So let’s get this party started. What made you decide to enter Pitch Madness, and how did you feel during the contest?
I participated in Pitch Madness in March 2013. Contests like this one are a great way to get agents’ undivided attention because they’ve committed to participating. In essence, you bypass the hundreds (thousands) of competing pitches in the slush piles. But the biggest reason to enter was the amazing support you end up getting from your team leader and your fellow writers. Writing is a solitary endeavor but Pitch Madness connected me to a larger network of people going through the same struggles.
Which blog were you on and what was the title of your entry? How many requests did you get?
I was on Summer Heacock’s blog (FizzyGrrl). My entry was titled FACING FIRE. Summer’s enthusiasm for my manuscript was the first real feedback that made me think I was on the right track! I received seven requests and was on the verge of fainting. I knew I had a great concept, a great query and great opening pages. But listen up, writers! I didn’t get an offer from any of those agents. What I did receive was constructive feedback that helped me polish the manuscript before I queried JL Stermer of N.S. Bienstock in May 2013.
Okay, this is my favorite part *sits at the edge of her seat*. Tell us about THE Call.
I didn’t have a typical call and I’d like writers new to the process to know the journey to publication can take many turns. JL requested the full in July. In early August, she emailed to ask if I had an agent yet. I thought I was about to get an offer! But then, I didn’t hear back until September when JL emailed how excited she was about the manuscript. We exchanged a few emails about my willingness to revise the manuscript. I took her input and revised and revised – even without an offer. After she read the revised version, JL scheduled a call in late October. Even then I didn’t know it was THE call. And we didn’t even get around to the offer until the end of the call – instead we talked about ourselves and the book and additional revisions needed before going out on submission (yes, more revisions!).
Can you tell us a little about your book?
FACING FIRE is about a homeless teen forced to live with her uncle after her mother commits suicide. She yearns for some sense of normalcy, but it’s always out of reach because she’s still hiding from her stepfather, the man responsible for the fire that destroyed her family and permanently scarred her face. (The book recently sold to Albert Whitman & Company and will debut in September 2015.)
How long had you been querying before you got your agent? Almost nine months from the day I sent my first query. (BUT I had queried three other books during the previous five years before I hit on “the one.”)
Okay, let’s have some fun. Coffee or Tea?
McDonald’s unsweet tea (large!)
Potato chips or chocolate?
What’s your favorite cookie?
Shortbread or sugar
Which vacation would you prefer: camping out in the wilderness or shopping in a quaint town?
Shopping in a quaint town
Where do you write?
Most days I find myself holding my laptop, wandering from room to room, trying to find the right place to write. There is no “right” place. That’s just my fears making me procrastinate. But I did write the majority of FACING FIRE in a recliner next to my fireplace, with my cat wedged in next to me. I find coffee shops extremely distracting.
And the big question, are you an outline or panster type?
Pantser. I used to feel guilty about that…as if I couldn’t ‘think through’ a storyline. But the most amazing things happen on an unscripted writing journey. So many times, I’ve exclaimed, “Damn, I didn’t know that character would do THAT!” I have no idea how my current manuscript will end. Seriously. If anyone knows, please contact me.
Before I untie you from the chair, do you have any advice for those seeking representation? Anything you wished you’d done differently?
You don’t have enough space for all I’d like to say! First, don’t query too soon. With the first books I wrote, I was so anxious to publish that I put some pretty crappy writing out in the world. Second, be kind to yourself when those rejections start pouring in. I used to have a “pity jar” of little slips of paper with different ways to comfort myself: have an ice cream cone, get a pedicure, buy a truffle at the chocolate store, text a friend, etc. When a rejection came in, I pulled a slip from the jar to make myself feel better. Lastly, don’t view other writers as competitors, even in competitions. You have an opportunity to find friends, supporters, even crit partners. I feel SO LUCKY to count Summer as my friend and personal cheerleader.
Mandy’s a writer, editor, and marketing professional, trying to balance writing and a day job, and doing her best to live in the moment. She writes young adult fiction, but dabbles in flash fiction as well. She’s represented by JL Stermer of N.S. Bienstock. Her young adult debut FACING FIRE will be published by Albert Whitman in September 2015.
Thank you both so much for this post! As I [can only] hope that I’m late in the “three other books” phaseI have one more question–can you define what did you did differently that gave you better results?
Desperately seeking wisdom and/or fairy dust
Hi Chris. It was a combination of things, most out of my control. I did get better at the craft of writing with each book I wrote. I don’t see those manuscripts as wasted time. But finding an agent (and then a publisher) had a lot to do with timing and luck and the market. My first book was just not good enough. The second had paranormal elements and the market for that type of book was over. The third was a cozy mystery that I wrote mostly for fun. The book that attracted an agent is a dark, contemporary YA. Not everyone’s cup of tea. It still got plenty of rejections before JL took a chance. So the luck part was finding an agent who saw the potential and then worked with me on a revise and resubmit. What I want writers to know is that there isn’t a typical route to success and that “the call” takes many shapes and forms. The wisdom part (and it’s collective wisdom, not mine personally) is perseverance.
Thank you! That’s an encouraging and realistic message.
I am SOOOO excited for you and FACING FIRE, Mandy. I love your jar with nice things to do for yourself! What a great idea. As someone who has watched you put yourself out there over and over, I am thrilled that your talent and perseverance is finally being rewarded. You worked so hard for this!! Big hugs!
Great post about the beed to perservere! Congratulations. Love the rejection jar idea.