We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Gigi Griffis and her mentor, Gladys Qin! Gigi signed with Veronica Park at Fuse Literary. We’re so excited for them!
Category: New Adult/Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Gigi, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor/s?
Reverse outlining! I cannot believe I wasn’t doing that before. We did an outline based on the completed draft, color-coded it to make sure sub-plots were getting enough regular attention, and used it to add new scenes and comment on things that needed to change. I will 100% be doing this on every future project I work on.
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
After getting my edit letter from Gladys, I created and color-coded a reverse outline so that we could have a bird’s eye view of the story. From there, we did what I think of as rolling edits – me doing re-writes, sending a few chapters to her at a time, getting feedback, and incorporating that feedback as I went. We basically did two rounds of revisions simultaneously and by the end of those two rounds, all the big picture stuff was feeling really good to both of us.
After that, because we came in ahead of schedule, I did two more read-throughs for line edits and copyedits. From talking to other mentees, I’d say my experience wasn’t typical. Most people only had time for 1 – 2 rounds of revision with their mentors. I’m fortunate that I am self-employed and work part-time and Gladys had just graduated and was taking some time off before searching for a publishing job, so we both had more time to throw into this process than your average person.
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)!
Real talk: I was so anxious during that call that I could barely breathe. I was planning on taking all sorts of notes, but instead I just paced around my room the whole time because I was such a ball of nervous, excited energy. The good news is V is just as cool as she seems online. She led with her commitment to diversity in the industry, which was really really important to me, was full of real talk about publishing that I found refreshing, and really seemed to get what I was trying to do.
We talked the Monday after the Pitch Wars showcase closed and I asked for three weeks to make my decision because I was on vacation that week and didn’t want to feel rushed. I ended up getting several offers and everyone was great, but my gut told me V was the right fit.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
I went into this experience wanting a better book and I absolutely came out with one. I knew I had a good hook. I knew I had a good query (I had a high request rate before Pitch Wars). But something about the book was coming so-close-but-not-quite-there for agents before Pitch Wars and I didn’t know what it was. I felt confident that I could fix anything. I just needed someone to help me figure out what wasn’t working.
Enter Gladys. Combined with the feedback from two wonderful agents who’d sent me personalized notes before Pitch Wars, her vision helped me find what wasn’t working and expand what was.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
If you’re mentally ill (hey friend, me too!), make sure you have the spoons for this. Pitch Wars is intense, sometimes in ways you might not expect.
If you *do* have the spoons, my advice is not to be afraid to ask the mentors questions before you apply. Gladys’ wishlist felt like a great fit, except that I wasn’t sure she was open to historical fiction and one of the smaller elements of my story was on her no-thanks list. I decided to ask about my specific situation before writing her off, and holy crap am I glad I did.
Gladys, tell us about working with your mentee.
We clicked really well from the start! I had a feeling that our work ethics were similar when I got my questionnaire back with Gigi’s full manuscript, but honestly, I was not prepared for the storm that was two Type A overachievers put together. We were never stressed, always excited about new developments and being no less than two weeks ahead of schedule. The months seemed to fly by several times because we easily had time for more revisions and said, “Why the hell not.”
Although I wouldn’t do this with editing clients, when I mentor someone’s writing, I like to use Google Docs and do chapter-by-chapter passes. Google Docs is more interactive than Word because you can get feedback “live” and discussions in the comments keeps up the momentum and excitement of mentorship. Plus, with me working on several devices in a week, it made the turnaround much faster and I could look at comments wherever, whenever. Gigi and I definitely used the benefits of our agreed-upon process to our advantage. Our time difference meant that we would work on revisions while the other person was asleep, and at the end of my day/her morning, we’d have a chat about how to tackle the next few chapters and made sure we were on the same page with feedback. We’re both big on communication, so during revisions we opted to talk over Messenger instead of email, which meant that we could get a hold of each other easily when we had ideas. (Funny story: when mentees were announced, I was on a spectacular afternoon and night out. I did ignore my friend for a while to set Messenger up with Gigi while profusely apologizing that my focus was questionable and I couldn’t give her my edit letter right away because it was sitting at home. What a wild first impression that must have been. We did agree that a spa day was the right way to celebrate the start of Pitch Wars, though.)
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Apart from being an incredible writer and ideas woman? Gigi has such a wealth of historical knowledge and is determined to show everyone facts that you don’t normally hear about. She had a list of medieval quirks that she wanted to work in, and with revisions opening up the possibility for more subplots, she managed to include most of those facts! They made both the world and the plot a lot more vibrant.
That, and she came up with an escape scene that’s both tense and hilarious. I need to watch this escape scene in a movie.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Reseeeeeeaaaarch. Know why you’re submitting, have a clear goal for the process, and keep it real.
Let’s find out what drew agent Veronica Park to this manuscript. Veronica?
So this may be too much information, but when I was in high school, I was OBSESSED with the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I’m not being hyperbolic here. The summer it came out, I worked at a Coldstone Creamery next to the movie theater, and used a healthy chunk of my tip money to go see it between shifts or after work. I think the grand total of in-theater viewings was in the double-digits. (Don’t you dare judge me.) So when I saw that the pitch involved a character even mildly reminiscent of the version of Elizabeth Swan where she gets tired of getting bossed around and being short of breath (thanks, corsets) I was immediately “on board.” Ship puns!
