The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Nikki Roberti and her Pitch Wars mentor, Rachel Lynn Soloman, here for a little Q and A. Nikki recently signed with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Nikki, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Rachel?
One of the first things that caught my eye on Rachel’s blog was how much she loved young adult contemporary– but when she mentioned how she particularly liked when certain cultural things played huge roles in stories, I thought she may be interested in my novel THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES. She had mentioned religion specifically as an example, and I had always been a little bit afraid that the religious undertones of my book may be a deterrent for people, so I was extra intrigued that someone thought young adult literature should have more of that. I also loved that she had a journalism background like me. She really just seemed like the perfect person to help guide my story to where it should be. I really thought she’d get the concept and know what to do to bring it to the next level. I’m so glad my gut was right! Not only did Rachel end up being a great mentor, but she turned into a fantastic friend.
Rachel, what about Nikki’s application made you choose her?
Nikki’s comp titles immediately snagged my attention. Her query compared THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES to Saved! and Freaks and Geeks, both of which I love. I was so excited when the pages held up! So I was already salivating over the chance to potentially work with her at that point. Nikki’s story also stood out to me because the MC is six months pregnant when the book opens, and in that sense it felt very different from other teen pregnancy books I’d read lately. As I read on, I realized the book was about so much more than teen pregnancy, and the MC’s identity struggle, family dynamics, friendships, and dash of romance all felt real and compelling. Plus, it made me laugh out loud countless times.
I saw opportunities to tighten Nikki’s story and flesh out her main character, among other things. There were a lot of applications I received that I really liked, but what made me pick Nikki was that I truly felt I knew where she wanted to take her story, and I had some concrete ideas to help her get there! It also didn’t hurt that her online presence is spectacular — she’s such a sweetheart, and I could tell from her blog and Twitter that she’d be wonderful to work with. (And now that we’ve Skyped several times, I can 100 percent say Nikki is a DOLL!)
The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Nikki Roberti and her Pitch Wars mentor, Rachel Lynn Soloman, here for a little Q and A. Nikki recently signed with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson, Inc. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Nikki, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
The revision period was fantastic. Rachel got me my edit letter and line edits right away. One of the first things we discussed was how to tighten the language/make it shorter and also how to give my main character a hobby (she was being out-shined by my other characters). I added so much depth to this book during the revision period, and yet, still somehow ended up cutting like 5,000 words. It’s amazing how much more powerful words can be when there’s less fluff in the mix.
Overall, I can’t imagine the book any other way and am so glad that her ideas were the kind that inspired me to take things and run with them. I treated revisions like a second full time job, working on the story every chance I got until late in the evening. And I always looked forward to Skype calls with her which totally helped me hash out the more important details. One night, we seriously talked for an hour about an issue that resulted in one sentence in a chapter. But you know what? It was necessary and it made the chapter and story that much better.
The best part of her notes though? How she’d leave comments about what she liked as well. She literally swooned over my main character’s love interest sooooo many times in the comments, and I was just rolling half the time. She as the perfect mix of supportive and critiquing. Working with Rachel made revisions the best experience in the world.
Rachel, tell us about your experience with mentoring Nikki. How was mentoring your other team members?
I don’t know if I could have dreamed up a better mentoring experience! I sent Nikki an “edit letter” and made in-line notes on her manuscript — an embarrassingly high number of them. I was a little freaked that she’d fire me as a mentor at that point, but she was so receptive to feedback, and we had a bunch of in-depth discussions about the manuscript and the different paths she could take it. I love it when critiquing turns into a conversation, and I told Nikki at the very beginning that she absolutely didn’t have to take any of my suggestions she didn’t like! We dug deep. I don’t know if there was a day that went by during Pitch Wars where we didn’t DM, email, text, or Skype.
My other team member, Heather Ezell, recently signed with an agent too, and she was also awesome to work with! She and Nikki connected and cheered each other on, so it really did feel like the three of us were a team 🙂
Nikki, after Pitch Wars you signed with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson, Inc., tell us about “The Call.”
The Call with Carrie was fantastic! I found myself out of breath afterward from excitement. We chatted for an hour and a half about her ideas for the book and for my future. It truly felt like talking with a friend. I was so nervous, but when I realized Carrie had actually researched my online presence and knew me as more than just my manuscript THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO SHOES, but rather me as an author– I was just blown away. (Heck. We even had a brief conversation about how much we both loved our slow cookers because she had read a blog I wrote about that earlier this year). She even was interested in my other books that I’ve written or am in the process of writing which were listed on my site and had ideas for those too.
My favorite part about that call though was how she raised her #1 concern about something in the book that she wanted to smooth over, and it just happened to be my own personal #1 concern for the story since I started writing it. Obviously we were already on the same page and that felt like a great sign to me.
However, I actually had two calls with Carrie. She was one of my earlier offers and by the end of the two weeks, my brain felt so scrambled, I really felt like I needed to talk with her again before making a final decision. She told me she had back-to-back meetings that day but would make time for me. And when I called, she was still just as awesome as before and answered my many questions. The fact that Carrie was so personable and invested in me as a person really sold me on her. That attitude paired with her vision for my book really confirmed what my gut was telling me. I still am on cloud nine that I get to work with such a cool agent.
