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 Sonia Hartl and her Pitch Wars mentor Dannie Morin for a Q and A regarding her recent success! Sonia recently signed with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Sonia, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Dannie?
The moment I read her mentor bio, she was my top pick. I wanted a mentor with killer editorial skillz, who would give me a tough and honest crit. My PW manuscript had a twist in it that I was on the fence about, and with her background in counseling and social work, I knew she’d be able to tell if I was being true to life or not. Plus, she’s hilarious and has excellent taste in books (I’d read, and loved, most of the ones on her list).
Dannie, what about Sonia’s application made you choose her?
I looooooooved her concept. I was cautiously optimistic I’d be able to find a New Adult MSS that broke the tropes, and Sonia’s manuscript was all that and a bag of Doritos. From our emails I could tell she was willing to work hard, and I was completely in love with her pitch. Bottom line–she had a unique story idea and pitched it well.
Sonia, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
The revision period was pretty hardcore. Exactly what I hoped it would be. She read my first three chapters first, and gave me suggestions on certain things that were present through my whole manuscript. I did another round of revisions, then she read my first half and helped me adjust my midpoint, and I did another round of revisions. Then she read the whole thing, and dug deep into things that were working and things that weren’t so much. Her comments were on point, made me laugh out loud, and taught me so much about plot and character development.
During the revision period we had weekly chats with all the members of #TeamDannie, so we could bounce ideas around, talk about stuff we were struggling with, hone our pitches, and just take a break. We still meet in The Clubhouse once a month, and our group has grown since Pitch Wars into an amazing support system. Revisions are a learning experience, but having someone champion and believe in me during that time gave me the boost of confidence I needed to get it done.
Dannie, tell us about your experience with mentoring Sonia. How was mentoring your other team members?
Most of all, I appreciate that she didn’t shy away from my completely unprofessional and inappropriate snake/penis innuendos during the revision process. And really, I lucked out on the revision process, because this is a chick who can write and revise an entire manuscript in two months and it’s really good. Like really good. So like Sonia said we did have time to go through several rounds of revisions, even though we had a shorter time window during 2013 PW than we did in 2014.
Now, we’re avid fans of each other’s writing (read: total co-fangirls) and it helps that we both speak Sarcasm as our first language. I’ve seriously had THE BEST crew of writers through Pitch Wars and Sonia was (and continues to be) the leader of the pack. And she’s repaid the favor ten fold for me as we’ve both continued our authors’ journeys. This is one case where the student has definitely surpassed the teacher and I’m just lucky to be a part of her support system and to have her in mine.
Sonia, after Pitch Wars you signed with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency, tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Rebecca contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I queried my Pitch Wars manuscript for about four months, and during that time I had an idea for a YA contemporary that wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m a huge advocate of writing something new while querying, because it takes your mind off your email. I completed that one and started querying it while waiting to hear back on my Pitch Wars manuscript.
Within two weeks, Rebecca emailed me to tell me how much she was enjoying my manuscript, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. How many agents give updates while they’re reading? Three days later, she asked for The Call. I was a mess. Spoiler alert: I’m not so good at the talking on the phone type thing. But, between my stumbling and fumbling around, I managed to ask some questions and her responses were fantastic. She really got the heart of my story, and she was exactly the kind of agent I wanted.
Everything after I got off the phone was a blur. There might’ve been some wine. And dancing. I informed the other agents who had queries and both my manuscripts, and ended up with more requests and 6 offers of rep. I picked Rebecca because she was the best fit for me, and I absolutely enjoy working with her.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Pitch Wars is the reason I have an agent. I learned an incredible amount from Dannie. How descriptions can be worked into the narrative without overloading, why internal thoughts are important, weaving in backstory without info dumping, and how to make dialogue more organic. Working with her was like a one-on-one writing convention.
In her critique she didn’t just point out the good and the bad, she told me exactly why something worked or why it didn’t. She was completely open to any questions I had, and I implemented everything she taught me into my next manuscript. I’m still beyond grateful for her time and friendship.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer: You and your favorite four fictional characters were chosen to be the first group to populate? Who are they and why did you choose them?
Sonia: Four from Divergent, because we need to populate, and I’d be willing to make that sacrifice. Red from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, because I could use a man who knows how to get things. Hermione Granger, because the world can always use a little more brains, bravery, and magic. Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game, because I’d want someone mean enough and smart enough to help us survive.
Dannie: I, too, will take one for the team and sacrifice myself to procreating with Thor, provided he is of the Chris Hemsworth variety and not the soon-to-be-femme-bastardization of Thor. Hemsworth makes pretty babies. (Side note–Sonia, how did Hemsworth NOT make your list? Have I taught you NOTHING??) I could also spare a little time for Legolas (you didn’t say they had to be human, right?) And I’d need to have a Disney Princess on my team (other than myself, of course) so I’ll bring Merida because she’s a badass and she has badass hair. Finally, my favorite YA heroine in the last few years–Lucero Elisa ne Riqueza de Vega because she’s just amazeballs. Seriously, best trilogy from start to finish.
It’s your birthday and you get to choose an author to attend and read a scene from their book. What author would you invite and from which book would you like them read? Brownie points if you pick the scene.
Sonia: Jandy Nelson – I’ll Give You the Sun. I’d want her to read the last scene, even though the whole book is like poetry, “Remake the world.” is the most perfect last sentence I’ve ever read.
Dannie: I’d never put Harper Lee through the live reading because she’d hate it but there’s no question it would be the second-to-last scene in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, when Scout walks Boo Radley home and sees Maycomb from his perspective. Gah. All the feels. Oooh, can I have Morgan Freeman come read it instead?
You’re stranded on a deserted island with your favorite character? Who is it and why did you choose him/her?
Sonia: I’d volunteer Katniss Everdeen as tribute. I like nature and all, but she can hunt and find shelter. Those things are pretty important.
Dannie: Yeah, nature and I are not really friends, so I’d want someone who could get me the hell off that island, stat. I pick Albus Dumbledore.
You just won a trip through a time machine to visit any author of your choice. What author and time period would it be?
Sonia: I’d pick F. Scott Fitzgerald, not only because I think he’d be fascinating to talk to, but I’d love to spend an evening reveling in the excess of the Roaring Twenties.
Dannie: Dante Alighieri, though before that whole exile thing. Because Italy.
You only have two hours to finish edits. What do you do to handle the stress?
Sonia: Just push through it. When I’m working on edits, I try to stay focused and off the internet as much as possible. Doesn’t always work that way, but I try. When I finish, I’ll sit on my porch (or go downstairs in the winter) and have a beer. It helps to relax and have some down time after.
Dannie: Kill the internet. Go to a hotel (without internet). Preferably somewhere luxurious with room service so that after I finished my edits I’d have some awesome me time to look forward to. I’m very reward-driven and I feel like I work better with deadlines than without them.
If you could ask one of your favorite fictional characters any question, who would you choose and what question would you ask?
Sonia: Eleanor Douglas: What were those three words on the postcard?
Dannie: Tris Prior. The question: Seriously?
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Sonia: I want to thank Brenda for everything she does for writers. Pitch Wars was one of the best experiences of my writing life, I learned so much and met so many awesome people I’m lucky to call friends. Writing can be hard and solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. Years from now I won’t remember requests I did or didn’t get, but I’ll remember the people who made it possible for me to be a part of something fun and creative and made writing feel like I was part of a community.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We couldn’t be happier about it around here – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and say hello, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re amazing!
You can read more of her agent success story here.