Jake’s 2021 Pitch Wars wishlist

Two people on an alien planet, holding books and wearing spacesuits adorned with pride flag patches.

Artwork by the brilliant Angela Intriago (@LaMalaMuerte).

Pitch Wars 2021 wishlist | Jake Nicholls

I am a 2021 Adult Mentor for Pitch Wars

Introduction

Hello, everyone! A big welcome to my wishlist for this year’s Pitch Wars.

For those of you who don’t know, Pitch Wars is a mentoring programme in which experienced authors, editors and other industry professionals team up with unagented authors to help them revise their manuscripts and get ready for an agent showcase. For more information about the programme and how it works, visit pitchwars.org.

Quick wishlist summary

  • I am mentoring in the adult category. (I will also accept new adult submissions; please see my note about this below.)
  • I’m looking for science fiction and fantasy submissions.
  • I particularly encourage submissions from marginalised authors.
  • My top two ‘wishes’ are for character-centred stories and radical worldbuilding.
  • If you’re a fan of N.K. Jemisin, Yoon Ha Lee, Nnedi Okorafor, Neon Yang, Ann Leckie, Tade Thompson… (the list goes on), then we’re likely on the same page genre-wise!

If that’s not you, then it’s been lovely having you here regardless. I wish you the best of luck on your journey through the wishlists.

Note about new adult submissions

I am mentoring in the adult category this year. I will also accept new adult (NA) submissions. However, since the current traditional publishing market doesn’t really make space for NA sci-fi and fantasy, I’m likely to suggest that you age your manuscript up to adult. If you think your manuscript would work better being aged down to young adult, you might want to consider submitting to YA mentors (who are taking NA) instead.

Accessibility and inclusion

If there’s anything I can do to make my wishlist and website more accessible to you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly at jake@futureworldsediting.co.uk or send me a DM on Twitter @JakeCNicholls.

Everyone is welcome to submit to me. I particularly encourage submissions from those systematically excluded from and/or marginalised within the traditional publishing industry (including, but not limited to, on the grounds of race, ethnicity, class, disability, neurodivergence, gender, sexuality). You do not have to disclose anything about your identities and experiences in your submission. I will treat anything that you do disclose to me in confidence and will not share any personal details with anyone else without your permission.

Who am I?

Jake, a white trans masculine person with short brown hair and round glasses.

Hello! I’m Jake (they/them) and I’m a developmental editor. I work with authors to help them revise their science fiction, fantasy and LGBTQ+ manuscripts and hone their writing craft. It’s the best job in the world, because it’s a bit like being a Pitch Wars mentor all year round!

I have been providing editing services to clients for over two years through my freelance business, Future Worlds Editing. I also take every chance I can get to keep learning new things through professional development courses. As such, I know my way around a manuscript and I’m experienced at working with writers to give them an energising boost in the direction they want to go.

Other things about me:

  • I live in the UK. (Yes, it rains a lot. And yes, I drink a lot of tea.)
  • I live with a dog called Maddie. She’s not a giant beagle, but she looks like one.
  • I love learning languages. If you ever need to sneak past me, just wave an interesting language fact or grammar morsel at me and you’re all sorted. (Noch besser, sprich Deutsch mit mir!)

What I’m looking for

The following is not a judgement of any work that doesn’t feature these elements. It’s simply a reflection of my personal preferences, and an indication of what is likely to capture my interest when reading submissions.

Top criteria for all submissions

I’m going to get really specific, really fast here. Above all else, please send me:

Character-centred stories

Please send me stories centred firmly on character and driven by emotion. Stories where the character arcs are on equal footing (at least) with the external plot. Complex and multifaceted main characters who struggle and change (or fail to change), and who are matched by fully fleshed-out antagonists.

Radical worldbuilding

I’m looking for consciously designed worldbuilding that challenges the ‘default’ in some way. Worldbuilding that imagines and/or scrutinises society through feminist, queer, antiracist, anticolonial, accessible, environmentalist lenses. This can be in big or small ways. It could be at the core of your story’s premise or it could come through via your characters’ identities and experiences. It could be super serious or utterly joyful, or both at the same time.

General tropes and elements I like

This is a non-exhaustive list of things that would be the icing on the character-and-worldbuilding cake. They are by no means requirements—just things that are likely to pique my interest.

  • Found families and motley crews.
  • Thorny dynamics and messy relationships between characters.
  • Protagonists who are deemed ‘unlikeable’ (for whatever reason) or who are dubious or even downright villainous.
  • Humour, wit, snark and sarcasm—especially where a character might use it to cover up emotional vulnerability.
  • Fish-out-of-water situations.
  • Going undercover or being in disguise, and the tropes that go along with that.
  • Stories where the protagonist has to navigate an institutional setting, e.g. military/training academies, religious institutions, political/diplomatic settings etc.
  • Grey areas and ethical quandaries.
  • Horror elements, including—especially—body horror.
  • Unconventional narrative structure.
  • Unconventional POV, including unreliable narration.
  • Anything that centres around or plays with concepts of language (like Embassytown by China Miéville, The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, the film Arrival).
  • I do enjoy an epic, world-changing battle if it is strongly tied to character, but I’d also love to see more small-scale plots—i.e. stories in which the personal and emotional stakes are high for the characters but not for the whole city/world/universe.

Science fiction

I am excited to read submissions in most every subgenre of science fiction, from space opera to cyberpunk (please send me all the -punks); post-apocalyptic to military, and everything in between.

Science fiction books I love

To give you a sense of my reading tastes (and a handy list of potential comp titles), here is a list of SF books I adore:

  • Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of Empire trilogy) by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch trilogy) by Ann Leckie
  • All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
  • Rosewater (Wormwood trilogy) by Tade Thompson
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Embassytown by China Miéville
  • The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
  • Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White

SF elements and themes I love

As with the general tropes, this is a non-exhaustive list of things that will catch my interest.

  • Things in space. Seriously, put it on a spaceship or space station and my brain just loves it.
  • Non-human characters, including aliens, robots and sentient spaceships.
  • Learning to communicate with other species/beings, especially if the story plays with concepts of language (e.g. Embassytown and the film Arrival).
  • Multi-species societies trying to get along (e.g. Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series).
  • Stories that grapple with themes of embodiment and boundaries of identity: e.g. the AI protagonists of Ancillary Justice and A Closed and Common Orbit, or the ‘augmented’ human protagonists of Ninefox Gambit and A Memory Called Empire.

Fantasy

Whether you’ve got high fantasy or low fantasy (or yes please science fantasy!), I’m looking for something fresh and strange—the weirder, the better.

Fantasy books I love

To give you a sense of my reading tastes (and a handy list of potential comp titles), here is a list of fantasy books I adore:

  • The Fifth Season (Broken Earth trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin
  • Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
  • The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
  • The Red Threads of Fortune (Tensorate series) by Neon Yang
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  • The City & The City by China Miéville
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
  • Discworld novels (particularly the City Watch and the Witches series) by Terry Pratchett

Fantasy elements and themes I love

As with the general tropes, this is a non-exhaustive list of things that will pique my interest.

  • Dangerous magic that has sinister and unpredictable consequences.
  • Mysterious technology from an ancient/extinct civilisation.
  • Fantasy set in the far future and/or in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
  • Non-human characters, including gods, animals/creatures (talking or not) and other non-human species.
  • Creepy plants! Especially mushrooms. And especially if horror elements are involved.

Not for me

As before, none of these are judgements—they are all just personal preferences and/or things I am not equipped to mentor.

Please don’t send me:

  • Time travel plots. I’m fine with books where time travel is just a way of getting to the plot, not the plot itself (e.g. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett) but I get irrationally grouchy when characters jump back and forth through time as part of the story. (Sorry. It’s not you, time travel; it’s me.)
  • Historical fantasy. Fantasy set in a secondary world inspired by history is all good, but I’m not the right mentor for primary-world historical fantasy or alternate history.
  • Magical realism. I don’t know enough about this subgenre to be of any use to you.
  • As much as I’d love to be, I’m not the best person to send straight-up horror novels to. But as mentioned above, I do love horror elements within science fiction and fantasy novels.
  • Paranormal fantasy or stories where classic paranormal entities (ghosts, zombies, vampires, werewolves etc.) are part of the core premise.
  • I’m not the right mentor for manuscripts where romance is the main plot (even if it has a SFF setting). In terms of relationship subplots, I’m most enthusiastic about those involving LGBTQIA+ characters. I’d love to see more platonic and queerplatonic relationship arcs.
  • I’m not too enthusiastic about Chosen One protagonists or similar, i.e. main characters who are deemed exceptional because of who they are (heir to the throne, super powerful magic user, subject of a prophecy). I’m more interested in protagonists who—if they are exceptional at all—make themselves exceptional through their decisions and actions. Major subversions of the Chosen One trope are welcome.
  • Along similar lines, I’m not really looking for plots where ‘ultimate good’ squares off against ‘ultimate evil’. I’m more likely to be engaged with stories that have smaller-scale plots and/or grey areas and ethical quandaries.
  • Memory loss and amnesia plot tropes are not for me.
  • Plots featuring psychics, mind control, telepathy or similar don’t really do it for me, either.

