Rachel's 2017 Pitch Wars Wishlist

Welcome and a little about me

Thank you for checking out my wishlist! This is my fourth year mentoring YA for Pitch Wars, and I look forward to this contest every year. My mentees are so much more than mentees — I am lucky to call every one of them a close friend and CP! Basically...I am difficult to get rid of ;)

Part of why I've built such incredible friendships through Pitch Wars is that for me, the mentor-mentee relationship lasts beyond the contest. Ideally, I'd love to build a long-lasting CP relationship/friendship!

I write contemporary YA, and my debut, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, will be out from Simon & Schuster's Simon Pulse imprint on January 2, 2018! (You can add it on Goodreads here, if you wish, and it's on Amazon here.) My second book contracted with Simon Pulse will be out in 2019. My work is represented by the fantastic Laura Bradford at Bradford Literary Agency

My own road to publication hasn't exactly been straightforward (more about that here). I queried two books before finding an agent with my third. Over the next two and a half years, we went on submission with that book and two subsequent ones I wrote. None of them sold. None of them even came close. After deciding to part ways with my first agent, I queried for 5 months before signing with Laura, who sold You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone in a two-book deal after being on submission for 6 weeks. I share this story for a few reasons: 1) because I hope it illustrates that leaving an agent is not a step backward in your journey, and 2) publishing is unpredictable, and you never know who's going to connect with your words. Publishing is a lot of waiting combined with occasional whiplash. Patience and perseverance are crucial traits. We only have control over what we put into the world and the connections we form with other writers, because they're the ones who will build us up when this business feels impossible. Hence: Pitch Wars.

I'm passionate about working with writers who have been at this for a while and aren't sure why agents aren't connecting with their work. Conversely, I'm also interested in working with early-career writers just beginning to navigate the publishing world — and anyone in between! Really, what's most important to me is finding a mentee with ambition and a unique voice

In my spare time, I tap dance, buy too many tubes of red lipstick, and snuggle my sweet rescue pup, Wally. I live in Seattle with my boyfriend of 8 years. I studied journalism at the University of Washington, and I worked in both commercial and public radio, in addition to freelancing for newspapers, for several years.  I currently work full-time from home in the education field. I love new wave music, Indian food, gloomy weather, and dresses with pockets! 

My strengths and mentoring style

If we work together, here's what you can expect. We'll do one round of big picture edits, and I'll give you an edit letter shortly after picks are announced. Then we'll do a round of line edits closer to the agent round. We'll also work on your query letter, synopsis, and discuss agents and querying strategy.

It's so important to me that your book remains true to your vision. I would never tell a mentee "you need to make your MC a centaur" with no explanation of why a centaur MC would be a good choice because that's not helpful! Rather, all my notes are phrased as questions and suggestions so both of us can think critically about your work and the story you're trying to tell. 

I excel in figuring out how to make a book stand out in a crowded market. I want to draw out the elements that make your book unique and find a way to pitch it that makes an agent go, "I need it NOW!" I'm great at identifying pacing issues and solidifying character arcs, plus digging deeper into your protagonist's psyche. I love adding more conflict and tension, both at a micro and macro level (individual scenes as well as the entire book) to make your book impossible to put down. We'd work on squeezing the maximum emotion out of every scene. I am GREAT at amplifying romantic tension and chemistry. I'm also a whiz with queries. 

As a mentor, I'm encouraging but honest, extremely hands-on and available for whatever you need: video chats, novel-length emails, texts, DMs, etc. Given my journey, I'm not pessimistic about this industry, but I am realistic. Some of my past mentees have agents. One has a book deal. Others are still querying or working on new projects. I can't guarantee you'll have an agent or book deal right after Pitch Wars ends. I wish I could. I don't feel that's the sole marker of Pitch Wars success — and there's no way of knowing which book is The Book. What I hope you'll come away with is a renewed passion for and confidence in your manuscript and your ability to revise, plus an expanded knowledge of the publishing industry. 

