We’re so excited whenever one of our mentees gets an agent offer or a publishing deal. Celebrating these successes is one of our favorite parts of the Pitch Wars process. We hope you can join us in congratulating Tiffany Liu and her mentors, Jessica Vitalis and Julie Artz. Tiffany signed with Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency and we couldn’t be happier for her!
Tiffany, share with us your favorite writing tip or trick you learned from your mentor.
They taught me so much it’s hard to pick! I think the most useful thing I learned was how to plot a story that’s tightly paced and yet connecting it to the emotional journey of the characters.
Jessica and Julie, tell us about your experience mentoring your mentee.
Jessica: Tiffany was a dream! She not only took her manuscript from YA to MG, she also cut out two points of view and rewrote the entire book. At each step of the process, she continually wowed us with her innovative solutions, beautiful world building, and willingness to cut darlings for the sake of the overall narrative.
Julie: I’m a “gut feeling” sort of person, so I knew right away that I was going to fall in love with Tiffany’s manuscript. I mean, dragons plus a SCORPIO RACES type racing set-up–who wouldn’t love that? And the world building was lush, full of steampunk-inspired magic, and have I mentioned dragons? I knew Jessica and I could help the story really shine, even though Tiffany had lots of work ahead of her.
Tiffany, tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
After the sparkling shiny letter telling me all the great things about my book, a considerably less fun edit letter landed, along with Jessica and Julie’s explanation of the revisions they envisioned for me:
I was to read through the edit letter, then send back my answers to their world-building questions and write a description for every character (what they want, what’s in their way, who they are, etc). Once the world and characters were ironed out (I ended up with a 20k doc just for that and we had a two-hour Google Hangouts chat in between), I was to outline the manuscript’s important plot points and we’d go back and forth on that until we all agreed. Next, a scene-by-scene outline for Act 1, which we would also go back and forth on until it was ready. I would write Act 1 and we’d edit that until things were in the right place, then advance to Acts 2, 3, and 4 in a similar fashion. Last, a final brush and polish before the showcase!
By focusing first on what really mattered in the story—the characters and the world—we were able to figure out what fixes were needed and what we could do to strengthen the world, the tension, and the side plots. Jessica and Julie were wonderful in brainstorming solutions, fangirling over solves, and raising questions that needed to be asked.
The biggest deviation from The Plan was that Jessica and Julie pronounced me ready to head onward to Act 2 after I turned in the first revision of Act 1 (cue tears of joy). We ended up finishing a first round of revisions, then another (mostly fixing small issues and individual scenes). I sent those in Act by Act and they added in-line suggestions for line edits. By the time the second revision was done it was the end of January, and I had to hustle to complete my line edits before the Pitch Wars showcase.
It should be noted that I pretty much rewrote every scene and comparing on the mentee FB group my edits were probably one of the heaviest, plus I was working 75+ hours a week during those four months so that’s why I ended up revising to the last minute. I know plenty of mentees who finished their revisions with a week to even a month to spare!
Jessica and Julie, we’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Jessica: If superhero mentee awards were a thing, Tiffany would win first place! She rewrote her entire book while working as a resident. (She also continually made me hungry with her delicious food descriptions.)
Julie: And that’s the great thing–Tiffany totally stepped up. Cut POVs? No problem! Cut 20k words? OK! Flesh out the mystery/backstory aspects? Done! She rolled with every single change and really exceeded our exceptions for the level of polish she could achieve in the time we gave her.
Tiffany, please tell us about THE CALL.
I had three offers total, the first one coming in 48 hours after I sent out my queries, the second one 12 hours after that, and the last one 48 hours before the deadline I set with agent 1. Agent 1 contacted me via email and I woke up to that email and just screamed for a while. We’d just arranged a time to chat the next time when I got Query Manager emails saying one of my Pitch Wars requests had been shared with another agent in the same agency—I hadn’t even replied to those yet when another email came in saying Agent 2 wanted to arrange a call. So I chatted with them separately, via Facetime and Skype, and loved them both.
