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, http://youtube.com/c/alexadonne or follow her on most social media platforms @alexadonne.
BRIGHTLY BURNING is the third book I wrote, the second one that went on submission, and it sold with my second literary agent. BB 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 have so many stories! I’ve been in the YA community since 2010, first as a lurker, and then as a querying writer. I participated in several contests, including Pitch Madness, The Writer’s Voice and Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Agent, all back in 2013. Over the years, I’ve soaked up information like a sponge, both from my first hand experiences, as well as those of friends, author mentors, and from attending lots of industry panels/digesting any publishing information I could get my hands on. I’m a Ravenclaw (well, Slytherclaw) who believes that if you arm yourself with enough information and are pragmatic, you can combine those toolkits with a good idea, talent and hardwork to be successful. It’s also easier to take knocks when you understand the full scope of the business, I think. And in publishing there are so many knocks! Even the most talented writer will experience myriad setbacks. I have advice for almost every situation! I’ve been through plenty of them myself haha.
In pop-psychology terms, I am both a Maven and a Connector–I connect deeply with ideas and projects and LOVE deep dives into information… and then I thrive from connecting people/things/ideas together, using what I have in my toolkit to push the projects/people in which I believe to success. So if I love your book, I will dedicate myself to it–and to you!–and do what I can to guide you to finding an agent, and beyond! As much as I love & derive satisfaction writing, my compass frequently points me back to editorial (I think it’s why I enjoy revision + helping others with their books). As such, I have many critique partners and friends whom I’ve championed and have been thrilled to see sign with agents, sell their books, and become bestsellers!
On the “technical” side, I have a bachelor’s in journalism and my day job is television marketing, so I’m “classically trained” (ha) and thus value good, thorough research, crisp detail but not overly flowery writing, an appreciation of AP Style (I have feelings about Harvard commas and I am not sorry), clean pitch copy (ie: query letters! I can help!), etc. I’ve mentored teen girls in writing since 2014, and I’m also a freelance college essay advisor.
This time around, I am only looking for sci-fi manuscripts to mentor. This is largely because there just aren’t enough YA sci-fi authors, and I find that YA sci-fi writers need a little extra love/guidance! It’s a really tough genre to write in within YA, and I have lots of insights, experience and ideas to share. The good news is that the “”sci-fi is dead”” anti-trend has finally dissipated and now sci-fi is having “moment”! Now is the time! But I won’t sugarcoat the market for you–I’ll be honest and give you notes that will help you not just land an agent but hopefully sell your book. (or, if not, I’ll help you strategize for future books/long term goals. Some sci-fi books just don’t sell. I’ve shelved two.)
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. Characters are King 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.
I adore mentoring which, ya know, is why I co-founded a mentorship program! In my “real life” I mentor teen girls in writing in Los Angeles, and also work with both “”pro bono”” underprivileged clients and do paid freelance work on college admissions essays. I love seeing a young writer bloom from nervous/shy 14/15-year-old into a confident and creative senior. I truly believe that teens have the power to change the world, and that writing talent is something worth nurturing. With college essays, I love helping students find their story and tell it well, helping them get into amazing schools.
On the author mentorship side, I just love digging into a story I think is cool and well-told, helping to identify the missing pieces, write a detailed edit letter, brainstorm ideas and then work some query/agent list magic. I love matchmaking, generally (again, hence AMM!), and really enjoy encouraging friends and mentees to query agents who I think might be a perfect match. I’m really proud of friends who have queried someone at my insistence and ended up signing with them and selling books 😀
I want to be a mentor once again because I adore my rounds 1 & 2 mentees and their books. We’ve forged really strong connections and I’m enjoying shepherding them through publishing craziness. This time around I’m only considering YA sci-fi manuscripts because sci-fi is such a hard genre to write in YA and I want to offer that particular brand of guidance to a writer.
- Science Fantasy
Some beloved tropes across genres: fiesty women, banter, flirting, magic, royalty, intrigue, spies, technology (and AIs), strong female friendships, oblivious love interests and/or those who deny their feelings and result in delicious UST, complex psychological profiles, twisty (BUT LOGICAL) plots, humor, fish out of water syndrome, upstairs/downstairs dynamics, bi love interests
Character-driven “grounded” sci-fi is my bread & butter. Complex but not complicated. Doing spins on sci-fi tropes/approaches that are appropriate for the current YA market. I adore psychological mystery & ethical dilemmas, which are bread & butter for sci-fi.
I’d say overall: if you have a juicy romance + a cool sci-fi premise (that is not a space Western haha), I’ll be interested. (And if you have a cool sci-fi premise and not much romance and would like to beef up your romance, that is very much my wheelhouse. I will find ships, I will die-hard for those ships; I will make you write more of those ships.)
