My 2020 PitchWars Wishlist – Shakirah Bourne

I am back for a second year! Welcome new PitchWars hopefuls :)

Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for an agent showcase. The mentor also helps edit their mentee’s pitch for the contest and their query letter for submitting to agents.

So congratulations! You've done the hard part and finished a whole book! Now I'm here to help make your wonderful story even better. This year, I'm eager to mentor an MG contemporary, fantasy, mystery or horror story. Last year I got a lot of entries that didn't fit my wishlist, and though some were very intriguing, it's best you read carefully to make sure we're a good fit. And don't worry if we're not–you have other fantastic mentors to choose from this year.

ABOUT ME Sooo ... I'm Shakirah. Thanks for stopping by :)

(Rihanna waves hello)

I'm a Barbadian author, currently based in Barbados and my debut MG Contemporary Fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, comes out with Scholastic on July 6th, 2021. I stumbled into children's publishing in 2017 when I decided to enter a Caribbean kidlit competition and banged out a draft in a few weeks. Miraculously, that story was a finalist in the competition, later snagged my amazing agent, Marietta Zacker, and the US publishing deal.

Though I was a newbie to writing for kids, before then I had been a freelance writer for over 10 years, and I self-published an adult literary short story collection, wrote and produced feature films, musicals, plays–I basically dabbled in most forms of writing.

Experimenting with several forms of storytelling has helped me to develop a keen, critical eye. Writing literary fiction allowed me to explore human emotions and understand how to create authentic voices, scriptwriting taught me how to write visually, radio/playwriting helped to improve my dialogue skills and teaching writing developed my ability to dissect a story and give critical feedback.

MENTORING STYLE Over the next few months, we're going to work hard to get your manuscript as polished as possible for the agent showcase in February. That means we'll be pulling apart the manuscript and breaking down all of the story elements. We will have a long discussion about your goals for the story, and together we brainstorm ways to improve every scene, fix every plot hole and develop every character arc.

And though I'll be making suggestions, always remember that YOU will make all final decisions because it is your story! I'm here as a guide; I won't be telling you what to write, but I will ask you to justify your choices, I'll tell you when I don't think something is working but I'll also be reminding you about what I adore about your manuscript and why I chose it in the first place, and help to incorporate more of those wonderful elements in the story.

And after the showcase, no matter the result, I'll continue to be a big cheerleader. We will continue revising and trying. We will not give up! I'm not joking! Last year, my mentee, Avione Lee, didn't get an agent from the Pitchwars showcase, but we continued to work together on the manuscript until she signed with her own fantastic agent (her story is going to rock the world!). Here's what she has to say about working with me:

"I loved having Shakirah as my mentor! She is wonderful, I cannot say enough good things about her! During Pitch Wars she held my hand through the entire process by walking me through the beat sheet and my weekly goals, she was really encouraging with what was working or not working with my manuscript, and she was so easy to contact and talk to. Whenever I had a question she was right on the phone or Skype. Also, we still keep in touch! (she can’t get rid of me 😁). She was the first person I told when I got accepted into the Madeleine Milburn program and we squeed about it together."

So...expect to get someone who loves and believes in your work :)

IDEAL MENTEE As a black, female Caribbean writer living outside of the US, I'm eager to work with #ownvoices and underrepresented writers, especially those with stories in non-Western settings and POC protagonists.

My ideal mentee will be very open-minded to revisions, and willing to experiment and challenge themselves. They'll be a person who will go "ooooooooo" at the craziest of suggestions, and have fun running with them even if they cut them from the manuscript later.

They will be ready to have numerous discussions about their characters, themes and plots, and willing to cut or add subplots to improve their manuscript. If they're expecting to just move around a couple commas or paragraphs, then they definitely don't need to be part of Pitchwars–I recommend querying an agent.

One last thing: If we have already made a connection and you know you can easily reach out to me to beta read, then it's best for you to submit to another mentor. I'll be rooting for you!

So, let's get my wishlist :)

(Titus gasps at your amazing stories on my computer screen.)

WISHLIST My wishlist hasn't changed much from last year, but I'm especially looking for stories that are full of humour and heart, the ones that make me cackle and also pull on the heart strings. I don't mind stories with sad moments, but if you can turn my tears to joy, then I'm sold. If you think your story will make me smile whenever I think about it then I want to see it in my inbox, but here are some elements I can't resist:

Folklore & Fairytale Retellings I'm fascinated by all of the world's folklore, legends, myths, fables, and superstitions. That tale that your great great grandmother passed on, and your MC discovers there's some truth to the story? I want to read it! If you follow #FolkloreThursday on Twitter, we're already on the same page. I'm especially intrigued if you've taken a familiar tale and given it a unique spin. POV from villain? Gender bent? I'm here for all of them. Bonus points if you're retelling or highlighting a tale from a non-Western country.

Ocean/Sea/Water Maybe it's because I grew up in a fishing village in Barbados, or maybe it's because I used do most of my writing on the beach, but ocean-related stories make me perk up in my chair. I'm here for all the water-related settings, themes, plots and characters–sea witches, mermaids, underwater cities, whales, pirates, boats, rivers, lakes, glasses of water–ok, I'm joking with the last one...kinda.

Complex Relationships I love stories where MCs have to navigate complex relationships with their parents, siblings, best friends, teachers or even enemies. I want to read about them making tough choices and trying to preserve deep, compelling relationships. I love magic and adventures, yes, but a quiet story about a character's inner journey can be just as exciting.

The Creepy and Suspenseful I can't watch a horror movie, but I love reading about the weird and spooky: ghosts, haunted houses, twisty plots and the unknown, trapped in spaces, bizarro worlds (Twilight Zone!).

Favourite Protagonists I have a penchant for misunderstood characters, mischievous but loving, the loners, the geeks and nerds, the fearsome grannies, so-called villains, or enemies that have to work together. I want to read about characters that aren't normally in the spotlight–the extras, the princess' lady in waiting, the powerless MC in a superhero world, or the one who wasn't chosen but decided to save the world anyway.

Voice! If you have that distinct, compelling and interesting voice, then it will be hard for me not to fall in love with your story. I do have a preference for first person, but I've fallen hard for third person and experimental writing styles too. We can work on any issues with plot, character and pacing during the revision process, but if I don't connect with the voice (ugh! can't believe I'm using that phrase but it's true) then we won't be a good match.

Some favourites:

(The Jumbies, Malamander, Zarah the Windseeker, Tristian Strong Breaks a Hole in the Sky, Amal Unbound, Holes, The Goldfish Boy, Poached, Matilda, A Snicker of Magic, Front Desk, Are You There God, It's me, Margaret, Crater Lake, Hoodoo, The Undrowned, Coraline)


I may not be the right mentor for you if your story is:

-A high concept fantasy story -Hard Science Fiction -Serious/Issue-driven Contemporary -A novel in verse -Full of gore

That's it! If you have any questions about my wishlist, feel free to send me a message on twitter @shakirahwrites. I'm already looking forward to reading your lovely submissions!