Nikki, can you tell us the details about the offer: How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Carrie contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
My first offer came only days after the end of the Pitch Wars agent round (which Carrie had Ninjaed me via twitter). Carrie was actually the second offer, though we couldn’t talk until a couple days after the first one because I was going out of town to visit family (oh the insanity of waiting!). When I finally got to chat with Carrie, I had told her the deadline I set with the previous agent was two weeks. Those were seriously the longest two weeks of my life. I had sent out a handful of queries as soon as the Pitch Wars agent round was over and it was a flood of rejections, requests, and more offers. I don’t know if this counts as distracting myself, but instead of stressing about the wait, I really tried hard to research all the offering agents super thoroughly. I called two of Carrie’s clients and emailed a third, and did a lot of the same with other agents just so I could know I was making an informed decision instead of just going 100% with my gut. (Luckily my gut has good taste though).
I actually did celebrate after Carrie’s call because I was so excited about all the ideas she had and the prospects for the future–even though I didn’t officially sign until two weeks later. My neighbors took me out for chili cheese fries because that’s a part of my book. Maybe silly, but there’s no better way to celebrate a book than to celebrate the way my own characters would.
The night it was official though, I was so exhausted from the two weeks of calls and research that I just wanted to relax by myself at home. So I celebrated by doing an episode on the webcast Whiskey, Wine, & Writing. It was a show that started during Pitch Wars that I watched whenever it was on and coincidentally the day I signed with Carrie was also the day I got to be an official, permanent host instead of just a viewer or guest. It was definitely a great way to toast this new step in my author journey.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Pitch Wars definitely helped me. I had never revised to this depth before. Before applying most people had told me they thought my manuscript was really great and was ready for querying– but I knew deep down something was missing and there were definitely things that needed work. I had test queried five agents before entering Pitch Wars. All loved the premise from the query. All loved earlier pages. But then it just never went anywhere. I needed help.
Revising on such a deep level with an amazing mentor like Rachel helped me bring my manuscript to a new level. I learned so much about my characters, about backstory motivations, and even how to avoid filler words. I got 7 requests from Pitch Wars agent round (5 on the blog and 2 Ninjas), and when I queried, I was getting same day/next day requests for fulls. That never happened before and I know it’s because my revising made my pages stronger than they had ever been. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe it.
But the best part is that I got to connect with the writing community on a level I had never known was possible. I got to get to know many of the other Pitch Wars mentees in a Facebook support group and also started tweeting more. I met Rachel and her BFF/CP who was also helpful to me during the querying/calling process. Writers can’t navigate this crazy world alone and for the first time ever, I had writers supporting me in a way I could never dream. I would definitely not be where I am today without Pitch Wars (Thank you, Brenda!!!!).
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
What fictional academy/university/school would you most want to attend? (ie Starfleet Academy, Hogwarts, Jedi Academy, Camp Half-Breed, Battle School in Space, Beauxbatons, etc)?
Nikki: This may sound weird, but I’ve always wanted to attend Plumfield Estate School from LITTLE MEN by Louisa May Alcott. I know technically it’s an orphanage for boys, but there were two girl characters who were pretty fantastic. I was such a tom boy as a little girl and always wanted to get into crazy shenanigans like those guys did. Plus Jo from LITTLE WOMEN all grown up seemed pretty cool.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Nikki: Confidante: The Giver. Come on. How could you NOT pick The Giver? Enemy: This may also be weird, but The Soviet Union as portrayed in Omon Ra– that historical sci-fi still has my head spinning from the twist ending. Idol: Lois Lane– I wanted to be a kick-butt reporter who never gave up when it came to getting the story and seeking truth. Kick-butt ally: Perry from the fantasy trilogy Under The Never Sky. I love the quiet type and he had super awesome skills that saved the day. *swoon*
Rachel: Confidante: Anna from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. Enemy: Voldemort. Idol: Katniss. Kick-butt ally: Buffy
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Nikki: The drink called “Luster” from Under The Never Sky. Seemed…interesting.
Rachel: I am totally aware of the adverse side effects, but I’ve always been curious what the gum Violet Beauregarde chews in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tastes like.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Nikki: Frying pan. I’d totally want to go all TANGLED on him/her…And who knows? Maybe after knocking them out and reasoning with them, perhaps we could become fast friends and I’d be able to, I dunno, fry some eggs for breakfast for them?
Rachel: Wand — I’m a weakling and probably couldn’t handle anything heavy
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Nikki: Any hot beverage— though most recently mocha lattes. And Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. (Though, not together, obviously, because that would be counter productive and confuse my taste buds)
Rachel: Anything super salty — I love salt and vinegar chips
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Nikki: My mom would make up stories whenever I wanted her to on our couch. I was a terrible reader as a kid, so she either had to make it up or read me something. Eventually she inspired me so much I told her at the ripe old age of three to sit down and take dictation. And thus, my first book “Animals” was born.
Author wise, I always looked up to Judy Blume. Journalism-wise, it was Terri Hatcher’s 90s TV portrayal of Lois Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
Rachel: Meg Cabot! As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of her. Her books are hilarious, and I love how she makes even the smallest moments feel terrifying or humiliating or wonderfully swoony.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Nikki: Anyone considering Pitch Wars should totally do it. However, all authors out there should look for opportunities to do a deep deep revision of their work– no matter how great they think it is after the first or second draft. Connect with other authors in the writing community online, join a group, find CPs and put in the effort necessary to make your manuscript shine. While Pitch Wars was amazing, you don’t need to get selected to truly revise your work. And trust me, its worth the effort to get your manuscript to that place you never knew it could go.
Rachel: Thank you SO MUCH for the opportunity to participate in Pitch Wars, Brenda!!! Not only did I have an out-of-this-world mentoring experience, but I now feel so lucky to count Nikki as one of my friends.
Thank you for sharing your success story. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone go say hello and congratulate them …
Rachel Lynn Soloman