I am so grateful that I've been able to do this for four years now. I've forged incredible friendships, not just with my mentees, but with other mentors, their mentees, and entrants. I will provide all writers who submit to me with a couple lines of constructive feedback after mentees are announced. Sometimes, as frustrating as it is, the feedback will be that I just didn't connect with the pages. This business is so subjective, but I know how much time you put into selecting your mentors, and I so value your thoughtfulness and dedication.  

What I'm looking for

This year, I am ONLY looking for contemporary YA. I'm open to any subgenre of contemporary, as long as the book takes place in our world. Wherever your book falls on the contemporary spectrum — light and fun, dark and edgy — I'm into it! My debut and my 2019 book are dark-ish and emotional, but I'm working on a YA romantic comedy right now. 

Number one on my wish list: books that push boundaries and take risks. If you wonder, "Can I do this in YA?" then PLEASE SEND IT TO ME! I want something FRESH, something I feel I haven't read before, and I read a lot of contemporary YA! I'd also love to see something that takes a well-known plot or trope and casts it with a queer or POC protagonist. 

A few of my favorite things (by no means a comprehensive list)

  • A focus on female sexuality, feminism, female bodies (or a protagonist discovering these things!)
  • Girl protagonists who could be called unlikable
  • Diverse casts of characters (a contemporary YA novel in 2017 should not have an all white, all allocishet cast) 
  • ROMANCE. I love it, especially with tons of chemistry and tension. A good slow burn is my fave
  • A voice that grabs me and won't let go
  • Protagonists with a passion, especially something unique, like an MC who loves bird-watching or foraging for wild mushrooms
  • Characters who think they hate each other but deep down really want to make out with each other
  • Realistic high school relationships and sexual experiences
  • Sex positivity
  • Unique narrative structures or devices 
  • Anything that revolves around art or music
  • Queer protagonists
  • Anything quirky or unusual
  • Moral gray areas
  • Bad decisions 
  • Taboo relationships
  • Geeky/nerdy characters
  • Outcasts
  • A glimpse into a world (a culture, a setting, a group of people, a hobby) most people know little about
  • Anything that feels like a challenge to the current administration 
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Unrequited love
  • Banter
  • Fun friend groups
  • Friendship breakups, couple breakups 
  • The feeling of longing
  • The feeling of disillusionment
  • Complex family dynamics
  • Wholly immersive settings 
  • Bittersweet endings 
  • Something that will break my heart (and possibly put it back together)

An incomplete list of books I love:

  • Hold Still and The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
  • Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
  • Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
  • Even When You Lie To Me by Jessica Alcott
  • Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  • Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
  • 99 Days by Katie Cotugno 
  • Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
  • The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett
  • Making Pretty and The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
  • Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
  • Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu 
  • Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler
  • Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
  • History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
  • Wild Awake and A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith
  • Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
  • Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas
  • The F-It List by Julie Halpern

Not the best fit for me:

Because you have a limited number of mentor slots and there are so many fantastic mentors to choose from, here's a list of what I'm not looking for this year:

  • Anything that isn't contemporary YA (there are so many awesome mentors looking for SFF, historical, etc.)
  • Good girl/bad boy trope (but I am HERE for bad girl/good guy match-ups) 
  • Domestic abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Missing girl stories (I've just read too many of them this year)
  • Anything hugely centered on sports where "the big game" is an important plot point (UNLESS it's an unusual sport, one not commonly played in high school)
  • Main hook focused on a parent who is an addict or alcoholic, or a parent with mental or physical illness (so if you would pitch the book as "a girl dealing with her mom's depression," it's probably not the right fit)
  • Sexual assault, unless the book discusses (and dismantles) rape culture
  • Bigotry in any form

Thank you for reading, and I can't wait to see your words in my inbox! Lastly, you might need this for the scavenger hunt: 

SHARP
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Honesty, Perseverance, & How Book 5 Became My Debut

I started writing seriously in the middle of the night.

It was the summer of 2011, and I'd just graduated from college with a journalism degree. I'd landed my first full-time job as the producer of a morning news radio show. The show started at 5 a.m., and I had to be at the station at 2 a.m. For a couple hours, I was the only person in the newsroom, which meant I fielded more than a few creepy calls from people who like to call radio stations late at night. 