Some of my favorite sci-fi tropes (with some caveats): time travel*, clones*, [sentient] AI, space opera/fantasy**, genetic engineering, viruses, space royalty, generation ships, robots/androids, genetically based “powers” with sci-fi execution (as opposed to fantasy)*, cool tech in near future narratives, technology that goes awry (the cool tech takes over/oppresses humanity), etc.
* Sooooo time travel, clones and “abilities” are all super hard to sell in the market, yet are things I love… but only if the execution is fresh. And it’s really hard to do these “fresh.” I’m always hoping for the diamond in the rough, though.
** I don’t care for adventure stories/quests/space Westerns, including/especially “rag tag team” narratives, and, yes, I realize this puts me in the minority! So it means that the *flavor* of your space opera/space fantasy is going to be key. I’m most interested in following one or two incredibly distinct characters in stories with big emotional/character-based conflicts/stakes instead of THE WORLD WILL END! stakes, and usually a strong romance is required to get me interested. Basically think THESE BROKEN STARS or DEFY THE STARS instead of Star Wars or Firefly***. See the Faves tab for some of my favorite sci-fi and space set movies/media to give you a better idea!
***That said, my favorite thing about Firefly is actually the movie Serenity, which developed the narrative of my favorite part of Firefly: Reavers. I like psychological mysteries in sci-fi, so the movie was great. I don’t like space Westerns so the show was mostly miss for me.
I WILL PROVIDE:
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Skype or phone call
- 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!
You are: somewhat industry savvy (know the basics), but not a know-it-all. Open to working on your manuscript, but also confident in your work–know when to push back and stand your ground! Not whiny or negative. Able to walk away from a book if needed (and/or has done so in the past), and someone with more than one idea/project up your sleeve.
The above has worked in my finding amazing and ideal mentees two rounds in a row, so I’m using it again! To build on this, my ideal mentee is open to a pretty close mentor relationship, and is seeking something long term. I also tend to choose mentees with manuscripts that are one big revision away from being query ready–so pretty close–and that don’t need copious copy editing or line edits (b/c I find those things tedious). My mentee should be pragmatic, professional and a bit wry!
- Inventive & fresh sci-fi retellings
- Anything inspired by the sci-fi media on my faves list
- If you’ve taken a sci-fi thing you DIDN’T like and are “”fixing”” it (this leads to some of the best books)
- Something that explores the ethics & complexities of artificial intelligence (AIs, robots/androids)
- Multicultural/inclusive/intersectional sci-fi
- Something with an ace or demi protagonist
- Swoony romance matched with a high concept
- Give me your: complex, “unlikeable” heroines, layered villains (and villainous love interests), moral gray areas and ethical quandaries (esp. in sci-fi), non-linear timelines/inventive story structure
I’m not afraid of sci-fi that gets really dark/ethically murky. Bring it on. If you can comp Black Mirror I’ll probably be into it.
DO NOT SEND ME:
Not keen on aliens, or creatures in general (angels/fae/etc. hopefully won’t come up in sci-fi anyway?). As mentioned, no space Westerns or anything too adventure-y.
Never say never, but 99% of the time I don’t favor male POV protagonists.
I’m not interested in anything that feels like a clone or close cousin of one of the space YA books coming out in 2018/2019. In your query/concept, you’ll need to show me how you will stand out in what has suddenly become a crowded market.
Fave sci-fi movies: Gattaca, Contact, Oblivion (yes, the Tom Cruise movie DON’T JUDGE ME), Interstellar, Inception, The Island (so bad it’s good), Ex Machina, Jupiter Ascending (PLEASE WRITE THIS FOR YA), WALL-E
Fave sci-fi TV shows: Battlestar Galactica, Ashes to Ashes (BBC), Lost, Westworld, Black Mirror, Fringe, Torchwood, Continuum, Person of Interest, Outlander (historical science fantasy!), Legion, The OA (SO WEIRD)
I also love cheesy, horrible disaster movies though those storylines don’t typically translate into books (and post-apoc is still tainted by dystopia, so be careful).
Fave sci-fi books: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis, NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro, BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis, ULTRAVIOLET/QUICKSILVER by RJ Anderson, CINDER by Marissa Meyer, DEFY THE STARS by Claudia Gray, ALIENATED by Melissa Landers, THURSDAY NEXT by Jasper Fforde (sci-fi fantasy, but still), UNINVITED by Sophie Jordan, UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld (there are probably more I can’t remember)”