We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating and celebrating Jessica Olson and her mentors, Kim Chance & Megan LaCroix! Jessica signed with Christa Heschke at McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
Jessica, what’s your favorite writing tip or trick you learned from your mentors?
My mentors showed me the importance of really using an outline to make sure that each scene in a story creates a domino effect. This helped tremendously with my pacing. It is imperative that each scene lead into the next one—if one scene could be removed without affecting the story’s trajectory, then that scene should be removed! I used to be a half-pantser-half-plotter, but after Pitch Wars, I am determined to plot every book I write from here on out—doing so with my Pitch Wars manuscript made my story so much stronger and made my writing sessions much more effective. Putting together an outline isn’t as much fun as diving right into the story, and it can be a lot of work, but in the end it made my book so much more cohesive, and it ultimately saved me tons of revision time.
Kim and Megan, tell us about your experience mentoring Jessica.
Kim: Working with Jessica was an absolute dream! Megan and I fell in love with her story and characters almost immediately, and then after connecting with Jessica, it felt like we were the three musketeers! We all have a lot in common, and we worked really well together. Having three chefs in the kitchen can be a challenge, but we made it fun, and overall, it was an incredibly positive and enjoyable experience! I think Jessica is immensely talented, and I am so glad that we got to work with her on her amazing book!
Megan: Kim and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentee. On top of the fact that Jessica is incredibly talented, the three of us clicked on a personal level which really made the whole experience that much more fun. SING ME FORGOTTEN is a story that I just couldn’t get out of my head and it still haunts me (even after reading it cover to cover 4 times!). I’m so thankful to Pitch Wars for bringing us all together, and for getting the chance to work with Jessica on her amazing book.
Jessica, tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
My mentors sent me a thorough edit letter (I think it was sixteen pages long!) outlining the things that worked in the story and the things that didn’t. I mulled over those critiques and decided that I could either put bandaids all over the story to try to fix the broken bits, or I could scrap what I had and start over from scratch and hopefully come up with something with a much stronger foundation that wouldn’t need bandaids to hold it together. I decided to go with the rewrite, so I dug in and put together a brand new outline and then a scene-by-scene outline (that ended up being over 50 pages long single-spaced!) for my rewrite. When my mentors okayed my new vision, I got to work. I rewrote the entire thing from scratch, only using a handful of pages (probably less than 2k words total) from my original. I finished that in four weeks and sent it off to my mentors. They then responded with another round of revision notes, which I took and incorporated in my next pass. Finally, we did line edits and worked on the pitch/query/synopsis materials. It was a whirlwind, but it was so much fun!
Kim and Megan, we’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Kim: Megan and I can be pretty tough critics and we gave Jessica not one but TWO developmental edit letters. This might have been worrisome to some, but Jessica was super motivated and ready to roll her sleeves up and get to work! She took all our feedback and constructive criticism with grace and re-wrote her entire book in a matter of weeks! It was amazing! Most people would be freaked out by the idea of a complete re-write, but Jessica was able to take our critique and suggestions and combine them with her own vision for the story. Then she was able to set a schedule for herself and get the work done on schedule. That’s an incredible task to accomplish for any writer and is a true testament to Jessica’s unparalleled work ethic.
Megan: Jessica’s determination and willingness to dig in and tackle her revisions was nothing short of mind-blowing. Kim and I gave her a huge edit letter and she knocked out a single-spaced 50-page outline and a full second draft in less than a month. Since we had so much time, we decided to make the most of it and go to work on a second round of developmental edits before tackling the line edits at the very end. Jessica gave us everything we asked for (and more), and I found her dedication to the craft of storytelling truly inspiring.
Jessica, please tell us about THE CALL.
I sent out my requests as soon as the agent showcase ended at midnight on Monday night (I guess technically that was Tuesday morning?) On Wednesday, I got an email from Christa. Convinced it was going to be a rejection (I was so used to them from my many years in the query trenches with previous books), I clicked it open. It was a much longer email than I’d ever gotten from an agent, and in it she told me so many wonderful things about my book. I kept waiting to find a “but” or a “however” or an “unfortunately,” but when I came to the words “offering you representation,” I immediately screamed and burst into such an intense round of weeping that my four-year-old son ran from the room and hid from me he was so scared. 🙂 I immediately called my husband, but when he answered the phone I was still crying so hard I couldn’t speak, and he thought one of our children had been seriously injured.
Christa and I set up our phone call for the next day, and I put together a list of questions I wanted to ask her that night. The phone call was great—I could tell she really loved my book and my writing and seemed excited about my other WIPs as well. I let her know I had my materials out with other agents, so I’d be back in touch in two weeks with my final decision. The next two weeks were a whirlwind. Christa wasn’t my only offer, so I did have a difficult choice to make. Ultimately, though, I felt like Christa seemed to be the best match for me and my career, so I signed a contract with her and celebrated with a big old cookie dough blast from Sonic with extra cookie dough. 🙂
Let’s find out what drew agent Christa Heschke to this manuscript. Christa?
There is always so much great material to look through during Pitch Wars. It’s an exciting time! Jessica’s manuscript was one of the first ones that really intrigued me. I love The Phantom of the Opera. It was the first play I saw as a kid and I may be slightly obsessed with the music from it! I also liked that the “phantom” here is a girl. Those were two things that made me want to request the full. Once I started reading it, her words entranced me. The characters are incredible, the world building is unique and the emotional bits are what made me realize this is a book I HAVE to work on! I went from swooning to fearful to excited to rip-my-heart-out sad. It’s not every day a book can do that for me!
