Hi Pitch Wars hopefuls!

I got my first agent basically a century ago (okay, it was 2014) thanks to #PitMad, and now, after admiring the Pitch Wars mentorship program from afar for so long, I’m thrilled to join this supportive community as a mentor and help a fellow author achieve their publishing dream.

What the heck is Pitch Wars?

In case you’ve stumbled upon this post elsehow, Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer to mentor while the writer revises their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request more material. For more info, please visit the Pitch Wars site for the contest description, details, and deadlines. Then come back here! (Click here to for an accessible version of this wishlist!)

Who are you?

I’m Diana Urban, author of young adult thrillers like All Your Twisted Secrets (out now from HarperTeen), These Deadly Games (out 2/1/22 from Wednesday Books), and—well, the next one’s a secret for now. I tend to write about nerdy, messy girls who make mistakes and learn from them when facing harrowing situations, and I’m really proud of that. My day job is also in publishing; I’ve worked as a marketer at BookBub for almost seven years. Yep, I live and breathe books at all times.

While I got my first agent back in 2014, I didn’t get published until 2020 (at one point I went full-on nerd mode and created an infographic detailing exactly how torturous long my publishing journey was). So I understand the stresses and anxieties you might be feeling. But also, along the way, I’ve learned a ton about publishing—not only what agents and editors are looking for in a submission, but how to promote a book, navigate this industry, and overcome wild obstacles (including getting published six days after the WHO declared a global pandemic! WHO KNEW?!). And I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with my mentee.

As mentioned above, I’m very much a nerd. I grew up obsessed with Lord of the Rings, so much so that I literally wore a replica of the One Ring on a chain to school every day. I love playing video games; some favorites include Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, Fallout 4, and The Sims. And my favorite music to listen to are movie/TV scores (I’ve been listening to Game of Thrones and The Witcher on loop lately).

What’s your mentoring style?

I have critiqued many manuscripts over the years for CPs and friends, and when it comes to critique, my bread and butter is making sure the stakes are high early, nailing the pacing, amping up tension, and sussing out plot holes. I will help you obliterate your plot holes (and fill them in and smooth them over). Once we tackle those things, I’ll help you with line edits so we can polish up your manuscript and make it sparkle. And finally, I’ll help you hone your query letter so you shine in the Agent Showcase.

However, to be completely honest, if you’re looking primarily for help strengthening your character arcs or emotional beats — or if you’re in the early stages of drafting and looking for a ton of big-picture feedback, guidance, and brainstorming — I’m probably not the best fit mentor for you.

While I love reacting with emojis and GIFs and squeeing about things I enjoy, I tend to be pretty blunt with my critical feedback—I will be completely honest with you because I want you to succeed. And while I hope you would consider my feedback carefully, I would never require you to make any changes; in the end, this is your book. And again, I will also gush about the things I love and celebrate your strengths.

For the first round of feedback, I’ll email you an editorial letter with high-level feedback, along with comments and questions in the Word doc itself (I’ve found it’s helpful to react to things as I go so you can see what a reader might be theorizing or observing along the way!). For the second round, I’ll make comments/track changes within the Word document, this time focusing more on line-edit suggestions. Other than that, I’m a big fan of gchat or Twitter DM for 1:1 casual convos, and I’ll check with you at least once a week to see how you’re progressing through edits and feeling. We could also hop on an intro Zoom just to chat (but no pressure if you’d rather not!).

To be clear, I believe this mentorship goes beyond critiquing this particular manuscript. I want to be here to answer your questions (or be a sounding board, venting buddy, whatever!) as you query and beyond, even after you sign with an agent and get your first book deal. I’m also looking forward to learning from my mentee’s skills, wisdom, and perspective, and hope this’ll be a long-lasting friendship!

What’s on your wishlist?

I’m open to Young Adult submissions only, and you’ll see that my list is pretty specific. I’m not looking for stories within an entire genre; rather, I’m looking for stories in specific subgenres or with the tropes listed below. And some tropes might apply across genres—for example, the game show one could be Romance, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, etc! (Note that at times I list adult titles as comps to give you a sense of the content I’m looking for, but I’m only open to YA.)

  • Mysteries/psychological thrillers/suspense with a significant paranormal and/or speculative element or twist (Dark and Shallow Lies, Mexican Gothic, The Similars, We Were Liars)
  • Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, especially involving aliens, zombies, or other monstrous creatures (Bird Box, The Mist, A Quiet Place, Signs, The 5th Wave, This Is Not a Test); also open to EMP-type scenarios (Flash Forward)
  • Dystopian fiction (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Wilder Girls, Shatter Me)
  • Ghost stories (where it’s actually ghosts, not a living person pretending or an unreliable narrator situation) (The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Haunting of Hill House)
  • Time travel books (Here and Now and Then, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Timebound)
  • Books that take place in a game show-esque scenario like The Bachelor or Survivor (The Selection)
  • Anything like Stranger Things. Please give me something like Stranger Things. I’m BEGGING you for something like Stranger Things.
  • A YA version of Mark Watney (The Martian). Give me your witty, nerdy protagonists using their smarts to escape/survive a sci-fi or speculative scenario.

Visual of the books listed above

Other things I’d love to see (only if they fall within the above parameters):

  • Really high stakes
  • Big commercial hooks
  • Positive mental health rep
  • A diverse cast of characters
  • Brooding love interests
  • One or dual-POV; I don’t enjoy switching perspectives too much (for example: I loved Shadow and Bone even more than Six of Crows!). If you feel that your book is a really great fit based on what I’m looking for above and has multi-POV, I will still take a look.

What are you NOT looking for?

  • Contemporary/realistic thrillers or mysteries. I will only consider those with a significant paranormal or speculative angle. (I’m currently drafting a contemporary/realistic mystery with a January 2022 deadline and it would interfere with my creative process too much to critique a book in too similar a subgenre. Thank you for understanding!)
  • High fantasy (Six of Crows, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Uprooted — I love reading books like this but I’m not the best person to provide feedback on fantasy worldbuilding, fictional political systems, etc.)
  • Any age category other than YA
  • Nonfiction / memoirs
  • Word counts higher than 110K
  • Stories promoting racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-semetism, sexism/misogyny
  • On-page rape
  • On-page death or abuse of an animal
  • Stories where fat shaming or body shaming goes unchecked
  • Books featuring vampires, shape-shifters, or angels/demons

Answers to anticipated questions (I’ll update this section with any FAQs)

  • I’m OK with violence in YA
  • I’m OK with cursing in YA
  • I’m OK with sex in YA
  • I’ll consider both upper and lower YA, I have no preference
  • It’s OK if your protagonist is 19 or even 20
  • I’m open to characters and authors of any gender
  • I don’t need to see trigger warnings (but thank you for asking)
  • No, I won’t be making any exceptions for contemporary/realistic thrillers or mysteries. Please don’t waste a mentor pick on me!

If you have any questions, please drop a comment below or reply to this Twitter thread so that others can benefit from the answers as well. If you’d prefer to ask privately, you can complete my contact form here.

Good luck to all prospective mentees! I’m so humbled and honored to read the wonderful submissions that’ll come my way, and I absolutely cannot wait to meet my mentee. 🤩🤩🤩  I have a feeling I’m not ready for the sheer amount of talent I’m about to witness!

And please remember that finishing writing a book is an epic accomplishment (YOU DID THE THING!), and you’re incredibly brave for submitting it and pursuing traditional publication. And that, in itself, should be celebrated.

Pitch Wars 2021 Young Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

    Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

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