Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including fan convention organizing, teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Visit her at www.alexadonne.com, YouTube or follow her on most social media platforms @alexadonne.
It took me 4 years, 3 books, and 2 agents to get my first book deal. My debut, BRIGHTLY BURNING, didn’t sell on first round submission, either! It went out to and was rejected by 14 editors in round one, including a very close call at acquisitions. I revised the book and sold a month after going back out on sub.
I’ve experienced a LOT of “publishing worst case scenarios” over the years: I’ve not sold on submission and shelved a book, I’ve parted ways with an agent, I’ve gotten a “no” at acquisitions, I’ve been orphaned (editor left publishing house), and several that cannot be shared publicly 😀 But the knocks have only made me stronger! And I take a pretty good attitude about it all–I’m so thankful and grateful to be here, and feel everything happens for a reason. As a mentor (and friend), I like to be a rock for others going through the ups & downs of publishing, sharing experiences, strategies, support.
I debuted modestly, and then suffered second book syndrome like every author–my book 2 was a grueling process, but I’m really proud of it and it comes out within a week of this profile going up (THE STARS WE STEAL). But. The reality is/was that YA sci-fi is a precarious space to be in in publishing right now, and so staring down the barrel of “”can I sell another book?”” I took a hard look at my career plans and decided to pivot in the direction of my other love: high concept thrillers. I finally figured out how to translate my professional experience in college admissions essays into a book: just add murder! So in 2019 I challenged myself to write my first YA thriller, which sold to Crown at auction in November 2019. My second (successful) submission experience was totally different to my first one!
I have a bachelor’s in journalism, and work in television marketing, so I have an affinity for thoughtful, clean copy, and a knack for persuasive writing. If you’re a former or current journalist, I will probably vibe with your writing style. My experience as a professional marketer has in particular, I think, aided me in talent for query writing, as queries are essentially marketing copy!
I’ve been a beta reader (fanfic), a CP (YA publishing), and then a editor/mentor (WriteGirl & AMM) for as long as I can recall. Before I stumbled upon the path of actually writing books, I honestly thought I would be an editor for life–that that was where my skill lay, not in writing. Now I think (hope?) that I balance both well. I really enjoy helping other people reach their best potential with writing. Over the years, I have been proud to see many of my critique partners sign with top agents and go on to big book deals, though it’s like Shake & Bake: I just helped! Other people are supremely talented, and I enjoy offering my insights into tightening, refining, shining things up.
I’ve mentored teen girls in writing with WriteGirl since 2014, including assisting senior girls with their college applications and essays. I was a professional college admissions essay advisor from 2016-2017. I started Author Mentor Match in 2016 with my longtime CP Heather Kaczynski, and have mentored in AMM three times over the years.
I adore mentoring. There’s something magical about digging into a manuscript with a writer, and then helping them along on their querying/publishing journey once the book is ready. Honestly that’s my favorite part–I love querying so much, I help a lot of the AMM mentees with it regularly. And when it’s my own mentee and I know their manuscript inside & out, it’s particularly satisfying to devise a querying strategy and help the mentee take next steps. This is not to short change the editorial end of things–there’s a special alchemy to pinpointing exactly what a book needs and then helping a writer to find the best solutions.
I reallllly want to find a fantastic thriller to devour. Thriller is my #1 favorite reading genre with so many specific tropes, beats, and things that make them special. Writing my YA thriller, THE IVIES, was SO much fun, and I want to dig in with a thriller writer on their manuscript and make it sing. It’s such a vibrant category with a lot of interesting movement both in adult and YA (though different challenges in each space!), and so I’m open to high concept thriller manuscripts in either category. Basically if you have the next hot thriller, I want to read it.
I tend to gravitate toward crisp but detailed/specific writing–if you’re a journalist or trained in another writing discipline, such as screenwriting or playwriting, I’ll probably enjoy your writing style! Overly flowery/purple prose isn’t for me, though that doesn’t mean I don’t like the occasional gorgeous turn of phrase (would not say not to an Upmarket Thriller). Characters are paramount for me: I will follow good ones anywhere. I prefer character-driven plots, where there are really juicy character conflicts & stakes. This doesn’t mean you get to skimp on plot and good external conflict/stakes! Great stories should have both.
YA & Adult
I have a number of thriller tropes I love, some of which are specific to adult and/or YA and others that straddle both categories. Some of my faves include:
- spot the sociopath/narcissist (personality disorder twists)
- rich assholes with secrets/dysfunctional marriages/friend circles in upper class Manhattan/London/LA/wherever
- rich assholes with secrets BUT specifically at the Swanky Beach Town or Ski Destination
- Isolated place and then murder happens (ie: And Then There Were None trope, ie: “one of us has to be the killer!”, ex: The Woman in Cabin 10, An Unwanted Guest)
- Creepy ass house in the middle of nowhere, bonus for glass houses in the middle of the woods (ex: In A Dark Dark Wood)
- Gothic shit (old attics! family secrets! tarot! maybe it’s supernatural or maybe someone is gaslighting the MC so they can get away with murder! ex: The Turn of the Key, Lock Every Door)
- WE HAVE TO GO BACK! Adults meet up in place from their youth where Something Terrible Happened and then More Terrible Things Happen (ex: The Last Time I Lied, The Darkest Corners)
- unreliable narrators and POV twists (ex: Sometimes I Lie, Friends Like These, The Wife Between Us)
- deceptive identity, ie: the MC has to go undercover, the MC is lying about who they are, etc. The tension comes from characters who have to lie about who they are for Reasons.
