P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford’s Pitch Wars Book Tinder Profile 

P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford’s Pitch Wars Book Tinder Profile

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Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. Visit www.pitchwars.org to learn more!

* Identical Wishlists are posted on both co-mentor websites.
** NSFW. Trigger warning for profanity.

Looking for: Adult

​Who Are We?

P. J. Vernon:

Hello Future Pitch Wars Mentee! I’m a suspense author, and When You Find Me (Crooked Lane Books) is my critically-acclaimed Southern Gothic debut. It’s dark. It’s twisty. The pages sweat sweet tea and gin in equal measure. Fun facts about me? I live in Canada (brrr), but I’m a transplant from South Carolina. I have ADHD which can be a writerly superpower as long as said writing is fiction and not, like, finishing my tax returns on time. And I love Arby’s.

Kelly J. Ford:

According to The Museum of Americana, my debut novel Cottonmouths “blend[s] noir and Southern Gothic into a story set in rural Arkansas, where complicity and unrequited longing take equal tolls.” Or as I like to say, it’s about: Chickens! Lesbians! Meth! I was raised on historical romance novels and true crime magazines, so I’m drawn to stories that involve crime and desire, especially in a small town, rural, or dilapidated setting. I love my wife, my cat, and my OLED TV. And I like to eat. A lot.

Teaming up with P. J. and Kelly:

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We are both queer Own Voices suspense authors. P.J.’s strengths lie in tight plotting, sustaining tension, and crafting escalating stakes (and twists!) that pay off. Kelly’s a deep character development pro who always sticks the landing when it comes to character-driven plots and to-die-for prose that leaves the reader gobsmacked.

Together, we provide a comprehensive approach and complementary editorial strengths to take your manuscript to the next level. [Kelly J. Ford translation: combined, we are the perfect author.]

So … what are we looking for?

We want to fall head-over-heels in love with your manuscript. Nothing makes us swoon quite like a book that’s unflinchingly dark and honest, and told through a voice that haunts us long after the final page.

Specifically, we’re on the hunt for Adult manuscripts in the following genres: Thriller, Suspense, Gothic, and Dark Contemporary Fiction.

We’re also open to New Adult narratives but may ask that they be “aged up” to Adult to pique the interest of as many agents as possible. [Kelly J. Ford translation: we may ask you to get even dirtier and even darker.]

Our Perfect Match:

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We dream of finding an Adult Own Voices manuscript that’s queer and audacious and bold and uncensored. Does this describe your book? Well then, be still our beating hearts! Does that mean your protagonist must be queer? No. But regardless of who your protag is or how they identify, your pages should reflect diversity.

We don’t live in a strictly cishet world IRL, and prefer to keep it queer as fuck whenever possible.

No matter the genre, it pulls no punches and breaks our hearts with compulsive plotting and literary prose that leaves us breathless. Twisty reveals that escalate with your plot’s tension and stakes so high our knuckles whiten just thinking about them!

What Makes Us Swipe Right?

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Your manuscript can be commercial, literary, or upmarket in flavor but must be dark. You’re not afraid to interrogate those primordial impulses or to explore the uncomfortable underside of the human condition. Think unreliable narrators with a penchant for lying to the reader and themselves. Characters struggling with jealousy or vengefulness or denial or addiction (i.e. are human). Give us your toxic relationships and co-dependencies and long-buried secrets and narcissistic loved ones, oh my!

We’re both a bit more criminally minded (don’t tell our therapists), so our editorial strengths lie in stories with protagonists who are up to no good rather than police procedurals and narratives about detectives or amateur sleuths. Specifically, we really dig the following:

​Thrillers that are more domestic a la S. J. Watson or Shari Lapena and less geo-political, explosive or action-packed. Think unraveling protags or “terror in suburbia” over Jack Reacher. Amina Akhtar’s #FashionVictim over American PsychoThe Girl on the Train over Fight Club. We love tales like Long Black VeilThe River at Night, and Give Me Your Hand.

Suspense of any variety from Psychological to Hitchcock-ian to Noir. Slow-burning narrative yarns and characters behaving badly in the vein of Laura Sims’ Looker are so our jam. If you’re the next Laura Lippman, Oyinkan Braithwaite or Ruth Ware, send us your stuff!

Gothic tales of decay, transgressive acts, and eccentricity have a good shot at stealing our hearts. If your monstrous characters would be at home in a Gillian Flynn novel, we want to read them. Bonus points for gothic tales unfolding in the American South. Give us your best (worst?) V. C. Andrews. Would your book fit next to Rebecca or We Have Always Lived in the Castle on the bookshelf? Hi. Hello. Come right this way.

Contemporary Fiction that takes us deep into the unsettling aspects of what it means to be human. No dead body? No problem! Characters, conflicts, and stakes that frighten us, break our hearts, and make us question our own moral compasses are always getting that right swipe. Think Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,Valley of the Dolls, Sweetbitter, The SympathizerDietland, Big Little Lies, Here Comes the SunThe Devil All the Time, Idaho … [P. J.  pulls Kelly away from the keyboard].

