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 Natalie Williamson and her Pitch Wars mentor Veronica Bartles for a Q and A regarding her recent success! Natalie recently signed with Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown, LTD. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Natalie, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Veronica?
When the list of mentors first went up, I spent a lot of time going through and reading all the posts from the ones who wanted YA. Veronica was on my list from the very beginning, because 1) she specifically asked for YA Contemporary Romance that balances romance with bigger issues and 2) I loved her positivity. She was active in the hashtag on Twitter, and everything she had to say about not giving up and looking for the good even if you hit a roadblock really resonated with me. I was so thrilled when I found out that she had picked me!
Veronica, what about Natalie’s application made you choose her?
Honestly, I almost didn’t. Her manuscript was already so amazing that I wasn’t sure if she really needed a mentor. I ended up reading her entire manuscript during the selection period, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved it like crazy and felt like it was *so close* to being query ready already … There was just one subplot woven through the story that felt jarringly out of place to me, and I desperately wanted to talk to her about why she chose to include it. In the end, that’s what made the final decision for me. Because it was a story I loved enough to feel passionate about, but I could still see ways to make it even better. The perfect combination for a Pitch Wars mentee relationship!
Natalie, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
The revision period was great, though I did get stuck at one point. Veronica sent me awesome big picture notes right away, and I realized I needed to cut a subplot, move some key scenes in the middle around, and give my opening more of a hook. I got about halfway through the manuscript with some significant changes made before I realized what I’d done wasn’t working. So I took a couple of days off to recharge my brain and revisit Veronica’s notes before I dove back in again. The second try clicked, and we moved on to line edits and honing my pitch from there.
Veronica, tell us about your experience with mentoring Natalie. How was mentoring your other team members?
I had an amazing team this year! (This is what I love best about Pitch Wars. I love making these connections to other writers.) To be honest, I was really nervous when I approached Natalie about the subplot that was bothering me. Because pulling it out would require a lot of shuffling for other scenes, and it really wasn’t an easy fix. Also, I worried that my own prejudices (this subplot fell into the category of “Veronica’s Biggest Pet Peeves EVER”) were clouding my judgment, and maybe it wasn’t as out of place in the context of the bigger narrative as I thought it was. (I even consulted with several other mentors about it before choosing Natalie.) Luckily, it was a total non-issue, because when I mentioned it to Natalie, she responded immediately with something like, “I never felt entirely comfortable with that subplot either.” Throughout the process, Natalie was cheerful and an absolute joy to work with. I’m sure there was a healthy dose of grumbling behind the scenes when I sent my pages and pages of notes (Natalie, how many Veronica-shaped voodoo dolls did you go through? *wink*), but she never complained. And even more importantly, she didn’t just take every suggestion I made blindly. She integrated my input into her own writing and knew when something was important enough to push back. That’s a VERY important skill to master in any critique relationship.
I was actually going through edits for my picture book, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, throughout the Pitch Wars revision period, so I was a bit crazy for a while there. It was great to work with people who were so good at taking feedback and running with it. Natalie and Margo, my alternate, were both amazing in that way. After the first, full manuscript critique, I didn’t have to go back over the whole manuscript for either of them a second time. They shared manuscripts and feedback with each other and sent me a scene here and a chapter there whenever they were stuck. I could give feedback on the issues I saw in their snippets, and they’d apply that feedback to the entire manuscript, looking for similar issues in other scenes.
Natalie, after Pitch Wars you signed with Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown, LTD., 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 Ginger contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I was part of the Zero Request Club in Pitch Wars (the ZRC, as we refer to it in our Facebook group), so I was pretty nervous going into querying. To distract myself, I wrote a new book, one I’d started over the summer before I decided to enter Pitch Wars. That plus some early requests turned rejections that were incredibly nice helped a lot, so I settled in to the query trenches to wait. It ended up being a little over four months from first query to offer.
