We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulatingBriana Miano Ruiz and her mentors, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland and Sandra Proudman! Briana signed with Quressa Robinson at Nelson Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Briana, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor/s?
At one point, there was so much to look at that I froze. Sandra’s tip to treat my edit letter as a to-do list and check off the quick fixes helped me feel productive and calmed me down. Raquel’s tip helped the same problem in a different way. She suggested I “eat my frogs” or tackle my biggest, hardest problem that I was likely to procrastinate on first, so everything that came after felt easier to handle.
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
After I got my edit letter and notes, I had about 20 pages of comments to work with. It was pretty intense! Each round, Sandra and Raquel would send their comments and I’d go through and work their suggestions in. For the final round, I sent the full manuscript for last minute notes and that gave me the manuscript I submitted for querying. In the end, more than 50% of the story had undergone some change, but every part felt like it was always meant to be in the book.
Please tell us about The Call. We’d love as many juicy details as you’d like to share (e.g. how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions, how long you had to wait, anything you’d like to share)!
The day I got the email was surreal! I’d sent off my first round of queries and had gotten a rejection the next day that felt like a kick-off for what was to come. But two days after sending them out, I was sitting watching To All the Boys when I got an email from Quressa saying she’d like to set up a call to discuss an offer of representation! I immediately started crying and had to turn off John Ambrose playing piano (lol) so I could freak out enough to calm down and send a reply. Everything happened pretty quickly after that, but I made sure to go out and celebrate and dance around a bit to a celebratory song I’d picked (High Hopes by Panic! At the Disco) which was something Raquel suggested. An excellent tip for celebrating!
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Pitch Wars prepared me in so many ways for getting an agent. My mentors helped me through my first full revision ever, which was daunting on a deadline but perfect practice for what’s to come. I had to quickly learn how to tackle a big revision on a short timeline, but they were both there every step of the way. They helped me work through the overwhelming feelings that come with an edit letter and to start tackling all the points I needed to in order to get done on time.
Their availability, knowledge, and support helped me get my manuscript showcase ready, and they went above and beyond by being there for me as requests came in and I had to look over agents and create a list of any I wanted to cold query. I emailed them immediately after getting my offer and got to celebrate with them again when I officially announced. On top of all that, Pitch Wars gave me an incredible community with the other mentees. We were able to lean on each other and vent through the revising process and talk about our fears and anxieties during showcase. All around, Pitch Wars helped me prepare for what traditional publishing was like and gave me the community and support I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone. I can’t say enough how thankful I am to have been a part of the incredible group of 2019!
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
DO NOT SELF REJECT!!! I was so close to not submitting this past year. If you’d asked me then where I saw myself in 2020, I might have said I’d be querying, but I never could have guessed this was how it’d go! You face a lot of rejections on the traditional publishing journey, so why add another one you can prevent? It’s hard to put yourself and your story out there, but you never know what’s waiting on the other side.
Raquel and Sandra, tell us about working with your mentee.
Raquel: Sandra and I were both unanimous in choosing Briana’s manuscript—it has so much heart, and the lyrical writing is spectacular. We had so many ideas on how to revise it that we send Briana an edit letter that, if memory serves, was over twenty pages in length. Briana took it all in stride and stunned us with how effectively and quickly she took the manuscript to the next level.
Sandra: Working with Briana was a dream! Neither Raquel nor I had mentored in Pitch Wars before, so we weren’t entirely sure what to expect from our mentee. But Raquel and I worked flawlessly together with one goal in mind: Getting Briana’s manuscript showcase ready. Briana was always willing to take suggestions on her work, and shared this same goal, so we were all really on the same page. It was a wonderful experience, and on top of that, Briana signed with an amazing agent shortly after the showcase, and I couldn’t be happier for her and her amazing manuscript!
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Raquel: Briana completely revamped and polished her manuscript while in the middle of a huge move. Having recently moved myself, the most I could manage was making sure to drink enough water. The fact that she put in so much incredible work with so much going on was beyond amazing.
Sandra: The edit letter Raquel and I gave Briana to tackle was not an easy ask. But Briana somehow tackled everything in the short amount of time that she had, and met all deadlines while doing it! She showed that with hard work and determination and heart even complicated edit letters can be tackled.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Raquel: Probably with very few exceptions, it’s important to expect to do a ton of work on your book. You will read and reread your manuscript multiple times over a very short period. It can get very stressful and tedious—but the results are worth it.
Sandra: I would say in three ways: 1) Have a manuscript that’s as ready as it can be. 2) Workshop their query beforehand. Send to at least five people and really listen and be willing to accept feedback. 3) Realize that a very small percentage of people are chosen, and that doesn’t mean your story isn’t great. It just means, like is true within the entire industry, things didn’t work out THIS TIME. Be prepared to enter the slush if you don’t get in.
Let’s find out what drew agent Quressa Robinson to this manuscript. Queressa?
I saw Bruja and was instantly intrigued. Witches are my jam. But the voice is always what gets me. All my clients have amazing, unique, lyrical voices and Briana had the same thing. As I read further there were just so many more things to fall in love with. Feeling the grief and pain that Sophie was going through completely resonated with me and I loved the sister dynamic between Sara and Sophie. Plus, who can say no to a portal fantasy with a hot raven prince in distress in need of some rescuing.
