And so…the decision is made

Okay, hold on to your hats, guys, because this is gonna be a long one: a deep dive view of my process and thoughts as I went through my WriteMentor subs (spoiler free as to the actual choice, of course). If you want the behind the scenes demystified, well, here we go!

First off, wow! These subs were pretty much amazing. Each one was unique and bursting with creativity and a passion for the story it was telling. It’s become a cliche to say you wrote a book so celebrate so I’ll add something new: you wrote damn good books. Thank you for making the choice so hard!

So…how did I make the choice? First, for each entry, I read the opening pages first to see if it grabbed me, then read the query. Then I went back and re-read at least the first 5 pages/first chapter and made notes in a spreadsheet plus marked Yes to the second round or Maybe. I didn’t rule anything out on that first read. I also didn’t read any synopses at that stage because I didn’t want plot spoilers for whatever fulls I read.

So, what made me say Yes or Maybe? Not quality, I can tell you that! Everything was too good! Rather, it was more other factors that ruled subs out. Another mentor instantly fell in love with one, so I took that off my list. Quite a few seemed much more New Adult or Middle Grade than YA, so my main comment would have been “have you considered aging this up/down,” which isn’t the best use of a YA mentor, and also something I couldn’t really help with. Quite a few other mentors also mentioned seeing stories that seemed to be pitched as the wrong age range given either the character ages or the themes, so that’s definitely something to be aware of.

A few had elements too similar to my own work, one seemed pretty much query ready, and one seemed to only need a polish, not a 4-month intensive mentorship–again, nothing to do with “quality”. There were also a few where the authors seemed like they’d benefit from sweating the basics of storytelling a little more, but that doesn’t mean bad—I loved these premises so much, and if I had more time, I’d have been tempted. But we have 4 months, and spending 2 of them going over basics of show versus tell or what is or isn’t a scene isn’t the best use of a mentor. They seemed like they could make more progress on their own or with a crit group/beta readers, and I was looking for someone who’d really hit a wall. Again, absolutely nothing to do with quality! Having less technical mastery is a step on the journey and in NO WAY indicates a bad writer.

So after sorting my Maybes into Nos and Still Maybes, I re-read all the queries plus synopses of the remaining Maybes. Here’s where subjectivity really started to come into play. Some simply didn’t grab me in a way that meant I could crawl up inside the story, want to live in it, that I could not only see its flaws but also fixes, and be excited about it. A few Maybes got bumped up to Yeses at this point, for an updated longlist of 10. I then reread the first pages and winnowed that down to 8. Interestingly, these were all ones where I instantly had started making comments in the margins and big picture notes.

I then sent emails to those 8 asking for background info on the book and some more details. And then I read. Five fulls and three partials, which gave me a final shortlist of 5. And again, it wasn’t so much a case of saying No than Yes, But Not as Much as Others.

So what was the deciding factor here? Again, not quality or “talent.” I wasn’t looking for perfection, to start, and while each of the books at this stage had something that made it sing, they all also had “big” issues that meant I thought it could actually benefit from 4 months intense revision with a mentor. So the factors I looked for now were less to do with prose or technical skill than arc and stakes and pacing, so as I read, I was asking “What items are underutilised here and could be developed more to heighten tension and deepen character and create plot complications?” and “Is the arc wobbly vs non-existent?” and “How well does the author seem to understand the story they are trying to tell, all its moving pieces, and which are they struggling to control or letting drop?”

Thus, my assessment here again wasn’t about “good” but totally subjective: me looking at stories whose premise and characters stood out to me to now see (1) what help it needs and (2) if that is something I can help with. The emails helped here in terms of giving a sense of what the author saw as the issues and their roadblock in bringing it to the next level, and if my perception matched. Not a dealbreaker if it didn’t, but it gave a little more insight.

But it was also important how pulled into the story I got. The final 5 were all ones where I started making notes as I read, but then got so pulled into reading that I pretty much finished the fulls in one sitting and stopped making anything but the barest notes.

Then I went back and rechecked all my subs, even the original Nos and Maybes, in case they hit differently a week later. I came away confident in my choice of my final 5, and set out to come up with my top 3 to enter on the spreadsheet.

I knew I wanted to take on a book that could need a fairly big overhaul, so here again, the answers to my emailed questions were really helpful in terms of understanding working style as well. But in the end, the top 3 were ones where I simply loved the characters and voice and premise that little bit more, and my vision for the fixes were that little more clear.

