Pitch Wars 2018 Wishlist

Welcome to the Pitch Wars wishlist of Ian Barnes and Laura Lashley. If you’re here, you have excellent taste in randomly clicking on blog hop names. Unless you sought us out on purpose, in which case, you are a being of exquisite refinement and grace who is clearly going places. Like this wishlist.

Before we go any further: WARNING! This post contains swearing, bad jokes, dumb gifs, and possibly butts. Often combined. So, maybe NSFW.

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This year we’re mentoring Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, a.k.a. Speculative Fiction at large. If you’re not writing something with swords, lasers, or magic (or magical laser-swords), sorry, your mentor is in another castle.

Who are we (other than the most awesome mixed doubles co-mentor team in Pitch Wars)?

Ian is a lover of all things fantasy, sarcasm, and video game-related. Bonus if they’re combined. He writes urban and epic fantasy, and dabbles in cyberpunk. Again, often combined. He’s a two-time former mentee, first in 2016 working with JC Nelson on a cyberpunk-fantasy mashup, then again in 2017 with Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan on an epic fantasy. He has the ability to derail any thread and dive into a sea of nonsense at the drop of a hat (as anyone who spends more than two minutes talking with him can attest). Ian is represented by Matt Bialer of Sanford J Greenburger Associates.

Laura Lashley writes speculative fiction for kids, adults, and kids masquerading as adults, her personal demographic. She grew up in the swamps of rural Georgia, except not really–her mother rented a proper house there. When Laura was a child, said mother satisfied her movie needs by selecting the cheapest rentals their small town video store had to offer. This resulted in young Laura’s eager consumption of entire seasons of the original Star Trek and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which makes a lot of sense considering her goof-nerd aesthetic and shameless use of jaunty British accents. Laura enjoys the gratuitous use of italics, traveling with her extremely attractive husband, cuddling with her newborn son, and watching TV with her oldborn beagle, June Carter Cashley. Laura is represented by Carrie Pestritto, literary agent and professional hype-person, of the Laura Dail Literary Agency.

Together, Ian and Laura are a well-oiled, wording machine.


Mentoring Style

Oh, you sweet, darling summer child. You shall be mentored, thoroughly, up and down, to the left, and most definitely to the right. Let me break it down for you: if you choose us, you’re in for IT. Now, I’m not referring to Pennywise or the ancient art of advising people to power off their computers when software stops working, I’m just saying that you’re really going to get the full Monty with us. Laura, that’s me, is an outliner, a table-maker, a scene mapper, and a homework giver. Ian is a pantser and does none of those things until Laura makes him. As a mentoring duo, you’ll get the best of both of these worlds. Laura is an expert (yes, I’m still talking about myself in third person) at diagnosing plot issues and giving targeted craft-related advice because she has read, simply, all of the writing books. Ian, on the other hand, has the uncanny knack of talking with you until you’ve figured out whatever book problem you’re having, whether it’s worldbuilding, plot, action, or general writerly malaise. That’s nothing less than a superpower, in my, ahem, Laura’s book.

If you are chosen by us, you can expect a thorough edit letter with big picture substantive and execution issues discussed, with examples, and broad-strokes advice on addressing them. We’re never going to prescribe how you have to fix something, but we will tell you what needs fixing, and our door is wide open for helping you think up your own solutions to it, if you need us. You may also be assigned a fair amount of homework, so if you’re not ready to work your ass off and do things differently than you may have done them before, or you have issues taking feedback that can be described as “blunt,” then we may not be the right mentors for you (and this contest might not be the right one for you, either).

[Ian will now also refer to himself in the third person and interject to say that Laura’s homework assignments are truly wonders to behold and be-terrified-by. Approach with properly pre-voided bowels.]

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But we are very nice on the whole of things! And if Laura’s advice makes you cry a bit, Ian will be there to talk badly about her behind her back with you and make you laugh and then secretly report on all your progress to Laura because WE ARE A TEAM, AND YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR MEDICINES!


After you do the first big pass, we will re-read to assess whether the big picture items have been fixed and line edit. Ian is excellent at pointing out extraneous bullshit, which is another superpower in writing SFF, because as SFF writers, I mean, you often have to pry the extraneous bullshit out of our cold, clammy unpublished hands. Ian will do that for you. We’ll keep doing this exchange of reading and fixing until we three make your book the best it can be. And, if anything is certain, this whole enterprise will be done with its fair share of GIFs, ridiculous commentary, bad jokes, good jokes, hand-holding, sacrificial rites, and motherfuckin’ professionalism.


