Goodreads is a place for authors to both feed their ego with all those five-star reviews and brutalize their inner masochist, who desires nothing more than unhealthfully fixating on one-star reviews because that’s how author anxiety rolls!
But before Pitch Wars hopefuls can get there, they have to go through the gauntlet that is GoodBleeds. [insert thriller soundtrack here.]
*P.J. and Kelly aka #KillerQueers are in no way affiliated with or speak on behalf of Goodreads. Please don’t sue us, Goodreads.
Note: Identical Wishlists are posted on both co-mentor websites. NSFW. Trigger warning for profanity. A text only version of this wishlist can be found at the following link: https://kellyjford.com/goodbleeds-p-j-vernon-and-kelly-j-fords-pitch-wars-wishlist-text-only/.
About Pitch Wars
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!
Who are the #KillerQueers?
We’re queer Own Voices suspense authors with a penchant for dark and disturbing fiction that forces the reader to consider the delicious grey areas of character psychology. The only recruiting we do is for our crime writing community. [wink]
We’re not only Pitch Wars mentors; we serve as beta readers, DM gossipers, and crisis counselors for each other. We’ve become so attuned to each other as critique partners that we force our mutual friends to receive our feedback at the same time on video calls.
What we want to see in our TBR pile
We crave books that are unflinchingly dark and honest and told through a voice that haunts us long after the final page. Bonus points if you can also make us laugh.
Specifically, we’re looking for Adult manuscripts in the following genres: Suspense, Thrillers, Gothic, and General Fiction with a criminal bent. If your manuscript might be deemed too dark for others, it will probably be spot on for us.
We’re also open to New Adult narratives but may ask that they be “aged up” to Adult because that’s what we read and where can provide the most useful mentoring.
Take a look at our TBR pile, see what sorts of manuscripts snag that coveted rating of 5 KNIVES, and what manuscripts we DNF (Did Not Finish).
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What always earns 5 knives? An Adult Own Voices manuscript that’s audacious and bold and uncensored. Does this describe your book? Well then, 5 KNIVES FOR YOU!
As members of the crime writing community, we’re keenly aware of how important it is to see yourself represented as more than a plot point that activates a cishet white protagonist (hate crimes! forced coming out!) and/or a trope (bury your gays! murderous bisexual!). WE ARE DYING to get our hands on Own Voices manuscripts authored by Queer and BIPOC authors. We want to help usher your stories into the world–even (and especially!) if your characters are the ones doing the “killing” (we are #killerqueers, after all).
A note: Does that mean your protagonist (or you!) must be queer? No, the #killerqueers are inclusive and welcoming. There’s no expectation that you “out” yourself as part of the process. Regardless of who your protagonist is or how they identify, your pages should reflect diversity. We don’t live in a strictly white cishet world IRL and prefer to keep it as diverse and queer as fuck whenever possible.
If GoodBleeds’ Top Reviewers would shelve your manuscript under one or more of the following categories:
… then, you might be a #killerqueer.
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We both identify more with the criminally minded vs. the do gooders (#killerqueers never tell). Protagonists who are up to little, no, or misguided good? Report for duty! Police procedurals and narratives about detectives or amateur sleuths? Other mentors will be a better fit for you.
Specifically, we really dig the following:
- 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 and toothy takes on timeless plots like Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down are so our jam. If you’re the next Laura Lippman, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Dan Chaon, or Ruth Ware, send us your stuff!
- Thrillers that are more domestic, a la S. J. Watson or Shari Lapena, and less geo-political, explosive, or action-packed. Think vicious protags and “terror in suburbia” over Jack Reacher. Amina Akhtar’s #FashionVictim over American Psycho. Paula Hawkins over David Baldacci. We love tales like Your House Will Pay, The Kill Club, The River at Night, The Chain, The Swap, and Give Me Your Hand.
- Gothic tales of societal 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? Come right this way.