So I played loud music and composed long emails to myself (I shared a computer with the other producers and didn't dare save anything personal on it) - scenes of what would become my first finished novel. 


I've always yearned to tell stories: as a kid writing strangely morbid books on stapled-together construction paper, as a teen writing song lyrics, as a college journalism student. It hadn't actually occurred to me until the summer after college to try to get something published, though I knew my odds of success were probably slimmer than a paper cut. That's why I view that time as when I "got serious" about writing - it's when I started writing with the goal of publication.

I worked on that first book for about a year, though I didn't really know how to decide that I was "done."  I joined a critique group I found on Meetup, and every cell in my introvert body protested as I submitted two chapters of my book and braced myself for feedback. 

They didn't hate it. I didn't exactly know how to classify the book - women's fiction, or maybe new adult, though that didn't exist yet - but one group member told me my voice felt very YA. That sparked something in me. I hadn't read YA since my early teen years, when I devoured Meg Cabot and Laurie Halse Anderson and Margaret Peterson Haddix. So I decided to catch up on what I'd missed since then - and oh my god, I fell in love. What I related to most was this ache, this longing that so many books had. A longing to be loved, to fit in, to achieve something, to discover who you really are. I like to think all my books have a strong sense of longing - it's my absolute favorite emotion to write. It's so painful and beautiful, and it's something many of us feel deep in our bones.


After incorporating some feedback from my critique group and obsessively reading Query Shark, I decided to start querying Book 1. I sent around 30 queries and received only one partial request. I felt pretty strongly that YA was what I wanted to be writing, though, so I shelved Book 1, which I now refer to as my "practice book," and moved on.

Book 2 was a YA about an all-girl band, loosely based on my experience in a band in high school. It had four POVs, and I  had no idea how to structure it. I hired a freelance editor, who pointed out to me that my writing was mainly telling instead of showing. This was hard to swallow at first, especially because, growing up, teachers had always told me I was "a good writer." But I could get better. I wanted to get better, to learn, to push myself. I revised Book 2 some more. I entered it in contests and sent more than 120 queries. I had about a 10 percent request rate, and a few of those requests turned into R&R's that were ultimately rejected. But something great had happened while I was querying that book - I leaped into the writing community on Twitter, and I connected with friends and CPs I'm still close with. 

While I was querying Book 2, I drafted Book 3, a YA contemporary about a girl with Tourette's syndrome and small-town political scandal. I sent 10 queries to start and received a couple full requests right away, which made me feel INCREDIBLE. I'd never gotten that many responses so quickly! One agent replied back with an R&R a few days after I sent her the full, and after we talked on the phone and exchanged a few emails about how to change the direction of the book, I revised it. She offered representation in June of 2013. 

No matter how many times you hear that "your first book probably won't sell," you think you'll be the exception. Book 3 was on submission for a year, and it didn't sell. And the only thing I could do at that point, since this was now something I knew I wanted more than I'd ever wanted anything, was write another book. 

While on submission with Book 3, I wrote Book 4, a tragic story about a roller derby girl with PTSD. I was in a dark place emotionally, and that made its way onto the page. I revised and revised and revised while rejections on Book 3 trickled in. 


Since I was young, I've struggled with depression, anxiety, and OCD. A lot of that has gone into my books, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. I've tried medication and therapy and have finally found a combination of both that's put me in a good place, but it took a long time to get there.

While writing is an incredible outlet, the rejection takes a toll. The waiting takes a toll. The best thing I can recommend if you're struggling with something similar: have another outlet besides writing. For me, that's dance. Several nights a week, I can completely clear my mind and focus on the movement and the music. I'm not fantastic at it, but I love it.

Still...I had moments of hopelessness. Haven't we all? You will never get published, my mind told me, and I started to believe it. I started to believe that all the "just didn't connect with it" rejections meant there was something wrong with my writing I might never know how to fix. 


