I’m a mentor in the Adult category looking for genre fiction with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy. I will also consider thriller, horror, steampunk, alternate history, historical, contemporary, mystery, and the NA category.
Please do not apply if your manuscript is: Romance (The genre, that is. Having romance in one of the above genres is totally encouraged!), epistolary, memoir, a graphic novel, literary, YA, or MG.
The Long Version
What is Pitch Wars?
Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, and industry interns each choose a writer to coach on revising their manuscript over a course of three months. It ends with an Agent Showcase in February, where agents will read the pitches and first pages of chosen mentees and can request to read more.
Who The Hell Am I
- I’m an epic fantasy/speculative writer represented by Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency.
- I was a mentee in 2016, so I know the process well and how to ensure you get the best experience out of Pitch Wars.
- I’m a meme connoisseur, a gamer, a weight lifter and fitness nut. Current music I have on repeat is Five Finger Death Punch, Kid Cudi, and The Shins, so take that how you will. I work at a tech company for my day job and I’m a California native who just moved to Utah. Most of my family is Canadian (Vancouver Island, whoop whoop!).
Good stories often transcend a person’s genre preferences. Currently have an amazing story, but its genre sits low on the list of what I’m accepting? Chances are it won’t matter that it isn’t SF/F and I’ll love it anyway. The reason I push SF/F as my primary genres is because I’m better read in those genres and can therefore provide more informed feedback. There are plenty of mentors to choose from, and some are out there who know way more than I do in other genres, which means they’ll give better insight into the tropes and conventions employed within those genres. However, if you’re struggling to find someone to apply to and you see I’ve included your genre in my wish list, don’t hesitate to apply to me.
Genres: My Bread & Butter
Science Fiction: I’m accepting all subgenres of science fiction; near-future and space opera especially. I’m a sucker for “grounded” science fiction, which I define as consisting of technology that “could” exist in the next 100 years. After finishing high school, I desperately wanted to become an astrophysicist like Brian Greene, Brian Cox, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I was obsessed with space and the regular existential crises that followed. I love thinking about humanity’s place among the stars (i.e. THE EXPANSE series by James S.A. Corey or THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir scratches this itch very well), and that’s because it makes me optimistic about where we as a species might go. If you have a story like this, I’m all for it. I’ll absolutely still accept other subgenres of science fiction, though. RED RISING by Pierce Brown and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula Le Guin are two of my favorite books and they’re far from grounded.
Fantasy: My agent signed me based on an epic fantasy novel I wrote, so there’s definitive proof I’m probably not trash at writing at least one genre. I’m accepting all subgenres, from the most far-fetched high fantasy to urban/contemporary fantasies set on Earth. As long as you have relatable characters and a solid plot, the setting doesn’t matter.
Other favorite fantasy novels not mentioned on my mentor profile are: SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch, KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames, and anything by Andrzej Sapkowski. I love gritty books that don’t shy away from violence, so long as that violence isn’t over the top like an ‘80s horror flick.
If you can give me a sci-fi fantasy hybrid like HEROES DIE by Matthew Woodring Stover or ASHES OF THE SUN by Django Wexler, I’d love to see that too.
Other Genres I Accept
Thriller: One of my favorite books, DARK MATTER, is heavily influenced by science fiction, but on a more technical level I’d call it a thriller with sci-fi elements. As fascinated as I am with its sci-fi concepts, the pacing and stakes are another big reason I love this book so much. Give me a ticking clock or well-paced story with relatable stakes and you’ll have me hooked. Other thrillers I’ve enjoyed include THE FIRM by John Grisham and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN by Michael Crichton.
Horror: I think many fledgling horror writers succumb to the same pitfalls seen in horror movies; as in, the writers become too focused on the scares to the point where characters and story development fall to the way side. I’m accepting horror, but I’m going to be picky. Send me horror with an honest effort in character development and story. I’m partial to psychological horror over body horror, a la HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski or THE SHINING by Stephen King.
Contemporary: A few favorites of mine include THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie and SIDDHARTHA by Hermann Hesse. Just keep in mind that contemporary novels ending in tragedy for the protagonist are stories I have trouble feeling satisfied with (while Sherman Alexie’s novel has its fair share of tragedy, it does end with some optimism). Give me contemporary stories where the characters grow and overcome their challenges.
