We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Bethany Jacobs and her mentor, Jake Nicholls! Bethany signed with Bridget Smith at JABberwocky Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
About the Team…
Bethany Jacobs – Mentee
I am an education technology consultant in Buffalo, NY, where I live with my wife and our dog Finnick. I have a PhD in American literature and spent ten years as a college instructor of writing and science fiction. I left academia in part so that I could pursue my writing, and I’d say it’s gone well!
Jake Nicholls – Mentor
Jake is a fiction editor who helps authors to develop their stories and hone their writing craft. At Future Worlds Editing, Jake specialises in working with writers of science fiction, fantasy and LGBTQIA+ fiction.
Their favourite part of being an editor is mentoring and championing emerging authors, especially those writing diverse books. Jake firmly believes that editing is not just about words: it’s about giving writers additional tools that will help them express their truth to the world.
Jake lives in the UK, but their head is often away in other universes. When not devouring books, they can be found stuck in a loop with their stubborn ‘I’m-not-going-that-way’ hound, eating liquorice, and delighting the neighbours with their newly found love of drumming.
Genre: Science Fiction
Bethany, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor, Jake?
I’m not sure about tips or tricks but Jake really taught me how to better ground my POV, which was invaluable to me! All Jake’s edits were incredible.
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
I was so lucky to have Jake, as we immediately clicked and the process went really well. We had an initial call to talk through their revision letter and after that we had a pretty strong plan for moving forward. There were a couple more calls over the next couple of months where we talked through places that I was getting stuck. Other than that we had a great back and forth and the process was not nearly as stressful as I’d been prepared for!
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)!
I got an email from the agent on Thursday night, basically three days after I had sent her my manuscript, so I was kind of stunned–I didn’t believe it was happening because it was so much faster than I expected. I wondered if it was going to be a revise and resubmit conversation. One of the interesting things about these calls is that the agent doesn’t come straight out and say they want to rep you, either in the email or in the call itself (they have good reasons for that–what if they get on the call with you and you’re clearly an axe murderer? Gotta have an escape route!). So, for the first forty minutes of the call I didn’t know what was happening, and kept thinking that maybe it wasn’t an offer after all. So I finally just asked! But here’s another strange thing about the agent call. The emotions you feel afterwards run the gamut. I had the very strange experience of coming away from that call LESS confident in my novel (which was not the agent’s fault, but born of my own insecurities). It took me almost two weeks to really feel like, hey, this is legit. Agents want me!
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
There’s no overstating it. Pitch Wars gave me the mentor, and the confidence, to polish a successful manuscript. It also gave me connections with other writers, and mentors, which proved invaluable in the process of making my agent selection. I’m so grateful to the supportive community I found through this program, including Rebecca Enzor, Michael Mammay, and Ren Hutchings.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
This is going to sound hypocritical coming from a person who got an agent, but I think it’s really important to understand that getting a mentor and then an agent through this program shouldn’t be the only achievement by which you measure your success. I entered Pitch Wars three times. 1st time was a bust, but the 2nd time I got a request from an amazing mentor who I’m still in contact with. She ended up connecting me with another mentor who sent me feedback on early chapters of my book, thus giving me the confidence to keep revising and submit to Pitch Wars again. So mine was not this instant success story, and yours might not be, either. If you go into it wanting to learn, to connect with others, and to keep writing, this program can do nothing but good for you.
Jake, tell us about working with your mentee, Bethany.
Working with Bethany and getting to dive into her manuscript was such an amazing experience. We had some great chats about her characters and worldbuilding, and it was an absolute joy to read her work and see it develop. I can’t wait for Bethany’s novel to be out in the world so other people can fall in love with it, too.
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
I was so impressed by the revisions that Bethany made. She deftly juggled multiple layers of the story while she changed some things around, and the revisions came back so strongly written and polished—and in such a short time period, too—that it was like they had always been there! Honestly, Bethany is such an amazing writer; I am in awe.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
My main suggestion is to hold tight to the ‘heart’ of your manuscript and the reason you’re writing it—why it’s important to you. That passion is what’ll keep you going when things are tough, and what will keep your revisions focused and moving in the right direction. Have confidence in your ability to improve what might need improving, but be sure to recognise and celebrate your manuscript’s strengths, too.
