Justine Pucella Winans is a queer and nonbinary writer who lives in Los Angeles with their husband and cat. They graduated from Chapman University after studying film and English, and now work at a talent agency. When not writing books about queer teens facing murders and mysteries with anxiety and a sense of humor, they train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, play Pokémon with a team of eeveelutions, and read way too much shoujo manga.
It took me nine manuscripts and two coming outs to get an agent. Over a period of six or seven years. (I should remember, but I kind of blacked out my first two manuscripts.)
My third manuscript got me into Pitch Wars 2014, which really did not lead to much–I was a closeted seventeen-year-old who was too embarrassed to write my truth, so to be fair, it was not a book that defined me as a writer. I only explored my sexuality through fanfiction (which will never again see the light of day) but not in a way that might be seen as something I wrote.
It wasn’t until years later (after a long depressive state, zero writing, and the worst years of my life in which the entire One Piece manga canon was all that kept me going), when I came out as bisexual in a college Shakespeare class (after a pretty good performance of Romeo’s balcony monologue) that I started to explore what I was going through in my writing. And realized that writing with a sense of humor was much more my style. Unfortunately, it took me like four more manuscripts to realize that books can’t just be awkward and funny gay vibes for 70,000 words (although…).
After some soul-searching and realizing I can’t function without an outline, my own gender identity crisis came along with my ninth manuscript, which was the first time I really wrote something that felt like it encompassed a lot of me, my experience, and what I want to share with others. It got me multiple agent offers through cold querying (I love editing queries!) and led me to sign with my agent.
I am now in the process of revising with a goal of being on sub in early 2021.
My creative writing and revising skills have developed through workshops, college classes, and various critiquing and beta-reading of work. Workshops I have done in the past few years are Futurescapes (2018) and Rainbow Weekend Intensive (2020). I’ve critiqued manuscripts for a variety of authors, many of whom have gone on to get agents and/or deals.
One of my biggest strengths lies in pitching and looking at things with both a creative and business mind. I currently work at a talent agency, and have interned at a literary agency for the past year. My query skills have really sharpened, and I’ve helped edit query packages for a variety of writers, in addition to my own personal experience in querying.
I started trying to get into publishing as an introverted queer teen in the Midwest who knew literally nothing about and no one in the industry. It was so difficult to navigate things on my own, and I was the last person to easily put myself out there and make connections. Sure, I would do research and figure it out, but I didn’t know how to keep myself safe, take care of myself, have anyone to go to. It is important to have connections, not only to share skills and opinions, but to have someone on your side that’s been through/is going through the same thing you are.
Much like I write the kind of things I wish I had as a queer teen, I want to be the kind of mentor that I wish I had when I was first starting out. To share experience that I have been lucky enough to gather, to be available to brainstorm and give feedback, but also to be a connection. A resource. A friend.
I was drawn to AMM because of the focus on building that connection. I don’t want to just be a mentor for one project, but a person to vent to and ask questions to or get motivational cute cat pictures from after however many rejections and successes it takes, and then some. This can be such a lonely industry, and as someone who still struggles with reaching out to people, I want to be in a position where I can help those who were in a similar position to me.
Above all, I really would like to find a queer manuscript. I’m not saying I’m only interested in queer fiction, but it is so near and dear to my pansexual enby heart that I’ll constantly be screaming into the void:
SEND ME YOUR GAY BOOKS. (Please!)
I am most drawn to books with a strong voice and a sense of humor. It doesn’t necessarily have to be only happy, and I can like things that get a bit dark, but I still need there to be some light and laughter. But if you can also make me cry in the same manuscript, I’ll definitely be won over. Fortunately, I cry pretty easily.
Generally, I will be drawn to character first (I was an acting major, I can’t help it), so if a book has a character I’ll love, I’ll pretty much love the entire thing. (Although we still will have to work on plot. And if there’s anything I can help with, it’s plot from a character-writer perspective.)
Overall, I love books that make me feel things and allow me to escape. I read to experience new things, explore new worlds. And I thank everyone who submits to me for giving me the opportunity to take a look at the story of your heart.
- Contemporary – All of it, but prefer things on the lighter side!
- Romance – Only rom coms!
- Mystery/Thrillers – all of it, but I would love a fun voice
- Urban/Contemporary Fantasy – all of it, needs a strong voice!
