Hi! I’m super stoked to be a #WriteMentor middle grade mentor and have the opportunity to work with another writer on improving their story and craft this summer. I was a mentee in #WriteMentor’s inaugural year, so I’m excited to give back to this wonderful community and champion my mentee’s work over the summer (and beyond, hopefully!).
The following is a comprehensive post (no, seriously, it’s loooong) about who I am, my writing/editing experience, a sample mentorship timeline, and my mentoring wishlist. Feel free to take a look and let me know if you have any questions. 😀
Who Am I?
My on-site bio spells it out pretty well so feel free to start there. Or don’t and just read on. Whatever you want.
I’m Andrew “A.J.” Sass, a YA and MG writer whose middle grade debut, ANA ON THE EDGE, will be published by Little, Brown in Fall 2020. (You can add it on Goodreads here.)
I’m a full-time writer and editor who graduated from University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in a handful of random majors before moving to Northern California for law school, where I still live with my partner and a pair of oddball cats.
For fun, I figure skate. Growing up, it was one of the few consistencies in my life since my family relocated often (the other was writing). I suffered from social/performance anxiety to such an extent that I never really enjoyed competing or testing as a kid. I found my stride as an adult, along with a love for partnered and team skating. Most recently, my all-adult synchronized skating team placed second at U.S. Nationals in our division. Over the past few years, I’ve also earned some skating judge appointments. I suppose it’s not a huge surprise then that my debut novel features a figure skater.
IceSymmetrics at the 2019 U.S. National Synchronized Skating Championships
I’m gay and non-binary. My pronouns are he/him/his or they/them/their. I’m on the autism spectrum as well, which comes with a mixed bag of pros and cons when writing novels (a bit more on that below). I’m consequently a big supporter of #ownvoices narratives and disability rights.
My Story & Why I Choose to Mentor
I discovered #WriteMentor around this time last year, right when I needed support the most. I’d just finished a first draft of ANA and was neck-deep in revisions, something I’d never tackled before. I’d been writing for well over a decade but I’m shy and wasn’t comfortable sharing my stories with others for the longest time. Early in 2018, I decided enough was enough, that not only was I going to finish a story and get feedback on it, I was going to do so in an age category I’d never written before. I’ve always considered myself a YA writer at heart, but the story I decided to tell fit best in the MG space.
The idea for ANA developed in an online class that I took during the first two months of 2018. By early May, I had a full draft and was scratching my head trying to figure out how to revise it. I came across the #WriteMentor program when I started getting more active within the writing community on Twitter. I worked on my submission materials, applied, and am so grateful that Caroline Murphy took me on. (She’s also a mentor this year; you should totally check her out and sub to her.)
I am so excited about this important story. https://t.co/MiR5CQkvHf
— Caroline Murphy (@boybandmumager) May 31, 2018
An intense three months followed. Caroline gave me homework and pushed me hard to revise ANA from a muddle of words into a story I could be proud of. I began querying agents in September in conjunction with the #WriteMentor agent showcase, ultimately received four offers, and signed with Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary a few weeks after.
I read @matokah’s middle grade contemporary featuring a non-binary competitive figure skater in a sitting and offered so fast. I am so happy to have AJ on my list! https://t.co/w3u51hGXsp
— Jordan Hamessley (@thejordache) October 20, 2018
I spent the rest of the year revising with Jordan, went on submission to editors early in 2019, and accepted a preempt offer from Little, Brown at the end of January. What a whirlwind.
Exciting news! I’m thrilled to be working with @lisayoskowitz at @LittleBrownYR to bring my nonbinary figure skating story to readers. Thank you, @thejordache, for guiding me through every step of this process. I can’t wait for everyone to meet Ana! #lgbtq #enby #Roaring20s 1/6 pic.twitter.com/62ACscawop
— A.J. Sass ⛸ (@matokah) February 26, 2019
No question, I would not be where I am today without the #WriteMentor program. The relationship I developed with my mentor, the advice she provided throughout every stage of the revision process, and her support when I entered the query trenches were all invaluable.