Then came the waiting, and it turns out that even after having offers the waiting and the rejections are awful. Step-asides stung because that probably meant my book wasn’t that interesting after all or they’d find time to read. Vague rejections stung because that meant Agents 1 & 2 were the rare brand of weird I am and no editor would want my book. Detailed rejections stung because obviously my book sucked and probably Agents 1 & 2 would end up regretting that they offered. Anxiety makes the brain think weird stuff.
I’d about given up on the last requests and just wanted things to be over when I woke to an email from Agent 3—who ended up being my agent—saying she wanted to arrange a call with me. We hopped onto Skype in a few hours and then it was time to decide. Having lots of offers is no doubt amazing and something to brag about, but honestly just deciding between three nearly threw me into a nervous breakdown. I analyzed everything with my dad, my boyfriend, my writer friends, and talked to my mentors before making my decision, and cried writing the rejection emails to Agents 1 & 2.
I guess the thing to take away from this is that rejection and anxiety can accompany any stage of writing, even when success hits, and it’s a normal thing to feel.
Tiffany, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Although I’ve had a good deal of beta readers and some critique partners, working with two experienced mentors was a completely different experience. They challenged me to dig deep into the heart of my story and led me to envision a new way to tell my story—a more exciting, heartfelt, and tightly connected story. They were extremely dedicated and helped me learn so much about writing beyond improving this one book. The Pitch Wars Showcase was also so helpful in propelling my book to the top of agents’ TBR pile and led to a very speedy query process. In short, Pitch Wars was crucial in giving me the writing tools I needed in a very short time, and in helping me have a fast, relatively smooth query process.
Jessica and Julie, how can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Jessica: Work with critique partners! The process will not only help your manuscript stand out, but it will also give you the experience you will need to take difficult feedback and funnel it into productive revisions.
Julie: I agree with Jessica 100% about critique partners. But also, read up current titles like yours, and on craft. If you want to work with us, you’re going to get reading Story Genius as your first homework assignment. And then you’re going to get 2-3 newer titles that have something in common with your work. If walk into Pitch Wars having already read those things, it will show in your manuscript!
Tiffany, do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Be prepared for heavy revisions! It will be tough and you’ll probably have to cut a good deal of darlings but you will emerge as a better writer.
Alright, now some questions to help us get to know you all.
What’s your writing process?
Tiffany: I’ve always been a plotter but didn’t know how to go about doing that well enough, so hopefully my experience with Pitch Wars has turned me into a better plotter. I do the first draft with possibly one alpha reader, then a second draft on my own, after which I find CPs to give me advice and also to take a step away from my work. Then it’s a third, fourth, etc draft until the book is ready. For the first and second draft and any drafts where substantial reorganizing is needed, I use Scrivener, and after only scene-level edits are needed I shift to Word. My daily writing routine really depends on work and how much free time I have; during Pitch Wars my life consisted of work, sleep, meals, and writing. I find inspiration from Pinterest pictures or random thoughts flitting into my mind and they usually become a story idea quite rapidly on their own.
Jessica: There’s nothing sexy about my writing process. I write every chance I get—when my kids are in school, at their activities, in my head while I’m running or making dinner. I try to make sure I’m at the computer five days a week, but I also give myself space not to write when I’m not feeling it; I find my creativity comes in waves and spurts and I’ll write obsessively for several months straight and then need weeks (or even months) to recover. During this time, I spend a lot of time reading, which always rekindles my creativity.
Julie: I go through Story Genius each time I have a new idea, sometimes more than once over the process of crafting the story. I also pull in tools from Donald Maass and Cheryl Klein as I work. I’m a fast drafter because I know revision is where the real magic happens. So I might draft in 4-6 weeks, but it takes me another 4-6 months to revise before it goes to first readers. And there’s always more revision after that.
