Having our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal is one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Cory Leonardo and her mentors, Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin. Cory signed with Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Cory, Amanda, and Cindy on their Pitch Wars Success.
Cory, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Amanda and Cindy?
I fell in love with them after reading their Pitch Wars interview. They were smart, funny, and heartfelt. Plus, we adored the same types of books, and honestly, I just felt this magical pull. I knew it would be a dream to work with them.
Amanda and Cindy, what about Cory’s application made you choose her?
Amanda: It’s funny, when I read Cory’s query I thought, “Yeah, no way.” But I read her first pages and was blown away by her voice and poetry. So I texted Cindy and was like, “I really like the parrot book. Am I crazy?” She quickly assured me I wasn’t. It was strange because Cory’s book was so many things we had said would be a hard sell for us, but she had such a perfect blend of humor and heart and there was something so human about this parrot. We spent the next two weeks just texting back and forth about her book and our plans for it.
Cindy: Amanda read Cory’s opening pages first, and immediately texted me telling me that I HAD to go read the parrot book to see if she was going crazy. We’d said no animal stories on our wishlist, and hadn’t imagined that we’d be drawn to one. As soon as I read the opening chapters, though, I was right with Amanda—Cory’s witty prose and sublime verse had drawn us both in immediately. CALL ME ALASTAIR is one of the most unique and poignant middle grade novels I’ve ever had the pleasure to read! We really worried that by choosing Cory we’d be setting her up for disappointment, as animal stories can be a tough market to find an agent with… but clearly, we needn’t have been anxious on that score!
Grueling. And amazing at the same time. Amanda and Cindy helped me see my book in ways I hadn’t considered before. They were amazingly able to pinpoint weaknesses in a way that made me excited for the next round of edits. They were cheerleaders, teachers, counselors; they were as strict as they were gentle. The whole experience was more than I could have hoped for. My family may have had to subsist on way too many chicken nuggets during the revision process, and I may have lost all muscle tone in my body from sitting and staring at a computer all day (and night) for two and a half months, but it was worth every bite, every pound.
Amanda and Cindy, tell us about your experience with mentoring Cory.
Amanda: It was so fabulous. When we sent Cory our edit letter we began by warning her that there was a very good chance she wouldn’t get an agent with this book because it was an animal book and she was a debut author. But we loved it so much, we wanted to give it a shot. That seems really silly now, haha. But even with that warning, Cory got straight to work. We asked her to re-envision her story and add two POV’s. That’s hard to do in two months. But Cory wowed us. She has the best handle on voice and creating unique voices for each character that I’ve ever seen. Really, truly, honestly.
Cindy: Cory is as sweet and as hardworking as I could have hoped. Despite giving her some pretty hefty revision suggestions, she hit the ground running and managed to take ALASTAIR from great to completely incredible. Added to which, Cory is a truly lovely human being, and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to get to know her through this process!
Cory, after Pitch Wars you signed with Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency, tell us about “The Call.” How did Rena contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
Well, first I got “The Email.” Rena emailed a day and a half after I’d sent her the full saying she’d finished the book in one sitting, had fallen in love with the book and its characters, and was writing to offer representation. And I died. Actually, I just wandered around my house for an hour in a stupor before telling my husband. I almost couldn’t believe it was real–in fact, I didn’t post the offer on the Pitch Wars Facebook page for days I was so dumbstruck. We scheduled a call for the following day…on which I woke up with the stomach flu–the go-to-the-hospital-and-get-fluids kind of stomach flu. I was mortified to reschedule the call, but we did and ended up talking soon after. From there, it was a whirlwind of activity for the next nine days: emailing PW agents who’d requested, emailing the agents I’d cold-queried, sending materials, waiting for responses (while recovering from said flu nearly the entire time). In the end, I received two other lovely offers, but as I did with choosing Amanda and Cindy, I went with my gut on the decision (a gut that seems entirely reliable when making big decisions, but fraught with peril when scheduling important phone calls). I am beyond thrilled to be working with Rena. In my opinion, it’s a perfect Pitch Wars match.
Cory, How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
I will be shouting about Pitch Wars from the rooftops for the rest of my life. Not only did it provide the intense editorial feedback my manuscript needed and the platform it needed to be seen, it also provided deadlines, accountability, and the practical and moral support one craves at every stage of the process whether you’re editing, querying, fielding offers, considering agency contracts…etc. Simply put, Pitch Wars is an incredible community of coaches and friends, all of whom understand this tricky business of birthing books. I would not be where I am if I hadn’t stumbled into it.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you all to answer:
You and your favorite character from your favorite book are meeting at your favorite restaurant. Which character are you with, what restaurant did you choose, and what’s on the menu?
