The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today I am so beyond excited to introduce you to Jennifer Hawkins and her Pitch Wars mentor Kes Trester for a Q and A regarding her recent success! Jennifer recently signed with Louise Fury with The Bent Agency. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Jennifer, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Kes?
I recognized her name and remembered her entry (because it was fantastic) from a previous Pitch Wars. I thought it’d be great to work with someone who has been on both sides of the mentor line. I also loved her experience and accolades in the film industry. I think we all, as authors, would love to see our work adapted for the screen someday, and I knew she’d have insight on whether or not I stand a chance against those rather impossible odds. I started following her on Twitter long before the submission window opened and liked her right away.
Kes, what about Jennifer’s application made you choose her?
I had a checklist of qualities I kept in mind when reading submissions:
* A voice that jumped off the page (our revision deadline was too short to instill it if it wasn’t already there).
* Writing that demonstrated he or she put in the time to revise and polish. I wasn’t looking for perfection, but you can tell who is serious about Pitch Wars by this yardstick.
* A genre and plot that would appeal to our agent panel. These busy agents put in a lot of valuable time to read our selections, and it’s incumbent upon us to respect that.
* Diverse characters. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but how wonderful if Pitch Wars could shine a spotlight on racial and/or sexual diversity.
* An enjoyable read. I knew I would spend a lot of time with this book and wanted it to be rewarding for both of us.
Jennifer’s ms hit all the marks. Then I emailed her as I was winnowing down my selections to ask if she would trust me if I suggested we change a major plot point. Her immediate response was so warm, excited, and open-minded that I knew I’d found my mentee.
Jennifer, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
The revisions were no joke. The changes Kes suggested terrified me at first. But I didn’t enter Pitch Wars so someone could tell me how perfect my manuscript was; I entered so someone could tell me how to make it sing. The vision Kes had was always the same as mine–she just knew how to get it there in a more concise way. I spent about four weeks completely changing one of my plot threads, and then another two weeks tweaking the final touches. Kes read and re-read my words so many times that I wish I could’ve thanked her with a dump truck full of chocolate and scantily clad cabana boys to feed it to her.
Ha! I’m sure she would have loved that. Kes, tell us about your experience with mentoring Jennifer. How was mentoring your other team members?
I LOVED working with Jennifer. She made it clear I didn’t need to tiptoe around with my notes, recognizing it was all in service to her ms. It freed me to be honest, and it also freed her to disagree when she thought I was wrong. Since Pitch Wars, she has become a treasured CP, and I anticipate calling this fabulous Texan my friend until the day I drop.
The other mentee I chose withdrew midday through the revision period due to personal reasons. By that time, I’d already spent many hours reading her full ms and giving her extensive notes. This was on top of reading the entire first chapter of everyone who subbed to me, and emailing him/her what I hoped was at least one solid and helpful comment. I simply didn’t have time to start over again with another entry.
Because of Pitch Wars and PitMad (and an insane amount of luck), I got a jackpot-level six agent offers. Louise had starred one of my pitches in PitMad, so she was one of the nudge emails I sent when I got my first offer. Just when I thought my good fortune couldn’t possibly get better, she contacted me on my deadline day and wanted to talk. I was ECSTATIC. Since she was my sixth call, you’d think I would’ve been seasoned enough that the nerves would’ve settled, right? NOPE. Louise held dream agent status. I once said, “I’d give a few toes to be represented by a Bent agent.” (Pray for my piggies, please.)
I blubbered. I stuttered. I giggled a whole bunch. In my defense, Louise is hilarious. By the end of the conversation, she felt like a friend. She understood my book and my characters. She had insightful feedback that resonated immediately. When I hung up the phone, I knew Louise was the one.
We definitely love Louise around here. She is so generous and kind. And how do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success, Jennifer?
