Hi! I’m Stephen Morgan, a mentor for this year’s Pitch Wars, 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.
Along with mentoring Adult, I am also mentoring New Adult if your story trends toward Adult rather than YA. Here’s the difference for me. YA is about discovering who you are. NA/A is about what happens after. Having said that, there are huge parts of a character’s experience that might not accord with age expectations, so if you think your story is appropriate, I’d love to see it.
WHY WORK WITH ME?
I’ve worked with NYT best-selling authors. I’ve taken debut and established authors to the USA Today list. I’ve helped long-time and brand-new authors win their first awards. I’ve helped young and old writers connect with their true self and how to bring that onto the page. I’ve coached tenured authors who weren’t sure how to feel excited about writing again.
Don’t worry whether you have too much or too little experience to work with me. If you have a great story, I want to see it.
WHAT I WANT
More than anything, I love stories that take something familiar and show me a side I never suspected, or at least a side that I always suspected but never knew for sure. I like stories that reveal the dark, seedy underbelly of something we thought we could believe in.
Think of authors like Gillian Flynn and Shari Lapena. They’re masters of mystery, thriller, and psychological suspense stories.
What I’d LOVE to see is a story like theirs in a surprising setting. Imagine GONE GIRL happening in college. Imagine AN UNWANTED GUEST happening in a high fantasy. Imagine BIG LITTLE LIES happening in a near-future dystopia. Imagine AND THEN THERE WERE NONE happening in space.
OTHER THINGS I WANT
• Alternate history
• Time travel
• Romance. I will consider literally any genre of a great NA/A romance
• Not romance. Don’t worry, romance or strong romantic elements aren’t required
• Light sci-fi/fantasy
• Historical: preferably Victorian/Edwardian era
• Any story that exposes a hidden world beneath our own. Think Harry Potter or The Magicians if it had taken place entirely in our world, not an otherworld magic school.
But also think of something like GONE GIRL or the recent film READY OR NOT, where the story is hyper-realistic and shows a dark side to a seemingly everyday life that’s shocking but intuitively insightful.
• Gender-bent retellings. Cinderella for adults with their gender roles reversed? YES PLEASE.
• LGBT-based retellings!!! That can just be gender-bent, but go deeper. Give me all of the gay. PETER DARLING blew me away.
• Fish out of water trope
• Thrillers (especially speculative thrillers with a splash of sci-fi/fantasy)
• Enemies-to-lovers where the differences are more than a simple disagreement. Give them something truly divisive.
• Mistaken Identity. YOU’VE GOT MAIL fans unite!
• Retellings from the villain’s perspective
• Intense mentor relationships
• Rival student relationships
• Act One enemies turned into allies
• Crossover appeal for both YA and adult markets
• SNARK. A biting wit that makes me laugh when least expected. Did you see IT: Chapter 2? Bill Hader’s humor in the midst of so much horror is perfect for me.
• Clear character arcs. For me, that means a strong goal, motivation, and conflict. Go beyond a character caught up in a fantastic premise. What does following that premise force them to confront about themselves?
• I prefer a story set in some version of the real world. If you stray from a contemporary real world, think Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale. Those are dark versions of what our world could turn into in a very short time rather than entirely new worlds.
Or think of the portal fantasy GRETA AND THE LOST ARMY, the last (amazing) book in Chloe Jacobs’ Mylena Chronicles wherein the fantasy world is actually an alternate universe, and in the final book, the MCs are fishes out of water traveling to our world.
o BTW, that Greta book is so so so good. It’s YA, and one of the MCs is a teenage Goblin King (inspired by Labyrinth) who suddenly has to contend with being a normal teenager hiding out in high school while they figure out how to defeat the big bad. He’s not just pompous and arrogant with the teachers like a lot of us were as teens. He’s used to being treated as literal royalty, and suddenly everyone is like, “LOL, shut up kid.”
DO NOT WANT
• No mermaids. Really anything to do with the sea. I can’t explain my aversion. I don’t even like fish sticks.
• No dubious consent. I’m okay with a character being violated and fighting back, but spying on the MCs love interest, risky behavior without first discussing boundaries and consent, any of these things presented as healthy and positive would not be a good fit for me.
Example that IS a good fit for me is Stacey Trombley’s NAKED, wherein the teen heroine begins the story escaping her pedophile boyfriend/pimp and returning home to try to be a normal high school teenager again, and slowly begins to confront the truth of what happened.
