When our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal, it’s one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Astrid Scholte and her mentors, Joan He and Mara Rutherford. Astrid signed with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners and in February you announced your two-book deal with Putnam after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Astrid, Joan, and Mara on their Pitch Wars Success!
Astrid, what was it about Joan and Mara that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
I read Joan and Mara’s Wishlist and felt as though they’d already read my manuscript and described the main elements of my book and what I wanted to develop further. They also seemed really lovely and easy to work with. And I liked the idea of having two mentors—twice the feedback and fun!
Joan and Mara, what was it about Astrid’s FOUR DEAD QUEENS that hooked you?
Joan: Oh gosh where to start? The premise was already amazing, but once I got into reading, I couldn’t pull away from Astrid’s masterful pacing and feisty characters. Then the big twist pretty much sealed the deal. I’d read the synopsis, so I knew what was coming, but had I not, I could have sworn that I wouldn’t have seen it coming, which is very rare for me.
Mara: I thought the combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements was really fresh and well done. I could tell this was a book with a lot of commercial appeal, and I thought the unique concept would help Astrid stand out from the crowd.
Astrid, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
I received my edit letter soon after the Pitch Wars Mentee announcement and got straight to work. Joan and Mara were fantastic at respecting what I’d already written while questioning certain character motivations and plot points. Most of my notes were around fleshing out the world, which was something I already wanted to focus on, so I knew we were on the same page.
I started with big picture edits and delivered the revised first half of the book for Joan to read about a month into Pitch Wars. She gave me a few final notes and then I dove into revising the second half. Once that was done, Mara concentrated on line edits to make the manuscript really shine. She also helped me put together a kick-ass pitch for the agent round!
Overall, I found the process really enjoyable. Mara and Joan were such professionals and were always there for any questions, brainstorming sessions or advice.
Joan and Mara, tell us about your experience mentoring Astrid.
Joan: This was my first time mentoring, so I was really lucky to have Mara (my mentor from PW 2015) on my side. We both brought different strengths to the table, which was really helpful! Astrid’s MS also made the editing process easier, since the bones were all in place and there were no big overhauls required.
Mara: Astrid was very easy to work with. We all got along great from the start! Joan is awesome with big picture changes and my strength lies more in the fine tuning. I think it worked out perfectly.
Astrid, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners and in February you announced your two-book deal with Putnam. 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.
I was really lucky to receive lots of requests during the agent round, thanks to my amazing mentors for making me whip my sample and pitch into shape! Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners was one of my requesting agents and she contacted me one week after I submitted. Her email mentioned how much she loved my book and wanted to discuss representation. After querying for four years on two different manuscripts, I was intimately familiar with rejection letter vernacular and wasn’t quite sure what I was reading! I live in Australia so I received her email five hours after she sent it, I quickly replied to set up a call one hour later. Cue hyperventilation!
The call with Hillary was amazing. It was surreal to hear her say all these wonderful things about my manuscript and writing. I tried to imprint it all to memory so I could convince myself it actually happened. She was so lovely and immediately made me feel at ease. I was expecting the call to be like an interview to win the agent over, but it was much more relaxed. Afterwards, I ran around squealing, scattering my cats to the far ends of the house to avoid their hyperactive owner. Then I called my parents, as they’d been on the querying rollercoaster with me—whether they wanted to or not!—and shared the amazing news. I also let my mentors know, how I wished we could’ve been in the same room to celebrate rather than in three different countries!
I emailed all my other agent requests to let them know I had an offer and ended up having several calls with offers of representation. I asked for two weeks to make my decision due it falling over the Thanksgiving break and they were the most stressful two weeks of my life! I didn’t sleep much; I was in a constant state of excitement and stress. But it was worth it! I ended up choosing Hillary as her passion for my book was hard to compete with, and, after multiple conversations, I knew we would work well together.
In mid-January Hillary sent FOUR DEAD QUEENS on sub and shortly afterwards I received the most amazing email of my writing life. Stacey Barney from Putnam loved my book and wanted to speak with me!!! I read the email a few times as I couldn’t believe my eyes. I called my parents, of course, and blubbered like a baby. My mum asked if it was good news or bad news as I couldn’t get any intelligible words out. I managed to pull myself together long enough to say, yes, it was great news!
The call with Stacey was all I could’ve imagined and more. She was wonderful and friendly and, most importantly, completely got my book. Penguin has long been a favourite publisher of mine and the Putnam imprint has published some of my favourite YA authors. I couldn’t help but wonder how this was real life. A week later I officially accepted Putnam’s offer and I couldn’t be happier. FOUR DEAD QUEENS has found its perfect home!
Astrid, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Not only did my amazing mentors help improve FOUR DEAD QUEENS, but Pitch Wars found me my dream agent and my dream editor and publisher. It has been the most exciting few months and I wouldn’t be here without Brenda and her wish-granting competition!
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?
Astrid: Jurassic Park. No question! I love dinosaurs and my job would be to take care of the animals and make sure everyone had a good time while visiting the theme park. Theme parks are my second love, after writing!