Cory: So, apparently I’m able to make big decisions, but I am notoriously TERRIBLE at deciding on restaurants and ordering off menus. I can only say I’d go to one of the many quaint, brick-walled and dimly-lit, oh-so-tasty restaurants in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Bread and wine must be a part of the menu. And who to take? Depends on the mood. Jean Valjean? Elizabeth Bennet? Aslan? (That might make for an interesting joke, come to think of it. “A French convict, an English heroine, and a lion walk into a bar…”)
Amanda: So me and Dumbledore would go to this restaurant in Chautauqua, New York called The Scallion Bistro and we would get the lobster and truffle macaroni and cheese. MMMMMM.
Cindy: I’d love to go to dinner with Anne Shirley, where we’d (of course) dine on liniment cake and raspberry cordial. I’d try not to become intoxicated.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
Cory: C.S. Lewis (if he were alive). His brilliance makes my mind explode. I’d just sit in a chair and take notes. Second choice and third choice (in no particular order) include Jane Austen and Kate DiCamillo.
Amanda: Kate DiCamillo. Hands down. And I’d just want to go on walks with her and her dogs and listen to her beautiful insights on normal, everyday things.
Cindy: One of my all-time favorites has always been Madeleine L’Engle. I often read her books and feel like she wrote so many of my own inner thoughts! I’d love to have a day to spend with her, at the beach somewhere, just talking about life, love, God, and the fierce beauty of living.
What book character or movie character best describes your personality?
Cory: I have no idea. I just looked up Elizabeth Bennet’s personality type, and she’s very close to mine. She’s an INFJ. I definitely have F tendencies, but I’m an INTJ. This means I am Mr. Darcy. Great.
Cindy: I’ve always felt I’m one part Jo March, one part Anne Shirley, in pretty equal measure.
You just won a spot on The Amazing Race what fictional character do you team with and what makes him/her/it a good match for this adventure?
Cory: I guess it’s me and Darcy. At least we’ll see eye-to-eye. Or there’s Tinkerbell. We’ll fly…and win.
Amanda: I’m totally taking Ruby from Elly Blake’s FROSTBLOOD. Not only does she have fire power to scorch our enemies, I mean, opponents, but she also knows a thing or two about healing herbs and such.
Cindy: I’d pick Aragorn, because he knows how to survive in any conditions and he’s good at EVERYTHING. (Amanda: Mmmhmmm, that man knows how to wield a sword.)
You only have two hours to finish edits, where are you and what do you have with you?
Cory: My computer room, door closed, wearing the noise-cancelling headphones my husband uses when cutting the lawn.
Amanda: I’m in my bedroom and the more important thing is what I don’t have with me. My kids.
Cindy: Probably at home, on my couch (my regular writing spot), with my laptop—but I’d definitely have the wifi turned off! I’d also be snacking on something yummy and have plenty of water.
What fictional character would best describe your mentor/mentee?
Cory: They are definitely Jo March and Anne Shirley and Matilda and Hermione and Professor McGonagall AND Elizabeth Bennet all wrapped up with a fabulous bow.
Amanda: Cory is totally Melanie Hamilton from GONE WITH THE WIND, although hopefully healthier. She is insightful and extremely kind, merciful, compassionate, and has a quiet, steady strength about her.
Cindy: Honestly? I can’t think of a single character that combines Cory’s kindness and generosity of heart with her hard work and drive. She’s one-of-a-kind!
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Cory: Words matter. Use them wisely. And with love.
Amanda: Don’t listen to those nay-sayers (even if they’re your mentors) when they try to dampen your hopes. Cory proves that good things happen to good people who work hard.
Cindy: Working with Cory was absolutely a delight, and I’m glad to have had the chance to gain not only a mentee, but a lovely friend!
Cory Leonardo grew up believing she’d replace Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune, but when that didn’t work out, she decided she’d turn letters and phrases in a different way (but minus the glittery dresses, sadly). Most days you can find her pajama-clad, with her trusty notebooks and laptop, picking away at new picture book and middle grade manuscripts, staring off into space, and spending way too much time thinking about what’s for dinner. A born and bred upstate New Yorker, she currently lives in the Syracuse area–the very middle and heart of the state–with her husband and three plucky children. Her next adventure will be the writerly task of building a website. Please send prayers.
Cory is represented by Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency. You can find her on Twitter at @_CoryLeonardo or on Instagram at coryleonardo.
Amanda Rawson Hill
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwestern Wyoming with a library right out her back gate (which accounts a lot for how she turned out.) After graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in chemistry, she lived all over the US with her husband and three kids. Today Amanda resides in Central California where she homeschools her children, gardens, teaches science and writing classes at the local educational enrichment center, and goes to Disneyland more often than is probably healthy. She writes heartfelt middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.
Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.