Ideal Mentee

Our ideal mentee is funny, hardworking, and ready to be our best friend for LIFE. I mean, we’re just telling you our ideal, okay? If you’re determined to keep us at arm’s reach, HA! Good luck, but yeah. We’ll sort of respect that. Maybe.

Seriously, though. We want someone who’s going to approach revision with GUSTO. EXCITEMENT! EMPHATIC ALL-CAPSING WHEN NECESSARY! Pitch Wars is a marathon. It is intense. It somehow lasts for both your entire goddamn life while passing by in ten heart-palpitating minutes. It’s also never really over, if you do it right. We want a mentee who is going to take full advantage of this opportunity because if you let it, it will change your life. You should be positive of spirit and flexible of mind when it comes to your book and how we advise you to change it. You should listen to our feedback with open ears and a complete lack of defensive BUT BUT BUT-ting. You can always argue your point, and at the end of the day, it is your book and your decision on how you revise it. But! You should be ready to take not just one, but two people’s feedback, and drastically change your book if necessary.

Also, whining is like, seriously unattractive.

Wishlist (AKA, The Real Reason You’re Here)

Give us the fun and the funny, emphasis on the fun.

Above all else, that’s what we’re after, and it’s what we’d kick ass mentoring. Something clever and quirky with amazing worldbuilding, a plot with real skin in the game, and nerve-wracking stakes for characters we care about. Just make sure you crack a joke every now and then. Super serious isn’t our game. THIS IS OUR GOLDEN RULE.

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Now, the caveat there is we want the plot and characters taking center stage, not the humor. An engaging story comes first. Humor should enhance the plot, not be the plot. WE LOVE BANTER!

Besides, humor’s its own genre, and we’re all about the SFF, specifically the fantasy end of the speculative speculum.

Oh, that’s not what that word’s for? Pfft. If you say so.

This is not to say we don’t love us some sci-fi, but magic is our wheelhouse. The further away from magic you go, the cleverer and more badass your story will need to be to hook us. If you’ve written a space opera that shares a genepool with Guardians of the Galaxy, Hitchhiker’s Guide, or Firefly, we’re all in. If you’ve written a stoic-faced Saving Space Cadet Ryan-esque gritty military SF, sorry, that’s not our (space) jam. For that matter, we’re also not romance writers. So if your plot is primarily a will they, won’t they situation, that’s not our (slow) jam.

Absolutely send us stories with relationships and romance, makin’ out and fightin’ and make-out-fightin’. Romance and sexy times as subplots, not the main plot, are a GOOOO!!! Please, someone. Make Ian blush. He tried to use the word SMOOCHIN’ in the first draft of this wishlist, for fuck’s sake. [Ian’s Note: I’ll have you know Smoochin’ is a battle-honored tradition in my family. How dare you.] {Laura’s Note: Woah, what is going on in your family, dude?}

Onto the sub-genres and the Wants and Don’t Wants! (Skip to the end of each section for a TL;DR recap if you must)


As noted above, we love a good space opera. Anything irreverent and fun with heart, like Farscape, Firefly, or Killjoys. Wrote a Doctor Who-esque time travel romp? Gimme. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian? Hell to the yes. Cyberpunk, steampunk, or any of the assorted -punk genres? Okay, but know they really need to stand out from the pack to be competitive for us. Granted, that fresh take bit applies to everything, but punk in particular has a tendency to follow the same old tropes. Give us the weird and the wild, mash those genres, cross those streams, and we’ll be excited to read!

Did you write that Saving Space Cadet Ryan book I mentioned above? Yeah, we don’t want it. Military SFF isn’t what we’re best equipped to help. Same goes for hard SF with the plot reliant on actual science. For the record, this is the proper amount of science:

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TL;DR – Any fun sci-fi. but Military and Hard SF are a hard pass.


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All of it. If you’ve got magic, we want it. High, epic, urban, contemporary, paranormal, sci-fantasy, whatever. That said, there’s a few things we like more than others.

Did you write a fun urban or contemporary fantasy? SEND IT TO US! Magical shenanigans in the real world are what we collectively love the most. Got characters jumping in and out of portals like Aperture Science designed a Stargate into Narnia? Yup. Wrote an adult Stranger Things or the next Ghostbusters? That’s some good shit right there. Got some Lovecraftian eldritch madness going on (minus his raging racism), ala Hellboy? Yessss. Wrote the book version of Evil Dead or Zombieland? Right this way, good sir, madam, or non-binary individual. Superheroes? Hey there, did you see our box? OUR INBOX, you romance writer! *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Ian loves epic fantasy. Laura loves historical fantasy. There’s some overlap where we like both, but not a ton. We’ll happily consider whatever you’ve got in these categories, but you’ll have to wow us both to convince the other.