Joan: the Grisha universe because the Darkling. My goal there would be to reverse his fate. And then when I got tired of Ravka, I would travel to Ketterdam and meet Kaz and co. because…need there be a reason?
Mara: I’m going to have to go with the Night Court from A Court of Mist and Fury. I would live in Velaris, aka the City of Starlight, because Rhysand. I’m sure we’d find a way to keep busy.
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?
Astrid: I’m in Jurassic Park, being chased by a ferocious T-Rex. I’m torn, I want to take a closer look at one of my favorite dinosaurs, but the heroic and handsome Elias (from Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes) won’t slow down our Jeep, ensuring we keep a hair’s breadth from the T-Rex’s hungry jaws.
Joan: Haku from Spirited Away because he’d turn into a dragon and we’d fly away and life would be great.
Mara: This fictional premise is stressing me out, and Joan’s answer inspired me, so I choose Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle. We can either hitch a ride on the castle, or Howl can fly us away from the Witch of the Waste and her henchmen.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Astrid: The morphing cube from The Animorphs by K. A Applegate. As a kid, I wanted to be an Animorph so I could soar the thermals as a hawk, swim the ocean as a dolphin or lounge in the sun as a cat.
Joan: FOUR DEAD QUEENS (Astrid’s book) has got some pretty awesome inventions! And obviously the time turner from HP. If someone could get me one, I’d love you forever.
Mara: I love compasses and what they symbolize, so the alethiometer from His Dark Materials fascinates me.
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?
Astrid: I try to write every weekday and once on the weekend. I’m a pantser so I need to keep writing to generate ideas. I aim for at least 1K for each writing session and I usually write around 8pm on the weekdays and early afternoon on the weekends, but I don’t have a set schedule or process.
Joan: I try to write every day for longer chunks of time in each sitting because I am a snail and it’d take me years to write a book if I didn’t put in the hours. Writing on the go is still a skill I need to develop.
Mara: I don’t write everyday, unless I’m in drafting mode, in which case I like to write in chunks of at least four hours if I can make it happen, for as many days as I need to finish. I write on my laptop in a blue velvet chair in my bedroom, because the desk the State Department provides us with overseas is not writer friendly.
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?
Astrid: I’d stay at home. I need complete silence to write new words, although I can edit to background music. I would drink many, many cups of peppermint tea and celebrate with a glass of bubbly.
Joan: Coffee and Starbucks.
Mara: It’s hard to get fresh milk or cream in Peru, so I would take a giant breve latte in just about any cozy coffee shop (also some form of baked good with frosting). In a perfect world, there’s a cafe in Bath, England, that I would write in every day if I could.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Astrid: I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little so the internal drive is strong. I read a lot (although I’d love to read more!) and the YA community has been so welcoming and supportive. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
Joan: Reading impossibly good books and reading impossibly bad books keeps me motivated. Also it goes without saying that my PW class of 2015 is a wellspring of motivation. And people who have loved my writing and are hard at work pursuing the dream themselves *coughMaracough* are some of my biggest sources of support.
Mara: Awww I love you Joan! Ditto! My unflagging love of writing and creating keeps me motivated despite the rejection. I am inspired to create by all kinds of things, but I am inspired to persevere by my Pitch Wars peeps. Some of us have succeeded, but a lot of us are still struggling, and knowing I’m not alone and hearing their words of encouragement is what keeps me going on my darkest days.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Astrid: My advice to aspiring authors would be to keep writing. My first two novels didn’t land me an agent, but it taught me a lot about the process of querying and what agents look for. There’s a lot of luck involved and you need to have the right project at the right time.
I’m super excited to share my book, FOUR DEAD QUEENS with the world when it’s released in the U.S in Spring 2019 by Putnam.
Joan: Keep your eyes on FOUR DEAD QUEENS and Astrid, because it’s going to be big!!!
Mara: A huge thanks to Brenda Drake for creating the best writing community in the world. Joan and I are so proud of Astrid and can’t wait to see her book on the shelves soon!
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Astrid Scholte attributes her fascination with all things fantasy due to a family vacation to Disneyland at the impressionable age of one. Her desire to be surrounded by myth, magic and the mystical led her to a career in animation and visual effects. She received Honors in BA (Film, Media and Theater) and a Bachelor of Digital Media from the University of NSW. While her workplace is like any other, her colleagues have included 10 feet tall blue Avatars, a giant gorilla and tap-dancing penguins. She now lives in Melbourne, Australia with her cats Lilo and Mickey.FOUR DEAD QUEENS is her debut novel.
Mara Rutherford writes novels for young adults inspired by her travels around the world. She particularly loves finding that place where magic and reality collide. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara grew up in Southern California and has lived in six states and four countries. Along with her diplomat husband and two sons, she now lives in Lima, Peru, where she is slowly eating her way across the country.
From Joan: I started out in art – the pencil-sketching, oil-painting kind of art – only to quickly discover the art of the written word. So here I am now, love undivided.
When I’m not trying to balance writing and sophomoring at the University of Pennsylvania (where I’m a Psychology Major), I over-indulge in my love for wombats, Mao Feng tea, and scary anime.