Meet writer Judi Lauren. She’s also a Pitch Wars mentor and an assistant to Lydia Sharp at Entangled Publishing.
What made you decide you wanted to write YA? Did any other authors influence you?
I started writing as a teen. My first book (so cringe-worthy) was written when I was thirteen. Back when floppy A disks were popular. I guess I never quite grew out of writing in that genre—and it’s such an interesting time of life! My teen years were a total mess, so writing about those years has always been easy for me. As far as influential authors: J.K. Rowling, S.E. Hinton, Sara Zarr, David Klass, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I read at least one book by each one of them when I was a teen and they heavily changed the course of my writing. I also have to mention Barry Lyga, whose I Hunt Killers I discovered when I was twenty made me realize dark books were what I really wanted to write.
Besides writing you are also a copy editor and editorial assistant. How did you get your position as assistant to Lydia Sharp?
I actually started as an intern at the company working under Candace Havens. After a little over a year interning for her, I switched to interning for Lydia, who was in more need of one than Candace was. I interned with Lydia for about four months before she offered me a position as her editorial assistant. #bestbossever
Did your love of editing or writing come first for you?
Definitely writing. I didn’t really look at it as anything more than a hobby until I had my college English professor at twenty-one tell me he thought I could make a living as a writer.
Does your editing experience help you with your own writing?
Oh definitely. When you’re working on someone else’s manuscript, it’s often easier to see mistakes and plot holes than it is to see it in your own. Then once you’ve taken a step back from your manuscript, you can see how the same advice you just gave to an editing client can be applied to your book too.
On your blog you’ve dished out advice on when to split with critique partners. For those new to finding critique partners, what should they look for in a good fit?
This differs a little for every writer depending on the genre they work with and their personality. But in general, you should seek out people who read/write in your genre, someone who respects your time, (make sure to return that!) and someone who’s close to your level of writing. If you’ve been writing for five years and you know a lot more about the craft than someone who’s just starting, that can be a very unbalanced relationship. If you’re currently seeking a CP, check out Joy’s post here. She’s currently helping to match up people who’re close to each other in writing.
You mentored in Pitch Wars for the first time last year. Did you learn anything from the experience that you will be applying to Pitch Wars this year?
Pitch Wars last year was an incredible experience. It was my first contest where people actually chose me to submit their manuscripts to. It was surreal to have 80 land in my inbox! I learned so much from it, but the biggest thing that’ll apply to prospective mentees is that I’ll be asking for a synopsis with every full I request. Last year, I requested 22 full manuscripts and I really wished I’d had the foresight to ask for a synopsis for those.
Last year you ended up with not one, but three mentees. How did you manage your time with three mentees and would you be willing to have more than one mentee again?
Having three mentees was a lot of fun! I originally signed up for two mentees, then I worked with my third—and a couple others—behind the scenes, who Brenda allowed in the showcase after a few spots opened up. I will be open to having more than one mentee again, but my limit will be two this year (also, if there are a bunch of mentors who want to work with two mentees, we usually have to hope that we win a random drawing to get a second mentee. So I may only end up with one.) I’m not going to lie, working with that many mentees was a huge time-sucker. I’m so, so glad I did it because I adore all three of my Pitch Wars mentees from last year—I still talk to all three of them. But I know I won’t have the time to this year (I probably didn’t have the time last year!)
What was some of the most common issues you spot in Pitch Wars subs?
Hmm…the most common for me was probably having the book open in the wrong spot. There’d be a great query letter, and then the book might open a week before the actual plot starts. It can be hard to start your book over again and completely rewrite your first chapter, but it’s so important that your first chapter be engaging and start the plot of your story. I would be willing to work with a mentee whose first chapter needed to be cut or rewritten, but an engaging first chapter is what’s going to lead you to requests in both Pitch Wars and agent-hunting.
And the second most common thing I saw in my sub pile was a lack of focus when it came to the plot of the story. Keep the reader on what’s important (plot, stakes, characters, etc.) and try not to focus so much of the book on mundane activities that don’t matter. Remember to use every scene to push the story forward. If you have a lot of scenes where absolutely nothing happens, your plot starts to fall apart.
With all of that, I have to say I’m not afraid of a lot of work when it comes to these. Last year, I had a mentee rewrite about half the book. And I read each mentee’s book at least twice before the agent round. If you have a weak opening, if you have plot holes, a lack of focus, it’s okay. It won’t get you kicked off my list of potential mentees. This contest is about working hard to improve the book as much as we can so don’t let anything I’ve mentioned here keep you from entering! I had amazing submissions last year—I was seriously blown away by the talent that was in my inbox.
What were common issues you saw in queries?
A lack of stakes! Stakes are a big part of getting requests in contests, or by agents in general. If writers don’t tell us what their character stands to lose in the book, it can be a little hard to feel invested in the story. Always let us know what your character has to sacrifice!
The second was giving me too much of the wrong information and not enough of what was important. For example (this isn’t an example of one in my inbox last year, just a random example): if your book is about a girl named Jen, don’t let the majority of your query letter focus on her best friend. We want to know about your main character(s), not a lot of secondary characters.
Lastly, Your motto is make love not horcruxes. If you had to make some horcruxes and had no way out of it, have any objects in mind you’d pick?
Ohhh that’s hard! I want to pick a Harry Potter book, but that feels like a conflict of interest. I’d have to say any Bruce Springsteen album. His music is so relatable to me and has a special meaning for me. Oh also, a Dean Winchester Funko Pop can be another one.
Want to know more about Judi? Visit her website.