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 June CL Tan and her mentor, Akemi Dawn Bowman. June signed with Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be happier for her!
June, what was it about Akemi that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
From her blog and videos and what I’ve read about her debut, STARFISH, at that time, my gut told me that I HAD to sub to Akemi. I wanted to learn from someone who could wield words so powerfully and evoke deep emotions in readers. Akemi’s novels also deal with complex family dynamics and that is something I’m interested in. So, I trusted my gut and my heart, and actually swapped out one of my earlier steadfast mentor picks. Fortunately, it worked out!
Akemi, what was it about June’s A SWORD OF JADE AND FIRE that hooked you?
I loved it from the very first page! It has such a lush, beautiful world filled with all of my favorite things—magical powers, delicious food, and so many twists and turns. Not to mention an enemies-to-lovers storyline that was just so moody and adorable and perfect. I can’t wait for people to fall in love with Ahn and Altan the way I have!
June, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Akemi gave me a 12-page edit letter that changed my life. I remember reading it while I was getting dressed for my best friend’s wedding in Indonesia. I started jumping around and kind of screaming, and almost tore my dress (haha) because everything Akemi said made me remember what I’d been trying but struggling to do with my story. That initial spark and the heart of my story came back to me. Her edit letter was revelatory in a way I could not have imagined. I knew that the first half of my story had big issues, but I didn’t understand what was wrong exactly. Akemi’s edit letter cleared everything up—actually, her edit letter covered only the first half of my story because she didn’t want to overwhelm me at once.
I was so pumped up to start revising, but then I fell very ill before I could do anything, and it took a while before I made it back to New York. I only managed to start planning my revisions a few weeks later in mid-September which was super stressful because I’d lost so much time and I’m generally a slow writer. We went back and forth as to how I wanted to restructure the first half of my story. I came up with new scenes and she gave me feedback promptly. Akemi always reminded me that it was my story and my vision, and I’m so grateful for that because I felt I could be completely open with her if there was something I disagreed with or was unsure about.
Then the real work of rewriting came. Throughout it all, Akemi was calm and reassuring, and always there for me. We did a second round of minor structural edits for the whole story after I fixed the first half, and one final round of line-edits. I’ve learned so so so much from Akemi, and I’ll be forever grateful.
Akemi, tell us about your experience mentoring June.
This was my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor, and while I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I was hoping to find a mentee who wanted to work hard and make the most of this experience. June turned out to be an absolute dream mentee! She was so incredible at not only listening to feedback, but also implementing those notes into her revisions. She rewrote so much of her manuscript in such a short amount of time, and worked so unbelievably hard. I’m just so proud of everything she’s accomplished, and ecstatic that so many agents saw what a gem her story is!
June, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail 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 on a work trip when I had my first call, and had to take it during a lunch break. I literally ran around an open-air mall looking for a quiet spot with wi-fi so I could set up my laptop and Word doc of questions, like the clumsy protagonist in a rom-com movie: heels clacking on the pavement, dropping my papers, and having people staring at me! Thank goodness, the agent was so understanding of my disorganized thoughts at the start of the call, and helped to calm me down.
Then, I was caught off-guard when more offers came in after I nudged other agents. I was very lucky to be in a situation where I had several offers after the first week. But it was also one of the most stress-inducing time of my life while trying to decide which agent was the “best fit”. It’s a situation you just aren’t prepared for I think. Thankfully, I had my mentor and many supportive writer and non-writer friends who were there for my endless questions and torrent of angst.
I wasn’t expecting an offer from Elana because she’d read two earlier versions of my story and rejected, and I thought I didn’t have a chance with her even though she requested my MS. I was very surprised when I received an email from her close to my deadline. Our first call went well and after we hung up, I felt even more confused and torn because I wasn’t sure which agent to sign with. I emailed Elana more questions, got her responses, spoke to her clients, and jumped on another call with her that same night. I finally made my decision the next day—which was my deadline—and called to accept her offer. At the end of that call, Elana told me to rest, sleep, and eat a proper meal as I’d confessed earlier that I hadn’t slept or eaten properly for two weeks. I took her advice and that was how I “celebrated” —eating and sleeping. LOL.
June, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Everyone says that Pitch Wars is about the mentoring and the community, and it’s 150% accurate. My mentor, Akemi, was outstanding in every way possible and I LOVED working with her. As for the community…wow… Even the mentors and mentees from previous years were around if we needed encouragement or advice. The mentees in my year are such wonderful, kind, generous, talented people and I feel so fortunate that I had this chance to go through this experience with them. When I felt down or super stressed or weary, I’d go to our Facebook group and there’d always be people cracking jokes, putting up gifs or memes or just being generally supportive of each other. I really hope that the friendships and community we forged will carry on as all of us move forward in our own writing journeys.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?
June: I’m running away from a businessman who is causing chaos in government and destabilizing global relations. Kaz Brekker is my side-kick, because Kaz’s scheming face™ will bring down this corrupt politician’s empire, steal all his money, and imprison him in the Ice Court in Fjerda.
Akemi: I’m probably trying to protect a friendly alien who is being hunted by the government while trying to get back to its spaceship and family—I’m basically Elliott in E.T.! And I would definitely not complain if Rogue from X-Men wanted to be my BFF and keep us all alive.
What fictional academy/university/school would you most want to attend? (ie Starfleet Academy, Hogwarts, Jedi Academy, Camp Half Blood, Battle School in Space, Beauxbatons, etc)?
June: I’m going with Camp Half-Blood because I want to be a demi-god in Hades’ cabin—osteokinesis and umbrakinesis are pretty cool powers to have.
Akemi: Everyone who knows me knows I love Star Wars forever and ever and ever, so my instinct is to say the Jedi Academy. But I’m not thrilled about their rules on falling in love and having a family, so at some point they’d either kick me out or I’d turn into some kind of vigilante Jedi who helps people but doesn’t answer to anyone. Which is probably ideal anyway—I work better alone!
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
June: Lembas or Elven Bread/Waybread. It stays fresh for months if you keep it wrapped properly with mallorn leaves, and a little goes a long way. Very practical. Also, from its description, it sounds like it’ll taste like a sweet, crisp wafer. That said, I wouldn’t mind eating everything No-Face had in SPIRITED AWAY.
Akemi: You know that scene in Hook where all the food is invisible until Peter Pan learns how to use his imagination? ALL OF THAT.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
June: Lightning. From my fingertips. I’m Azula. *stares at nemesis with narrowed eyes*
Akemi: I want superpowers like the Scarlet Witch so I can shoot stuff from my hands. Because in all honesty, I’d seriously injure myself trying to use a lightsaber. The other day I cut my finger TWICE trying to wrap some food with tin foil, and there was a shocking amount of blood. I can’t be trusted with sharp/laser-y objects.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
June: I’m going to cheat and say Leigh Bardugo because I snuck a peek at Akemi’s answer. This means I get to tag along and spend my day with TWO of my favorite authors! Muahahaha…
Akemi: Leigh Bardugo, and we’d go to Harry Potter World! I’ve actually met her twice and embarrassed myself both times, and I really wish I could redeem myself somehow. I feel like Butterbeer could be the way to go!
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!
June CL Tan
June CL Tan was raised in multicultural Singapore on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. A former teacher with a background in communications and film, she has also worked in tech and finance. She writes science fiction and fantasy stories for young adults, and is a Pitch Wars 2017 alum. She currently resides in New York City with her fluffy husband and whiny cat, hoping to have a big enough yard for a large dog one day.
She is represented by the amazing Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency.
Akemi Dawn Bowman
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.