It’s true that many writers are introverts, myself included. It’s also true that you absolutely cannot write a book in a vacuum. Critique partners can catch things that you’re too close to your story to see; they may offer ideas or suggestions that you hadn’t considered. A mentor is all that, and then some. They are the cheerleaders of the writing world, dedicated to you and your work alone. I chose to mentor this year because I want to pay forward everything I received last summer and be a cheerleader for someone else (except for the handsprings; my joints are too achy from all that skating).
My Mentoring Style
My natural strength is as a line-level editor. I have a solid knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and other writing mechanics. Over the past year, I’ve added big picture and character arc focuses to my arsenal, thanks to work on my own manuscript, as well as the beta and CP reading I do for others. Being autistic, I’m inclined to search for rules and I like identifying a story’s underlying structure to more objectively evaluate elements like pacing and character arcs. I’ll also look beyond those foundational details to provide a holistic evaluation of my mentee’s entire manuscript.
Editorial & Timeline
I staunchly believe that building a solid foundation for your story must must come first. As much as some people might be inclined to want to polish scene-by-scene as they go, my philosophy is that line edits should come after, near the end of the revision process. This reduces the risk of having to make a big change that may force you to delete all your beautifully crafted words (one guess as to how I know this).
Here’s an example of how a four month mentorship with me might go (these dates may change based on the individual needs of my mentee so view this as nothing more than a rough roadmap; note also the revolving nature of assigned work versus the return of feedback, the goal of which is to ensure you’re never left waiting on me to get back to you for very long without having something else to work on):
- 5/1-5/15: We’ll get to know one another and exchange contact details to the extent that we’re both comfortable (email, social media, chat handles, etc.); homework assigned to mentee (if applicable)
- 5/15: I’ll send a comprehensive editorial letter that will touch on “big picture” elements (character development and arcs, plot, world-building, pacing, etc.)
- 5/15: Submit homework; begin revision 1
- 5/31: I’ll return feedback on any homework assigned
- 6/1-6/30: Revision 1 will likely be the most intensive. I’ll be around to hash anything out and bounce ideas off of while you work on it
- 6/30: Submit revision 1
- 7/1-7/15: I’ll take another look at your manuscript; if foundational issues remain, I may send another editorial letter, and the aim will be to dig deeper, getting to finer and finer points at each stage; more homework may be assigned
- 7/15: Submit homework; begin revision 2
- 7/15-7/31: While you revise, I’ll work on providing notes on your query/cover letter and synopsis
- 7/31: I’ll return feedback on any homework assigned
- First week: Submit revision 2
- 8/9-ish: Depending on when revision 2 is submitted, my aim will be to do a third pass that includes suggestions for line edits (grammar/punctuation issues, pointing out lines that are telling rather than showing, character inconsistencies, refining dialogue, etc.) and get that back to you ASAP, along with feedback on your query and synopsis
- 8/23-ish: If there’s time prior to the agent showcase, I’d like to read your manuscript a final time to catch any remaining errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar
- 8/23-8/31: Polishing, polishing polishing after I send you back my final notes
- 8/31-9/6: Agent showcase! Leading up to this, we can also discuss your agent-query list and work on refining Twitter-length pitches in case you are interested in participating in #PitMad (usually occurs early September) or #DVPit (~mid-October, reserved for marginalized writers)
I also understand that things come up. You’ve got a life outside of this program, and I have publisher deadlines sprinkled throughout the summer months. It won’t be the end of the world if either of us misses a date, although that’s when communication becomes crucial so we can touch base and give one another a heads up. The deadlines are simply mile markers to ensure you’re on track to have something query-ready by the the agent showcase.
N.B., I am sensitive to how much feedback can sting, even when it’s constructive. I will praise the parts of your story that already shine and gently point out areas that may need more work in the kindest manner possible. I’ll always be available to bounce ideas off of, but the direction you take in addressing my notes is entirely up to you.
I’m not great with phones or video chats due to auditory processing challenges, but I believe keeping an open line of communication is essential during this process. It’s super easy to second guess yourself or get frustrated, so I want to be there for you during those times. I’m open to gchat, Facebook messaging, Twitter DMing, email, etc.
What I’m Looking for in a Mentee
I’m hoping to find a mentee who is confident about the story they want to tell, who’s willing to put in the necessary work to get their manuscript query-ready in four months.
