorgeous lit fic. If it’s gritty, strange, and/or experimental in some way, I’m there! Give me your troubled characters, family secrets, sly descriptions of creepy Nebraska motels, etc. Literary fiction that flirts with mystery, magical realism, ghost stories, or twisted, modern fairy tales = yes please.

  • LGBTQ+ stories! I really want to see these. I would especially love to see a queer psychological thriller (a la Memento or Girl on the Train) or domestic thriller, so if you have this? Maybe submit it just to me and don't bother with the other mentors, kthanks. Similarly, please send me your queer female version of Jack Reacher. I will literally throw a tantrum if you wrote that and don't submit to me. Yeah, I'm almost 35 years old but that doesn't mean I've outgrown tantrums when I want something reallyreallyreally bad. Otherwise, I’m pretty open on genre here, except for what’s listed below.

I don’t want:

  • Anything that isn’t Adult 

  • Inspirational/Christian

  • Romance, fantasy, or science fiction (unless the central plot is really a mystery, or the story is super queer)

  • Memoir 

  • Anything that attempts to portray homophobic, racist, or misogynistic characters in a favorable light, even for the sake of redemption

Nothing personal. I just don't love these types of stories, and I want to make sure you submit your work to a mentor who is open to it--and there are many fine mentors who would be better suited to it than me.

Here are some of my most favorites for an example of what I like:

  • Lee Child
  • Joan Didion
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Sue Grafton
  • Carol Anshaw
  • Roxane Gay
  • Richard Price
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
  • ILL WILL by Dan Chaon
  • BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren Beukes
  • A SEAHORSE YEAR by Stacey D’Erasmo
  • A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
  • THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French
  • THE QUICK AND THE DEAD by Joy Williams

TL;DR I like: dry humor, experimental story-telling, genre-bending, danger of any kind (be it physical or emotional), fantasy elements in a rational world, mysterious plots (even in non-mystery stories), whiskey****, and writing that slyly taps into human truth instead of beating you over the head with its themes.

If your To Be Read pile looks anything like the above list,  we'll probably get along, even if your MS isn't quiiiiiite in one of the genres I mention above. If you have a question about what types of stories I'll consider, feel free to ask me on Twitter @kmlwrites

I can't wait to read your words!

*I love alphabetized lists. And footnotes.

**I’m kidding about the obscure music references***

***Sort of

****That has nothing to do with my Pitch Wars wishlist. I just like whiskey.

2018 Adult Mentors

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Cover girl, part II

The Last Place You Look B PB 6_2.jpg

So excited that The Last Place You Look will be published in the U.K. by Faber & Faber! The U.K. edition releases in July in paperback, and it has this cool, moody cover. The latticework on the pergola actually looks rather like the house I grew up in, which is a cool coincidence. Especially since the suburb where a lot of the action in the book takes place is based on the town where my parents live. Except for the murdery parts!