• No insta-love, unless that causes the problem that’s the point of the story
• No white savior stories, or narratives about discrimination that center the experiences of the privileged class
My strategy isn’t to give you a magic bullet. I can’t guarantee you will get an agent+publisher and rocket to the NYT list.
What we will do is take an honest assessment of your storytelling ability and your book, and then we will implement strategic revisions as well as a long-term plan to help you grow long after the mentoring period ends. You will feel excited and empowered to take the next step. You’ll know you’re ready for whatever opportunity you next find.
Together, we’ll give you the best shot possible to achieve your publishing dreams today and beyond.
WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR IN A MENTEE?
Ask questions. Be willing and able to take an honest assessment of your strengths and your growth opportunities. That doesn’t just mean where you’re weak. We’ll also identify where you rock.
Have or be willing to develop healthy limits and boundaries for your writing life. It’s important to make time to write as much as it is to make time for something else.
I’m a plotter. You don’t have to write according to an outline, but I will discuss structure and organization so that we at least know you’re reaching for what the book needs.
I write very thematically and look for big issues/motifs/high literary academic stuff. My first concern is making the book compelling and engaging, but if we can imbue a little deeper meaning along the way, all the better.
I’ve spent most of my career studying how to bridge high-falootin literary fiction with addictive commercial fiction, so just think about where you fall on the spectrum. If you’re more light and fluffy, I’ll ask you to dig for a deeper emotional experience. And if you’re so dark and serious that I feel like I’m watching a DC movie, I’ll pull you toward strategies to make your darklit more commercial and irresistible.
GET TO KNOW STEPHEN BETTER
If you want an overview of what I’ve been up to for the last ten or so years, check out my short and long bio HERE.
For a look at a side of me I don’t often talk about, read on below.
LAST TEN BOOKS READ
• GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard
• THE DARK FANTASTIC by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
• THE STORYBOARD ARTIST by Guiseppe Cristiano
• THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT by Sonya Sones
• HOW TO STOP TIME by Matt Haig
• HUNGER by Roxane Gay
• THE COLOR OF COMPROMISE by Jemar Tisby
• TRANS TEEN SURVIVAL GUIDE by Owl
• THE NEW CODEPENDENCY by Melody Beattie
• WHEN TRUE NIGHT FALLS by C.S. Friedman
• ILLUSIONS by Madeline Reynolds
• ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION by Temple Grandin
• RED DEATH by P.N. Elrod
• THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY by Brene Brown (based on her enormously popular TED Talk)
• LIMITLESS by Alan Glynn
• GALILEE by Clive Barker
• THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield
• THE STORYBOARD ARTIST by Guiseppe Cristiano
• BAG OF BONES by Steven King
FAVORITE COMICS/GRAPHIC NOVELS
• KINGDOM COME by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
• SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
• Meet Joe Black
• John Wick 3
• Battlestar Galactica (minus the last episode)
• Orphan Black (first season…the rest are good but not the same for me)
• Breaking Bad
• The Matrix/The Thirteenth Floor. If you’ve seen both, you understand why
• The Shawshank Redemption
• The Prestige
• House Hunters
• …Bridezillas *ducks*
FAVORITE VIDEO GAMES
• The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past
• Super Mario World
• Super Mario Odyssey
• Mario Kart Wii/Switch
• C.S. Friedman
• P.N. Elrod
• Brene Brown
• Ross Rosenberg
• Bill Waterson
• Roxane Gay
• Gillian Flynn
• Johnathan Nolan
• Steven King
• Raymond Carver
I make silly art projects for fun. Be prepared for me to do all sorts of photoshop trickery to make illustrations for your manuscript or to just help you reenergize yourself with a little digital wizardry fun. If you tell me your favorite movies, you have a 99% chance of me photoshopping you into a famous scene from those movies.
If you’re still not sure how much I like having fun with images, you should know I put me and my fiancée into our favorite romance movies as part of my proposal LOL. Look at the posters at the top of this wish list for examples.
If you enjoy photoshops like these, tell me your favorite movie in your query :)
Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors' Wish Lists
- Paris Wynters
- Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes
- Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
- Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
- Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
- Carolyne Topdjian
- Natalka Burian
- Tim Akers
- Alex Segura
- Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
- Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
- Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
- Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
- Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
- Rob Hart
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
- Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
- Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
- Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
- Damyanti Biswas
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)