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 Shelly Steig and her mentor, Niki Lenz. shelly signed with Laura Branford of the Bradford Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be happier for her!
Shelly, what was it about Niki that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
On Twitter I could see that Niki had a great sense of humor and an appreciation of the absurd, so she’d been on my radar. Then when I watched Pitch Wars Live and Niki said, “Show me the funny!” I had to send to her. My story is what you’d call quirky and odd, and I knew in my gut she’d get it.
Niki, what was it about Shelly’s FAUX REAL that hooked you?
FAUX REAL had voice and humor from the very first page! I found myself chuckling, grinning, guffawing, and chortling all along the way. And it tugged at the heartstrings with a precious main character who learns an important lesson about life and family. What more could a mentor want?
Shelly, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
I was in Scandinavia when the mentor picks were announced. I got up in the middle of the night, saw Niki had chosen me and was so excited I never fell back asleep. We chatted via email and she said she wanted me to take a week to settle in and then she’d send over my revision notes. I couldn’t wait! So, I asked her to send them right away. She had such a clear vision for how to make my book better—Niki knows MG ya’ll! I dug right in and all her recommendations felt so right that I finished in a short time. We went through the manuscript again a few more times before the agent round and then Niki also helped me craft my pitch and query. She was there every step along the way to offer advice, and encourage me.
Niki, tell us about your experience mentoring Shelly.
I had some big ideas about changes I wanted to see in Shelly’s manuscript, so I was a little nervous to send those to her. But her response was exactly what I was hoping for. She dove in with her whole heart and all her creative energy. She said, “Yes! And here’s how!” instead of “I don’t think so…” or “That seems hard.” The revisions that I had her do were not just a last round of polish, and she gave it an amazing amount of effort. And all that hard work paid off! The final product was a hilarious heart-felt story that we were both so proud of.
Shelly, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. 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.
My story is a hybrid Pitch Wars/Pitmad one. It also reads like the beatsheet for a novel. I got a decent number of requests during the agent round, but then got just as many rejections. I continued to tweak based on agent feedback and made some changes to the first pages. Dozens and dozens of queries later, I reached a breaking point—my dark night of the soul. I was ready to give up, but Niki made me promise to query 100 agents before I tossed FAUX REAL into a drawer. Pitmad was coming up and I wasn’t going to enter because I was worried I’d overexpose my book. But that morning, something niggled me and I tweeted my pitch, with a minor change to highlight what truly made my story different. I got several requests, including a late night one from Laura!
She’d been on my to-query list, but had been on maternity leave. She emailed and asked for a call. I’d had another call prior to Laura’s, so wasn’t as nervous. I wrote down nearly everything she said: what she loved (thank you Niki!), what she thought needed work, and the line, “This is an offer.” It was a good thing I took notes, because I went back to that line over and over again since I honestly kept thinking I’d heard wrong or misunderstood!
Actual conversation with Niki just a few days before my deadline:
Me: What if Laura changes her mind?
Niki: That’s not a thing.
Me: It could be a thing. I don’t want it to be a thing!
(It wasn’t a thing!)
Laura is a dream agent—savvy, communicative, and like Niki she “gets” my story. I feel so fortunate!
Shelly, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
(Prepare for gushing)
Brenda and Heather grew Pitch Wars into a contest that mattered to agents and editors. I’m still amazed I got in. Heather was always available to answer the silliest of questions. Brenda was grace personified as she dealt with a major family crisis and still managed to keep things running. I wouldn’t be where I am today without this contest. Niki was fabulous as a mentor and now is a wonderful friend and CP. I’ve had the joy of being part of a community that is supportive, encouraging, and honest about what they are experiencing. I would have given up if it hadn’t been for ALL of them!
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?
Shelly: Peaceful Middle Earth. I’m not so keen on the hobbits’ huge, hairy feet, but I do fit in with all the curly hair! I’d love to live in a hobbit house, hike the Misty Mountains, philosophize with the Elves, vacation in the Ithilien and trace the (rather large) footsteps of Bilbo Baggins.
Niki: I kinda hate that my answer comes from a TV show and not a book, but me and my family would absolutely thrive in Stars Hallow (from Gilmore Girls). I love a quirky small town with characters hiding behind every corner!
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Shelly: Booger flavored Bertie Bott’s beans. Because, GROSS! (I’d eat them for my middle grade fans. When I get middle grade fans.) I’d follow with Tutti Fruitti Bertie Bott’s as a nod to Elvis.
Niki: Remember the scene in Matilda when Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat an entire chocolate layer cake??? Sign me up!
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Shelly: Lucy Maude Montgomery. Her novels made me want to be a better person. I still read the entire series yearly. It’s my literary palate cleanser.
Niki: The YA boom around the time my kids were babies strongly contributed to me becoming a writer. I had always been an avid reader, but for some reason I’d kind of skipped the YA section until TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES, etc. When I read in an interview that Stephanie Meyer wrote about her sparkly brooding vampires while she was a stay-at-home mom I was inspired to try and wrangle my own creative energies while also wrangling toddlers.
What fictional character(s) best describes your personality?
Shelly: My “comps” would be Sue Heck because she often has unrealistically high expectations + Anne Shirley because she’s always getting into scrapes and loves language + Katniss Everdeen’s fierce competitiveness (And although I live to win Exploding Kittens, I’d probably die first during Hunger Games!).
Niki: Oh my. I am a sarcastic and anti-social Liz Lemmon (30 Rock), meets a bubbly and naïve Kimmy Schmidt (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). With the awkwardness and fashion sense of Jessica Day (New Girl) thrown in for good measure.
Who is your biggest supporter of your writing? What fictional character would best describe this person?
Shelly: My husband, who’s my muse. He’s always willing to brainstorm with me and he has some of the BEST ideas. He’s my Gilbert.
Niki: My husband rocks. He has never once doubted I’d find success on this crazy adventure. He is my John Wayne, my John McClane, my James Dean. Basically, he’s a sexy urban cowboy and when “stuff” hits the fan, he’s the guy you want in your corner.
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!
Shelly Steig is a travel journalist with more than 350 articles in national and regional magazines. She’s also the author of five novelty science books for children. When she’s not writing for work, she’s writing for fun! Shelly lives in Colorado with the world’s tallest pilot and their Giant Schnoodle Doodle.
Niki Lenz is an author living in Kansas City, Missouri. She is married to a handsome and brave police officer and has two adorable children. She studied elementary education at Southwest Baptist University and taught kindergarten for six years. She enjoys reading, travel, glamping, polka dots, red lipstick, and oldies music.