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 Mary Ann Marlowe and her Pitch Wars mentor Jaime Loren for a Q and A regarding her recent success! Mary Ann recently signed with Rachel Stout of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Mary Ann, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Jaime?
Voice. Ha. Not even kidding. I did my research, made my lists, checked them twice, and compared notes with a critique partner who was also entering to make sure we had no overlap so we could maximize the chance we’d both get in (we did).
When I first read Jaime’s blog post, I thought she might be asking for something more romance-oriented than what I had, but I saw all the books she loves, which are books I love. And her whole “tough guy” double-chest-pound demeanor cracked me up. Then the stalking began. After some interaction on Twitter, I had such a girl crush. And after I submitted, that tricksy Jaime double-crossed me by posting hints to make me certain she hadn’t picked me. Even if she hadn’t, I hoped we’d at least stay in touch after the contest ended, cause she’s swoon worthy.
Voice! Mary Ann had a very hooky query letter, so I jumped straight into her first chapter. Her very first paragraph made me laugh in a morbid kind of way, so that was it for me. I was smitten. I remember sitting in a car park, waiting for friends, trying to devour as much of her first chapter as I could before my friends arrived. I was laughing the whole time, which was a great sign. It was an even better sign that I couldn’t stop telling my friends how good it was over dinner!
Mary Ann, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Getting critiqued by Jaime was akin to being told to eat candy for dinner. That’s not to say she didn’t suggest improvements, but her suggestions gave me permission to ratchet up the chemistry between my characters. And when my great big dramatic reveal scene wasn’t having the emotional wallop I was aiming for, she gave me some great ideas for breaking it down into smaller scenes that would build up to the big moment to give a longer, more powerful climax. (Mind out of gutter, please, Jaime.) Everything she suggested was just: “Whoa, man. Totally.”
And although she was buried under her own revisions, she took the time to brainstorm and then read through my final version. I hope I thanked her profusely enough. She wouldn’t accept offers of chocolate and beer.
Jaime, tell us about your experience with mentoring Mary Ann. How was mentoring your other team members?
I got super lucky with both my team members. Mary Ann took all of my suggestions on board and blew me away with her amazing voice. She totally made those changes
her bitch work for her. Working with Mary Ann was a really smooth process. She’s got the gift, she’s open to suggestions, and she’s smart enough to know what works for her writing style and what doesn’t.
My alternate, Kelli Newby, definitely has the gift, too. Her first chapter was outstanding. She knows how to pull a reader right into the moment, and I have no doubt she’ll also go far.
Mary Ann, after Pitch Wars you signed with Rachel Stout of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, tell us about “The Call.” Can you tell us the details about the offer: How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Rachel contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
So the distraction question is the same whether waiting on query responses or contest results. I’m either writing or volunteering to beta read for friends. Or playing spider solitaire. I play a gross amount of spider solitaire.
As for the path to the call…
My Pitch Wars novel did pretty well during the agent round of the contest, and I had a number of requests from awesome agents. Optimistic that my query would work as well in the wild, I double shotgun fired it out to more agents. Whether it didn’t connect or agents weren’t looking for that kind of thing, it didn’t elicit the kind of response I’d hoped for. About half my Pitch Wars requests were upgraded to fulls, but only a single cold query out of about fifty resulted in a request. I called time of death on that manuscript (complete with a flaming arrow shot at the departing funeral boat) and threw myself into finishing one that I’d started in August and put on hold while revising for Pitch Wars.
I’d barely dipped my toes into the query waters with the new one when I got a full request from Jane Dystel (she works *fast*) in early February. After a month of obsessively refreshing my email and trying to read the Query Tracker tea leaves, I heard the panic-inducing “You have mail” ringtone associated with my author email account. And there sat a response from Jane.
Now, I have a tendency to band-aid rip whenever I get a reply from an agent. I immediately scan for keywords like “unfortunately” and “subjective” on the one hand or “happy” and “please attach” on the other, so I can brace myself for a rejection or psych myself up for an offer or request.
So when Jane’s email began with “Please forgive me,” I blew a raspberry. And then read: “…for taking a while to get back to you.” I made myself read the words in the letter in sequential order and discovered that it looked suspiciously like an offer, but with a twist. She explained that Rachel Stout had read the manuscript and wanted to work with me. I spent the next four hours trying to piece together a coherent sentence to let them know I was thrilled. This was uncharted territory.
I’d love to share all the details of the call, but it’s shrouded in the fog of war. I had my list of questions to ask, and ask I did. Rachel had all the right answers. And in subsequent communication with her the following week, before I made my final decision to sign with her, she convinced me that she understood what I wanted to achieve with this book and would be there for future projects.