Jessica, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
I think it really helped me learn to regard my stories with an even more critical eye than before. It also taught me the importance of doing the “homework”—the beat sheets and outlines and world building that really make a story stand out and shine. I will forever be indebted to my lovely mentors for helping me learn those hard lessons!
Kim and Megan, how can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Kim: I think it’s important to have as polished of a manuscript as possible—that way, if selected, the mentor has the best possible version of your story to work with. Doing several rounds of self-editing is a good way to get your manuscript ready to go. I also think having a list of concerns or areas where you know your story is weak is a good thing to have on hand. Potential mentors may ask you what your weaknesses are, so it’s a good idea to examine your story with a critical and objective eye to really identify potential problems or weak spots. It can hard to do because of the whole “can’t see the forest for the trees” thing, but it will pay off in the end.
Megan: My first piece of advice is to find a critique partner (or two, or three!). As much as we would like to pretend that writing a book is a solitary endeavor, it’s not. Critique and feedback are essential tools for learning and growing, so I think if you’re in a place where your manuscript is finished and polished to the best of your ability before the Pitch Wars submission window opens, it’s time to reach out to a few writers familiar with your category/genre and ask them to read for you (even if it’s only the first chapter). Nothing flushes out weak spots faster than seeing your story through someone else’s eyes.
In addition, I’d also urge mentee hopefuls to interact on the hashtag. It’s such an amazing icebreaker, and a fairly easy way to connect with other like-minded writers. Even if you don’t get chosen as a mentee, you will need writer friends and critique partners, and the ones I’ve connected with through Pitch Wars have been nothing short of life changing.
Jessica, do you have any advice for those thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Get used to critique. Don’t be precious about your words—they can always always ALWAYS improve. Be willing to do the difficult bits. But also, make sure to celebrate every milestone along the way. Writing a book—and then rewriting and revising and editing and cutting and rewriting and revising some more—is HARD, so you deserve to take a step back every now and then and congratulate yourself on doing a hard thing and persevering through the challenging parts.
Also: Never ever EVER give up. It’s cheesy, but in this business, it’s a vital thing to remember.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Jessica: A library or a bookstore! Nothing does more for my motivation than seeing where my hard work could one day lead! As long as I’ve got some snacks and a power outlet, I’ll be good to go!
Kim: Anywhere my children aren’t! Ha! I have three kiddos, so honestly, if I’m looking for quiet time, I have to hide somewhere the tiny people can’t find me: laundry room, in the basement, my car—you name it, I’ve done it. If I’m able to get to the library, that’s ideal, but that’s not always the case.
Megan: My home office. It’s not exactly a quiet zone as I live with two little people who call me ‘Mom, Mama, Mommy’ every five seconds, but it’s where I feel most comfortable because all my stuff is there!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Jessica: VE Schwab is my writing idol. If I could be a fraction of the writer she is someday, I’ll be happy. I’d love to spend the day with her, probably eating at fancy European cafes and discussing fantasy and magic and worldbuilding.
Kim: I would love to spend the day with Edgar Allan Poe—mainly just so I could give the poor guy a hug. His life was pretty tragic, and I feel like he could use one.
Megan: JK Rowling. I know she’s probably a popular answer, but I feel like she’d have so much to talk about! And as for what we’d do, I think maybe go on a walk because I’d be less nervous to talk to her if we were moving and I didn’t have to sit still and stare at her across a table or something.
What fictional character would you most like to meet and why?
Jessica: Probably Kell from Schwab’s ADSOM series. Because he’s Kell.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Kim: Ah! This is a tough one. I have so many fandoms that I love, but I have to go with my one true love and that’s the Harry Potter fandom. It’s a world I never get sick of! I’m a Gryffindor and Potterhead for life!
Megan: Yeah, Harry Potter. 🙂
What inspired you to start writing?
Jessica: I started writing stories in elementary school (self-illustrated stories about picnics and Christmases where everyone got as many princess castles as they wanted and other intriguing narratives like that), but I distinctly remember reading Harry Potter as a pre-teen, falling in love, and deciding that THAT was what I wanted to do with my life. I immediately started writing a complete Harry Potter knock-off in a notebook that I hope has been burned by now.
Tell us about your writing process.
Jessica: As a mother of three young children, my writing routine is pretty dependent upon my kids. I try to be as present with them as possible, so most of my writing gets done after they’re in bed at night. It does make for some late nights and tired mornings, but both parts of my life are huge priorities to me, so I make it work. I like to have snacks on hand (frozen Go-gurts are my go-to!), and a notebook for random ideas that pop into my head as I type, but other than that, I make it work wherever I am and whenever I get time.
Thank you for sharing your story with us! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing more from you as you continue in your publishing journey. CONGRATULATIONS!
Jessica is a mother of three, a peanut butter enthusiast, and a YA fantasy writer repped by the fantastic Christa Heschke of the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency.
Kim Chance is a high school English teacher and Alabama native who currently resides in Michigan with her husband and three children. When Kim is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and two crazy dogs, binge-watching shows on Netflix, fangirling over books, and making death-by-cheese casseroles.
Megan: In addition to being a writer and an interviewer of bestselling authors, I’m also a mom to two amazing kiddos, a creature of habit, a car-singer, a walker of dirt roads and wooded trails, a museum-lover, a fierce friend, and an accomplished daydreamer. I penned my first book when I was 14 (a complete rip-off of The Black Stallion by Walter Farley), and even though I continued writing, I didn’t attempt another full-length novel until after I graduated college.