The best part of hosting pitch contests is being a part of a writer’s successes. Today we celebrate Jennieke Cohen and her Pitch Wars mentor Tobie Easton! Jennieke recently signed with Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency, and we couldn’t be happier for her. So please join me in congratulating Jennieke and Tobie as they share with us their awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Jennieke, what was it about Tobie that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
Tobie’s wishlist was almost totally comprised of my favorite books and interests. As I read through her post saying what she was looking for, I kept getting more and more excited, and by the end I thought we could so be friends if we met in real life. I feel so lucky that it worked out that way!
Tobie, what was it about Jennieke’s Dangerous Alliance that hooked you?
The idea of a YA Downton Abbey instantly pulled me in, and on top of that, I really liked that the story explored the relationship between sisters as well as the one between the love interests. The pages had such a witty voice and I was intrigued by the protagonist, Victoria. I read a lot of historical fiction, and the genre often features British aristocrats on their estates, but it doesn’t often show aristocrats who deeply care about those estates and the people who depend upon them. The fact that Vicky did care and worked hard to learn how to run the estate made her fresh and real.
Jennieke, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
I was initially a bit scared as I’m not a naturally fast writer, but Tobie allayed all my fears during our first phone call. She’d read the first 3 chapters during the selection process, so she gave me some great notes and changes on the beginning, and I worked on implementing those for a couple weeks. Then she read the whole manuscript with the revised beginning. When she sent me back the manuscript and I read through her comments, it was so cool to see how spot on her suggestions were. She totally got my book and just had the greatest ideas about how to make it better. As I worked on implementing her suggestions, Tobie made herself available to talk (despite being on an out of town book tour!) whenever I had questions or to help me brainstorm if I hit a roadblock. I ended up finishing my revisions about 3 weeks after the Agent Showcase, which I initially fretted about, but it ended up not mattering in the grand scheme of things. At the time it felt like a lot of hard work–although it certainly wasn’t the most difficult thing I’d ever done–but I had no doubt that it would be worth it in the end.
Tobie, tell us about your experience mentoring Jennieke.
Jennieke was a wonderful mentee. In addition to email, we also talked a lot on the phone about character, plot, backstory, and the various relationship dynamics that are so important to her story. Since one of the main things we needed to focus on before the agent round was lowering the word count, we also worked a lot on what she could cut; that can be overwhelming for a writer (I know it is for me!), but Jennieke was a real trooper. She had such a positive attitude, took everything we talked about into consideration, and got to work. I really admire how much time, energy, and skill she put in—and she pulled it off beautifully!
Also, after Pitch Wars, she sent me the most beautiful, heartfelt card and thoughtful gift box of goodies EVER as a thank you. I was really touched.
Jennieke, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
Jennifer is Tobie’s agent, but neither of us knew if she would be interested in my book since historical YA has traditionally been a hard sell. Yet we knew Jennifer had at least one client who wrote adult historical novels, so I sent it to her with high hopes. About a month and a half later, an editor with a publisher who had requested to see the novel during a conference pitch session contacted me saying she wanted to take the book to an acquisitions meeting. I was excited but also kind of freaked out because I had no idea what to say to the agents who still had materials. With Tobie’s guidance and the help of some of the other lovely Pitch Wars mentors who weighed in, I wrote to all the agents who hadn’t rejected and let them know the situation. Jennifer was the first to get back to me. She said she loved what a page turner the book was(!), and we set up a call.
Despite Tobie’s briefing, I was still ridiculously nervous, but I had laid out all my questions the night before so I woke up early and tried to breathe as I waited. I think I was trying to sound super professional, so the call felt more business-like than anything else, but Jennifer was extremely patient answering my questions and offered to represent me! I gave the other agents ten days to decide since I had already contacted them with the editor interest.
I did end up receiving another offer, which of course made deciding who would be right for the book harder, but Jennifer’s vision for where she thought the book fit in the market and for my career as a whole made me completely certain she would be the best agent for me. Also—really coincidentally—the day I was supposed to make my decision happened to be the day Tobie and I were able to meet in person for the first time. I’d decided by then, so we got to squee over coffee and pastries that we were about to be agency sisters! I think the whole process ended up taking three weeks. Yet it all kind of went by in a blur and now all I remember were bouts of excitement followed by fits of worry and stress. I think the only reason I was able to act vaguely normal was thanks to conversations with Tobie and my fiancé. When the contract was signed, my family and I celebrated with a lovely dinner. I couldn’t be happier that it all worked out the way it did!
Jennieke, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Very seriously, none of the things that have happened to me in the last year would have happened without Pitch Wars. I had been working toward having my fiction traditionally published off and on for the last ten years, and I’d decided to give this particular book one final round of submissions. I’d entered Pitch Wars on a whim, hoping—but not expecting—to get in. But the stars seemed to align, and thanks to Pitch Wars, a wonderful mentor chose my book and helped me see all the things I knew might be problematic but that I had no idea how to fix. Without the contest and Tobie’s help, I know I would have left the manuscript far too long (it was climbing up to 106,000 words at the time), and I doubt it would have interested a publisher or gotten me an agent.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?
Jennieke: I was going to go with Jane Austen’s world, because I could take tea with Elizabeth Bennet and get Mr. Darcy to give me the Pemberley tour, but after giving it more thought, I think I’d really like the Star Trek: The Next Generation era after they defeated the Borg. (I seriously can’t stand the Borg.) Pretty much all of Earth’s problems would be fixed, and I could teleport to Scotland if I felt like it, replicate things to my heart’s content, and visit other planets pretty easily. Not sure I’d want to travel on the Enterprise though… too much drama. I’d be super interested to see the Klingon home world if they decided to let tourists check it out, but I’d bring my own food and not even bother to pretend to be a badass. They’d probably hate me. I’d need Data and/or Worf for protection.
