Pitch Wars Wish List for #TeamMascaraTracks

Welcome to the wish list for #TeamMascaraTracks! (That’s Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin.)IMG_2927

You’re obviously here because you write middle grade, right?

(Or maybe you’re looking for our word for the red quote. If so, here you go.)

REAL

First off, a little about us:

Amanda Rawson Hill: I grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right out my back gate. (Which accounts a lot for how I turned out.) After getting my bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I became a homeschool mom, a knitter, gardener, and, of course, writer. I am passionate about books, Disneyland, and refugee advocacy. (For the last year I’ve been working with several newly-arrived families from Afghanistan and it has changed my life.) I’m represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD and my debut MG novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published in the fall of 2018 by Boyds Mills Press.

Random Facts:

Favorite Food: Lasagna (but only my mom’s recipe)

Hogwarts House: Hufflepuff

Favorite Classical Song: New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak

Favorite Disney Princess:  Belle

Favorite Book as a Child: The Ordinary Princess and Walk Two Moons

Favorite TV Shows:  Psych, Parks and Rec, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly (*shakes fist at the heavens*)

Cindy Baldwin: I’m a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. I grew up in North Carolina and still miss the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, I used to keep a book under my bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing my hair or brushing my teeth, and I dream of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without! These days, I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. My debut middle grade novel, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, is forthcoming from HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2018.Random Facts:

Favorite Food: If we’re not counting chocolate (the darker the better), then probably tamales (but I’m kinda “eh” on chocolate tamales)

Howarts House: Gryffindor

Random Dream: Living on a sailboat

Favorite TV Shows: Poldark, Grantchester, White Collar, Psych, Endeavor, Genius—basically I’m a fan of period dramas and quirky contemporary, I guess?

Books That Shaped Me: A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT, LITTLE WOMEN, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, THE HERO AND THE CROWN

After reading and loving each other’s work, and then signing with the same agent, we decided to make the writing twin thing official and become Pitch Wars co-mentors. Destiny sealed the deal when we both got book deals with planned publication dates in the same year. Can’t beat that!

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via GIPHY

Other ways we are similar:

  • Same religion
  • Same feelings on makeup (almost never wear it)
  • Same taste in books
  • Both of our debuts are about a child dealing with the mental illness of a parent.
  • Currently both drafting books about wishes and stars (totally different everything, but still. Wishes and stars. Go figure.)
  • We are both extroverts who love to talk through things. We get very passionate. We feel everything deeply. We’re big on hugs (virtual and IRL). We don’t shy away from total sincerity and talking about feelings. We love big and we love hard. Cindy is Anne Shirley. Amanda is Leslie Knope.

Together, we head up Team Mascara Tracks. Last year we mentored two writers, Kit Rosewater and Cory Leonardo. Kit got the most agent requests of any MG entry in the agent round. Cory also did quite well and recently announced her book deal with S&S Aladdin. They both had agent offers within five days of Pitch Wars ending.

While we can’t promise that same level of success, we can promise the care and attention that went into the process. If you want to know what it’s like to work with us, each of our mentees wrote a blog post about it. You can read Cory’s here. And Kit’s here. But if you just want a short blurb to convince you that you TOTALLY SHOULD submit to us, then here’s a highlight from each.

I had never received such detailed notes on even a page of any manuscript I’d written, and here I’d received a comment on all of it. Comps. Concerns. Structure. Plot. Pacing. Characterization. Theme. Big picture. Small picture. Resources. Everything. I was astounded that they took the time and had thought about my book so deeply and thoroughly….Every. Single. Thing Amanda and Cindy said, every one, was right on. Over the next few months, I grew to trust their instincts more and more. They were always right, and every time I took a little while for their comments to sink in, I’d come to the same conclusion, make the necessary changes, and every time the book was better.  -Cory Leonardo, Pitch Wars 2016 mentee, author of CALL ME ALASTAIR (Aladdin, 2019)

Amanda and Cindy have the unique ability in plucking key emotions, interactions, and symbols from a text, and carrying those gently forward while rearranging all the trappings around them. Though nearly every word of my manuscript was switched around and deleted and rewritten by the time the agent round arrived, it felt more like my vision than ever. Cindy and Amanda knew what I was after in my writing, and helped me to maintain the things I found most important, even through completely fresh drafts. This is a vital skill to have in the process of revising, and one I shall carry with me forever.  -Kit Rosewater, 2016 Pitch Wars Mentee, MG Agent Round Winner

If that sounds like what you are looking for in a mentor, then let’s go on to what you really want to know!