How about some fun questions for Briana, Raquel, and Sandra.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Raquel: I definitely would head up to my office. It’s filled with all my favorite things—lanterns, books, candles, books. I don’t have to change out of my pajamas. And it stays relatively quiet (depending on the day).
Sandra: I have my computer read back to me (I highly recommend setting this up!), so I usually plug in my headphones so that’s all I can hear without paying too much attention to where I am at.
Briana: I let everyone know I need to focus, barricade myself in another room, put on some music or white noise depending on what I feel I need, and leave my phone somewhere else.
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Raquel: Madeline Miller, David Bowles, Zoraida Cordova, N.K. Jemisin, Aida Salazar, Sally Thorne, Helen Hoang, Charlotte Stein, Linda Hogan, Casey McQuiston, Sylvia V. Linsteadt, Terri Windling, Catherynne Valente, Jandy Nelson, Sandhya Menon. And I would love to join them all for a dinner party and simply listen to each of them speak.
Sandra: I have to say my co-mentor, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland! Her debut is coming out this year, which everyone should get (SIA MARTINEZ AND THE MOONLIT BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING). We’ve talked about possibly going to an AI convention together one day, so that would be a great start!
Briana: Oh man, this is so hard. I think I’d love to spend the day with Raquel and Sandra. Aside from being amazing mentors, they’re amazing people who made me feel like I had a space in the Latinx writing community. Getting to have a day out with them doing anything would be so fun!
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Raquel: Is it okay if this is superficial? I want to meet Accolon from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley simply because he sounds hot.
Sandra: It would be pretty cool to meet Lula Mortiz from Zoraida Cordova’s, BRUJA BORN. Maybe I could learn real magic!
Briana: Oh no, there are so many! I think I’d have to do a throwback and go with Princess Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons. I thought she was the coolest person alive when I was younger and that hasn’t changed one bit.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Raquel: I would choose the Harry Potter fandom for sure. There is such an abundance of amazing fanfiction out there for it, especially ones featuring my favorite tropes.
Sandra: I love The 100, so I’ll stay there.
Briana: These questions are impossible! I lived and breathed Harry Potter growing up, but I think I’d have to go with Avatar the Last Airbender! ATLA is something timeless and inclusive and wonderful that I can watch multiple times, especially if I want to get away and feel good again.
What inspired you to start writing?
Raquel: Books! This must be a terribly boring response, but I wanted to emulate the magic I had found in reading books. I wrote my first when I was seven!
Sandra: I loved reading. I thought books were magical. And one day I had an idea that bloomed into a full-length manuscript and I haven’t looked back since.
Briana: When I was 12, my grandparents passed away from cancer and then my mom was diagnosed two years later. Those big emotions had me turn to writing as an escape while she underwent chemo and thankfully went into remission. But the world I created then, and the story that would come out of it, kicked off my dream to make a hobby something more. I’ve been writing ever since!
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Raquel: Everyone who knows me, at one point, has heard me go on a passionate rant about my favorite pen ever: the Pilot Dr. Grip ballpoint. I have used two to the point of breaking them, and I have two on my desk as I type this. I write most of my books longhand at first, and I live with chronic pain, so a comfortable pen has been such a gift.
Sandra: I write a lot in the morning and on the weekends, but really whenever I have free time, I’m usually drafting or revising. I use playback on my computer a lot, and it’s been so helpful to have my computer read back text to me so I can catch any odd wording or typos. I’ve also started adding my work to my Kindle and doing a sweep for typos by reading text on there. It’s amazing how much you’ll spot when you’re actually reading your manuscript as if it were a real Kindle book. In terms of routines, I try split writing goals up to smaller percentages (i.e. tackling 10% or 25% of a manuscript at a time).
Briana: I always start with a playlist and make a Pinterest board. From there, it’s a battle against my natural pantser tendencies. Cue Save the Cat! which I firmly believe is the cure for pansters who hate outlining. I follow along while reading through Save the Cat! and fill in a rough outline before I let myself go wild and just write. It gives me enough of a roadmap while letting me go down paths I couldn’t have thought of if I tried structured outlining. During all of this, I’m listening to my playlist, adding songs, looking at Pinterest, and occasionally jumping in another doc where I can quickly jot down scenes or lines and quotes that don’t have a place yet. Repeat until done!
About the Team…
I’m a mixed Latinx writer and history nerd. I like to write about girls in all their multitudes, first loves, and Latinx kids finding their happily ever after.
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas with my parents and sister, surrounded by multiple cultures, including my mother’s Colombian heritage which I love celebrating most through food. If I’m not writing, I’m usually spending time with my husband, our dog Leo, our immortal bunny, and two very talkative guinea pigs.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican American poet, novelist and painter. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 2017. She’s most inspired by fog and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants and they tell her stories back. She lives in Tennessee with her beloved family and mountains.
Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is due out August 2020!
Sandra Proudman writes SF/F YA stories with unabashed Latinx protagonists. She lives in California with her awesome husband and hanging-on-by-a-thread houseplants. When she’s not at her day job, where she’s a graphic designer and marketing coordinator, you can find her at national parks, eating her fill of vegan pastries, or testing her luck and wit against escape rooms.