We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Alex Samuely and her mentor, Jennieke Cohen! Alex signed with Tara Gonzalez at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
About the Team…
Alex Samuely – Mentee
Alex Samuely is a communications professional and former journalist. She writes young adult contemporary and fantasy novels inspired by her favorite locations, and strongly believes that setting is a character. A New Jersey native, Alex currently lives in Manhattan and can be found dreaming up story ideas after visiting charming New England towns, exploring city neighborhoods, and soaking up sun-streaked afternoons in Central Park.
Jennieke Cohen – Mentor
Jennieke Cohen (JEN-ih-kuh CO-en) is used to people mispronouncing her name and tries to spare her fictional characters the same problem. Jennieke is the author of the young adult historical novel DANGEROUS ALLIANCE, a Junior Library Guild Selection. She studied English history at Cambridge University and has a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Jennieke has worked as a nonfiction ghostwriter, a literary agent’s assistant, and as a writing consultant to Silicon Valley tech companies. When not writing or researching little-known corners of history, you’ll find her singing opera arias and show tunes, over-analyzing old movies, or discovering the best foodie spots in her native Northern California. Read more on Jennieke’s website www.JenniekeCohen.com or say hi on Twitter or Instagram @Jennieke_Cohen
The interview …
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Alex, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor?
I learned so many tips from Jennieke, but one highlight is making sure that every character and scene drives the plot forward. In my previous works, I’d give the main character a dog simply because I’m a dog lover, or I’d add side characters for comedic value, despite them having no influence over the main plot. During Pitch Wars, I learned that everything must advance the plot and can’t be there for the sake of being there. That made THESE HOLLOW FATES much tighter and plot-driven!
Great tip! Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
After the showcase ended, I sent out my requests along with a batch of cold queries. It was nerve-wracking waiting to hear back, but on a sunny day about two months after the showcase ended, I received an email from my now-agent, Tara, discussing all the aspects she loved about THESE HOLLOW FATES and asking to hop on a call! I *may* have run around the block screeching in excitement. THESE HOLLOW FATES is my third manuscript and third attempt at querying, so getting an offer for an Agent Call was overwhelming in the best way possible!
We spoke the next day, and I loved how closely Tara’s editorial vision for the story aligned with mine. She was so enthusiastic and well-prepared, and when I hung up, I felt like I’d be in great hands with her.
When I informed my friends about my choice, they showered me with so many messages of support and excitement! I celebrated with my family at my favorite restaurant in my neighborhood the weekend after I signed with Tara, and I had a virtual celebration with my friends the following evening. I also received so many kind messages and congratulations when I officially announced on social media, from both IRL friends and writing friends!
How exciting! I’m sure you did run around the block screeching – I would have too! How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Participating in Pitch Wars taught me how to work against a tight deadline, prioritize the most important aspects of the book in a first-round revision, and finetune the first page/first chapter in a way that hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. Most importantly, Pitch Wars introduced me to Jennieke, who has become an incredible champion for my writing career, and my wonderfully supportive PW Class of 2020 classmates (shoutout to Jenny and Kaylynn, who have become not only my CPs, but great friends)!
Making writer friends is the best! So happy you found yours. Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Yes, PLEASE ENTER. Pitch Wars has truly been one of the best experiences of my life from a writing and community perspective. This was not my first time entering, but in previous years when I didn’t get in, I met new people by swapping materials with hopefuls through Twitter and critiquing each other’s queries. You can easily find a new CP or friend in the lead-up to the application submission window by engaging with the Twitter prompts or finding people to swap with!
I also recommend getting extra eyes on your query letter, finding recent and relevant comps, and really honing that first chapter. Do a search for all filter words and remove them, consider the impact of your first line, and try to end the chapter with a hook, if possible!
Yes, if you’re thinking about it, do enter! I’m so glad it was such a good experience for you, Alex. So Jennieke, tell us about working with Alex.