So final 3…and in terms of ranking, my top one… I not only inhaled it on my first read, but then instantly wanted to scroll back up and read it again. I hopped right on the mentor chat to see if anyone else was considering it. I could see so clearly what could be developed more to make the most of the amazingly cool and unique premise and the characters. According to their answers to my email for more information, my diagnosis of the issues seemed to fit with the author’s own intuition, but they just don’t know how to solve them–but I know they have the skill and technical ability and talent to take my comments as a springboard and starting place to come up with the best fixes for their story. I’m so excited to help in that brainstorming process. I’m fizzing with energy and excitement over the world they created, and it’s so cool to think I get to help shape the next stage of this amazing story. So in the end, it was the one that grabbed me from the first read but also fit in so many other ways as well.

I hope this helped demystify how at least one mentor approached the process–and highlight how rejections really are subjective in so many ways. That’s something a lot of mentors were saying behind the scenes.

I truly loved so many (okay, pretty much all) of my subs, and I could have happily worked on any of my top 3, top 5, or top 8… This one just…had my heart, and my vision for it felt really clear. But that doesn’t mean the others were rejected. We were all sharing our “near misses” in the mentor chat, and one of my top 5 found a home with a different mentor they hadn’t applied to because I kept screaming about how hilarious it was it, which again goes to show how subjective it is.

Please keep writing, keep getting feedback, keep submitting. With three different manuscripts, I applied to Pitch Wars three times, got asked for fulls twice. Never got in. I applied to AMM three times, also got asked for fulls twice, never got picked. I applied to WriteMentor twice, got in once, and now two years later, here I am, agented, getting ready to go on sub, and a different book out with a small press. All it takes is one yes, and you never know which time will be the one where your work is the one that resonates that extra bit. So please, keep writing! I want all of the stories in my inbox to be shared with the world!

Something to fill the wait

Looking up from WriteMentor subs to say hope everyone waiting is holding up okay! It can be such a weird in-between!

So… a suggestion and a way to prepare for whatever type of editing comes next, here’s a lesson from my own mentee experience in 2020.

One of the first things my mentor had me do was a reverse outline. It’s basically a roadmap of your story written after the draft, not before, including characters, plotlines, settings, conflict etc. for each scene.

When my mentor and I started talking big-picture edits, it was sooo helpful to have that scene-by-scene breakdown to know quickly exactly where something happened and how one change would cascade and which plotlines would or wouldn’t be affected and how.

So what is a reverse outline and how do you do it? Editor Jeni Chappelle has a great explanation on her website.

If you are better with worksheets, the Story Genius ones are good too (and Lisa Cron‘s website is a treasure trove).

I add to my outlines metadata like Inciting Incident, Act 1 Break, Midpoint, Act 2 Break, All Is Lost, and Climax so that it’s easy to see pacing as well.

A reverse outline is the first thing I’ll ask my mentee to do, but no matter what, it’s a great tool for whatever editing you do next.

And…Subs are Closed

The submission window to the 2022 WriteMentor mentorship programme is now closed—which means now the work begins.

Having been on the other side and applied to many mentor programs before being accepted, I’m so aware of how life-changing this decision will be. And to be honest, I love that opportunities like this exist—but also hate how necessary they are increasingly being perceived as. It breaks my heart that for so many writers, progress feels locked behind some gate where only other people have power to open it.

So while I know I can’t pick everyone, I want to help swing that gate open for y’all, even if only a little. To that end, I’m planning a series of blog posts over the summer about the different things that were the most prominent issues in my submissions (not using examples from any specific subs, of course). I hope that it will help shed light on the issues I kept seeing, along with some steps to take for fixing them.

We are all writers in this together, and the learning—and the journey—never end. I hope you’ll let me be part of your journey even in a more limited way. I wish I had more time so I could offer more to everyone.

WriteMentor 2022 wishlist

Hello to everyone here to find out more about the 2022 WriteMentor mentoring programme and considering me as a mentor. I’m so looking forward to reading your words and working with one of you! So…let’s get started!

Hi! I’m Deborah Bailey, a 2020 WriteMentor mentee who’s absolutely thrilled to come back as a YA mentor and pay forward the amazing help and support I received. That also means I know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes, poring over wishlists and trying to decipher every single word to find the best mentor picks. So I’ve tried to be really clear, but feel free to ask away if you want clarification on anything. I’m on twitter at @4GreenSquares.

I also want to say that I’m aware of the long journey of writing, and I’m sure that, like me, many of you have been working for years at perfecting your craft. Another reason I applied to be a mentor was because I know how much a mentorship can help in levelling up. I’m honoured that you are considering me, and I can’t wait to help you along your writing journey and hopefully get you closer to your dreams.

What I’m looking for

I’m looking to mentor YA contemporary, contemporary fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries. That’s a pretty broad range, I know! So I’ve broken down some of my fave (and not so fave) tropes and themes, but even if something isn’t included as an element I’m drawn to, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sub to me. If it’s fast-paced and high concept with characters to root for and fall in love with, I want to see it!

