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A Pitch Madness Success … the interview

Thursday, 7 June 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

I’m so thrilled to announce another Pitch Madness success story. Gina Ciocca has signed with the beyond awesome agent and writer,  John M. Cusick with Scott Treimel NY (yes, I’m a fangirl, and yes, he knows it). SQUEE!!! 

 Gina Ciocca

Gina has agreed to let me torture interview her. Here’s how it went down…

B says: So let’s get this party started. What made you decide to enter Pitch Madness, and how did you feel during the contest?

When Pitch Madness came around, I had been querying my manuscript for about a month without much success. My one request had come from a different pitch contest, so I thought I might have better luck entering another one – and I especially wanted to do it when I saw the list of agents participating, most of whom I hadn’t queried yet. Talk about an impressive roster!  One of my CP’s, Marieke, is a pitch-writing wizard, and she helped (understatement) with the pitch. Which BTW, Brenda, the 35-word limit was just mean! Kidding 🙂 I totally revamped my opening before entering the contest, but I wasn’t expecting my entry to get much attention. So I submitted it and hoped for the best.

B says: I love to challenge (hee,hee). Ahem. Which blog were you on and what was the title of your entry? How many requests did you get?

I was on Cassandra’s blog – entry # C-16, LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE. I wound up getting 5 bids total. I was at work when the results were revealed, so I couldn’t check the site myself. My CP’s were live-tweeting so I’d know what was going on!

B says: I know, you have some awesome CPs. I saw the love on Twitter. So you sent in your request. Was it a partial or a full? Tell us how you snagged John Cusick *sighs*.

John bid on my entry, but he didn’t end up “winning” it. Two of the PM agents requested my full through the contest, and I sent it to them after jumping for joy a few times. But I still wanted to query the other agents who’d expressed interest, since I already knew I’d caught their attention. I queried John and two of the other agents who’d bid, and I mentioned Pitch Madness in all three letters. All three came back requesting the full.

B says: That is an amazing request rate. I remember Erica and I putting your story through. Loved the premise. Okay, this is my favorite part *sits at the edge of her seat*. Tell us about THE Call.

The Call almost gave me a heart attack. There was no preliminary “let’s set up a time to talk” e-mail; my cell phone just started ringing in the middle of dinner prep and laundry. I almost didn’t pick it up, because I didn’t recognize the number and thought it was a sales call. But I am seriously glad I stopped chopping vegetables and didn’t let it go to voicemail!

John got right to the point. He told me he’d just read my manuscript and really enjoyed the story and the characters. He asked what else I was working on and whether I was open to making some editorial changes. I furiously scribbled notes as he made some suggestions on aspects of the story that could be strengthened or drawn out, all of which I agreed with.

I actually didn’t realize he was offering representation until the conversation was almost over (I blame my denseness on being in shock) and he started talking about author bios and submission lists. To which I think my oh-so-clever response was “Um… should I be notifying the other agents with my ms about this conversation?” I was convinced I was either dreaming or misinterpreting.

B says: I would’ve cut off a finger if I got a random call from John while chopping veggies. Can you tell us a little about your book?

LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE is a Contemporary YA romance. It’s the story of Kelsey and David, and it alternates between events in the past that led to their friendship falling apart, and the unexpected way they come together again in the present – as more than friends, even though they both try to fight it.

B says: This premise is sort of my life, just saying. How long had you been querying before you got your agent?

I queried one other novel prior to this one. That was my “training wheels” novel, so I dragged out the query process for quite a while. I sent my last-ditch queries for that first novel in December of last year. Meanwhile I’d been working on LYM, and it was ready to query at the end of January. Pitch Madness came along in March, I queried John in April, and he offered at the beginning of May. Nine days before my birthday, might I add.

B says: We all need a little training before we roll from the sidewalk into the big road of publishing. Okay, let’s have some fun. Coffee or Tea?

Tea. Decaff. Preferably flavored, like orange or peppermint or raspberry.

B says: Jeesh, another tea-totterer. Coffee, people. It’s the fluid for writing. Potato chips or chocolate?


B says: Now, you’re speaking my language (but chips do too). Chocolate is the cure all. Since there was a cookie game about what my favorite cookie was on Twitter during Pitch Madness, what’s your favorite cookie?

Good, old-fashioned chocolate chip. Yummmm. And I also have a weakness for Double Stuf Oreos.

B says: Mine is Oatmeal and Raisin, in case you were wondering. Anywho, which vacation would you prefer: camping out in the wilderness or shopping in a quaint town?

Wilderness and I don’t even belong in the same sentence together! I prefer an island – sparkling blue ocean, soft sand, and a good book in my hand. 🙂

B says: Yeah, I’m not a wild one for camping either. Where do you write?

Either curled up on the couch with my netbook, upstairs in my study, or at work. My job is very seasonal and I’m at a desk all day anyway, so when we hit a slow patch, I open up a Word document and let my characters take over. (If any of my co-workers see this, I do not ignore my job!)

B says: Nice. And the big question, are you an outline or panster type?