Historical: I loved THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak and THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini. I’m also a big fan of the show The Last Kingdom (and I consider it a travesty that I haven’t gotten to the book series this show was adapted from!). I’m contradicting myself considering I just mentioned The Book Thief, but I would prefer not to receive any historical fiction set during WW2, as it’s the most popular and explored era for this genre.
Steampunk: Give me steampunk with a strong sense of setting and plenty of grit like PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Miéville, or give me something well-paced and set in alternate history like THE MECHANICAL by Ian Tregillis.
Mystery: I’m accepting mystery, but bear in mind that I’m not as well read in this genre. If you can construct a well-paced mystery like GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn or anything by Dan Brown (while doing a better job than Dan at writing women), or you know how to create an elaborate murder with a big reveal like Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler, send it over! But again, there may be better mentors you can submit to.
The Fated Category: NA
I am accepting NA. However, I will, in all likelihood, request that you re-categorize it to Adult. This is because when you’re submitting to agents and editors, often times (note that I didn’t say every time) you can call a novel NA or Adult and have it be the same story. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by labeling it NA.
Feel free to submit your NA story to me, and despite my words of warning above, be comforted in knowing that although I’ll ask you to re-categorize, there isn’t a high chance I’ll request any in-manuscript changes predicated solely on its NA elements. I do realize there are certain story elements common in NA, such as heavy romance, but since I’m not accepting novels with heavy romance, I doubt I’ll see submissions labeled NA with stronger arguments for keeping it NA.
Story Elements I Want To See
Above you’ll see my preferred genres with an emphasis on SF/F, but if you’ve written, say, a thriller or a steampunk and it contains the below, I’ll be sitting straighter in my seat when I read your submission.
Protagonists who earn their power. You’ll see in my “What I Don’t Want” section below that I don’t like Chosen One stories; give me the inverse of that. Give me someone who uses their intelligence, perseverance, ingenuity, or strength of character to gain all their power.
Stories that mask thought experiments with entertainment. There’s a reason DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch is one of my favorite novels (I almost included RECURSION by Blake Crouch as well, but left it off my Favorite Books list for the sake of variety). I love stories that entertain the shit out of me, but I will never forget a book that thoroughly explores a “What If” scenario and makes me look at reality a little differently. SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson is a great example, as it explores how life might develop on Mars, or how humanity might deal with the death of the solar system. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is a great example too, as it provides an anthropological look at what a society of hermaphroditic humans would look like.
Writers who use their day-job expertise to tell a story. It’s why I loved Michael Crichton, Ursula Le Guin, and John Grisham; they were a biological anthropologist, a cultural anthropologist, and a lawyer, respectively. Don’t have formal education? That’s okay. Andy Weir studies science and engineering as a hobby, but his knowledge really showed in THE MARTIAN. If you can give me insight into a subject while telling a strong story, I will fight whoever I have to so I can become your mentor. Bonus points if your expertise is in STEM.
(For fantasy submissions only) Unique magic systems. When my agent sent off my submission letter to editors, he included how I share a proclivity for unique, rules-based magic systems like his other client, Brandon Sanderson. And he’s right. I’m a big fan of unique magic systems. While many story elements should remain mostly the same (like including rising action, a climax, a relatable protagonist, etc.), magic systems are one of those things in fantasy where the sky is the limit. All that matters is that you’re consistent. While I don’t require an entire rule book for your magic system (in fact, I prefer mystique and don’t like overly developed systems that turn into a numbers game), you’ll have my attention if it’s unique.
What I Don’t Want
- Anything outside the genres listed above, obviously.
- Anything that was previously self-published. This is stated in the Pitch Wars submission guidelines, but I’m reiterating here.
- Submissions from anyone I’ve traded work with or who was a mentee in 2016. I want this process to be as unbiased as possible.
- High word counts. 150k is the soft cap; the further you stray above this line, the less likely I am to consider it. If the word count is high, I may consider it but the quality of my feedback will be lower due to Pitch Wars time constraints.
- Chosen One stories. If your protagonist comes of age and finds out they have a hidden power that was passed down from their parents (who are either dead or believed to be dead), then I’m not the mentor for you… however, I will consider your Chosen One story if you’re willing to revise the Chosen One trope out.
