We’re so excited whenever one of our mentees gets an agent offer or a publishing deal. Celebrating these successes is one of our favorite parts of the Pitch Wars process. We hope you can join us in congratulating Victoria Lee and her mentor, Emily Martin. Victoria signed with Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary, and we couldn’t be happier for her!
Victoria, what was it about Emily that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
So, originally I’d had Emily on my master mentor spreadsheet as ‘likes antiheroes and unreliable narrators and slow burn, but possibly no fantasy?’ Emily’s wishlist was after “contemporary with speculative elements,” but I was pretty sure my book, which takes place at a magical military training program, was gonna be way too fantasy for her taste.
But then. But then. I posted my #pimpmybio, and Emily burst onto my timeline like “hey, hi, your story’s set in a speculative Durham, NC?” Turns out Emily went to grad school in my hometown! We chatted about Durham and Duke vs. Carolina (go Tarheels!) and finally, after I’d collected enough little hints, I straight up asked if she was interested in a contemporary fantasy. She said YES. (Cue starry-eyes!) That pretty much skyrocketed Emily up to the top of my list.
Emily, what was it about Victoria’s THE FEVER KING that hooked you?
WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN??? THE FEVER KING first caught my eye on Twitter—I was sucked in by Victoria’s beautiful aesthetics and I ran to check out her #pimpmybio. The premise and the unique magic system blew me away, and it didn’t hurt that the setting—Durham, NC—is one of my favorite places in the world. I was at the point of “if she doesn’t sub to me I will cry” so I was absolutely thrilled when it showed up in my inbox! Even more thrilled when the pages totally lived up to my expectations!
Once I dove in, Victoria’s voice and her beautifully crafted characters were what really hooked me. I became (possibly too?) emotionally invested in her characters, and even on my first read, I began jotting down revision ideas. That’s when I knew I absolutely had to work with Victoria on THE FEVER KING!
Victoria, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Emily had my edit letter ready to go from the start. So after I’d eaten my champagne-flavored cupcake, and drunk my champagne-flavored champagne, I emailed her for it and braced myself. Hard.
Which was appropriate, because eek! Emily’s suggestions included cutting an entire POV–my favorite POV, mind you–and changing the ending. I read through the letter and tried to be open-minded, but let’s be honest, I was pretty much sitting there like: “yeah, no.” I figured I’d talk to Emily on video chat later and make my case, and eventually she’d see reason. But the more I read and reread the edit letter, the more I started realizing she kind of had a point. By the time we were actually video chatting a few days later, I was on board with her suggested changes. (Mostly. It still took her a few minutes to talk me into changing the ending, but I came ‘round.) Even so, cutting that POV was sooooo hard! But it had to be done. I ended up rewriting more than half my novel to bring the word count back up after it got sliced in half, and to expand the worldbuilding and character arcs. But by the time I was done, the book was in much better shape. Of course, it was also 125,000 words long. So then I had to do another several rounds of darling-killing, slicing whole scenes, to get down to a still-long but more palatable 109,000 words.
Emily and I talked on Google Chat literally every day. We are chatting right now, in fact. We have a pretty constant stream of dialog back and forth about our respective books, but also about our dogs and significant others and dumb weather patterns and why-doesn’t-Victoria-move-to-Boston-already.
Emily, tell us about your experience mentoring Victoria.
It’s been such an awesome experience working with Victoria! I had some rather large-scale edits in mind, so I was a little nervous to send her the initial edit letter. But Victoria is a total pro, and she was so receptive to my feedback (yes, even when I made her kill a huge number of darlings).
But the real fun came after the first edit letter, when the brainstorming began. As Victoria mentioned, we began to talk on Google Chat pretty much nonstop. The more she told me about character backstories and her revision plan, the more impressed I became with Victoria’s insight into her characters’ psyches. I’d ping her every time I was reading a new scene that had my stomach in knots (which, spoiler, happened a lot!), and we still send each other songs that remind us of her characters.
The absolute highlight of this year’s Pitch Wars was when I got to hang out with Victoria in person! We stayed up too late every night talking books and watching our dogs play (they became fast friends, naturally). I’ve loved getting to know Victoria and it’s been an honor to work with her on THE FEVER KING. I could not be more excited to watch her career develop, or for her beautiful writing to be out in the world!
Victoria, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
I was lucky enough to receive multiple fantastic agent offers in the first few days following the agent round. I asked my first offering agent for two weeks as a courtesy to the other agents with my material–and the next thirteen days were a flurry of phone calls with agents and their clients and in some cases even with their agency colleagues. By the end of the two weeks I had a handful of offers and a double handful of polite step-asides. So on that thirteenth day, after a LOT of anxiety and excitement and hope and apprehension, I sat down and started writing my acceptance email for one of the offering agents.
But then…then. I was making dinner and chatting on the phone with my best friend when I got an email notification from Root Literary. I sucked in a deep breath and told my friend to hold on a sec because I had to read this rejection real quick. But what I read…wasn’t that. Holly and Taylor had written to say they were reading THE FEVER KING and loving it so far, but they just hadn’t finished yet. They knew today was my deadline, but by any chance did I have a buffer, and if so, could I give them overnight to finish reading?
So, here’s where I jumped up and down screaming–and also where I had to give past-Victoria her due, because past-Victoria had wondered if something like this might happen to future-Victoria. And in her neurosis, past-Victoria gave other agents a deadline that was one day short of the first offering agent’s deadline.
I wrote back and said yes, of course, because it’s Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty, y’all. Talk about a dream team. Like, when they requested my full off a cold query, I’d been happy enough just knowing they liked my concept and pages enough to want to read my book. I didn’t expect them to read more than half of it, really. And definitely not to email me at the eleventh hour saying they were loving it. What?! It felt so surreal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and think that this might turn into an offer, because after all, they hadn’t finished reading. They could still hate my ending. I felt like by getting excited, I was setting myself up to be devastated later, but … I couldn’t help getting excited, anyway.
