About the Team…
Meg Eden Kuyatt – Mentee
Meg is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, and her work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” (2017), and the poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (2020). She runs the Magfest MAGES Library blog, which posts accessible academic articles about video games (https://super.magfest.org/mages-blog).
Eric Bell – Mentor
Eric Bell knew he loved telling stories when the other kids at recess would act them out. It was one of the few times in his childhood he was truly accepted. As a grownup, he writes stories about kids also finding their own versions of acceptance, and learning that it’s more valuable to accept yourself. Eric is the author of ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD and its sequel, ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE. Both books are about a gay seventh grade boy who deals with bullies, crushes, family issues, the healing power of art, and coming out. ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD was included on the Rainbow List for GLBTQ Books for Children and Teens. When not writing, Eric teaches writing classes, runs writing workshops, and copyedits. He has been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2018. He loves working with writers and helping to bring out their natural storytelling voice.
Category: Middle Grade
Genre: Novel in Verse
Meg, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor?
I think a big thing I learned from working with my mentor is how critical it is to get readers who GET your work. Eric Bell proved right away that he “got” my book—he even quoted one of the poems in his acceptance email to me! This meant the world to me. I say this because in the past, I would basically take any and all feedback I received, and I think as a result I would lose focus on what I was trying to say, trying to cater to every reader’s wishes. Eric reminded me how important it is to put your main message front and center, and to get readers who connect with that message, and who through their feedback can help you clarify and strengthen your writing and message.
Eric also really focused on making sure all my plot lines worked together and didn’t feel disparate, which is absolutely something I want to hold with me and work on in future projects!
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
I feel bad talking about my revision process, because I feel like I had it pretty easy! Because my novel was a middle grade novel in verse, there was a lot less material to work with. My mentor Eric Bell had such perfect advice on how to strengthen my novel and clarify the themes and messaging for my readers. The world of middle grade is new to me, so Eric really helped lead me through that as well. All of Eric’s edits made sense, and were very clear and concrete, so I found the editing process to not be as difficult as I feared. Definitely a breeze in comparison to some edit letters I’ve received in the past! I think if I’d been working with something longer and in prose, it would’ve been a lot more stressful—but even so, I think what’s great about PW is that you have a mentor who believes in your work and is with you every step of the way, there for all your questions that might feel silly or small. Having someone by your side through it all definitely makes the process less daunting!
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 absolutely fell in love with Lauren Spieller from Triada US immediately, and realized the traits I wanted in an agent but hadn’t been able to articulate before. Right away, Lauren and I had great chemistry on the phone. She was excited about my project, and that was so clear in how she talked about it. She also asked me questions to get to know me and my work, which I really appreciated. I felt like I could be very open and frank about my expectations and concerns when choosing an agent, and she was very responsive to these. Lauren was also very concrete with her expectations: in the edits, as well as our timeline for next steps. I really appreciated having a clear sense of what she expected from me, how we would edit, when we would anticipate going out on sub—and even about what projects we might work on next. I wanted to say yes right there on the call!
I was so surprised to receive multiple offers, which was much more stressful than I anticipated. All the agents who offered were amazing, but as someone who’s had representation before, I have learned how critical it is to have the RIGHT agent for YOU. Based on my past experiences, I had a better sense of what I personally needed from an agent, how I wanted to communicate and edit—and it was very clear to me from the call that Lauren was exactly who I needed!
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
PW was huge for my success in helping me regain confidence with my writing. I was feeling really discouraged about my writing journey before PW, and my amazing mentor Eric Bell was exactly who I needed to encourage me with this project. Everyone is so supportive in the PW community, and just seeing all the responses on my showcase submission really blew me away. I feel that being a PW mentee not only helped me with this project, and building great long-term connections in the writing community.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
ENTER! Whether you get in or not, it’s such a great learning experience. I didn’t get in the first time I applied for PW, but it gave me the encouragement to go back to that project and finish it. It also made me have to write out materials like pitches and synopses, which are incredibly helpful for writing craft. There are also so many great communities online for people entering PW. Whether you get in or not, keep writing. Keep persisting. Keep connecting with community. These things are musts for all writers, for the whole of the writing journey. I also second everything Eric says!
Eric, tell us about working with your mentee.
Meg was such a hard worker. She took my feedback and ran with it, completing edits quickly and thoroughly. She and I had wonderful chats exploring Selah and her world. Her passion for the story shone through in every aspect of menteeship. Not only this one story – she’s in this for the long haul, with dedication and a knack for storytelling.
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Meg restructured large parts of the book, moving around verses and adding new ones and reworking ones that weren’t at the level they needed to be. It was impressive!
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
My big advice is to not submit your first draft. Pitch Wars is a big name and I think a lot of writers want to rush and get in before the deadline, and that can result in sloppy work. Even if you don’t have any beta readers to run the story by, do a careful reread when you’re done the first draft. You will likely find a host of problems, big and small: plotlines forgotten, characters introduced and then abandoned, changes in voice and tone and even theme. There’s nothing wrong with any of that – nobody writes good first drafts! But that’s why you don’t want to enter PW with a first draft.
It would be easier to tell you what didn’t draw me to the manuscript–that’s how much I loved it! Meg is a phenomenal writer. Her verse is accessible and powerful, and she captured Selah’s voice magnificently. I also loved the story, especially the way Selah learns to advocate for herself…but I don’t want to give any spoilers! All in all, this is a beautiful book, and I can’t wait for readers to get their hands on it!
How about some fun questions for Meg and Eric.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Meg: This is so hard; there are so many good characters! But I’d probably say Anne of Green Gables. I always thought of her as a friend growing up, and I know we’d get along well if we met in real life. 🙂
Eric: Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. Who wouldn’t want to meet a six-year-old hellion who can wax philosophical on endless topics and still have enough imagination to turn a cardboard box into a cloning machine? I feel like Hobbes comes with the Calvin package, so if I can cheat and add Hobbes, then I will.
What inspired you to start writing?
Meg: I really, really resonate so much with Eric said here. For me it was definitely similar—a need to communicate and not sure how else to do it but through writing.
Eric: No one was going to listen to me if I didn’t.
Check out the upcoming LGBTQ+ middle grade short story anthology Eric will be featured in, THIS IS OUR RAINBOW slated for fall 2021 and add it to your Goodreads.
And also Eric’s latest release, ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE:
To heartwarming cheer, Alan Cole came out to his school. But now what?
In this follow-up novel to Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, Eric Bell deftly explores with nuance and humor how the first step to complete self-acceptance may mean actually putting your feet on the dance floor. This laugh-out-loud and poignant tale is perfect for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jerry Spinelli.
Alan Cole has a problem: Ron McCaughlin. Ever since Alan revealed he’s gay, Ron has been bullying Alan with relentless fury. Alan can’t tell his parents why he’s really coming home with bruises—because they still don’t know the truth about him.
Yet buoyed by the support of his classmates and with his friends Zack and Madison by his side, Alan thinks he can withstand the bullying and—just maybe—break through to Ron.
But all things come to a head when Alan’s father asks that he take June Harrison to the upcoming Winter Dance. Never mind that Alan has two left feet, does not like girls, and might be developing feelings for a new boy at school.
This resounding tale about friendship, family, and the many meanings of bravery will leave readers rooting for Alan and his gang of proud misfits once more.
Congratulations, Meg! Thank you everyone, for stopping by and supporting our mentors and mentees.