You have only two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Tiffany: I would probably stay at home and cuddle with my cat, light a candle, get myself some tea. If a talkative family member were at home I’d go to a nearby café with great scones (it’s literally 3 minutes away) and write there.
Jessica: Anywhere warm (luckily, I have a desk in a room filled with windows, so I don’t have to go far).
Julie: I have the coziest little local library, which I adore. But I’m also a homebody, so I usually write in my office with a kitty in my lap.
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Tiffany: It’s hard to pick but Jay Kristoff. He feels super fun and I’d do my best to keep up with him while walking. And not fainting because he’s sort of my author crush.
Jessica: My answer changes every time I get asked this question. My current author crush is Robert Beatty; I’d love to tour the Biltmore estate with him. If he weren’t available, taking a cross-country road trip in a retro-fitted bus to try a pork chop sandwich with Dan Gemeinhart would be pretty sweet.
Julie: I’ve gotten to meet so many of my author heroes recently that I’m going to be sappy and say I would spend the day with Jessica Vitalis. We live across the country from one another and don’t get to spend nearly enough time together. A glass of wine, some book talk, and a whole lot of catching up sounds like the perfect day to me!
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Tiffany: Nina from Six of Crows. We’d go do badass things but also eat a lot of waffles.
Jessica: Today I’m going to say Alina from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series. I love how she grows into herself through the course of the series.
Julie: Lila Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic. Because she’s got serious flair and I want her to teach me some of her best tricks.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Tiffany: I’m going to cheat by saying the fandom of VE Schwab because I love all of her books.
Jessica: As soon as my Hogwarts letter arrives, I’ll be off. But until then, I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the world of Shadow and Bone.
Julie: Is just saying Marvel cheating? Ha! The great thing about that universe is that we’re not only getting groundbreaking movies like Black Panther, but a whole lot of great comics and novels that push past the tropes of the original stories.
What inspired you to start writing?
Tiffany: There was a time when I read very little, and the Shadowhunters books and The Fault in Our Stars pulled me out of that slump in 2014. I read voraciously afterwards and that probably kick-started my brain because that fall my first book idea struck me and I knew I wanted to turn it into a story.
Jessica: My children. While I love staying at home with them, I recognized right away that I needed a passion to balance my life. I started by writing a memoir (the world’s worst); it wasn’t until I read David Almond’s Kit’s Wilderness that I was inspired to try writing children’s literature.
Julie: When I was in elementary school, we moved to a new house and the first thing I did was go into the coat closet hoping to end up in Narnia. My mom had this fur-lined coat and I when I touched it in the dark, I was sure it was Mr. Tumnus, come to lead me to the throne. I may have been disappointed when my fingers hit the back wall instead of a snow-covered pine bough, but I didn’t give up. I just kept reading…and started writing.
Thank you for sharing your story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Tiffany Liu likes to write MG and YA fantasy that’s a little weird. She is represented by Laura Bradford at Bradford Literary Agency. Living in the concrete jungle of Taipei, Tiffany nevertheless roams countless fantasy worlds and is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter. Or for her dæmon to finally take shape. She is also a perpetually tired resident doctor, a bookstagrammer, and a cat mama. During her free time, she can be found rewatching Brooklyn 99, chipping away at her TBR pile, or trying to write with her cat lying across her forearms. Website | Twitter
Jessica Vitalis is a middle grade author and active member of the kidlit community. In addition to mentoring Pitch Wars, she coordinates Letters for Kids, volunteers with We Need Diverse Books, and contributes to The Winged Pen. An American expat, Jessica spends her spare time chasing her two precocious daughters around Ontario and changing the batteries on her heated socks. Represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Website | Twitter
Julie Artz writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical and geeky about those things. In addition to contributing to Middle Grade @ Heart and The Winged Pen, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator and is Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Western Washington. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. Website | Twitter