Tobie: Post-1998 Hogwarts (after Harry defeated Voldemort). I’d get to enjoy the magic without that pesky high risk of death at the end of every school year. I’d spend seven years of enchantment at Hogwarts, then I’d travel so I could explore as much of the Magical world as possible.
Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?
Jennieke: I’ll have to go with Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham because I love a creepy bad guy who has stellar enunciation skills and delivers one-liners with a single raised eyebrow.
My side-kick would be Westley from The Princess Bride, because is there anything that guy can’t do? Not to mention, who wouldn’t want a clever, sword-wielding, young Cary Elwes-looking hero by their side?
Tobie: I’m a HUGE Buffy fan, so I’d say I’m running from Season 2-Spike with Season 6-Spike as my side-kick because no one would have better insight into how to survive that. Plus, two Spikes? That’s a pretty unbeatable visual.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Jennieke: I have a weakness for time machines/portals but they always come with a host of problems. Thinking practically, that teleportation system from Star Trek would be so nice to have!
Tobie: I used to be obsessed with the idea of these books from Angel the Series; you could whisper any title in your library to the book and the words would instantly appear on its pages. A few years later, it occurred to me that that’s a Kindle!
Share with us your writing process. Do you write everyday, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Jennieke: I tend to be pretty sporadic unless I have a deadline, but my brain works best after lunch and into the evening so that’s when I try to write. Preferably outside in the sun with some kind of tea drink next to me. I like to brainstorm in the shower or in the car. Taking a walk can also be a good opportunity to work out problems. When drafting, I think I’m actually more productive with pen and paper, but entering it into the computer later is time consuming, so I get lazy and go back to writing on the computer. My next goal is to learn to get good at writing drafts with voice recognition software.
Tobie: I do A LOT of brainstorming in the bath. If I have a tricky plot point to work out, I get in the tub and try to not let myself get out until it’s solved. I often have very crinkly fingertips! Other than that, I write every morning on my computer. Lately, I’ve been setting a timer and writing in 30-minute sprints followed by 10-minute breaks, which has really increased my productivity as I work on Book 3 of my mermaid series. For whatever reason, I tend to switch to pen and paper toward the end of each book, so we’ll see if I do that with this one.
You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?
Jennieke: I don’t actually have a place yet where I could easily hide out and not be distracted, so as this is a fun question…I’d go to a semi-private glass conservatory filled with plants and flowers, natural light, and fast wi-fi. There’d be an assortment of good teas (because I generally choose according to my mood), supplies for matcha lattes in case I need a pick-me-up, fruit and dark chocolate to snack on, and a kitchen close by that I could order meals from. If only such a place existed! In reality I’d probably end up at one of my favorite local coffee shops or Whole Foods (which would at least satisfy all my tea and food requirements ;D).
Tobie: I’m a big green tea drinker. As a deadline approaches, I tend to add freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (or ready-to-eat cookie dough from Cookie Dough Café—you’re welcome!) to the mix as a reward for hitting milestones. I mostly write at home, but if I’m behind, I’ll have my husband drop me off at a Starbucks with nothing but a notepad and pen and no way to leave, then ask him to pick me up hours later when they close.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Jennieke: My boyfriend (now fiancé) first planted the seed in my mind to become a writer when we were graduating college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at the time, but I didn’t really believe I could be a writer. But he’s always been there reading my chapters, brainstorming ideas with me, and telling me I could do it. My parents’ successes always inspired me not to give up when I felt like quitting, and my siblings, family, and friends have been supportive and lovely in so many ways!
Tobie: My characters. Since romance is a big part of what I write, I tell myself that if I don’t keep going, they’ll never get to be together. Also, now that the series is out in the world, I get really wonderful, supportive messages from readers. Reminding myself that people are waiting for the next book really helps spur me on. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my family and friends, who are so encouraging—I really couldn’t be more grateful to them.
What year were you in Pitch Wars?
Tobie: 2014 (and the mermaid novel I submitted to Pitch Wars that year came out in 2016!)
Jennieke: 2016, Woot!
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Jennieke: It’s still amazing to me how much effort goes into making Pitch Wars happen and how much time mentors take out of their lives to devote to helping other writers improve. What a wonderful thing! I’m so excited for what’s to come and SO very grateful to Pitch Wars for everything it facilitates and all the many ways it has helped writers!!
Tobie: I am so, SO happy that Pitch Wars has helped both Jennieke and me take the steps we needed to get our MS’s out in the world. I am so looking forward to when I get to see Jennieke’s name on a book cover and know that she’s getting to share her wonderful words with readers.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Jennieke Cohen (JEN-ih-kah CO-en) is used to people mispronouncing her name and tries to spare her fictional characters the same problem. Jennieke writes historical fiction for young adults inspired by real people and events because life is often stranger than fiction. She studied English history at Cambridge University and has a master’s degree in professional writing from USC. Jennieke loves exploring new locales but always returns home to Northern California where the summers are hot, the winters are mild, and life is casual.
Tobie Easton was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where she’s grown from a little girl who dreamed about magic to a twenty-something who writes about it. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California, Tobie hosts book clubs for tweens and teens. She and her very kissable husband enjoy traveling the globe and fostering packs of rescue puppies. Tobie is the author of the acclaimed Mer Chronicles series, which follows the descendants of the Little Mermaid and offers a peek into a world where mermaids aren’t just real, but live secretly among us. Learn more about Tobie and her upcoming books on www.TobieEaston.com