Book 4 went on submission in spring of 2014, and I started working on Book 5. It was without a doubt the toughest thing I'd ever written, but I loved the characters. While I was drafting Book 5, Book 4 received a vague R&R from an editor. I switched gears and started working on that, but I'd forgotten how dark the book was. While most of my writing is dark-adjacent, some of it was so personally upsetting that I was having trouble even opening the document. So after Book 4 had been on sub for six months, and without completing the R&R, I asked my agent to pull the remaining submissions. I felt so much more strongly about Book 5, and I wanted to devote all my energy to it. And wow, did it require a lot of energy.

I rewrote the book from scratch twice because I couldn't get the voices right. Couldn't get the pacing right. Couldn't get the ending right. I'd never rewritten anything from a blank page before. It was daunting and exhilarating. My CPs loved it, and my agent and I revised it a couple times before going on sub with it in summer of 2015. It only went out to a handful of editors, and when my agent and I had differing visions for it, I decided it would be best if we parted ways. The split was amicable.

The book had only been seen by a few editors, and it hadn't been queried. Some friends who'd recently left agents found new ones within weeks. That...was not the case. Fortunately, I happened to know a lot of other writers querying for the second or third time, and their support was amazing. There are people I texted and IMed and DMed with every small victory. It's so, so important to have people who will celebrate those little victories with you. 

I set my first queries in October of 2015, and in March of this year, after I'd sent about 80 queries with a 1/3 request rate, I accepted an offer from Laura Bradford. We did one revision before going on sub with Book 5, now titled FINGERS CROSSED (though that is going to change), in early April, and in late May (we accepted the offer a few minutes before the Memorial Day holiday weekend!), this happened:

I cried a lot. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. I cannot wait to hold this book in my hands (pet it, hug it) and see others' responses to it. People talk about the book of your heart, and this one absolutely is mine. I put everything in it that I love and wanted to see more of in YA: ambitious girls with sharp edges, flawed characters confronting guilt and mortality, practicing Jews, which I rarely saw in books when I was growing up. Romance is a big part of the book too; there's both a doomed forbidden romance and a sweet first love. 

The two sisters each hold a piece of my soul. Tovah is, in many ways, similar to who I was in high school. Adina is everything I was too scared to be in high school. She's all the thoughts I had but never acted on.

Here's a collage I made to give you a better idea of what it's about:

You can also add it on Goodreads.

Another exciting thing is that Simon Pulse also acquired the book I drafted while querying Book 5! It's about a girl who donates a kidney to her guy best friend. She's been in love with him for a while and now thinks because she's made this tremendous sacrifice, he owes her to be in love, too. But now that he's healthy, he's experiencing many aspects of life for the first time, including falling for a guy, which is thrilling and confusing. It's tentatively titled A YEAR OF BAD IDEAS, and it's due out in 2019. You can add it on Goodreads, too!

Now it's time for the Oscars speech. Thank you to my incredible agent, Laura Bradford, who made me feel so comfortable with her during our very first call, who I've already learned so much from, who is a wonderful advocate. My editor at Simon Pulse, Jennifer Ung - her excitement (and the whole Pulse team's excitement) for this book has made me teary more than a couple times.

I owe a hundred thank-yous to this book's many readers in all its many iterations. Thank you to my dear friend Rachel Simon, a talented, selfless individual with whom I have a bizarre amount of things in common, including our names. You are such an unwavering champion of my work and of so many others' work. Thank you Paula Garner, Natalie Williamson, Natalie Blitt, J.C. Davis, Jeanmarie Anaya, Nikki Roberti, Tracy Gold, Maya Prasad, Richelle Morgan, Jamee Kuehler. And an enormous thank-you to Jen Hawkins. Jen, had it not been for your insistence that this story needed to be heard, I may have given up on this book. Also thank you to wonderfully supportive writer pals Helene Dunbar, Joy McCullough-Carranza, Kit Frick, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Heather Ezell, Tabitha Martin, Rachel Griffin, Megan Lally, and the entire Pitch Wars mentor group. 

If you've read to the end of this, or if you just skimmed all the way down - if getting published is what you want more than anything in the world, DO NOT GIVE UP. Keep writing. Keep reading. Take a risk. Write something new. Write something that scares you. 

Keep writing. Keep writing. 

There is someone out there who needs to read that story.