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Another Pitch Wars success story…with Elly Blake and Sarah Nicolas!

Sunday, 7 December 2014  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Pitch Wars 2014

The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Elly Blake and her Pitch Wars mentor, Sarah Nicolas, here for a little Q and A. Elly recently signed with Suzie Towsend, Jaida Temperly, and Jackie Lindert with New Leaf Literary. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.

Elly, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Sarah?

I visited all the mentor blogs and wrote a little profile for each in my notebook, circling every mentor who listed YA fantasy on their wish list. From there, I favored anyone with editorial experience and that included Sarah. Sarah had a great track record in past contests. I think every one of her mentees had been agented. And I liked the personality she showed on the blog. I was stunned to my core when she chose me. I had stayed up until midnight to see the announcement on the blog, cursing myself for being an idiot to even think I had a chance, and then I was in shock when I realized I was chosen.


Sarah, what about Elly’s application made you choose her?

The first line. Then the second line. Then the third line. Elly’s prose was beautiful, on top of a great concept.

Elly, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?

As Sarah said, she was thrown a few curveballs so the first part was mostly waiting. At Sarah’s request, Shannon Coolley and I exchanged manuscripts so we could give each other feedback. We loved each other’s books it gave us something to work on while we waited for edits from Sarah. I benefited most because Shannon is also a copyeditor. I didn’t have many changes for Shannon because her book, A Frog, A Whistle and a Vial of Sand, was excellent and very polished. Then Sarah sent her line edits and I was busy with those for a few weeks. I was lucky to have a mentor with editorial experience! About a week before the agent round, Sarah emailed a few options for 35-word pitches. Since writing pitches fills me with terror, I was grateful that Sarah is really good at that. I combined two pitches and sent the new version back to Sarah. She loved it and sent it on for the agent round.

Sarah, tell us about your experience with mentoring Elly. What was your plan of attack for edits? What impressed you most about Elly?

Poor Elly. It was a rough time for me. I had two rounds of edits due during the mentoring period with really fast due dates. I had read only the first five pages before choosing her, but the more I read the more I loved it. I know she was nervous because so many other Pitch Wars mentees were talking about doing huge changes to their book, but I assured her her book didn’t need drastic revisions like that. She took my notes and ran with them and was really tolerant of my crazy schedule

Elly, after Pitch Wars you signed with Suzie Towsend, Jaida Temperly, and Jackie Lindert with New Leaf Literary, tell us about “The Call.”

My first call came on November 5th, the second day of the Pitch Wars agent round, from a wonderful agent who’d stayed up half the night reading my manuscript. She loved the book and was passionate about the project. It felt incredible to get that kind of approval from a smart, savvy literary agent. We had a long conversation and I felt we bonded. I had four phone calls altogether, and then I had a decision to make. It was one of the giddiest, most exhilarating and most stressful few days of my life.


Elly, can you tell us the details about the offer? How long did you have to wait for the offer? What did you do to distract yourself? How did the agent contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? How many offers did you get? Anything! We love knowing it all.

I didn’t really need to distract myself too much because I was so busy receiving requests for the full manuscript, notifying agents that I had received an offer and working at my part time library job in between it all. On Monday November 10th, I had a conference call with Suzie, Jaida and Jackie. They were all warm and personable and extremely enthusiastic about my book. They even dialled in Pouya, the Director of Film at New Leaf, to talk about the movie rights end of the business. By the end of the conversation, I confessed that I didn’t have any questions. I think I kept saying, “You dazzled me. I’m dazzled.” Not sure I’ve ever used that word before in my life.  I told them I would email them a list of questions for them. A published author friend had given me a three page document with questions to ask potential literary agents. New Leaf took the time to answer them all in great detail (a really big task) and emailed them back. I was also very impressed that the whole New Leaf team took the time to email me and tell me how excited they were about my book. Several of them had read my book over the weekend. I love the team environment and the fact that they are heavily editorial, which is what I wanted. Their track record with YA is also fantastic: Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah Raasch, etc. Need I say more? I’ve since found Team New Leaf to be incredibly positive in their communications with me, which is what I need to thrive as I can be very hard on myself. I’m grateful every day for Pitch Wars and how it led me to New Leaf.