I WILL PROVIDE:
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
- Skype or phone call
- Freestyle in chat
For a basic book game plan, I’d like to do an initial readthrough and edit letter for big picture feedback. Would be happy to do a phone call/Skype to go over that and put a revision plan together as well as brainstorm. (I love problem solving–it’s why my sport of choice is jiu-jitsu.) After revisions, I’d reread with line edits. These will probably be 50% helpful and 50% my reactions because I get very excited and have a lot of feelings. I am a huge cheerleader, even though I will definitely be honest when it comes to what isn’t working for me and what needs improvement. What is important to me is helping you make your book the best it can be, not how I would write it.
When you feel the book is ready to query, I’ll share my resources while helping you put together a query list, edit a synopsis and query letter (which, again, I love!) and be available through all the excitement and stress.
Throughout the entire process, I will always be available for messaging/emails/questions. However a mentee prefers to communicate, I can adapt, because I pretty much have everything and live attached to my phone. I want to be available whenever possible, for advice/listening to rants/workshopping/etc.
What’s most important to me is communication. If I’m having a really busy day and can’t get to something immediately, or if I’m having a bad mental health day and won’t be much help, I will let you know. I tend to be quick to respond, but can also be very flexible. I just really appreciate communication and updates! What is most important to me is what you need, and I will do my best to make myself available for that.
My ideal mentee is open to feedback and ready to revise. It’s not that you can’t disagree with me, I hope you do, but I’d like to have a conversation about it and talk through ideas and problems. I’m happy to collaborate, but I need a mentee who is willing to do that. If you shut down everything and don’t want to hear my opinions, I’m really not the person to work with. I want a mentee who is as excited about my ideas as I am about yours!
I’d love a mentee that of course takes their career extremely seriously, but not themselves too seriously because I will make silly comments in addition to actually helpful comments. I’d prefer a mentee that puts a focus on communication, because if you take three weeks to respond to a message, my brain will decide that you hate me. (I can be flexible, just like to be updated!)
I would also love a mentee who will tag me in cat videos, but that’s not as important.
In general, if it is queer, I would like to see it. If it will make me laugh, I would love to see it. If it will make me laugh and also cry, please submit to me!
But here are some more specific things that I’m interested in:
- Above everything, diverse voices
- Nonbinary and trans characters!!! That get happy endings!!! (Bonus points if they don’t all pass)
- Anything that can be comped to a manga or anime. I’ll list some favorites, but I know a lot of them, so that’s not an exhaustive list! (ESP shoujo manga)
- I’m obsessed with cats, so characters with cats are a plus
- Sports books! ESPECIALLY IF THAT SPORT IS JIU-JITSU OR MMA
- Friendly jocks, characters who unfortunately have bad reputations/look mean but are secret softies who are trying their best
- Characters with specific passions/interests
- Did I mention books that will make me laugh?
- SAPPHIC ROM COMS
- NONBINARY AND TRANS ROM COMS
- Childhood friends-to-lovers or friends-to-lovers if queer
- Queer characters that don’t always have to come out to everyone in the end but still find their happiness and themselves <3
- Awkward romantic interactions yes please
- Two characters who obviously like each other and belong together but miscommunications
- Friendship stories, sibling stories, grandparent-grandkid stories (as subplots)
- Funny mysteries/whodunits
- All of the romance tropes people complain about but QUEER: only one bed? Love it. Trapped together because of a storm? I want it. Love triangles but in a pan/bi TWELFTH NIGHT kind of way? ABSOLUTELY.
- Actually, anything that is a Shakespeare retelling but even more gay
- Random other things I like in books: seaside gays, birds, cozy cafes, musicians, cooking, baking, artists, theatrical performances, beach vibes, gay-mers, soft magic, reluctant characters who still have agency
If your story is queer and you think we will be a fit, I’d still love for you to submit to me!
DO NOT SEND ME:
- Sexual/emotional/physical abuse in relationships
- Sexual assault
- Cat or dog dies
- Trash person redemption stories
- Historical books
- Queer characters with sad endings
- Queer characters who are pressured to come out by the person they are dating
- FELIX AFTER AFTER by Kacen Callender
- CEMETERY BOYS by Aiden Thomas
- YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson
- SUMMER OF SALT by Katrina Leno
- SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli
- Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun
- One Piece
- Black Clover
- Mob Psycho 100
- Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
- Senryuu Shoujo
- Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
- My Roommate is a Cat
- I Had That Same Dream Again
- Promised Neverland
- Kuzumi-kun, Can’t You Read the Room?
- All the trash isekai I have no shame.