Alex was professional from the very beginning, and she always had such a positive attitude about simply taking part in Pitch Wars. I quickly learned that she was not only excited to work on polishing up her manuscript, THESE HOLLOW FATES, but so capable of making revisions happen. She always kept an open mind about revisions and little tweaks, which is so important. Our phone conversations really became lovely time spent with a lovely person—which worked out quite well while we were all in lockdown/craving human interaction. She was always such a pleasure to talk to and work with, and I’m so happy Pitch Wars brought us together!
It sounds like you both had such a great working relationship and friendship. We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Alex is really great at hearing feedback and giving it real thought without jumping into anything. Yet she still got everything to me so promptly. She hit every deadline we set and even surpassed a few—even over the holidays! She maintained the best attitude throughout the entire stressful process. Even in the midst of such a tough year, she made it all happen, and I found that so inspiring!
That is inspiring! Learning to work on deadline is a very important skill in this business. How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible! Yet be prepared to make changes if you get picked. You should not apply to Pitch Wars with the thought that if you get picked, your mentor(s) will pat you on the back and usher you into the showcase with little to no effort on either side. Every mentor will approach revisions differently, but most mentees are chosen because their mentors see potential—not because their manuscript is perfect. So be sure you’re going into the process with the right expectations.
On the writing side, double check that your manuscript has all the beats of a plot. It can be difficult to address major structural gaps in the time given for Pitch Wars, so it’s always better to give your manuscript the best chance possible for being picked! And I’ll echo Alex and agree that if your sample has some kind of cliffhanger, that’s going to help you stand out in the crowd (both in Pitch Wars and in the querying process).
Great advice! Pitch Wars can be stressful and will be tons of work, but if you’re chosen and you take advantage of this amazing opportunity, you will come out a better writer for sure. And let’s find out what drew agent Tara Gonzalez at Erin Murphy Literary Agency to this manuscript. Tara?
When I picked up THESE HOLLOW FATES to start reading, I honestly couldn’t put it down. I remember it happened to be just what I wanted to be reading at the time. Alex’s writing is so atmospheric and despite being in the Florida humidity, I just felt so immersed in the crisp New England fall. It had me immediately ready to pull on a sweater and cozy up by the fire. THESE HOLLOW FATES is just so spooky and fun at the same time, and I adored the romance.
I love when a story can draw you in that way! How about some fun questions for Jennieke and Alex.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Jennieke: Probably my backyard, if the weather allows. Really, I just need a place where no one will bother me, wherever that is on a given day!
Alex: I’d go to a bookstore with an open writing area, like Barnes & Noble or Indigo! I find it really inspiring to write and revise while sitting next to some of my favorite YA novels. It’s a tangible reminder of where I want to see my own books one day!
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Jennieke: I usually write after lunch and into the late afternoon and evening, if necessary. Sometimes I’ll dictate into my phone and edit it later. But for drafting, I’ve been known to write by hand in a notebook because it keeps me off the computer where I can get stuck writing emails or researching some issue or other that will come up during the writing. I actually really enjoy writing outside if at all possible. It’s something about basking in nature and something about avoiding other distractions, but it works for me!
Alex: When I’m brainstorming, I usually take notes in a phone app I can pull up at any time. When I’m ready to start drafting, I write a multi-thousand-word outline in Word to make sure I’ve captured the basic plot beats and structure. Then, I start writing in Word! I keep it simple when it comes to technology 🙂 I used to be a pantser and am now a plotter, though the story always surprises me in some way as I write! I find inspiration in settings, so I try to stay alert when I’m out walking or exploring. I select a few key songs for each manuscript and play them on a loop when I’m drafting—I find the repetition helps lull me into the vibe of the story. I also like creating aesthetics to serve as a visual reminder of the story, characters, or settings. I work full time, so I write in the evenings and on weekends. That said, I have my phone next to me at all times, ready to capture good lines or scene ideas whenever inspiration strikes!
Check out Jennieke’s upcoming release …
My Fine Fellow
Publish Date: January 11, 2022
Culinary delights abound, romance lingers in the air, and plans go terribly, wonderfully astray in this cheeky and charming historical tale, perfect for fans of Bridgerton or Dickinson.
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians—doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections—are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate—and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby—but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.
Thank you Alex and Jennieke for the inteview, and thank you everyone for stopping by and supporting our mentors and mentees!