https://giphy.com/embed/JDYE3DpqrW6mQvia GIPHY

Our Wish List

Our favorite genres are MG contemporary, Magical Realism, and historical. Within those genres we are particularly looking for stories usually labeled, quiet, character driven, heartfelt, and literary. The comedic and quirky is not really in our wheelhouse. That’s not to say that we don’t want a book that has quirky or comedic elements (we love those!), but that shouldn’t feel like the main focus or strength of the story. We want FLORA AND ULYSSES, not DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. We are particularly looking for stories the revolve around big, hard, real-world problems. If somebody has ever said, “Wow, isn’t that a little heavy for MG?” We want it. If somebody has ever said, “This is really sad.” We want it. We want to feel something. We want to bawl our eyes out. We want to see beautiful, powerful prose (or poetry). We want books that exemplify the quote “When a subject is too hard for adults, I write it for children.” We want books that tackle tough subjects in a hopeful and life-affirming way. We want big philosophical ideas handled with the grace, wisdom and innocence of this age group.

We’re accepting SFF as well, but tend to be much pickier about those genres. We love books that use a fantasy framework to tackle big, real-life issues. We love books that draw on mythology in interesting and classic ways. We love books that use their fantastic settings uniquely, to draw back the curtain on things in our own world. We’re less likely, however, to be the right mentors for adventure fantasy—think THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON or WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON rather than FABLEHAVEN or PERCY JACKSON.

We also have strong preferences when it comes to historical fiction: We’re not the right mentors for stories where the history or world-building plays a larger role than the character’s arc. We love historicals that focus on one small, character-driven story against the backdrop of larger events that really happened, without spending too much time or detail on those larger events. Basically, if you have the next THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, well—send it our way!

Other things we’d be excited to see:

  • Diversity
  • Characters influenced by faith but not in a faith-based story
  • Homeschooling!
  • Unique structures and formats (some examples include letters; journal entries; verse—we’ve both written verse novels and LOVE the genre!; and graphic novels—neither of us have a background in art, but it’s definitely in our wheelhouse to work with the text, story structure, character arc, and scene blocking)
  • Chronic illness and/or disability
  • Verse!
  • Bittersweet endings
  • Anything involving the ocean
  • Strong, vibrant settings
  • Science incorporated in a beautiful, meaningful way! (THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. or THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH.)
  • An own voices refugee story (Please!)
  • An own voices story with a Muslim main character, whether or not the plot is about being Muslim (Triple Please!)

If any of these could be a comp title…grabby hands!

https://giphy.com/embed/CDoxe35inxhfOvia GIPHY


Anything by Kate Dicamillo, Sharon Draper, Lynda Mulally Hunt, or Sharon CreechTHE THING ABOUT JELLYFISHPAPER WISHESA SNICKER OF MAGIC

COUNTING BY 7’S

LOVE, AUBREY

SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON

HOUR OF THE BEES

AMINA’S VOICE

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

SUMMERLOST

FORGET ME NOT

ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES

HOW TO CATCH A STORY FISH

COUNTING THYME

ECHOA Note On Animal Stories

Last year, we took on an “animal story”—Cory Leonardo’s CALL ME ALASTAIR, about a curmudgeonly parrot. And while we love, love, love her book, we’re going to continue to say the same thing we said last year. Animal stories are a hard sell for us. They have to be done very well, with a great voice, something unique (Cory’s had gorgeous poetry), and lots and lots of heart. Basically, you need to be able to compare it to FLORA AND ULYSSES and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Cory did, and the comparison held up. We’re definitely NOT the mentors for animal stories that are more humor than heart.

https://giphy.com/embed/lZDb2PNgLXdoAvia GIPHY

Other Hard Sells

  • Sports stories (There are other mentors LOOKING for this. We just don’t love it. Sorry.)
  • Historical fiction from earlier than the 1800’s.
  • Anything more plot-driven than character-driven.

What Will Really Draw Us In?

Looking at last year’s Pitch Wars, we can tell you that voice and beautiful writing are probably the number one thing that draws us to a manuscript. We can help you change everything else. But the voice reigns supreme.


We can’t wait to read your work!
 Putting it out there is such an act of courage and vulnerability. We promise to treat your entry with the respect and love that creativity deserves. We feel so honored by every person who decides to share their story with us. We are excited to meet all of you and your characters.

Why You Should Sub to #TeamMascaraTracks: A recommendation from Kit Rosewater

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Kit was one of our Pitch Wars mentees last year. Her entry got the most agent requests in the MG category last year and she received her first agent offer within 48 hours of the agent round ending. We asked for a “blurb” to recommend us to Pitch Wars hopefuls and this is what she said.

 

“You could not ask for more supportive mentors in Amanda and Cindy. From the second I read their wish list in the summer of 2016 I knew we would make a perfect match, and I still hold that belief true. Though in retrospect, I realize the match with these two mentors was not paved due to a particular style or element they were seeking in narrative. I felt a connection to these two because at their core, they want to aid and champion sensitive and sincere middle grade fiction.

Though I was asked to rewrite the manuscript, I knew from the beginning that they “got” my story. Amanda and Cindy have the unique ability in plucking key emotions, interactions, and symbols from a text, and carrying those gently forward while rearranging all the trappings around them. Though nearly every word of my manuscript was switched around and deleted and rewritten by the time the agent round arrived, it felt more like my vision than ever. Cindy and Amanda knew what I was after in my writing, and helped me to maintain the things I found most important, even through completely fresh drafts. This is a vital skill to have in the process of revising, and one I shall carry with me forever.

One might believe that the agent round brings goodbyes and finalities of the mentor/mentee relationship in Pitch Wars. Not so with Amanda and Cindy. I would argue that our bond as friends truly flourished in this time, and has continued to flourish since the contest’s end. Throughout the months after Pitch Wars, we have traded manuscripts, advice, support, tears, and happy dances. These are people who stick to you for a lifetime. These people are, in essence, like the stories they most want to see. They continue to support and inspire their mentees long after the chapter of Pitch Wars has ended.”

 

 

Why You Should Submit to #TeamMascaraTracks: A Recommendation from Cory Leonardo

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Cory Leonardo is the author of CALL ME ALASTAIR, which will be published by Aladdin in Summer 2019. She was also one of our Pitch Wars mentees last year. We asked her if she’d give us a “blurb” to convince you all of our awesomeness and she basically sent the best letter ever. We hope it gives you some insight into what you can expect from us.

Dear MG Pitch Wars hopeful,
When Amanda and Cindy asked me to write a testimonial for their mentor page this year, I jumped at the chance to tout the impressive list of gosh-darn, superhuman everythings they offer their potential mentee. It’s how I’ve come to write you this letter. The next step, of course, is to name every one and try to rightly convince you that the buck stops here at #teammascaratracks. I assure you: I will fail miserably. There are too many things to count and not enough words in my trusty thesaurus to describe them.
For those pressed for time or a wee bit antsy, let me leave you with the one sentence you need to come away from this letter with:
YOU ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, UNQUESTIONABLY, WITHOUT A DOUBT, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, *MUST* SUBMIT TO THIS DYNAMIC DUO, NO IFS, ANDS, OR BUTS. PERIOD.

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Okay, so that was two sentences. But, thank you. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled program.
Now, for those of you willing to hang in a little longer, I’d be honored if you’d lend me your eyeballs for a few minutes more. I’ll try to do this justice.
I stumbled upon Pitch Wars the last week of July last year. I’d recently finished a first draft of my MG novel, CALL ME ALASTAIR, and was planning on revising and submitting to agents in the fall. But after reading up on Pitch Wars and seeing the astronomical success rates (and after, I’ll admit, some hemming and hawing, for I’m woefully indecisive), I decided I would submit. The next question was to whom. Not many—okay, no one—wanted a novel about an anthropomorphic parrot. In fact, most of the mentor wish lists included the dreaded phrase, “no talking animals,” and it seemed my fate was sealed. I selected a few maybes to put on my list, and then came across Amanda’s and Cindy’s wish list. I remember it distinctly. I remember the heart-hammering feeling of knowing that this, this! would be a dream come true. I fell in love with their voices, their wit, their camaraderie, their passion for children’s literature and this wild, wonderful thing called writing. I shared so many of their favorite books and authors and knew we loved the same heart-felt tear-jerker. I knew my book fit what they were looking for.
Except…
There it was. I think the exact terminology was, “We’re not fans of books with talking animals.” Part of me wanted to cry. I was already convinced ALASTAIR needed them, that if anyone could fall in love with a talking parrot and his story, it was these two. I took a risk and submitted anyway. In fact, just in case there was an order to these things and the first-selected mentors got first dibs, I stacked my list. #Teammascaratracks was at the tippy top.
It was 9 p.m. the night before I was leaving for a 5 a.m. 15-hour drive. I snapped my laptop shut and resumed packing, thankful the submission was done and nervous about how it would all turn out.
It would come as a bit of a surprise (note the sarcasm) that less than two hours later I got an email from Amanda saying she’d like the synopsis. Approximately 3.5 seconds of rejoicing was quickly snuffed out when I realized I had no synopsis. No problem. I thanked my lucky stars I was an English major once-upon-a-time and had spent many the all-nighter writing papers. Admittedly, there was some Googling involved and a lot of mad-hatter typing, but sometime after 3 a.m. that bad boy was submitted.