Sadly, we’re just not well-versed enough in magical realism or straight-up horror to mentor that. Fae and werewolves are similar to the -punk genres in that they’re overdone, and we’re kinda burned out. Soft/low fantasy’s also less intriguing to us. None of that’s a no, per say, but it’ll be a much harder sell. UNLESS you meet Ian and Laura’s Golden Rule. If you wrote a hilarious romp making fun of Fae tropes, we will happily read that shiz.

TL;DR – Give us all your fantasy, especially Urban/Contemporary. Magical Realism, Military, and Low Fantasy are a pass.


– We’d love to see books from writers with diverse backgrounds. Give us stories that reflect the breadth and variety of cultures and people we see around us every day, not whitewashed eurocentric SFF setting #457145.

– If every female character in your book is either a prostitute, a mother, or a robot that cheats on you, please, and I mean this with only mild amounts of offense, kindly fuck off. Same goes for rape and gratuitous violence towards women–if this is used as a plot device or motivation for male characters, if this is done without respect and nuance, then we do not want it. You need to pass the Mako Mori Test, the Bechdel Test, and the Does Laura Double-Bird Your Submission In A Bad Way Test to get past us.

– Word Count: Adult SFF has a great deal of leeway as a debut. Most agents and editors won’t bat an eye at a 150k+ book landing in their inbox. Pitch Wars, unfortunately, is limited by time constraints. You’ve got four months to revise your book. That may seem like a long time, but it isn’t. If you send us a 200k book, we’re likely to pass it over no matter how amazing it is simply because we don’t have time to tackle a beast that size. 100-120k is more reasonable, but if it’s amazing, we’ll make a higher count work.

All of this said, in case we haven’t made it clear enough, we will consider almost anything appropriately glib and fun in speculative fiction.

Give us the worldbuilding of Sanderson and the humor of Butcher, all wrapped up in a page-turning plot with characters that you root for from start to finish. We’ll help that story shine with the face-melting force of the Ark of the Covenant. Have you written something like that?

Well, then. We’re waiting for you.

Favorite Things (because what really matters is what you like, not what you are like):


Ian: The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett, Zeroes by Chuck Wendig, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, VIcious by VE Schwab, The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Nightside series by Simon R Green, Hellboy/BPRD by Mike Mignola, The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks, Feed by Mira Grant, Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Laura: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Uprooted by Naomi Novik; Saga by Brian K. Vaughan; Good Omens by Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett; Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee; The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Mort by Terry Pratchett; Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, ALL DA HARRY POTTERZ.


Ian: The Dark Knight, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, High Fidelity, Stardust, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Deadpool

Laura: I feel very lazy about answering this. Ugh. Okay. Pride & Prejudice (both BBC version and movie), Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias (shut up, I’m from Georgia, OKAY), a bizarre love for Grandma’s Boy, Anchorman, Star Trek (New reboot), Original Star Wars trilogy, Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Willow, A Quiet Place, The Princess Bride, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy II, When Harry Met Sally


Ian: Angel, Farscape, Pushing Daisies, Fringe, Killjoys, Supernatural, Deep Space Nine, Firefly, Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, The Good Place, GLOW, The Venture Bros, Doctor Who, Critical Role

Laura: Fargo (Seriously, you need to watch the first two seasons of this show), Better Call Saul, GLOW, Stranger Things, BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Archer (the earlier seasons), Six Feet Under, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock

Candy to pair with milk

Ian: Skittles

Laura: Ian, that’s fucking disgusting. Stop it.

Why you should choose us (other than to prove yourself one refined and classy fucker)

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We’ve been critique partners and friends for a few years and possibly previous lifetimes. We work extremely well together, and our strengths are complementary. Ian’s great at worldbuilding and pacing and the line-by-line. Laura rocks at character arcs, emotions, and plotting. Not to brag, but we’re basically the best possible writing team ever. Like Voltron, but with less cats. And fewer people. And no robots.

Is it any wonder that once we linked up as CPs, we both immediately wrote the books that got our dream agents? We think not.

We will be your biggest cheerleaders and your most hated taskmasters. We’ll be there to cheer all your victories and flip tables at every setback.

Plus, we’re both two-time former PW mentees with three previous mentors each. If you do the math, that’s six mentors’ worth of wisdom plus us. Eight for the price of one! You’d be a fool to pass that up. A FOOL!

Double-plus, we’re fun.


Deep Breaths

I’m sure we’ve forgotten something on the list or haven’t clarified well enough. Blame Ian; he’s rambly. We’d both be more than happy to answer any questions you have. Best way to reach us is via Twitter at @imbarnes and @DistractLaura.

Good luck in the weeks to come!






































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