​A note on content: Steamy (or awkward or unhealthy or otherwise) sex is a-okay. Ditto most violence. And foul mouths are welcome! But be judicious. A little goes a long way. We only ask that trauma be fully and authentically explored (including realistic emotional fallout and healing processes) and necessary to the plot. We’re not into gratuitous trauma for trauma’s sake or needless shock value.

What Makes Us Swipe Left

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It’s not you, it’s us. We promise.

​There are plenty o’ fish in the sea and plenty of bookshelf space for all kinds of stories, but the following manuscripts will find the love they deserve with other mentors.

Young Adult or Middle Grade: Why are we only accepting Adult submissions? Well, for one, we’re simply not cool enough to know what works for today’s youngins’. We literally had to google the in’s and out’s of Tinder to draft this wishlist.

Paranormal Plots: Vampires, spellcasters, trolls, and spectres? Yeah, we’re just not that into you. Manuscripts with significant paranormal or speculative elements don’t do it for us. Humans happen to scare us a helluva lot more.

***Major Caveat: Subtle or ambiguous paranormal, occultism, or magical realism (think Into The Water by Paula Hawkins or The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes) are fine! In fact, PLEASE SEND! If you’ve got a medium in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup or seances or characters chanting “Bloody Mary” into mirrors, we love to wonder just how real your ghosts are. Give us, give us, give us!

Traditional and Cozy Mysteries, Christian or otherwise religious, Inspirational, Romance, Women’s Fiction, Speculative Fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, and everything in between except the above caveat), Non-Fiction, and Historical (unless you go dark like Serena, The Best Bad Things, or The Sisters Brothers. Then, place into our grabby hands). Basically, anything light(er) in subject matter. We don’t have the chops to sharpen books outside our wheelhouses like other mentors can!

Narratives that paint any of the following in a sympathetic light: Misogyny or sexism of any kind, homophobia, transphobia, toxic masculine culture, racism, ethnic or religious bigotry, and most forms of general ass-hattery and facist shenanigry. Unfortunately, stating that we don’t care for nazis feels relevant in today’s world.

​Past Book-Loves of P. J. and Kelly:

​Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn*

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Country Dark by Chris Offutt*

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware*

Second Life by S. J. Watson

*Notice how the word dark appears four times in this list? Yeah…

What to Expect if We “Match”:

P. J.’s ideal mentor-mentee relationship is comfortably and confidently honest. While the manuscript is yours, our partnership is a trust-based collaboration of equals with a shared goal: your ultimate success.

You trust both the sincerity of my love for your work and that your success is my highest priority. Your vision for your manuscript is confident and you have a strong appreciation for your unique authorial voice. As your advocate, your creative vision and voice are the metrics I weigh all subjective critique and commentary against.

Just as I’m eager to praise your strengths and empathetic to weaknesses, I also hold a realistic understanding of my own editorial abilities. I’m comfortable communicating these to you. As such, you should be unafraid to question my feedback or ask for clarity, additional examples, or perhaps a stronger case for any proposed revisions.

Kelly’s an IT project manager by day and will get you and your manuscript into shape.

A collaborative, communicative approach is my #1 priority. I like goals and deadlines and process, so … Ideally, P.J. and I would meet (virtually, we’re on opposite coasts) with our mentee to learn even more about them, what they’re looking for in a mentoring relationship, and what will be most helpful to them logistically with scheduling and the feedback process (as well as hopes and fears and other fun stuff). With feedback, we’d discuss what’s working (because it’s important to know what you’re doing well) and areas that the mentee could focus on for revision through both written and verbal feedback (and with wine, if that’s your thing, because that’s what P.J. and I do when we exchange feedback on three-hour long FaceTime chats). We’d establish regular check-ins, but I also want our mentee to feel comfortable coming to us with any questions they may have. I have an open-door/email me anytime policy. All agonies and anxieties are valid and welcome. We’ll knock ‘em down one by one and get you back to work.

If we do our jobs well, our mentee will feel supported and confident in their revised manuscript, but also know the mentoring relationship doesn’t end. We will cheer and support them beyond Pitch Wars. The reality is: the publishing journey can be long, arduous, and heartbreaking. We plan to be there with our mentee every step of the way. Our ideal mentee is also here for the long haul and won’t give up when things get hard. Tenacity is key.

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If we still haven’t proven we’re the perfect co-mentors for your wickedly twisty and deliciously dark manuscript, here are our official chops:

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P. J. Vernon has been called “a name to watch in the thriller genre” (Booklist). Library Journal and Book Riot compare his critically-acclaimed Gothic debut When You Find Me (Crooked Lane Books; NYC) to Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. Vernon’s debut has sold in multiple countries, languages and formats, including audio by Blackstone and the re-titled Une Certaine Annie in French (La Martiniere; Paris) and French-Canadian (Guy Saint-Jean; Montreal). Vernon is represented by CookeMcDermid (Toronto) and his film rights are represented by United Talent Agency (Los Angeles).

Kelly J. Ford is the author of Cottonmouths, named one of 2017’s best books of the year by the Los Angeles Review. Her work has appeared in Post Road Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Knee-Jerk Magazine. She is an instructor for GrubStreet Writing Center and an IT project manager. She also appears on Grepcast, a weekly podcast covering technology and technology adjacent topics from TSP LLC. Kelly is Arkansas bred and Boston based.


Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

    View the full list of all 2019 Pitch Wars mentors.