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Two hours of sleep is fine when your husband’s driving, I told myself. But then, the next morning, another email. This time: 50 pages. 50 pages I hadn’t yet edited, and the suggestion that adding POVs might be needed. I spent the rest of the car ride chewing on that little tidbit, and by the time we’d arrived at the beach, I knew there was a way I could do it. I spent most of the night editing and sending off my reply.
Again, all was well. The sun was shining, the beach was calling. Life was one glorious palm tree after another. Until…

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Another email. Amanda and Cindy wanted the rest of the book. Another 140 unedited pages.
Long story short, there was a full day fixing those and sending them off. And then there was nothing left to do but chew my fingernails until the announcements were made two weeks later.
I was genuinely shocked when they picked me. I’d been Twitter-stalking them but hadn’t suspected. A year later it comes as quite the surprise that they were able to hold it in so long (here’s looking at you, Amanda). Amanda’s like a three-year-old with a secret. I’m certain that if you asked her family, there are times where they’ll find her sitting on her hands in front of her computer so as not to type those secrets away. It’s adorable, frankly. But they kept it in (there was one questionable GIF), and once all our names were plastered up there on that glorious Pitch Wars document, there was much rejoicing.

giphy-downsized (3)This is basically Amanda with a secret.

Oh, and a 6-page edit letter. Single-spaced.
Team Mascara Tracks is nothing if not prompt.
Pitch Wars hopeful, if you are ever the recipient of such a letter, let me reassure you. You will cry from joy at your mentor’s gushing—but will weep uncontrollably from fear and uncertainty at the rest. I had never received such detailed notes on even a page of any manuscript I’d written, and here I’d received a comment on all of it. Comps. Concerns. Structure. Plot. Pacing. Characterization. Theme. Big picture. Small picture. Resources. Everything. I was astounded that they took the time and had thought about my book so deeply and thoroughly. But I was also a bit heartbroken. There were things wrong with my book! There were concerns! The title! The climax! My book needed work!
One thing I’ve found is that every edit letter is the same in one respect. It will crush you for a bit. But you will pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, wipe the tears from your eyes, and get to work. Every. Single. Thing Amanda and Cindy said, every one, was right on. Over the next few months, I grew to trust their instincts more and more. They were always right, and every time I took a little while for their comments to sink in, I’d come to the same conclusion, make the necessary changes, and every time the book was better.
These two marvels spent hours upon hours upon hours, reading, sending notes, doing line edits, big picture edits, researching agents, answering a random assortment of questions, walking me through agent phone calls, the submission process… the list could go on forever. I will, always and forever, be indebted to these amazingly beautiful women who daily astound me with the scope of their imaginations, their knowledge of writing and the writing industry, their willingness to help, and their passion to teach and promote other writers. The fact that they’re phenomenal writers themselves (who somehow find the time to do it in between being awesome everywhere else) pretty much seals the deal: they’re the best ever. It’s official.
Amanda and Cindy have been my cheerleaders, my editors, my teachers. They are writer-mamas who know when to offer a virtual hug or a virtual lecture (though you never feel naughty, only that you want to rise to their expectations). They do all they do with joy, grace, enthusiasm, skill, and a whole lotta love. Today, they are more than all that, however. They’re my beloved friends. (And I’ve already informed them I’ll never be able to write another book without them.) They are a treasure to me.
I can say now that CALL ME ALASTAIR would never be the book it is without them. It would never have garnered the attention of agents like it did, gotten several offers, sold to S&S/Aladdin, and would not be cozying up to a bookstore shelf in Summer of 2019, were it not for Amanda Hill and Cindy Baldwin, #teammascaratracks, human beings extraordinaire. In a few years, when I’m holding my book in my hands, I will never look at it and not think of them. (The same is true for parrot and Jane Austen GIFs).

giphy-downsized (4)The questionable gif mentioned above.

If I can leave you, dear Pitch Wars hopeful, with one piece of advice, it is this: take a chance at these two, the very best mentors this experience can offer. Make a wish, say a prayer. Watch for falling stars, hunt for clovers, save your birthday candles, and collect as many dandelion puffs as your arms can carry. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you.
All my love,
Cory Leonardo