- boarding schools!!!
Then generally, within the genre I really like books that revolve around:
- domestic suspense with a woman of a certain age in an unhappy or deceptive marriage, maybe divorced, maybe with kids, but definitely a bit neurotic and thrust into a CRAZY plot where she has to investigate/solve something (if this set-up is combined with tropes I love and is high concept enough, I’m there)
- small town secrets. Where the small town/specific place is a character, where Keeping Up With the Joneses is suffogating, relationships are complicated, and maybe/probably the MC is an outsider and/or is coming home after a long time gone (and left for a reason). Maybe an old murder resurfaces or haunts the MC/town. (ex: Two Can Keep A Secret, The Darkest Corners, One Night Gone, The Rumor)
- toxic and/or complex friendships, especially between women/girls. Where maybe everyone is a little bit horrible, but you’re rooting for the MC anyway… and things get VERY twisted due to the interpersonal conflicts (Little Monsters, The Girls Weekend)
- different timelines/jumping back and forth in time, especially using a past timeline to contrast between an investigation plotline (ex: Gone Girl, The Escape Room, Something She’s Not Telling Us)
I’m not afraid of thrillers that tackle sticky social issues, or have messy characters, especially main characters. First person or third person doesn’t matter to me BUT if you write a thriller in third it has to be close, and you’ll need some mastery of that POV for this genre (I see it rarely, but when it’s well done, it’s fantastic). I’m also not against a light sci-fi or speculative twist on a thriller, think Neverworld Wake or Mother Knows Best.
My reading taste in thriller is pretty broad–as long as something is high concept with compelling, well-drawn characters, I’m in. I want an intricately crafted plot with lots of twists/things to grasp at, and a killer ending. The only thing I’m not super into, but also not completely against is detective fiction–I typically don’t read thrillers with cop MCs, but I do make exceptions. (Such as for undercover cops!)
Thrillers also range and there doesn’t always have to be a bloody murder. I’m just as open to what I call “domestic suspense” as I am to bloody murder books. Books where Something Is Up or a character thinks they’re going crazy (but are they?). Psychological thrillers are a fave sub-genre. I’m really a character driven reader, so characters + high concept + a few meaty tropes = I’m in.
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Freestyle in chat
Over the years, I have developed a gentle but honest editorial style, in large part through my mentoring work with teenagers. I favor the compliment sandwich: I will always open with what I love, then dig into what issues I see, and close with DO NOT FORGET I LOVE YOUR BOOK.
My style is to read the whole book and then write an edit letter, like you would receive from a trad-pub editor. To give an idea: my round one mentee received an 11 page edit letter. However, sometimes I will streamline my thoughts into a Google chat, instead (my other round one mentee got a Google Hangouts brainstorm sesh). Generally, I’m not the person to do copy edits/in line edits in a Word Doc, though I will spot line/copy edit specific sections of your book as needed, ie: first chapter, last third, etc. I enjoy giving detailed feedback that focuses on story and character arcs, pacing, worldbuilding, and logic. I’ll pose questions that I had, so you’ll know where there might be plot holes/issues.
I’d love to gchat with my mentee, to discuss ideas, the industry, brainstorming, etc. I’ll point you towards my favorite resources, share knowledge I have that may be useful, suggest agents I think would love your book… and of course I’ll help with your query. I LOVE writing query letters/querying. Think of me as your guide and sounding board… and hopefully friend!
My ideal mentee has a sharp commercial sense and loves thrillers as much as I do–they’ve read a ton of them, and written a great one. They’re looking for a mentor to help them click everything into place so they can take next steps. They’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and do some serious revision, if needed. They know when to stand their ground and when to yield, but are also pragmatic enough about writing and the industry to know when to shelve a project, and how to pivot to new ones (has either done this in the past, or open to doing it in the future). I love industry savvy writers–or those who want to be–with whom I can forge a connection, help, and hopefully become friends!
Dual timeline, possibly multi-POV boarding school thriller that jumps between Messed Up Shit That Went Down At School and the adult women who have to go back/are reconciling with what went down. What The Lying Game should have been but wasn’t.
Anything that takes mystery/suspense classics & gives them a fresh, modern twist, the way that Ruth Ware modernizes Agatha Christie, Hitchcock, The Turn of the Screw, etc.
YA thrillers that take popular adult tropes and deftly adapt them for YA without sacrificing too much of the depth or darkness of said adult tropes
Anything that can be comped to Kara Thomas, Ruth Ware, or Riley Sager
DO NOT SEND ME:
Toxic relationships between women that go unexamined/subverted
Toxic masculinity that is romanticized/unchallenged (no alpha males in romance unless you punch them in the face!)
A transperson as a plot twist/reveal/buggaboo
Some favorite thriller authors/books:
My favorite thrillers in 2019:
Happily & Madly by Alexis Bass
The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski
Friends Like These by Sarah Alderson
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
The Other Wife by Claire McGowan
The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict
The Girls Weekend by Jody Gehrman
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
Conviction by Denise Mina
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl