Welcome, Pitch Wars hopeful!
I’m Sarah Cannon, and I’m so glad you’re here.
Let me tell you more about who you’re dealing with: at heart, I’m as much a teacher as a writer. I taught in public schools in my 20’s, then stayed home and homeschooled my three kids. (That’s still going on, but they keep getting taller for some reason.) I also tutor a wide variety of subjects. There are two takeaways here: I spend plenty of time with MG-aged kids, and if I choose you, you should never be afraid to admit it when you don’t know something! I’m used to it, and it’s a really good place to start.
If you’ve followed the contest in the past, you may have seen me around the twittersphere. I was one of Jaye Robin Brown’s alternates in 2013, and Cat Scully’s primary in 2014. I’ve been in these trenches before! Click through and check out my old entries. ODDITY (2014) is the manuscript that got me an agent, and will hopefully be my debut novel! It’s a fun and creepy MG about a girl who lives in the strangest little town in New Mexico, and must save her twin sister from a band of evil puppets. My short pitch was “Welcome to Night Vale for middle grade”.
I’ve revised ODDITY a LOT. I’ve done critique group revisions and critique partner revisions. Then Cat’s Pitch Wars revisions and two sets of R&R notes got rolled into another massive revision. I’m doing MOAR revisions for my agent right now! I am all kinds of ready to help you polish your manuscript until it’s all shiny!
I signed with Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency in April of 2015. Pay close attention to this bit: Brooks did not request from me in either of my Pitch Wars agent rounds. I think between the two years I got a total of three requests. I met Brooks at a writers’ conference in 2013 and pitched to him there, and (obviously) he didn’t sign me then, either. Brooks is my agent because I cold-queried him with ODDITY, got a full request, then nudged him when I received another offer (which ALSO wasn’t a result of Pitch Wars).
So why am I a Pitch Wars mentor?
Because Pitch Wars was absolutely mission critical when it came to landing an agent. The edits I did with Jaye’s and Cat’s guidance made my plots tighter, my prose cleaner, and my characters deeper and more authentic. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mentors’ insights and the many hours of work I did as a result. So, do not apply to me expecting Pitch Wars to be some kind of golden ticket, though certainly it CAN be. Go into it with the intention of upping your game, because that goal is absolutely attainable.
Here’s another fun fact: the manuscript Jaye mentored for me in 2013 was YA SF. Jaye and my other two teammates write contemporary. Lucky for me, Jaye, Chelsey Blair and Nina Moreno are all geeky fangirls at heart. #teamonfire understood my genre’s tropes, but also had suggestions fueled by writing in their own genre. That collaboration was tremendously rewarding, and we still read each others’ work. Nina Moreno in particular is a huge advocate for ODDITY, the manuscript Brooks fell in love with.
So, the all-important question: What am I looking for?
Science Fiction, especially when it’s humorous. My comp titles for ODDITY are THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex, and WHALES ON STILTS, the first book in M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. They’re both a lot of campy fun, but SMEKDAY in particular is also very heartfelt and all about family, which is big for me. Bring me more of that! The LUMBERJANES comics are another personal favorite in that vein. I’m a fan of basically everything Shaun Tan has ever done, so if you can capture his mix of strange beauty and compassionate social commentary, send it my way. LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke isn’t out yet (WHYYYYY), and I can’t wait to get my hands on it, so if you’ve got a ms with that vibe, bring it! And if you’ve got more straight-up (but not necessarily straight-faced) sci-fi, like MARS EVACUEES, bring me that, too! Basically anything I’d have to club Cat Scully with a bat to get, I want. Don’t worry, it’s a rite of passage. She’ll be touched. With a bat.
Fantasy. I grew up reading folklore and fantasy pretty much non-stop. I love steampunky fun like FLIGHTS, CHIMES AND MYSTERIOUS TIMES, classic fantasy like JINX’S FIRE and THE MAGIC THIEF, and fun new takes on stories we already know and love, like HOOK’S REVENGE. I enjoy seeing tropes (like the “chosen one”) turned on their heads, as in UN LUN DUN. I love historical fantasy like Regency-era KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, and AU American fantasy like RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, SEVENTH SON, or THE RITHMATIST. That said, the number one thing I’m looking for in fantasy is diversity. Bring me a MG AKATA WITCH, or SHADOWSHAPER. Bring me American fantasy that’s grounded in some other folklore than UK.
Mystery. If it’s a total screamfest, see Cat Scully, but I do love a good puzzler. If you have something like MISTER LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, GREENGLASS HOUSE, or THE BOUNDLESS, I want it.
Contemporary. Don’t feel that just because I’m currently revising creepy, zany SF you have to bring me creepy, zany SF. COUNTING BY 7’S is a recent favorite, for example, and I think its heroine, Willow Chance, would get along like a house on fire with some of the protagonists in the books above. LITTLE MAN is likewise fantastic. THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET and FRINDLE are also good examples of contemporary I’d make grabby-hands for. Funny, heartfelt contemporary will definitely attract my interest.
Here’s what else I’m looking for:
Authentically diverse characters.
Really well-written families (biological family, or family of choice)
An original middle-grade voice, one that meets kids on their own turf. Or beach. Or bowling lane. Or treehouse floor. You get it.
While we’re on the topic, I want a setting that’s more than window dressing. You chose your story’s setting for a reason!
Here are some resources to help you hone your entries:
Best of luck, and feel free to say hi and ask questions on twitter!
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