- General Fiction with a criminal bent. No dead body? No problem. Crime comes in all flavors, is often subjective, and based on who holds power, either in society or politics. #killerqueers would know. We love #stabby, but we’re also drawn to corruption, power dynamics, thievery, and protagonists forced to make hard choices. There’s darkness in every human heart and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger or more afraid. Some out-of-the-box crime fiction we love: Blacktop Wasteland; Three-Fifths; There, There; Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist; The Sisters Brothers; Dietland; Big Little Lies; Here Comes the Sun; The Devil All the Time; Idaho; and Serena.
A note on content:
Steamy, awkward, or unhealthy or otherwise sex is welcome. P.J. wrote a gay Grindr thriller. And Kelly has at least three sex scenes per book. We love foul mouths. And violence is a reality we can’t ignore. But we’re not into gratuitous violence or trauma added for needless shock value.
Be judicious. A little goes a long way. Trauma should be fully and authentically explored (including realistic emotional fallout and healing processes) and necessary to the plot.
This is the special hell that is “it’s just not right for me” feedback. It may hit all the marks above but not land for whatever reason.
Remember, 2 Knives from us could very well be 5 knives for another mentor. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you ensure your mentor (and prospective agents) understands your genre.
The following manuscripts will find the love they deserve with other mentors:
- Young Adult or Middle Grade
- Traditional and Cozy Mysteries
- Christian or otherwise Religious, Inspirational, Romance
- Women’s Fiction
- Speculative Fiction, Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or Supernatural Plots** (see exception below)
We don’t read enough books in these genres to be effective mentors to you. We would probably steer you wrong or make you add unnecessary knives or sex scenes–IN THE SAME SCENE!
**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 a queer as fuck horror novel along the lines of John Fram’s The Bright Lands, we might stake a claim to that.
We wouldn’t dare post a 1 Knife review on GoodBleeds! We are better people than this.
These are the manuscripts that we Did Not Finish, or let’s be honest, did not even open.
Narratives that paint any of the following in a sympathetic light will go straight to the DNF pile:
Misogyny or sexism of any kind, homophobia, transphobia, toxic masculine culture, racism, ethnic or religious bigotry, and most forms of general ass-hattery and fascist shenanigry.
What you can expect as our mentee
We loved our experience as Pitch Wars mentors in 2019 and are ready to sharpen our knives for our next mentee.
We’re fans of major revision. Our ideal mentee is able to step back to see the full picture with big developmental edits and has the stomach to kill their darlings. Writing is revising! We love a mentee who’s enthusiastic about revision as well. They can expect to receive feedback from us to ensure:
- Stakes are clear and create powerful conflicts (physical, emotional, etc.).
- Characters have agency and motivations are on the page.
- The plot is tight, character driven, and the only escape is through it.
- Chapters bristle with escalating tension and suspense.
- Prose packs a punch.
While we enjoy video chats (only with each other, not for work) and a hearty discussion of feedback, we will communicate with our mentee in the manner that is most effective for them, be it email, phone calls, or texts.
Ultimately, this is our mentee’s project and our goal is to empower and position the manuscript for success. We’ll never force a mentee to make changes that don’t feel right–your voice and vision matter most. But we encourage traveling outside comfort zones to craft a manuscript that will kill, either in the Agent Showcase or in an agent’s inbox after Pitch Wars. Our goal is for our mentee to be thrilled with their manuscript at the end of the mentorship period–and confident launching it into the literary marketplace.
About the #killerqueers
P. J. Vernon
Hello Future Pitch Wars Mentee! I’m a suspense author whose latest and greatest, BATH HAUS, pitched as Gone Girl with gays and Grindr, is out Summer 2021 from Doubleday. 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:
I grew up in Arkansas reading Grandma Sue’s Crimes and Punishment: a Pictorial Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior, my Grandma Ford’s romance novels, and my parent’s collection of horror novels. My debut novel Cottonmouths has been shelved by GoodReads reviewers as: drugs-is-bad, grit-hick-lit, like-this-or-we-cant-be-friends, lil-bit-of-chickenfriend, and meth-ooooh-meth. Kelly also loves Arby’s. PJ and I are likely related on a distant and dilapidated branch of our family tree.
Pitch Wars 2020 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists