kelsey rodkey

Rachel and Kelsey's 2019 Pitch Wars Wishlist

Welcome to the wishlist of YOUNG ADULT (YA) mentor team Rachel Lynn Solomon + Kelsey Rodkey — we’re so glad you’re here!!

WHAT IS PITCH WARS?

Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns each 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. Learn more at pitchwars.org.

INTRODUCTIONS

Fittingly, it all started with Pitch Wars! In 2016, Kelsey submitted to Rachel and was ultimately chosen as Sonia Hartl’s mentee, but that didn’t stop a friendship from forming. We bonded over our love for THE HATING GAME, and now we’re critique partners and best friends who talk nearly every day. We obsess over each other’s books, make memes out of each other’s unflattering photos, and start to wilt if we go longer than 36 hours without texting. Despite living on opposite sides of the country, we met in person for the first time last year, hung out again earlier this year, and are planning a third meet-up in the fall!

While this is our first year co-mentoring, I (Rachel) have been a PW mentor since 2014 and also serve on the PW Leadership Committee as the agent liaison. I adore all my past mentees, and my 2014 mentee Heather Ezell's book, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, was published by Penguin/Razorbill in 2018, and my 2017 mentee Marisa Kanter's book, WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU, comes out from Simon & Schuster next year!! They are AMAZING. 😍

ABOUT US: THE BASICS

As told by the other person.

(Image of Rachel)

(Image of Rachel)

Rachel Lynn Solomon (she/her) is a fan of red lipstick, romance, and too much (read: any) cream cheese on her bagels. She has published two books with Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE and OUR YEAR OF MAYBE, wrote a short story for the anthology IT’S A WHOLE SPIEL, and will publish my favorite book ever, TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW, next year. She has a dog named Wally and a husband who asks her to ask me what I’m having for lunch every day. She lives in Seattle, where it doesn’t rain as much as people think, but uses every opportunity to come to the East Coast (the best coast) to visit me, her best friend and the most amazing person in the world. 

(Image of Kelsey)

(Image of Kelsey)

Kelsey Rodkey (she/her) writes YA romcoms (and a variety of other awesome things) in Central Pennsylvania, which is much too far from Seattle (rude). She’s one of the funniest and most supportive people I’ve ever met. Her writing makes me cackle, often at inopportune times, and then sneaks up and breaks my heart (how dare she). Her books always include the best banter, love interests, beautiful found family relationships, and unique family dynamics. When not writing, she can be found ordering a Cowboy Crunch (no refried beans) at Neato Burrito or complaining to me that she wishes she were writing.

OUR PUBLICATION JOURNEYS

We’re going to un-Freaky Friday ourselves to elaborate on our publishing journeys!

Rachel: I started querying my first book in 2012, and I received only one partial request that was very promptly rejected. I queried two more books after that, signing with my first agent after an R&R. We went on submission with that book, which didn’t sell, and then I wrote another that didn’t sell either. (In retrospect, I’m glad — I don’t think either is representative of the kind of writer I am today.) But the fifth manuscript I wrote — that one felt different. It was intensely personal in ways I hadn’t expected, and it also featured the first Jewish characters I’d ever written. After a brief submission round, I parted ways with my first agent and began querying again.

After six months and nearly 100 queries, I signed with my second (and current) agent, Laura Bradford, in March of 2016. In May of 2016, that book, later retitled YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, sold to Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in a two-book deal. The second book in that deal was OUR YEAR OF MAYBE, which I wrote while querying YMMWIG. 

(Image of books on a shelf with OUR YEAR OF MAYBE and YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE facing forward)

(Image of books on a shelf with OUR YEAR OF MAYBE and YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE facing forward)

YMMWIG (released January 2018) is about twin sisters who receive opposite results from a genetic test for Huntington’s disease, and OYOM (released January 2019) is about the aftermath of a kidney transplant between best friends. My next book, TODAY TONIGHT TOMORROW, is a departure in tone from my first two — it’s a rivals-to-lovers romantic comedy that takes place in 24 hours on the last day of senior year, and I had the absolute best time writing it. It’ll be out June 16, 2020!

Paths to publication are rarely a straight line, and even if we hear a lot about the overnight successes (which, yes, are amazing!), that’s definitely not everyone’s experience. I aim to be as honest as I can about my journey because there’s not enough transparency in publishing, and the more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to advocate for yourself. (Here are some places I’ve been super honest about my journey and anxiety: here and here.) 

Kelsey: In 2016, I submitted my first completed manuscript, a YA romcom, to Pitch Wars where the amazing Sonia Hartl chose me to be her mentee. I learned so many things from her, my new betas and critique partners — now turned great friends — and continue to three years later. 

