We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Karah Sutton and her mentor, KC Held! Karah signed with Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates. We’re so excited for them!
Category: Middle Grade
Karah, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor/s?
During my Pitch Wars year the mentees had a list where we asked each other to write down one thing we’d each learned from our mentors. I said, “You know that feeling where you can tell something doesn’t work but you write it off by saying ‘It’s fine, no one will notice’? Someone will TOTALLY notice.” It sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it actually completely changed how I approach all of my edits and revisions now.
While I learned a lot of great specifics around character goals, story structure, and world-building, my biggest revelation was realizing that so many of our changes on WOLF had to do with clarifying things that didn’t make sense. Why would the character make this choice? Why do they have this mistaken belief? Why can’t they just do this easier option instead? Why are they afraid to trust this person? Having a mentor or CP is invaluable because it’s impossible to catch all of these things on your own. But readers WILL notice. All you have to do is read some negative GoodReads reviews to realize that it’s all those times where a character’s choice doesn’t make sense or an aspect of the world feels inconsistent that can ruin someone’s immersion in your story.
This advice has since been echoed by my agent, who told me that any time I can sense a weak spot in the logic of the story, any time I’m afraid to fix that weak spot because I’m worried it’ll make the whole house of cards fall down, THOSE are the time to really dig in. Take a magnifying glass to that weakness and really analyze it to figure out what isn’t working. Because in doing so, you might discover some new amazing aspect of the story that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
I first applied for Pitch Wars with A Wolf for a Spell in 2016. It was pretty much a 1.5 draft (a first draft with some tidying that I’d done to it based on feedback), but Kristen asked to read the full, and she did give me some feedback after that first submission. I spent the whole next year revising before submitting WOLF to Pitch Wars again. Then when I submitted in 2017, Kristen chose me! So in a way it feels like I had two Pitch Wars revision experiences.
As Kristen’s mentee, she first gave me a lot of homework (which I loved). She had me read a lot of blog articles on character arcs and world-building, then build a lot of charts about my different characters and timelines. This prepared me for the edit letter, where she laid out all the things that confused her as she read and places where the logic of the story didn’t line up. I was lucky because the changes were a lot less intense than some of the other mentees. I wasn’t having to rewrite huge portions of the story (probably because I’d done that when receiving feedback from Kristen in 2016?). So we were able to focus on smoothing out wrinkles in the characters and world. We finished up with a line edit, where we worked on really polishing the prose.
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)!
It was about six months after my Pitch Wars showcase. I’d received rejections from all of the agents who requested during the showcase, and had continued querying without much success. I’d actually just had a conversation with my partner about how I was preparing to put the story away, and how I needed to mourn it a little, because it had really felt like the book that would be “the one”.
Then I received an email from an agent who I’d queried only a few days before. She’d read the full quickly and wanted a call. I then emailed all the other agents I hadn’t heard from, and I had two other agents ask for a call also.
I was really torn between two agents, one who had extensive revisions she wanted me to complete, and one who wanted to go on sub right away. The agent with the heavy revisions talked to me for two hours about everything she thought we could work on, which was overwhelming. She recommended three books she wanted to comp, so I checked those out of the library and read them quickly. I absolutely loved them, and realized how much I wanted my book to be like those books, and how it wasn’t there yet. I realized that I loved the ambitious goal presented to me by that agent. In some ways it felt like a bigger risk, because there was a chance we would find out after months of revisions that it was out of reach of my writing skills, but I wanted to try.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
My agent says that event though we didn’t connect during the showcase, she considers me a Pitch Wars client. Pitch Wars did so much to motivate me. I applied three times, and each time I made contacts, got feedback, became inspired to apply again. One thing I especially treasure about Pitch Wars is the camaraderie — our mentee class still keeps in touch, still cheer each other on, still CP for each other. I feel like they’re a group I know I can approach if I ever need help or advice, and I’m delighted every time I can do the same for someone else.
The other thing it taught me is how to be disciplined in revising. My Pitch Wars revisions weren’t especially intense, but my following revisions with my agent and then my editor definitely were. Because I’d learned how to organize my revisions and had had a regimented schedule, I was able to get through the many months of revisions that followed in the lead-up to publication.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Take advantage of everything Pitch Wars offers. You can get amazing feedback in the forums. Join groups of other people prepping for Pitch Wars. It’s those connections that become really valuable, because publication is a process that takes years.
KC, tell us about working with your mentee.
