Who Am I?
Hey, team! My name is Joel Brigham, and this is my first time serving as a PitchWars mentor. I am beyond thrilled to be given the opportunity to work with you all and cannot wait to read your submissions!
A few things about me:
I started writing fiction seriously in 2017 after meeting Angie Thomas at an English teacher’s conference. I’ve always loved storytelling, but seeing the never-ending line of educators stretched out to thank Angie for a book that meant so much to their students made me want to write a book that mean so much to young people (and their teachers), too.
Before this epiphany, I spent all my writing time as a journalist covering the NBA for HOOPSWORLD and later Basketball Insiders. For 12 years, I spent my weekends driving to Chicago and Indianapolis to cover the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers which, if I’m being totally honest, was an amazing dream come true for a kid who grew up an hour south of Chicago when Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan. Through my job as a pro sports journalist, I got to meet my childhood sports idols (including His Airness, himself) and got to cover every event on my NBA bucket list, from the NBA Finals to All-Star Weekend. It was an awesome ride, but the idea of writing fiction pulled me away from writing about sports. I was ready for a change, and I’m glad I made it.
I got my agent (Tina P. Schwartz of The Purcell Agency) in 2019 like three days before the PitchWars winners were announced. I hadn’t queried widely, but Tina requested a full at a writer’s conference that summer, and that shockingly turned into an offer a rep. Not gonna lie, I was dumbstruck, but I’m glad I found my way to smaller Chicago-based agency. A couple years into that relationship, I’ve ingratiated myself to the point where Tina asked me a few months ago to intern for the agency, so I spend a lot of my “free” time (as though such a thing exists) reading client manuscripts and putting together editorial letters. I love doing it, and I hope the hard work will translate into me becoming an agent or editor myself someday!
By day, I’m a high school English teacher. I taught Creative Writing for years, but I also teach Yearbook, American Lit, and a class called Modern Media that focuses on media literacy and digital citizenship. I’m currently in my 18th year as an educator, and while the job is hard, it’s also rewarding. Plus, having the summer to write new books is truly a gift. I’m also a member of the Penguin Random House High School Advisory Board, which is an awesome group that allows me to use my experience as an educator to help PRH get more of their wonderful books into classrooms. (They also send me lots of free books, which of course is amazing).
I applied for PitchWars as a potential mentee twice, in 2018 and 2019, and wasn’t chosen either time. However, I made some of my absolute best writer friends in the world through the process, and by my count, five of them have landed agents since then, while two of them have sold books. We all started as sweet, naïve writer babies, but we grew up together as CPs and beta readers and cheerleaders and pseudo-therapists. Even if you “lose” PitchWars, there are so many other ways to win.
And now I’m a mentor. That said, let’s get into who I am, and what I’m looking for!
Why Should You Submit to Me?
One thing about being an English teacher for so long is that I’ve gotten pretty dang good at giving feedback. That includes a mix of praise and constructive criticism because, honestly, every writer needs a healthy dose of both.
When I write an editorial letter, I always start with what I loved about the book, and if I end up choosing you as my mentee, there will be plenty about your book that I love. From there, I’ll write up a list of big-picture editorial suggestions that will require some time and effort to correct, punch up, or trim. I’m not typically a big line-edits guy, but for my PitchWars mentee, I do intend to go into quite a bit of detail as I’m reading.
In short, you’re going to get tons of great actionable feedback from me, which means your revisions will be focused and fun and purposeful.
On a personal level, I’m a really fun guy! I crack a lot of jokes and love when people can crack jokes right back at me. I’m not an easy person to offend, and I think I walk the tightrope well between taking life seriously and laughing my way through it. I’ve always believed that if you put enough joy into the world, that joy will eventually come back to you.
Professionally, I’m a get-aheader and definitely not a procrastinator. I work quickly and respond quickly. I can work well with just about anybody, but I will struggle with someone who isn’t great at meeting deadlines. This is my way of saying that I’d most like to work with someone who fancies themselves a professional. It’s okay if you procrastinate (many of my favorite people, including my truly excellent wife, are procrastinators), as long as I’ve got what I need when I need it. I understand fully that some people work better under pressure, but I don’t love when things are submitted late.
That’s the name of the game for me: professionalism and fun. I work well in healthy doses of both!
What Types of Manuscripts Am I Looking For?
Alright, let’s get into the nitty gritty here. You all want to know what I’m looking for, so I’ll start with the short answer, and then I’ll get into a little more detail.
What do I want? The short answer: Contemporary YA and NA.
The long answer: While I’m open to any kind of submission set in a contemporary setting, I’m most drawn to stories that attempt to inject positivity into the world. I would love to see submissions that make me feel the way Ted Lasso and Parks and Recreation make me feel. Fun, uplifting, positive books are my absolute favorite. Bonus points if you can make me laugh.
Of course, I’m not only interested in reading uplifting and funny stories. “Contemporary” covers a wide range of stories, and I could find myself interested in just about anything if the voice is engaging. Voice is one of the hardest things to get right, but it’s absolutely essential when writing YA. Even if you’re writing something dark and gritty or a contemporary retelling of something, or a story rooted in social justice, your voice is what will hook me. So yes, I’m open to dark and gritty stories, issue-driven stories, and rom-coms, as well.
I’m also willing to take on manuscripts that take place in contemporary settings but that have speculative elements. This isn’t an open door to hard fantasy or science fiction, but it does open the door to drop tiny bits of magic and mystery into contemporary stories. Just keep in mind: any Tolkienesque hard fantasy or space opera stuff ain’t for me.
In short, I’m looking for:
- Young Adult or New Adult manuscripts in contemporary settings
- Uplifting stories
- Memorable and engaging voices
I’ll also accept:
- Stories with speculative elements
- Darker stories
- Issue-driven stories
- Stories with a great twist
In terms of tropes, themes, or anything else that may interest a potential mentor, I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised by whatever you’ve got. I don’t want people to think I’m closed to any sort of YA or NA contemp book. I truly don’t have any disqualifiers inside this classification. If I sound like the type of guy you’d want to submit to, I’d encourage you to submit to me.
Thank you in advance for sharing these little pieces of your heart with me. Every book is a miracle, and I’m excited to see all the creativity and story magic that exists out there! Good luck with your subs, and I hope you’ll consider submitting to me!
Pitch Wars 2021 Young Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.