I queried Ginger mid-February, and she emailed me on a Friday two weeks later to let me know she’d read my book and enjoyed it, and to ask about future projects. I freaked out, of course, and took way too long to write her back. I ended up sending her my newest manuscript to read over the weekend, which was exciting but also terrifying. Luckily that weekend we had a big event for my husband’s aquarium club, so I had lots of things to do to keep busy. I also ate a lot of Easter candy. Ha! When Monday rolled around, I may or may not have obsessively checked my email. Then my phone rang and it was a New York area code and I answered and it was Ginger! She said she loved my books and wanted to offer rep…and I was so awkward and flustered and excited that I had to hang up and call her back, because I could not think of a single question to ask! Luckily Ginger is wonderful and gracious and didn’t seem to think it was too weird that I had to compose myself (and also call my husband to tell him and cry some happy tears). So we had our second call where I actually said more than OH MY GOD and WOW, and a week later I officially accepted her offer! To celebrate, my husband and I got food from our favorite Greek place and I ordered two desserts. Because why not?
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Pitch Wars made me a better writer. I learned so much about revising, and about how to spot problems in my own work. And the community aspect has been so wonderful for me. I tend to be a worrier and sometimes I get stuck in my own head. Making connections with Veronica and with all of the other mentees and alts who got picked has been good for my writer heart. It’s given me a wider writing community to share the highs and lows with. I don’t know what I’d do without you guys. Seriously.
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)?
Natalie: Hogwarts, definitely. I think it’d be so much fun to make mayhem with the Potter and Weasley children.
Veronica: Jedi Academy. I want to learn how to do those cool levitation tricks!
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Natalie: Confidante would be Kristy from The Truth About Forever. Enemy would be Dolores Jane Umbridge. Idol would be Hermione Granger. And kick-butt ally would be Tara Finke from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son.
Veronica: Confidante: Aly from The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris. Enemy: Ummm… I guess I’m too good at looking for good qualities in people (even fictional ones), because I really can’t think of anyone I’d categorize as an “enemy.” Maybe Huck Finn’s dad? I never found any redeeming qualities in him. Idol: Anne Shirley. Kick-butt Ally: Olivia Westfield from Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes (I love the way she can stand up for herself and doesn’t play the victim card, even though she probably could.)
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Natalie: Butterbeer! Though I feel like the stuff they have at the theme park in Orlando is pretty close. Also all of the candy in Honeydukes. Can you tell I like dessert?
Veronica: The only “fictional food” that comes to mind is Green Eggs & Ham, but I have that for breakfast every St. Patrick’s Day, so I guess that doesn’t count, does it? I did go out of my way to try fried pickles after reading Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye, and I often spend time in my kitchen creating recipes to coordinate with foods I read about in my favorite books. But since I read mostly contemporary novels, it’s usually pretty easy to find real-life ingredients.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Veronica: Smile. J (I’d say light saber, because let’s face it, those things are awesome … but who are we kidding? I’d end up slicing my own arm off!)
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Natalie: Candy. Lately Nerds Ropes and Cadbury Crème Eggs. Mmm.
Veronica: It depends on which book I’m writing. I tend to crave whatever foods my main character prefers. When I was writing TWELVE STEPS, I had constant cravings for Oreos (which totally sucked, because I’m allergic to them) and chili cheese fries. When I was working on THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, I didn’t want any munchies at all (just a giant cup of water). Currently, my WIP’s main character has more gourmet tastes, so I lean toward things like chocolate mousse and some mouth-watering gourmet popcorn variations.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Natalie: Sarah Dessen’s. I’ve loved her stuff since I was in high school.
Veronica: Probably Esther Averill. The Fire Cat was the first book that I loved when I was a kid. I used to make my sister read it to me over and over again, until she finally taught me how to read it myself. I decided way back then that I wanted to be a “famous author” who could make other kids happy too.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Natalie: Huge thank you to Veronica for loving my work as much as I do. This whole experience has been a wonderful ride, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. And to you, Brenda, for running these awesome contests and being so wonderful to the writing community. *tackle hugs both of you*
Veronica: I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of Pitch Wars for the past two years. I feel like I get as much out of it as a mentor (maybe even more) than any of the mentees ever get. And I am SO excited for Natalie!! I can’t wait for the day when I get to pull her book off the bookstore shelf and brag to everyone that I read an early draft. 🙂
Thank you Natalie and Veronica 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!