How about some fun questions for Gigi and Gladys.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Gladys: The dinner table. Disturb me and feel my wrath.
Gigi: It depends! I’ve actually been location independent (traveling the world with my laptop, dog, and partner) for years, so we move to a new apartment and usually new country every month or two. My answer in each place would be different.
In Florence, Italy, I used to sit on a rug in the living room with my computer on a coffee table. When we were in New York, I went to a little coffee shop near our place in Harlem. And here in Tallinn, Estonia, my most productive spot seems to be sitting cross-legged on my bed.
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Gladys: This is not a fair question because I want to hang out with so many authors! But maybe my writing bro Maddy and I can finally go chill on a Greek island and continue not writing. (And one day? Come on!)
Gigi: I’m dying to meet my CP, Jessica Lewis (also a former Pitch Wars mentee whose book comes out in 2021!), in person. She’s such a cool person and we both love good food, so I imagine we’d go out for an amazing meal and have a long, great talk about books and life.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Gladys: Ah, probably good old Dorian Gray. I’m fascinated by corrupt minds and what they lead to.
Gigi: I think it’d be a blast to spend the day with the Gilmore Girls. We’re currently self-isolating up here in Estonia and I could use some fabulous wit with my quarantine.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Gladys: I have never really been a huge fan of anything, so I’m not part of any fandoms right now. I’d totally start one for myself, though. Haha.
Gigi: Harry Potter!
What inspired you to start writing?
Gladys: It was another case of, “Why not?” I’ve always loved storytelling through film and I used to play with concepts in my head, but I never really noted them down. One day, I saw that one of my online friends at the time was writing a book and thought I’d try that as well. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up here…
Gigi: I honestly don’t know. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My degree is in writing. My day job is writing (marketing materials for tech companies). I even taught myself how to build websites when I was a teenager because I wanted to share stuff I was writing.
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Gladys: I make BIG background files for each story before I start to write. The one I’m referencing right now is well over 12,000 words long. To me, the story you write is only the tip of the iceberg of information you come up with, so this document contains the rest of the iceberg. I usually start with the world, characters, history, and any other relevant background information, expanding further as I write.
I don’t plot, although if any ideas for scenes come to mind, I will note them down in brackets. Before I start writing, I try and “get in character” for whoever’s in the scene so that whatever plays out is realistic. I keep track of arcs and mini-arcs—the way I make sense of my stories is that the entire manuscript is a miniseries, and the chapters are episodes with smaller arcs, made up of scenes that also have their own rise and fall. The only inspiration I need is knowing what the characters are motivated to do next and how that movement is facilitated, really. But sometimes I get inspiration from the strangest things, like an irrelevant conversation I witnessed.
I’m not picky about what I write with and sometimes I’ll write a few paragraphs on the notes app on my phone if an idea comes to me instead of sleep (which is annoyingly frequent, but at least that time is used productively). If my words aren’t flowing, I’ll try and handwrite a scene or two. If time- and health-permitting, I try to write for about an hour every night.
Gigi: I know this makes me a weirdo, but I write my queries first. I want to know what the story’s hook is before I start in on it. From there, I plot and research. Since my projects are historical, this usually means I’m using resources like SAVE THE CAT’s screenwriting book and STORY GENIUS’s scene charts while at the same time I’m reading history books and watching documentaries and folding notes from both those places together to craft an outline.
I’m self-employed and work part-time, so usually I try to set aside a couple days a week just for fiction. And once I’m at the writing stage (when the outline is super robust), I like to tuck myself away from at least a few hours at a time and just crank through the first draft. From there, it’s onto CP feedback and beta reads from my ideal readers and so on and so forth.
About the Team…
Gigi Griffis writes edgy, feminist historical fiction for adults and teens. She’s passionate about little-known histories, unlikable female characters, and screaming her support for marginalized writers online. She lives in Europe with her partner and an opinionated Yorkie mix named Luna and spends her free time hiking the Alps, cycling around small villages, and eating as much French food as she can get her hands on.
Gladys Qin gets through life by cracking one dad joke at a time. Her friends think that The Rock should play her in a biopic – tough but hilarious, also prone to random workouts. She writes in the broad genres of suspense and speculative fiction. She loves crime, thriller, action, science fiction, fantasy – even better if they’re somehow weirdly put together.
She’s unpredictable like her stories. As a kid, she loved to redirect her favourite movies to star her own family members. (She was the main character, of course.) She also wanted to be a business wizard who’d bring her favourite Chinese fast food chain to Australia. Then she wanted to be a rockstar, and then a mechatronics engineer. Somewhere in between, she lost her handle on reality and switched her master’s degree from robots to publishing and creative writing.
Gladys still wishes she could be all of those at once, but for the moment, she’s going around the publishing machine instead. She’s a paid author on Wattpad, a freelance editor and writing mentor, a literary agency intern, and the production manager for an academic and creative journal. Last year, she production-managed the publication of a book.