I first met Karah’s witches and wolves when she applied for Pitch Wars 2016. I can still remember reading her heart-pounding opening scene for the first time! I knew her story was something special, but it didn’t feel quite ready for Pitch Wars that year. When Karah got in touch to see if I’d be open to taking a look at a revised version of her story for Pitch Wars 2017, I was so impressed with the huge amount of work she’d done on the manuscript. She has an ability to get to the heart of a revision with a precision and efficiency that I know will continue to serve her well as an author. And the fact that she came back to serve as a Pitch Wars mentor last year meant the world to me!
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Karah has a way of writing that sinks you right into the story—it’s not just the words she’s written that you remember, it’s the feeling of being in this world she’s created. It’s a world that feels fresh and intriguing and wholly hers, but at the same time she’s woven in the cherished elements of evergreen stories we know and love.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Here are my top three tips:
1. Make sure any revisions you plan to do on your manuscript are complete when the sub window opens, and your manuscript is ready to send to the mentors who request it.
2. Spend some time getting to know the mentors and their wishlists. If you have questions about whether your manuscript fits a mentor’s list, reach out via their preferred contact method (but please don’t take this as an opportunity to pitch your entire book).
3. Be ready to be part of a vibrant community, and take advantage of the opportunity for all it’s worth (hang out with fellow writers, find some new critique partners, learn more about the publishing industry!), whether you’re selected as a mentee or not.
How about some fun questions for Karah and KC.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Karah: There’s a very old movie theatre near my house. You can go upstairs and sit in the cafe area, basking in the sunshine with a coffee and a brownie. No one bothers you, and the internet reception is terrible.
KC: My family’s one room cabin in Northern California, where there’s no wifi and no cell service!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Karah: Kate DiCamillo. I’d like to go for a walk with her and admire trees together.
KC: Zilpha Keatley Snyder. She lived near me when I was a kid and we would pass her gorgeous Victorian home on the way to my dad’s work (where her husband also worked). She visited my elementary school and made being a writer a REAL THING. I would’ve loved the chance to tell Zilpha how much she inspired my love of reading, writing, and gorgeous Victorians!
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Karah: My favorite book as a middle grader was Ella Enchanted. It had everything I loved: a smart, spunky heroine, adventure, and a sweet romance. I loved how Ella didn’t tolerate people who were cruel or bullying. I wanted to be the kind of person she’d like being friends with.
KC: Miss Marple. I think I read every single Agatha Christie book as a kid and I was fascinated with Miss Marple’s ability to figure people out based on who they reminded her of in her village of St. Mary Mead. I want to know which villager I remind her of!
What inspired you to start writing?
Karah: I worked in a bookstore through college, and found myself gravitating to the children’s section. It feels like children’s books carved a place in my heart that few books I’ve read as an adult have. In my senior year, I had to write a 50 page thesis for a program I was in called the Gaines Fellowship for the Humanities. It was meant to be a research paper, but you were allowed to do a creative project instead. After years of admiring the children’s books in the store where I worked, I decided to use the thesis as an opportunity to try writing my own. Having it as a school project was a great motivator, and I’m still grateful to the Fellowship for starting me down this path.
KC: I come from a family of readers, and my dad in particular loves to play with words (he especially excels at horrible puns and has received several Dishonorable Mentions in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest—which challenges participants to write an atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel), so pretty early on I was paying attention to words and how they can be wielded. We also have family friends who own a used bookstore (shout out to Paperbacks Unlimited in Santa Rosa, CA!) and they would let me take home grocery bags full of books. I wanted to be able to create the kind of magic I found in those pages, so I started writing!
About the Team…
Karah Sutton is a former bookseller and a current writer, bird watcher, and Baba Yaga enthusiast. A Wolf for a Spell is inspired by her Russian heritage and the fairytales that have enchanted her since childhood. Karah was selected as a mentee for the 2017 Pitch Wars and Query Kombat showcases, and as a mentor has volunteered with #DVpit, #WriteMentor, and Pitch Wars. Karah also works in marketing for the entertainment industry, where she has had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s most respected and well-loved entertainment companies including Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, and Cartoon Network. She splits her time between her home town in Kentucky and a house by the sea in New Zealand.
K.C. Held writes both middle grade and young adult fiction and is the author of HOLDING COURT, a YA mystery that won the YARWA Athena Award for Best First Book, as well as 1st Place in the Contemporary Category. She holds an MFA in costume design and has worked with her share of vampires, ninjas, superheroes, and assassins. Born and raised in California with stopovers in Honduras, Mexico, and France, K.C. recently traded the Pacific Northwest for the Rocky Mountains of Boulder, Colorado.