Elements or tropes that I’m most drawn to include

  • Enemies to lovers
  • Snark as banter
  • Self-deprecating but not self-loathing
  • Hidden hearts of gold
  • Found family
  • Parents who are 3D and complex with lives of their own instead of existing simply to Cause Problems
  • Long-buried secrets and lies coming to light
  • Messy sibling relationships—but also only children!
  • Romance as a subplot, not the main plot
  • VOICE!
  • Sex positivity
  • Atheism
  • Unconventional formats/use of webpages, texts, etc.
  • Betrayal by the ones you love—especially when they think they are doing the right thing instead of being selfish or deliberately hurtful

I’m not being specific on the types of crimes or mysteries I’m looking for because I’m wide open to whatever you guys bring to the table: murder, blackmail, disappearances… surprise me! In general, I love a fast-paced story with twists and turns that pushes characters to the brink and forces them to grow. While I do also love slower, more character-driven stories as a reader, for this, I’m more looking for a story with a strong external driving plotline, a la mysteries or thrillers. However, character is still super important, and I’m looking for well-rounded characters that have flaws and are challenged to grow and grow up.

LGBQT+ welcome. Neuro-diverse characters (and writers!) very welcome too. (No need to disclose either of those identities beyond your comfort level.)

I’m open to all types of mysteries and thrillers, both contemporary and contemporary fantasy, although ones with Evil Corporations and/or Chosen Ones will have to be extraordinary to catch my eye as I’m overdone on those tropes. I’m more drawn to unexpected evil disguised well and lying close to home.

For fantasy, I prefer contemporary or urban fantasy rather than epic fantasy. I won’t 100% rule out epic fantasy, but I will say that royalty and courtly life are not things I’m particularly drawn to—but I do love stories of ordinary people caught up in larger than life events. Ditto science fiction. I love it as a reader (and a writer—I went to the Clarion workshop a while ago!) but I’m not as familiar with the state of it in YA currently to feel I’m the best mentor. However, again, I won’t rule it out on that alone, but do be aware that other mentors could be a better fit.

And one last thing—voice! I think this will have a big impact on my selection, so I want to talk about it a little more. I’m not looking to pick someone who writes in a voice like mine (in fact, that would make it hard to mentor and be weird), but I do like characters with larger than life personalities that pop off the page, like Exact Opposite of Okay, and Red, White and Royal Blue. I’m also a fan of Raven Boys (the whole series, in fact) and Cemetery Boys, and I LOVE Holly Black.

Given how different all those stories are in terms of voice, you can see that to me, it’s less about the specific tone of the voice or prose (i.e., voice is way more than having a character be snarky), but more about feeling drawn to stories where everything is filtered through the character’s opinions and frame of reference in a deeply immersive way. Give me a chance to sink deep into someone else and leave my life behind for your story, and I’m yours—I’ll follow you anywhere.

Not for me

These elements are not things that I’m a fan of or looking for (but feel free to reach out if you need more clarification):

  • Books that are heavy on physical fighting or centre around war. War as an event in a book is fine, but if it’s all about battles and being on the front lines, it’s not for me
  • Psychics (too similar to a WIP, although other types of paranormal powers/magic are fine, as are witches and other paranormal creatures or events etc.)
  • Organized crime/criminal underworld (again, too close to a WIP)
  • Rape or sexual assault (minor mention of something that occurs off the page is okay, but please not as a main character’s backstory or a major plot event)
  • Panic attacks (too close to a WIP)
  • Sex shaming
  • Heavy religious themes
  • Poetry/novels in verse (love them as a reader but I’m not the right mentor)
  • Stalkers or stories where a character being stalked is the main plotline

My style as a mentor and what I’m offering

If you apply to me, be ready to work hard and learn loads. I’m perfectly happy taking on a work that might need some overall structural edits, so don’t feel that your story has to be perfect (if it was, why would you need a mentor?)—but also be prepared for what could be a big edit. My notes will combine line edits and margin comments giving reactions to the prose and plot and characters as I read, plus a long edit letter where I cover character arcs, plot, structure, tone, dialogue, setting, and pace, and anything you flag as wondering about. I’ll also help with the query letter and preparing for the showcase–and afterwards too.

So, if you want to work hard and aren’t scared of (possibly) making big changes, then I’m definitely your type of mentor!

But working hard doesn’t mean I’m a horrible task-master or that I think my vision should prevail. We’re working on your book, and my intent is to guide you and equip you with a set of tools for identifying what isn’t working, breaking down why, figuring out possible fixes, and then understanding the implications of those options in order to choose the best one—the best, according to you. And along the way, I love to laugh, rant in the margins (as well as squee extensively when I love something), brainstorm (every bad idea that doesn’t work still gets you closer to figuring out the one that will), and even just listen when you need to talk aloud to figure something out. I’m here to chat about writing in general, the publishing side of things, querying–anything. I’m available on Zoom and email/DM or just the latter, whichever you are most comfortable with.