- Gratuitous tragedy or misery porn. Don’t mistake this with violence, though; I love dark and gritty. I just don’t want to see 400 pages of the main character being tortured by tragic life event after tragic life event, only to end with them in a worse spot than where they were when the book began. Give me tragedy, but give me characters who are capable of overcoming it.
- Anything preachy. I love important messages in my stories, but they’re meant to be the garnish and not the entrée. The goal should be to entertain first, teach second. I hope this bullet doesn’t scare you off if you have an important message in your novel, however! Just keep in mind that if you wrote your story with the primary objective of sending a message, people can almost always tell.
- Stories with faeries or angels/demons.
- Anything really whimsical or what I consider “silly.” I do enjoy humor in the vein of KINGS OF THE WYLD or THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, but note that I like my humor adult-oriented. Overall, my thoughts on humor in fiction are this: for the same reason not everyone can be a stand-up comedian, not everyone can write good humor. My sense of humor is very particular, so if you wrote something comedic, be wary of submitting to me. But keep in mind that having a few comedic scenes is totally fine, so don’t overthink this bullet.
- Biblical retellings or faith-based fiction. I’m definitely not the right person for this.
My Ideal Mentee Is:
- Someone who can take feedback. When I pick a mentee, it is with the intention that I give their story that extra oomph it needs to grab agent attention. If the story was ready to be published, I would tell that person their story is amazing and they don’t need to wait months for the agent showcase! They need to be querying ASAP! It’s a 1-in-a-1000 case this would happen, but my point is that feedback is an integral part of the story development process. However, this does not mean you can’t push back on feedback. In fact, I’m expecting it. I’m just not interested in a mentee who only sees me as a stepping stone to the agent showcase and not as someone who can help them improve their story.
- Someone who isn’t racist or intolerant of LGBTQ+/marginalized communities.
- Someone who is completely honest with me (I’m reiterating part of the first bullet here). If I give feedback or any writing/publishing-related advice that you disagree with, don’t be afraid to offer your opinion. I want us to have an open dialogue on writing craft if you have any questions.
- Someone who doesn’t mind me giving them all the support and cheer leading. I desperately want you to succeed the way I wanted to as a mentee. Pitch Wars will be one of the most emotionally taxing experiences you’ll deal with, and I want to provide whatever support I can to help you get through it.
My Mentor Style
Methods of communication will entirely depend on your preference. Do you prefer Skype, with or without video? Do you prefer email? I’m open to whatever makes you feel most comfortable. I will, however, in all likelihood ask that we speak during the initial meeting since there will be a lot of ground to cover.
When it comes to my editorial style, I’m all about economy of words. I’m going to push that you say as much as possible in as few words as possible. You should expect to hear me constantly asking, “Does this word/sentence/paragraph/scene need to be here?” At the same time, it’s not unusual for me to highlight a word or sentence and add a note about my thoughts that spans multiple paragraphs. You’ll never wonder why I’m giving a particular piece of feedback, I can promise you that.
You Made It To The End!
If you read everything and still consider me a great fit for your manuscript, I look forward to seeing your submission. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to tweet or DM me on Twitter: @ClayHarmonII. And if you’d like to check out the other wonderful Adult mentors, continue below.
Pitch Wars 2020 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
- Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Mary Ann Marlowe
- Rachel Lynn Solomon
- Anna Kaling
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Rachel Howzell Hall
- Lyn Liao Butler
- Michael Mammay and AR Lucas
- Paris Wynters (Accepts NA)
- K A Black (Accepts NA)
- Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
- Hudson Lin (Accepts NA)
- Sonia Hartl and Annette Christie (Accepts NA)
- Taj McCoy (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Anne Raven and Janet Walden-West (Accepts NA)
- Charish Reid and Denise Williams
- Kalyn Josephson and Kat Enright (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Qin (Accepts NA)
- Tanen Jones (Accepts NA)
- Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
- Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Denny S. Bryce and L. Penelope
- Roselle Lim and Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Morgan Rogers (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Rob Hart
- Damyanti Biswas (Accepts NA)
- Maria Heater
- Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
- Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
- Carly Bloom and Sam Tschida
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)
- Alex Segura and M. J. Soni
- Roma Panganiban (Accepts NA)
- Tricia Lynne (Accepts NA)