Though that manuscript did not earn me an offer of representation, it did wonders for my confidence and writing skills. I went on to finish another manuscript, a YA sci-fi that was short-lived in the query trenches, before turning my attention to manuscript number three, a YA romcom about warring bookstores. From the start of drafting, this book felt different. I could tell my writing had improved; I could tell I was writing something that other people would want to read. And it turns out I was right! I received three offers of representation for it a few months after starting to query and signed with Bridget Smith at JABberwocky Literary Agency a year ago! 

OUR MENTORING STYLE

As mentors, we’re encouraging, honest, and extremely hands-on. We’ll be reading your manuscript at least twice. We'll do a round of big-picture edits first, and then a round of line edits (with a possible light edit letter) closer to the agent showcase. We'll also work on your query, synopsis, and discuss agents and querying strategy. Some of our strengths: amplifying stakes, squeezing emotion out of every scene, heightening romantic tension, tightening pacing and character arcs. And you'll always get plenty of gushing in our notes! We’re each other’s biggest fans, and we can’t wait to obsess over your book, too.

Most of all, it’s important to us that your book remains true to your vision. This is YOUR BOOK — we’re just here as guides. We would never tell a mentee "you need to give your protagonist a pet lizard" without an explanation. All our notes are phrased as questions and suggestions so we can think critically about your work and the story you're trying to tell. 

With regard to communication, we’re almost always available via Twitter, texting, and email, and we’d be happy to do a video chat or phone call to brainstorm revisions. We can also share resources, set deadlines — whatever works best for you! 

At the end of Pitch Wars, we’d love for you to have a book you’re proud of and can’t wait to send out into the world. Our hope is for you to have developed stronger revision skills and the ability to adapt what you've learned for future books, plus a deeper understanding of publishing as an industry. Pitch Wars is so much more than a mentoring program to us. All of Rachel’s past mentees are now CPs and friends. Kelsey is close with Rachel’s past mentees, and Rachel is close with Kelsey’s former mentor and her mentees. It’s part of the reason we’ve been so excited to co-mentor — we’ve blended our PW families into a really great community. We hope you can come away from this experience with something like that too. 💙

OUR WISHLIST!

We’re looking for the following YA genres:

  • Contemporary 

  • Romance

  • Mystery/thriller

  • Retellings

  • Contemporary fantasy 

  • Contemporary with speculative elements 

  • Paranormal

  • Magical realism (here is a great explanation of it)

As long as the book has roots in the present-day real world, we’re open to seeing it! We would love to work with a writer from a marginalized background, particularly an author of color or a queer author. Most of all, we’re looking for a book with a fresh concept and a stellar voice.

A sampling of what we love…

By no means does your book need to contain any of these! We’d love to be surprised. This is just a list of things we especially enjoy reading about.

  • Morally gray girls

  • Ambitious girls

  • Romance (slow burn, friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, fake dating...we love it all!!)

  • Sex positivity 

  • Characters with interesting hobbies/passions 

  • Humor/banter

  • Fresh takes on beloved tropes (brother’s best friend, only one bed, chosen one, jerk with a heart of gold, secret/fake romance, love triangle, etc.)

  • Subversion of gender dynamics 

  • Strong and/or complicated friendships and relationships

  • Unique family dynamics

  • Found families

  • Queer characters and relationships

  • Inclusive casts

  • Spooky woods books

  • Witches

  • Revenge

  • Unique formats (letters, alternating timelines, multiple POVs, books narrated by the main character’s pet tarantula, etc.)

  • Campiness (think Teen Wolf, UNDEAD GIRL GANG, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Galavant)

  • Setting as character 

  • Boundary-pushing YA (if you’ve ever wondered, “can I do this in YA?” about your book, we would love to see it!)

Not right for us…

  • Epic fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, historical — we are only looking for books set in the present-day real world

  • New Adult

  • Main character struggling with addiction, abuse, and/or mental illness as the primary plot 

  • Parent(s) struggling with mental illness and/or addiction

  • Sexual assault (either on the page or in backstory)

  • Suicide or self-harm (either on the page or in backstory)

  • Good girl/bad boy romances

  • Animal abuse and/or on-page death

  • Toxic masculinity that goes unchallenged (but we’d be open to a book that aims to dismantle toxic masculinity)

SOME OF OUR FAVORITE BOOKS

(Gallery of cover art for favorite books)

If you have questions, feel free to ask us on Twitter: @rlynn_solomon and @KelseyRodkey. Thank you so much for considering us, and we can't wait to see your submissions!!


You can check out the rest of the YA wishlists below: