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My 2021 PitchWars Wishlist – Shakirah Bourne

I am back for a third 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.

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

(Rihanna waves hello)

I'm a Barbadian author, currently based in Barbados. My debut MG Contemporary Fantasy, JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA came out with Scholastic on July 6th, 2021, and I'm the co-editor of YA non-fiction anthology, ALLIES: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up and Trying Again, which releases Sep 14th in the US.

Though I had my official US debut this year, I've been been a freelance writer for over 11 years, self-published an adult literary short story collection in 2013, 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! These are unconventional times, and agents and editors are swamped, and we need a LOT more patience than usual. I'll be there to scream and shout with you, and help keep you sane throughout the process. Don't believe me? Hear directly from my previous super-talented mentees (who are now both agented).

Shakirah was the best mentor I could have asked for! Passionate, considerate on my time and energy, and patient through a challenging editing process. She saw right to the heart of my story, and with an amazing eye, she knew what would breathe life into my characters, up the pacing, and make a stronger book. She helped me craft an expansive outline that gave me the ability to see each part of the plot in a way I hadn't before. She was also my cheerleader, keeping me motivated and excited to work on my book, even during the most challenging revisions. She was incredibly reachable, just a message away whenever a random idea popped into my head. After the showcase, Shakirah was right by my side, helping me make decisions on who to query and the timing between sending them out. When I received an offer from my agent, she was the first person I called. My book (and honestly me too) wouldn't be where it is today without Shakirah's guidance." - Alli Carvalho

"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." - Avione Lee

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 discover stories with diverse narratives, written by voices who have a direct experience within these communities, especially 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 this year, I'm on special lookout for a great MG contemporary, mystery or horror story. 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.

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!). I'm fascinated by fairytale retellings, myths, legends and folklore. Bonus points if it's a tale from a non-Western country.

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, but a quiet story about a character's inner journey can be just as exciting.

Unconventional Storytelling Last year, my mentee Alli wowed me with her paranormal fantasy told through journal entries, printed articles, drawings, and tombstone rubbings. I'd be eager to read more of those structure-bending stories that are quirky with experimental writing styles.

Favourite Protagonists I have a penchant for misunderstood characters, mischievous but loving, the loners, the geeks and nerds, so-called villains, or enemies that have to work together. I like to read about characters that aren't normally in the spotlight.

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. 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 old and new favourites:

First row:The Girl and the Ghost, Malamander, Zarah the Windseeker, The Year I Flew Away Second Row: Amal Unbound, Holes, The Goldfish Boy, Counting By 7s Third Row: Matilda, A Snicker of Magic, Front Desk, Are You There God, It's me, Margaret Last Row: Crater Lake, Hide and Seeker, The Stitchers, Coraline


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

-A high concept fantasy story

-A Portal 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!


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