Kristen Lepionka

author of the Roxane Weary mysteries

Kristen Lepionka is the author of THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK, available now.

Pitch Wars Wish List!

Hi! I’m Kristen, and I'm a Pitch Wars mentor in the adult category, interested in mystery/suspense, literary fiction, and women's fiction. 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 last year. 4 days after the contest, I signed with the fantastic Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and she sold the first two books of my mystery series to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books earlier this year. None of this would have happened without Pitch Wars! I’m so thrilled that this year I get to help another emerging writer along this path.

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’ve written five novels, and I am knee-deep in the sixth.

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

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 days. 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. Last year, my mentor (ultimate plot wizard Kellye Garrett) basically said, “I love your MS! We gotta change everything.” We blew up the center of the plot and I rewrote the first two-thirds. So, I’ll be looking for a mentee who is open to making changes, even big 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, suspense, upmarket suspense, thriller, procedural, etc. I love it all. I tend to favor stories with urban settings, badass female characters, diversity, twisty but realistic plots, snappy dialogue, 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.
  • LITERARY FICTION! I’m ready to see some smart, gorgeous lit fic. If it’s strange, experimental and/or gritty 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 fantasy, magical realism, ghost stories, or twisted, modern fairy tales = yes please.
  • WOMEN’S FICTION! I’d love to see complicated/dysfunctional relationships, clever or dark humor, and feminist themes in my women’s fiction.

Also, bonus points for LGBTQ+ stories! I really want to see these. I would especially love to see a lesbian psychological thriller a la Memento, so if you have this? Maybe submit it just to me, kthanks.

I don’t want:

  • Anything that isn’t Adult
  • Inspirational/Christian
  • High fantasy or science fiction

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

Lee Child

Joan Didion

Gillian Flynn

Sue Grafton

Lorrie Moore

Richard Price

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya


BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren Beukes

A SEAHORSE YEAR by Stacey D’Erasmo







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

What can you expect from me? An edit letter (or edit email conversation) shortly after mentees are announced, guidance, cheerleading, and support during your revision process, pitch/query letter help, and hopefully time for a round of line edits at the end. I’ll be available to you by email or Gchat (not a big phone call person), and trust me, I’m just as excited about Pitch Wars as you are.

I know choosing which mentors to sub to is a major decision, and I hope you’ll consider me! Again, I’m beyond excited to be a part of this awesome community, and I can’t wait to see your words.




P.S. my letter for the scavenger hunt is....Y! 


*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.