I celebrated by going out for drinks with my CP, a fellow Pitch Wars alum who just happened to sign with her own agent only a couple of weeks earlier.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Directly, I got an awesome mentor who believed in my manuscript and helped me make it tighter and more emotional. Indirectly, what I learned from her helped me with my next book in so many ways I can’t even quantify. And beyond Pitch Wars, she’s continued to be a trusted advisor and friend.
Every contest I’ve entered has taught me a little more about the weird world of querying, thickened my skin against inevitable criticism and rejection, boosted my confidence, and introduced me to new writer friends. Pitch Wars did all of these things on steroids.
And that brings us to the Pitch Wars 2014 community, pretty much the greatest writer circle in the history of time. During Pitch Wars, we spent a month commiserating over revisions and sharing our triumphs and aggravations, building friendships and gaining critique partners. After the contest ended, our group has continued to grow tighter as we navigate the land of ten thousand queries, the awesome hell of multiple offers, the purgatory of submission, and the mythical world of book deals – we’ve seen it all. And I couldn’t ask for a better support network. *Fist bump PW14 pals*
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)?
Mary Ann: The Prydonian Academy (aka The Time Academy) so I could live on Gallifrey and be a time lord. I’m fairly sure the Time Academy is horribly abusive, but it’s also shrouded in mystery and I want to know what goes on there. And maybe steal me a TARDIS.
Jaime: I’m not sure I can beat Mary Ann’s answer (her love for Doctor Who pretty much sealed the deal when looking for my mentee).
Perhaps my backup school could be Sunnydale High. Sure, I’d probably be picked off by a vampire pretty quickly (*crosses fingers that Angel be said vampire*, because, come on. He has to put his hands AND his lips on you whilst biting, which isn’t an entirely horrible death). But should I survive and become one of the Scooby Gang, that would also be pretty cool. I’d give Anya a run for her money with weirdness and brutal honesty.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Mary Ann: My fictional confidante would be Elizabeth Bennet or Lorelei Gilmore for the witty repartee. My sworn enemy is Claire Beauchamp for stealing hot Jamie away from all of us. My idol is Arya Stark, one of the toughest little anti-sheroes in fiction. And my kick-butt ally is Hermione Granger because she’s smart, brave, and doesn’t put up with any b.s.
Jaime: *punches wall over Mary Ann’s answers*
Get out of my braiiiiiinnnnnnn!!!!
Okay, my confidante would be Emma Woodhouse (but of course I’d ignore her matchmaking suggestions). My sworn enemy would be Loki, which would give me a great excuse to work with Thor—for strategic reasons, obvs. My idol is Jane Foster from Thor/Avengers, because she has a brilliant mind (and she also gets to snog Thor), and my kick-butt ally would be Faith from Buffy/Angel, because she’s … well, a kick-butt character.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Jaime: I’d have to go with the Eat Me cakes. Maybe then I’d grow into a normal-sized human. XD
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc.
Mary Ann: Iron Man suit. I mean, come on.
Jaime: Hattori Hanzō sword. 😀
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Mary Ann: Morning: coffee. Afternoon: Coke Zero. Evening: Beer.
Jaime: Chocolate and/or Allen’s Party Mix lollies. *watches everyone who doesn’t live in Australia/New Zealand smile and nod because they have no idea what I’m talking about*
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Mary Ann: Going way back, probably Douglas Adams. I grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time and all these fantastical adventure stories, but it wasn’t until I encountered Vogon poetry that I found myself wanting to imitate another writer. All these many years later, I’ve had to reconcile myself with the reality that I don’t write fantasy and I don’t write comedy. Other writers who have impacted me for various reasons include Colleen McCullough, Barbara Kingsolver, Choderlos de Laclos, and George R. R. Martin.
Jaime: I’d have to say Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Marti Noxon, and Nancy Holder (okay, pretty much anyone who worked on Buffy) inspired me to create worlds that branch off of our own. I also love Alice Sebold, Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King, for so many reasons.
And I totally disagree with Mary Ann. She can TOTALLY write comedy.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Mary Ann: The number of people from this year’s Pitch Wars to land agents is staggering. And it’s only March. While that is a testament to the quality of writers selected, I think it’s even more indicative that a willingness to continue to put our work out there, to learn, and to keep going in the face of rejection will eventually pay off. By the very nature of this contest, Pitch Wars attracts people with tenacity, who persevere despite the odds. And because of that, I’m confident there will be many more offers to come. (Hang in there, guys!)
But I think it’s important to note that for all the awesome benefits of Pitch Wars, many of us are getting agents from cold querying or other contests, like everyone else.
My advice to writers who are struggling: Keep entering contests. Keep querying. Keep writing. And keep building your writer support network. The only way you can fail is if you stop trying.
Jaime: I just want to echo what Mary Ann said. Never give up. (Never surrender.) The only person stopping you from realising your dreams is you.
Thank you Mary Ann and Jaime for sharing your success story with us. We couldn’t be happier about it around here – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and go celebrate with them, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re awesome!
Mary Ann Marlowe