J.R. Yates is a second-time mentor, co-mentoring alongside Kelly Siskind. She is a member of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre, and RWA, and in addition to writing, she works as a pediatric speech language pathologist.
Kelly Siskind is a 2015 Golden Heart® Finalist, and her books include: CHASING CRAZY, MY PERFECT MISTAKE, A FINE MESS, HOOKED ON TROUBLE. You can check them all out on Goodreads here.
And now for the Q&A!
Hi, J.R.! This is your second time mentoring Pitch Wars. Publishing is subjective, but what (in your opinion) do the stand-out entries have in common?
Great question. Anything with a fresh concept, something I’ve never seen, or those that have terrific conflict, where you read the pitch and you’re: “I want to read this!” However, I will say that there were many submissions last year that had a terrific query and the pages didn’t live up to it. In the end, a terrific voice trumped all for me last year.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
In terms of process, I’m 80% pantser. I love it when a story is organic and the scenes are constantly popping in my brain. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. When things aren’t flowing for me, I allow myself breaks from writing where I devour other novels or read books on the craft. I also seek inspiration from music. Usually, when a song inspires me, story ideas will stem from that.
However, for me, eking out the uninterrupted time is the biggest challenge. I have to make writing a priority, where it’s the sacred part of my day, otherwise the day flies by and it doesn’t happen. Aside from my real life distractions, there’s, of course, social media distractions. I have to set limits on myself. For example, 15 minute stints where I don’t allow myself to do anything else (i.e., no checking Twitter), with 5-minute breaks. On the days that words flow, I often don’t give myself those breaks, as they aren’t needed.
When it comes to writing romance, how important is it for the relationship to have its own arc within the story?
It’s essential. The romantic arc is the driving force of the story, if it isn’t, it’s not a romance.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I’ve been heavy into reading suspense lately, and recently finished I Found You by Lisa Jewell and absolutely devoured it. Right now, I have a massive stack of TBR YA on my bedside table – all titles recommended by Annette Christie (a PW mentor for YA). So my obsession is always books books books and the lovely public library across the street from my house (yes, I’m living a word-nerd’s dream).
You were a 2015 Pitch Wars mentee and now you’re a second-time mentor! Having participated in both capacities, what advice would you give the mentee hopefuls for 2017?
Be open to what your mentor has to say, they’re there to help you and they have the experience. When I worked with my mentor in 2015, Kelly Siskind (we’re co-mentoring this year!), I trusted her wholly. That’s not to say that I didn’t question any of her suggestions, but I listened to and considered everything she said with an extremely open mind. My default was always to go with her suggestions. If I couldn’t get my mind around something, we always talked it out. Because of that openness and trust, I can’t even quantify the learning that took place and how much I grew as writer.
What qualities will you and Kelly be looking for in a mentee?
Someone who’s open to critique, who’s there to do the work and to learn. A good sense of humor is a great bonus!
And finally, what advice do you have for writers who may be attempting a major revision for the first time?
Tackle it in chunks. Don’t get overwhelmed by the whole of it. When I did my Pitch Wars revisions, each day I would decide what issue I was going to work on that day, and that would be my sole focus. That way, I didn’t get overwhelmed and would finish the day with a sense of accomplishment as I ticked off another box on my Revision To-Do List.
For those entering Pitch Wars 2017, check out J.R. and Kelly's MENTOR WISHLIST HERE!
If J.R.'s Q&A resonated with you, or if you have specific Pitch Wars questions, please hop on over to Twitter to tweet her at @jr_yates_. Or tweet Kelly Siskind at @KellySiskind. Also, be sure to visit their respective author websites at: jryates.ca and kellysiskind.com.
And, as always,