Writing is intimate. It can feel incredibly personal. I get that. But my mentee should be open to suggestions and not be too defensive. Ultimately, it’s your story to tell and you know it best. I’ll respect the decisions you choose to make during the revision process, but also expect you to be open to the possibility that your manuscript may change considerably. Be willing to do the hard work. I’ll be right there with you if you have questions, need to vent, etc.
I’ll be mentoring a Middle Grade writer this year. My preferences trend toward Upper Middle Grade and characters that are just on the cusp of young adulthood so my wishlist includes both MG and YA comps, which will hopefully offer a solid sense of my preferences for each genre and concept. If nothing else, the following will be an epic reading rec list for people. 😅
- I’m open to almost any genre, with one caveat: my tastes with respect to fantasy align more closely with the urban or more grounded variety. I am not the best fit for high fantasy stories unless you’ve got an amazing twist on the genre (e.g., something drawn from a non-Western Europe medieval backdrop could pique my interest). I don’t read a ton in this genre, but one of my childhood favorites that wonderfully illustrates a grounded fantasy is DOGSBODY.
- With respect to sci-fi, I like this genre in theory but it’s often hard to find a book with an execution that works for me. If you have a MG story in the vein of THESE BROKEN STARS, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, or HALF WAY HOME, that’d be awesome. Please send it over! I’m also open to new twists on dystopian (forever a fan of THE GIVER).
- Contemporary is my bread and butter. It’s an evergreen genre for me, totally limitless in scope and possibility. Some of my favorite MG reads in this genre tackle tough issues, like homelessness in NO FIXED ADDRESS, grief and devolution of friendship in THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, gender identity in GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, queer attraction in STAR-CROSSED, and disability in WONDER. For YA, I love the snarky voice and portrayal of mental illness in NICE TRY, JANE SINNER. Same for ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS and RADIO SILENCE (bonus points to both for involving a fandom element). THE HATE U GIVE and GIRL MADE OF STARS also address difficult topics in sensitive, nuanced ways. I’d love to see a MG story do the same.
- The only reason I don’t have a history major to my name is because that academic department wouldn’t let me use multiple courses for more than one major. But I love, love, love history, especially if it’s told from an underrepresented perspective (think: women, POC, queer, or disabled individuals). Immerse me in a little-known part of history, make it a character-driven story, and you’ve got me. ONE CRAZY SUMMER, THE NIGHT DIARY, and REFUGEE are all prime examples. My academic background is in Jewish Studies and the ancient Near East. I would adore a story related to either. Some personal favorites are NUMBER THE STARS, SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER, and ONE MORE RIVER (minus the over-simplified take on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict + negative depiction of Palestinians in the latter). I’d also love to read an #ownvoices historical story from a Muslim or polytheistic perspective. I’d be thrilled with the MG version of GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE/LADY’S GUIDE, as well.
- I cannot for the life of me think of a mystery comp besides THE WESTING GAME, but I’m definitely interested in and open to this genre.
- I’m iffy on humorous/funny stories, as I prefer the snarkiness of characters like JANE SINNER over the slapstick humor of fart jokes and other gross-out antics. HERE COMES TROUBLE was one MG story I enjoyed that was amusing and didn’t cross the line into funny-gross.
- I have really been getting into stories with an eery or gothic setting lately. I like the type of creepy that gives you goosebumps instead of a story that depicts blatant gore. SMALL SPACES is a recent favorite in the horror genre. I’m also open to paranormal, but I’ll admit I’m more into ghost stories or unique circumstances (think: the immortal family in TUCK EVERLASTING) than fantasy creatures. Vampires are an exception. If you have a MG BUFFY, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, or KINGDOM HOSPITAL, I would die to read it.
- I love my contemporary stories infused with magical realism/fabulism. This is a YA comp, but THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is too perfect not to mention. Lyrical, moving prose gets me every time, so anything that could comp to Anna-Marie McLemore for a MG audience would be divine.
- I honestly haven’t read a time travel story since A TALE OF TIME CITY, but that book is one of my all-time favorites. I’m definitely open to this genre. Take me somewhere I’ve never been before. I’m a huge fan of the TV show TIMELESS.