Note about content warnings

Please give me a heads-up somewhere in your submission if your book contains sexual violence, self-harm, suicide, any abusive or derogatory behaviour towards marginalised characters, or anything else you deem potentially disturbing. This won’t be a deciding factor for me; I just like to know about any potentially difficult content in advance. Thank you!

What you can expect from me

If you’ve got this far and you think we might be a good fit on the manuscript front, hooray! Let me share a little bit more about my approach to mentoring and what the process might look like if we work together.

My general approach

I will do everything I can to help you get your manuscript to where you want it to be creatively. I will never tell you what to do or insist on a change. I’ll be there as an advisor, to show you different options and ways of doing things and to help you go the route that you want to go. I aim to empower you, not overwhelm you. As well as giving you guidance on where you could strengthen your manuscript, I’ll make sure you know where you’re doing amazing things, too!

My mentoring strengths and weaknesses

Since my background is in editing rather than authoring, what I can and cannot offer you will differ slightly from some of the other mentors.

Notably, I cannot speak from personal experience about the querying process or beyond. I will support you as much as I possibly can: I will share all the knowledge about agents/querying/etc. that I’ve picked up over the years from being adjacent to that part of the industry, and I will have access to the wonderful hivemind of the other mentors. But if that personal experience is important for you when looking for a mentor (and that’s completely understandable!), then I won’t be the best fit for you.

What I can offer you is professional editorial guidance on your manuscript. This is what I do. I’m not one for blowing my own trumpet, but as Blackadder wisely said: “You might at least have told us you had a trumpet.” So here goes: I’m a good all-round editor; I’ve trained extensively in giving guidance on all aspects of storytelling and writing craft. I’m well-versed in plot structures, pacing, worldbuilding. My focus is always on making sure readers are engaged with and immersed in your novel.

My particular editing strengths and passions are character development and point of view. If you’re looking to make sure that your characters feel real and vivid, that they have emotional depth and satisfying arcs, that the POV of your manuscript is powerful and consistent and achieves what you want it to achieve, then I can help with that.

The process

The mentoring process will probably look something like this:

  1. I’ll read through your manuscript and send you an extensive revision letter with my overall thoughts and any big-scale suggestions. You’ll then have some time to make changes and I’ll be on hand to guide you and send you encouragement whenever you need it. That’ll be the first round of revisions.
  2. What the second round involves will depend on how much time we have left. At the very least, I’ll read through your revised manuscript and give you feedback on the changes that you’ve made. Ideally, there’ll also be time for us to focus on some smaller-scale revisions and line edits. We’ll likely do this in little back-and-forth batches so that we can make the most of the time we have available.
  3. We’ll also spend time working on your pitch and querying materials, chatting about the showcase, researching agents, and discussing anything else that would be of help to you.

Communication

In terms of communication methods, I’m happy to work with a mix of email, instant messages and the occasional Zoom call (even though they scare me). But if that doesn’t work for you, I’ll adapt to whatever would suit you best. Bear in mind that I’m in the UK, so time zone differences may have an impact on how we communicate. I’ll be flexible throughout the process—if your needs change (e.g. you want to chat more/less often, you want more/fewer photos of my dog…), tell me and I’ll adjust.

Outro

That’s about it from me—thanks for reading! If you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can reach me on Twitter @JakeCNicholls (my DMs are open if you prefer) or leave a comment on this post.

Good luck on your onward journey through the wishlists! You can find the rest of the adult category wishlists linked below, or you can head back to the Pitch Wars website to see the complete list of mentors.

Pitch Wars 2021 Adult Mentors’ Wishlists

    Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wishlists. To view the wishlists by genre, visit this link.

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