Definitely a plotter. I can’t write until I have a general idea of where the story is going. I spent two weeks planning out my first novel before I ever put a word on paper. But – the finished products are usually nothing like my outline!

B says: Before I untie you from the chair, do you have any advice for those seeking representation? Anything you wished you’d done differently?

As far as advice, a) do your homework b) get honest, reliable critique partners who aren’t afraid to tell you how you can make your stories stronger , and c) don’t give up. If you aren’t getting the response you’re looking for from agents, make revisions to your query and/or your manuscript, and get some fresh eyes on it. I was very reluctant to share my work when I queried my first novel and I’d definitely go back in time and kick myself for that if I could!

Thanks so much for having me, Brenda! And thank you to you, Shelley, and Cassandra for Pitch Madness and all your fabulous contests!

B says: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I can’t wait to hold the actual book when it comes out. Congratulations to you and John. Here’s hoping you sell tons of books. And now it’s time to dance!

  • K.T. Hanna says:

    Congrats! This is fantastic 😀 Pitchmadness was so much fun and so worthwhile!

    Can’t wait to see the book in print!

  • Marieke says:


    So, so happy for you!!! <3 And really, the pitch was my pleasure. All I did was suggest some tweaks, the hard work was very much yours 😀

  • Amber says:

    Awesome! It is so great to read these stories. Congrats on snagging John- he’s def. at the top of my dream agents list. And as always, thanks for a good laugh Brenda 🙂

  • Tracey J says:

    What a great interview. Congratulations. 😀

  • Stephsco says:

    Very cool! I’ve learned so much from reading pitches and checking out these contests. Congrats on an agent! I love contemporary YA. More of them, please!

  • ryan.gebhart says:

    Bigtime congrats, Gina! John’s my agent and he has been nothing short of awesome throughout the whole process, from revisions, to submitting to editors, to the sale. I think one of the many things John has going from him is he can see both sides of the equation, being a writer and an agent.

    Glad to have you on Team Cusick 🙂

  • Wow, it’s SO exciting!!! Congrats Gina 🙂



  • Gina says:

    Eee! I think seeing this interview has finally convinced me that it really happened! And I’ve already “met” two of my agency “siblings” since you posted it! Thank you for the well wishes everyone and thanks again, Brenda 🙂

  • Heather says:

    Congrats to Gina! I love reading about these success stories. Brenda, you make magic happen my dear. 😉

  • MarcyKate says:

    Woohoo!! So excited for you, Gina – may you and John sell ALL THE BOOKS! 😀

  • WOW What an AWESOME interview 😀 Love you Gina!

  • Super-Congrats to Gina & Brenda. A success story for both!

    Hoping I get to sit acorss from Brenda to do a similar interview on how I became a part of Team Cusick thanks to #WVTP.

    Love~ FanBoy 😉

  • Leigh Ann says:

    Proud CP running big, buzzy, happy dance circles here! (And possibly doing the cabbage patch and/or sprinkler.)

    Okay…were you and Brenda besties before this interview and I just didn’t know it? Because you two were SO CUTE together.

    And, yeah. I might have a leetle crush on John now too. Platonic, OF COURSE.

    Eeeeee I’m SO EXCITED!!! Go forth and sell ALL THE BOOKS, as MK says!!!

    Loved reading this narration

  • Aww LOVE this!!! CONGRATS, Gina!! Dude, Leigh Ann, who aren’t you CP’s with?? LOL. This was an excellent interview!! How cute.

    Who doesn’t love John. I mean, come on. YES, B and I LOVED Gina’s entry and I was so excited to see this success story ;o) I’m gonna go ahead and *happy dance* with Leigh Ann ;o)

  • T. Drecker says:

    Congratulations! Great interview and good luck!

  • Congratulations, Gina! Awesome story!

    And at my house, we would never have picked up the phone for a number we didn’t recognize, so John would’ve gone to voice mail. And since we rarely check voice mail because the blinky light is so weak and hard to see … this whole story would’ve ended disastrously if it had happened to me. Glad you had more sense!!

    And hello, Brenda! Thanks for outing Gina’s agent. I’ve been wondering who it was!

  • Ha! So weird he just called outta no where but definitely a way to get the job done! I would have been in shock too, wondering if I hadn’t just imagined it. Great story and sounds like you have a great agent in your corner! Congrats:)

  • I hope no agent ever calls me while I’m holding a knife. I’m clumsy enough as it is. 🙂

    Congrats Gina. That was an awesome story!

  • Meredith says:

    Yay! So exciting! Thank goodness you answered that call (and didn’t cut yourself in the process!)!

  • exciting to hear the details! I am much too happy for Gina <3 if that's possible lol

  • Angela Brown says:

    So Gina, we FINALLY have the name of the awesome agent. Congrats and the moment and joy of it all is well deserved. Thanks to Brenda et al for doing these Pitch Madness sessions.

    Rocking star power!

  • Very interesting interview! And I also think that shopping in a quaint town would be more fun than camping, especially because then I wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground or worry about getting bitten by anything. It’s interesting to read about a contest like Pitch Madness. I didn’t even know there were contests like this one.

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