- Character-driven: First and foremost, this is what I desire. I want fully realized main and secondary characters, those I can get emotionally invested in to the fullest.
- LGBTQ stories: please, please, please. It doesn’t need to be an issues-driven coming out story by any means. I just want queer characters living their lives and being feminist/badass/revolutionary/problematic/whatever, no matter the plot, genre, or time period. I didn’t ever see myself represented in stories as a child, which is a large part of why I wrote the book I did. I would love to champion a story that features a queer character (or several!). Note that while I’m very, very open to stories with these types of characters, particularly from #ownvoices writers, I do not expect anyone to disclose any aspect of their identity they aren’t comfortable sharing. Disclosure is welcomed if you’re comfortable doing so, but not in any way required (this goes for any story that might have an #ownvoices element).
- Mentally ill, disabled, neurodiverse: I’m open to all, whether it’s the writer’s marginalization, an element in your story, or both. It doesn’t need to be the overarching plot, but I’d love to see a character that falls into any of those categories. Representation matters.
- POC, religious minorities: Same. Hard same. I’m unsure if I’m the right person to mentor something far outside of my scope of experience if your story has an #ownvoices element, but please do submit if you think we’d be a good fit. My mentor last year was not trans but she still did wonders for me in terms of enhancing the foundational aspects of my manuscript. I used my own experiences to inform the gender identity narrative, and sought out sensitivity readers for aspects of marginalization that I didn’t share with my main character. We can chat about how best to approach this type of situation if the manuscript requires it. Note that I’m also aware of intersecting marginalizations and welcome writers or stories with characters that fit the bill there as well.
- Marginalized writers specifically: if you have a story about a trope you’ve been told is “so over” because white/straight/cis/non-disabled/neurotypical/Christian/etc. writers have already done it to death and you feel disheartened because you never got a chance to see your own faith/culture/identity/experience represented, omg, for the love of all things good in this world, send me your words. Submit those twists, tropes, and retellings.
- Relationship-driven stories: Give me supportive or complex family dynamics, found families, ride-or-die friendships or strife between best friends. I love emotional elements like this. It doesn’t have to be the driving force of the plot, but if it exists as part of a larger story, I’m all for it.
- If something legit makes me cry, it will be a contender. Stories that can elicit any sort of strong emotion in a reader are something I desire (and so hard to come by).
- I have a soft spot for small towns (especially southern) and love traveling. Give me stories that can take me to new or exciting places, even if the plot is quieter. Sometimes local, isolated cultures within a larger, more well-known space can feel like foreign countries in and of themselves. I’d love to read a story with a setting like this (think: Appalachia in the U.S., Mea Shearim, Jerusalem; a revived/modern day shtetl reimagining in Eastern Europe, a community involving a diaspora minority group, etc.).
- I am very often trash for fandom and could definitely see myself relating to a character who was super involved in a community like that (whether real or imagined, online or off). Characters who are passionate about unusual hobbies or lesser-known sports/performance arts would also be a big draw.
- I love lush worlds involving space travel, other planets, first contact/interaction with aliens, etc. (as long as the character development isn’t buried under pages and pages of technological description).
- This is honestly just a small, off-the-top-of-my-head sampling of things I’d love to see. If your story doesn’t fit exactly, don’t sweat it. I’m always delighted when a book takes me by surprise and I fall in love with a concept that wasn’t anywhere on my radar.
I thought about writing a ‘do not want’ list, but, honestly, I feel like I’ve written enough above to offer a good sense of what I like. If you’re unsure whether your story might be of interest, feel free to leave a comment or ask me publicly on Twitter (please not via DM). I’ll also be answering questions on Twitter as a part of the official #WriteMentor Q&A on Friday, April 12, from 19:00-20:00 BST (that’s 11-12pm PST; 2-3pm EST!). That can be a great way to get to know me and my mentoring style on the lead-up to the submissions window.
That’s it for this hecka long post. If you read all the way through, major kudos. Main take-away: You’ve all accomplished something great by having completed a manuscript. Thanks for considering me as a mentor; I can’t wait to read your stories!