Pitch Wars is, without a doubt, the reason I am now agented. Without your generosity and dedication, and the awesome experience I had working with Kes, my manuscript wouldn’t have been ready to query or pitch. I learned so much from Kes during the process about what it will be like to work with an editor, how to be flexible and open-minded about my work, and when to kill my darlings to improve my craft. Kes didn’t just become my mentor, she became my cheerleader and my very dear friend. This contest was a game-changer for my career. I can’t say thank you enough!
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)?
Jennifer: Hogwarts, no question.
Kes: Considering there was a Kes on Star Trek: Voyager (the show’s co-creator, the late Michael Piller, was my neighbor, so you can decide where he got the name!) I’m going to have to say Star Fleet. Though unlike the character Kes, I hope I don’t have a lifespan of only 7 years!
How fun, Kes, he was your neighbor! He totally named that character because of you. Ahem, okay, where were we? Oh yes, so what fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Jennifer: Jericho Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series. Such a badass. And he owns a bookstore.
Kes: I can absolutely relate to Hermione Granger, because my family has a proud tradition of producing pushy women who challenge themselves and society’s expectations. My great-grandmother was a prominent suffragette (Yay 19th Amendment! Go Granny!), my mother was an architect and published essayist, and now my 14yo daughter is a Young Adult Ambassador to the U.N. I like and admire girls/women who are not afraid to stand up and stand out.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Jennifer: Gillyweed. I’ve always wanted to go diving, but I have a terrible fear of getting down there and something happening to my oxygen line. Gillyweed=problem solved.
Kes: It’s not fictional, but every time I read one of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries, I know I’ll crave creamy brie slathered on a fresh-baked baguette, a charcuterie platter, and a rich chardonnay. Never start one of her books when you’re on a diet!
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Jennifer: Wand. The Pottermore sorting hat recently declared me a Slytherin. My nemesis wouldn’t stand a chance. Muhahaha!
Kes: I’d grab one of the many titanium softball bats we’ve collected through the years. This season’s acquisition is an awesome purple and silver Louisville Slugger, so I’d also be kicking ass in style.
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Jennifer: I usually just drink coffee while I write, so I’m starving when I get to a stopping point. My kids love pizza, so high word count days mean ordering delivery from Pizza Tonight, this great little hole-in-the-wall place around the corner.
Kes: Root beer and/or cherry Jelly Bellys! Fat free and low in calories, but a total sugar rush!
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Jennifer: Judy Blume. I remember reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing when I was elementary school and being forever changed. I wanted to write stories and make people laugh, too. Then when I started my first hospital job as a nurse, I read Summer Sisters and was blown away all over again, but for different reasons. Full circle. That was my first indication that I might’ve majored in the wrong thing.
Kes: I had been writing professionally for years, first as a feature film development executive and then as a TV commercial producer (part of the job award process hinges on writing directors’ treatments). Then I picked up a popular YA book where the female MC couldn’t tie her shoes until some boy showed her how (I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture). I was so incensed that my then 4th grade daughter might someday read this book and see this character as something to aspire to that I was driven to write stories of smart girls doing it for themselves.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Jennifer: The writing community is full of absolute gems. You are a diamond among them, and I appreciate this opportunity so much!
Kes: So much attention is focused on writing and querying, but not as much on the marketing of your work. You should absolutely write what you like and what you would like to read, but if your goal is to have your work widely read, it must also appeal to the market. Just as I did when choosing Jennifer’s work, I kept in mind what is marketable and currently in demand. I would never advise to write to a trend, but look how many agents are blogging and tweeting that they can’t sell dystopian, vampires, angels, or paranormal romance. If you want an agent and are interested in being traditionally published, be aware of what is selling and what is not.
Thanks, Brenda! It’s been a truly amazing experience!
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We couldn’t be happier about it around here – CONGRATULATIONS! Reading your responses tear me up. Everyone, go say hello and follow them because all the cool kids are doing it.
And because Kes mentioned Suffragettes I thought I’d add this …