I was immediately drawn in by Bethany’s comp to A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE as well as her care to describe the three central characters and their relationships to each other, which told me this was the kind of human-centered space opera I’d love. Once I started reading, those same characters pulled me in right away, and the confident, sophisticated prose kept me turning the pages!
How about some fun questions for Bethany and Jake.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Bethany: I have a writing chair, it’s huge, it’s a recliner, I want to live in it. So I’d probably plant myself there, stick my headphones in, and buckle down.
Jake: Typically, I work from a little desk at the end of my bed, where I can look out of the window and watch pigeons and magpies and sparrows jump around on the rooftops. That’s definitely where I’d stay if I had a tight deadline, with a giant mug of tea in hand!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Bethany: This question isn’t fair. Okay, honestly, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, or N.K. Jemisin. And I would just want to hang out and maybe cook and eat and talk and, you know, worship at their feet. HOWEVER, if I could get Tamsyn Muir, Arkady Martine and Kameron Hurley together I would plop us in a gay bar so we could talk about cute girls and brainstorm how to put more of them in our books. It is entirely possible that they would have ZERO interest in this plan.
Jake: I once met Marlon James in the bookshop where I work, but I was too shy to chat to him (story of my life) and so I just hung around while the manager gave him a tour. This was right after he’d won the Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings. I have since been blown away by Black Leopard, Red Wolf and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the Dark Star trilogy will hold—I’d love to talk to him about that, and about all things books, so maybe a day wandering around bookshops would be nice.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Bethany: Again with the unfair question that demands multiple answers! I like morally ambiguous and even dangerous characters who are good at their core. So, Nikanj from Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler; Breq from Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie; Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells; Akeha from The Tensorate Series by Neon Yang… for starters.
Jake: I think I’d like to spend some time with Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. She would be intimidating as hell, but I like her sense of humour and the way she looks at the world. I feel like I’d come away with some good nuggets of life wisdom, as long as I could hold my nerve!
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Bethany: A bit obscure but The Price of Salt (or what you may know as the 2015 film Carol) because I would give a portion of my soul to have period-attired Cate Blanchett gaze across a restaurant at me. And my wife is okay with that.
Jake: I’m not really in any fandoms, to be honest. But if there’s a fandom for the show Tuca & Bertie, that seems like it would be a cool place to hang out. And I’d definitely sign up to actually go and live in the slightly surreal world of bird people and plant ladies and jelly lakes!
What inspired you to start writing?
Bethany: My mom read to us when we were kids. At eight I wrote a chapter book based on The Chronicles of Narnia. I was always drawn to stories. I remember asking my parents when I was very young if they thought I could be an author, and they said yes. It stuck.
Jake: I was a bookworm as soon as I started reading. I read anything and everything that came my way, whether it was meant for me or not! I vividly remember writing a ‘novel’ (though it was probably super short) at age 8 or 9. It was a blatant rip-off of A Wizard of Earthsea mashed up with The Lord of the Rings, but I was so proud of it.
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Bethany: I tend to write in the evenings during the work week and the mornings on the weekend, unless I’ve got family stuff going (which, let’s be real, is OFTEN). I’m a total plotter so I rely heavily on my worldbuilding notes. Generally when I’m writing I either have a show or movie playing that I can ignore, or I’m listening to music. Some day, post pandemic, I hope to return to coffee shops! Things that inspire me: music, other writers, and nature. The Spring has finally come and I am enjoying walks again!
Jake: My writing process is very slow. It can be tricky to find the time and mental space for my own projects when I’m working with authors on theirs (not that I’m complaining; I love what I do!). I’ve found that the best way for me to make progress on a project is to sneak up on it from behind—I write just a tiny bit each day so that I’m slowly and consistently chipping away at it. To combat my editor brain when writing, I also (in a dramatic voice) ACTIVATE SHARK MODE! i.e. I have to keep moving forward otherwise I’ll sink into endless revisions and rewrites and never get anywhere.
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