How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?

Without Pitch Wars, I would not have an agent right now. Period. It’s no exaggeration to say that this contest has changed my life. I didn’t feel my book was ready to query so I’d opted to enter contests instead. Pitch Wars put my concept and opening lines in front of a bunch of agents at once. I think there’s something about the nature of Pitch Wars that creates excitement. I emailed back and forth with so many great agents, some of whom ultimately sent rejections, but I still enjoyed “meeting” them and learned some things about the business. I’m incredibly fond of the other mentees and alternates, many of whom are still in touch weeks after the contest.

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)?

Elly: Starfleet Academy. I’m a fan of Star Trek, particularly Next Generation. My husband and I saw a Star Trek movie on our first date. (I wore my Data T-shirt.) A couple of years ago, I saw the Next Generation cast live at a con in Toronto. It was heaven.

Sarah: Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. It’s where the hottest guys are, for one 😉


What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?

Elly: If you don’t mind me pulling from the classics, I think Jane Eyre would be a pretty great confidante. I feel like she could keep a secret. As for an enemy, I’d choose the demon Bartimeaus from The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Maybe he could be a kick-butt ally if I were a magician strong enough to control him. I’d like to be friends with Jacky Faber from the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer. We’d get in a lot of trouble, but it would be fun. It might also be fun to steal some art with Katarina from the Heist Society by Ally Carter. I’d like to go on adventures with Tom Ward and Alice from the Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. I’m not sure I have an idol. I admire any character who is smart, outspoken, resourceful, and goes on adventures. There are so many!

Sarah: Cinna makes an excellent confidante I think. I idolize Beka Cooper from The Provost’s Dog series and I would love to fight alongside Katsa from Graceling. My ultimate villain is Iago from Othello; I’d love to square off with him, even if I lose. In my opinion, nobody’s written a better villain since then.

Jane Eyre

What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?

Elly: It would be tempting to taste some faery wine from Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, but I don’t think it would be a very good idea. Ditto with pomegranate seeds in Abandon by Meg Cabot.

Sarah: Well, I’ve already had Butterbeer! 😉 I must admit I’m curious about the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

pan galactic gargle

You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)

Elly: I’ll go with a katana, weapon of choice for Miki Jones from RUSH by Eve Silver, though I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it. Harry Potter’s wand would also come in handy.

Sarah: Can I keep Harry Dresden in my back pocket?

What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)

Elly: This is so weird, but I didn’t start drinking coffee until this year. I find it makes me zippier when I’m writing. Or else I just use that as an excuse to drink coffee. Chocolate is always a necessity. I also eat a lot of almonds or trail mix while writing.

Sarah: Coffee, wine, and twizzlers. Not all at the same time.

Coffee-JokesWhose work inspired you to start writing?

Elly: I’ve been dreaming of writing since I was in my early teens, but I didn’t have the courage to try until many years later. It’s hard to remember who first inspired me to want to write. The inspirations are too numerous to name.

Sarah: Tamora Pierce has been a huge influence on my writing. She’s probably the only author I’ve met who made me tear up. Though I must credit TA Barron’s Heartlight for making me realize stories weren’t confined to our known universe as well as Lois Lowry’s The Giver for being the first book that I both enjoyed and thought deeply about.

Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?

Elly: Just thrilled and grateful to be part of this amazing contest. A special thank you to Sarah Nicolas for choosing me as her mentee. Thank you to Brenda Drake and all the mentors, agents, mentees, alternates and everyone else who participated in Pitch Wars.

Sarah: Don’t compare yourself to other writers, especially in the pre-publication phase. People cherry-pick and put their best and their most dramatic self on the internet, making their journey seem way more exciting and promising; don’t compare that to your whole journey. The comparison itself will fall short because it’s inherently flawed, but YOU do not fall short.


Thank you for sharing your success story. We all couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, go and say hello and follow them or something …


Elly Blake-

Elly Blake

Twitter | Facebook


Sarah Nicolas2

Sarah Nicolas

Twitter | Website | Facebook

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