About Me

I’m represented by Sera Rivers of Martin Literary Management, who I found through cold-querying the book I worked on as a mentee in the WriteMentor 2020 summer programme. (You can hear more about my writing jourey in my interview for the WriteMentor Rejection Diaries podcast). I’m a US expat (South Carolina by way of New Jersey) currently living in the UK, and I work as a freelance editor and copy editor with a focus on academic non-fiction. I’ve been a vegetarian since college, and I can turn any recipe, no matter how complex, into a one-pot meal that I can wander away from and burn after forgetting it exists while writing. In fact, I think I should write a cookbook next: Things that Stay Edible after Being Burnt to a Cinder. When I’m not writing, I like to read, watch anime and crime TV (and true crime), and play video games badly (I think I’m the only person to die in a cut scene). Final fun fact: I don’t have a car because I never could get the hang of driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

Fave media other than books

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (LOVE—all-time favourite), Attack on Titan (the season 2 opening sequence is still The Best), Fruits Basket (I even have a cat named Kyo Kyo), Ouran High School Host Club (who doesn’t love the Ouran morons?), The Mentalist, Burn Notice, The OC, The Untamed, The Witcher.

The Matrix, Contact, and Amadeus are my three all-time fave films.

Final Fantasy, not Fire Emblem (I will fight you on this, lol!). One of these days, I will finish Persona 5, and I will never be bored of taking over the world in Civilization. And of course, Genshin Impact!

I hope this gives you enough information about me to know if I’d be a good fit, but feel free to reach out if you need clarification on anything. Best of luck and I can’t wait to read your words!

And don’t forget to check out the other amazing mentors!

Fundraiser for Ukraine

To help support Ukraine, I have donated a critique of a query, synopsis, and first three chapters to the BookAid for Ukraine Auction, which opens for bids tomorrow, Monday March 7, 2022.

You can go right to my item auction here, but be sure to check out the other items too! Definitely for a good cause.

I will say that tomorrow is shaping up to be a very busy day, writing-wise, with more news to come very soon!

Change is in the Air

I’m over the moon to announce that I’ve recently changed agents and am now repped by Sera Rivers of Martin Literary Management.

Her vision and enthusiasm for my story about mothers and daughters and murderers and love took my breath away, and I know it couldn’t be in better hands.

This book has been part of an amazing journey of growth as a writer, from Rachel Caine and @YA4YA right back at the first draft in 2018 to a huge revision under the mentorship of Brandy Woods Snow and WriteMentor in 2020. That’s where I met the 2020 group of YA mentees, who have become the best support group a person could ask for. I am so grateful for everyone’s encouragement and belief in my story.

Thanks also to all my 2021 Tin House YA workshop group. You gave me so much good insight—but more than that, your enthusiasm for the idea kept me going! Thank you so much!

Here’s to the future!   

Introducing… the newest Write Team Mentor in Residence for 2022!

I’m very pleased to be able to share that I’ll be a Write Team Mentor in Residence for 2022.

They have a great programme of events, including an open “ask anything about writing” inbox for a chance to pick all our brains and Zoom events including a panel on applying to and getting the most out of mentorships. Plus, some mentors—including yours truly—are offering crits on queries and opening chapters for people who want detailed, thorough feedback.

I’m so excited about this opportunity. The writing community, especially on Twitter, has been such a great resource and support for me over the years, and I really want to pay it forward. So hopefully, I’ll get to meet even more amazing writers at all stages of the journey, because at the end of the day, we are all in it together!

So. Much. News

Yes, I’m here. Alive and well, thankfully. And with so much amazing news to share. Last summer, I was lucky enough to be selected as a mentee on the 2020 WriteMentor summer mentoring programme, and then accepted onto the 2021 Tin House YA workshop. In both, I put my YA contemporary thought the paces–and I am very happy to say that I’ve been signed by an amazing agent for that book!

I discussed how it all came about–and my whole writing journey, on the Rejection Diaries series. A podcast is coming soon, but the video is already up on YouTube and you can watch it here. Enjoy and I hope it helps people feel less alone and down about their own writing journeys. It can be such a long process filled with so many setbacks, but keep at it!

UPDATE: The podcast version is now up here. It was strange going back and listening, and there’s one thing I wish I’d said: When I would wander in a bookstore or library and browse Amazon and see how many other people managed to write a book, achieve what I’d struggled to for so long, the other thing I told myself, besides “If they can, so can I” is that “If they found a way, then there’s a way. I just have to find it. Find the way that’s right for me.” You can’t follow someone else’s path, but know that there IS a path, and it’s yours, and it will get you where you want to go if you just keep walking it.