The next day, I was in a coffee shop trying to get work done on grad school stuff when I my phone rang with an unknown number. I’d gotten used to answering the phone for every single random call these past two weeks, and gotten friendly with my fair share of telemarketers as a result. But this time….
Yep, you guessed it, it was them, and this was it, it was The Call. Only The Call was gonna have to wait, because I had zero service in that whole town. I had to hang up and drive to a whole ‘nother town and run into my lab building to hole up in an empty classroom and call them back.
It became clear so quickly that Holly and Taylor weren’t just dream agents on paper, they were dream agents in reality, too. Everything they said made it so obvious they really ‘got’ my book and its characters, and shared my vision for its future. Even their editorial notes seemed to highlight little quiet concerns I’d had about the book, but before now, hadn’t been sure how to fix.
Of course, it was the day of my for-real deadline, so now I had to scurry around calling the client whose name they gave me, and also calling a few others whose names were given to me by writing friends. Every single person I talked to just gushed about how amazing Holly and Taylor were. Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.
My hands were shaking when I typed out my acceptance email, and still shaking when I signed the contract and poured the champagne. I’m so delighted to be working with Holly and Taylor, and can’t wait to take the next steps in my publishing journey.
Victoria, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
If it weren’t for Pitch Wars, my book certainly wouldn’t be in as good shape as it is. Emily really helped me take a step back and get some clarity on my book and the changes that needed to be made. Plus, as great as the agent round was, I really feel that’s my favorite thing I got out of PW: the mentorship from Emily, and the support of my new writing friends.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Victoria: My confidante is Andrei from WAR AND PEACE. I feel like his snarky attitude would really do a body good. (On the other hand, I feel like hanging out with Dolokhov would never be boring.) Actually, wait can I change it? Or pick another? Because I forgot that Remus Lupin is a fictional human who exists and he would be my best friend forever and ever, and also he respects chocolate the way chocolate oughta be respected. I’m sworn enemies with anyone who hurts Rhy from A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, because he’s a precious cinnamon roll who should be protected at all costs. Obviously I idolize Henry Winter from THE SECRET HISTORY, as I too am a pretentious asshole. My kick-butt ally is Inej from SIX OF CROWS, but possibly also Magneto.
Confidante: They just don’t come more level-headed or trustworthy than Charlie from JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey. He had my trust from page one.
Enemy: Ugh, Tom Buchanan. He’s a great example of toxic masculinity, so…yeah. Hate that guy.
Idol: Ummm is it a little bit twisted to say Alex Craft from FEMALE OF THE SPECIES? *shrugs* I’m sticking with it.
Kick-butt ally: Veronica Mars. (who else???)
What is your work fuel of choice?
Victoria: I almost always write with either a black coffee or–depending on the hour of day–a neat whisky on hand. I’m really feeling Islay scotches right now. I try not to eat while I’m writing or else I’d just keep mindlessly shoveling chocolate-covered raisins into my mouth ad infinitum.
Emily: Tea and hot chocolate (with whipped cream, not marshmallows) are must-haves for me. Also pretzels and anything involving peanut butter!
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Victoria: I started writing super, super early, so it’s hard to say who inspired me to start, really. I wrote a novel about a girl on the Oregon Trail–inspired by the videogame of course–when I was eight. It was a hundred handwritten pages long and glorious. There was minimal division for me, at that age, between books and their creators. I felt sure that if someone was out there writing these books, I could write some of my own. My parents probably encouraged this. My childhood favorite authors were Verne and Tolkien. These days, I’m all about Nabokov, Tartt, Schwab, Wilde, Tolstoy, Bardugo, and Ruiz Zafón.
Emily: So many contemporary YA authors turned my love for books into an obsession and a desire to write stories of my own—authors like Jandy Nelson, Melina Marchetta, and Courtney Summers to name a few!
You and your favorite character from your favorite book are meeting at your favorite restaurant. Which character are you with, what restaurant did you choose, and what’s on the menu?
Victoria: I feel like me and Victor Vale’d get along, so long as we just kept talking about science. We’re at a 24-hour diner in some out-of-the-way midwestern town, drinking burnt coffee and eating grilled cheese. We also make fun of self-help book writers.
Emily: I’m with Monty from Mackenzi Lee’s THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. We’re at La Bonne Excuse in Paris, eating duck and drinking too much wine. I’m getting the inside scoop on his new life with Percy as we work our way through every dessert on the menu (because let’s be honest, self-control isn’t Monty’s strong suit).
What fictional character would best describe your mentor/mentee?
Victoria: I’m going to avoid the obvious answer of Harper from THE YEAR WE FELL APART by Emily Martin because, even though it’s accurate, it feels like a cop-out. Instead I’ll say Tella from CARAVAL, because they’re both fierce and loving and also dangerously after a good time.
Emily: Queenie from CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. (Because they’re both whip smart and tough as nails but mostly because Victoria STILL hasn’t read this book and I’m hoping this will force her hand.)
Thank you for sharing your success story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whisky. Victoria writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work.
Victoria is represented by Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.
Emily Martin lives and writes in the Greater Boston area, though she will always call Michigan home. She has a penchant for impromptu dance parties, vintage clothing, and traveling to new places. When not writing, she can be found hiking New England’s peaks, searching for the perfect cup of hot chocolate, or baking something pumpkin-flavored.
Emily’s debut young adult novel, THE YEAR WE FELL APART, is out now from S&S/Simon Pulse.