We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Megan Scott and mentor, Laurie Dennison! Megan signed with Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown UK. We’re so excited for them!
About the Team…
Megan Scott – Mentee
Megan is a twenty-six-year-old writer and artist from the North West of England. She’s written since she was about 12/13 and have tried to get an agent since then, too. She went to art school for a year and then St. Andrews in Scotland studying Art History and Classical Civilisation, then did a research masters which inspired a lot of her book! She also loves to paint (when it’s going well) listen to jazz music, spend time with family, and of course, write books.
Laurie Dennison – Mentor
Laurie grew up in Florida, but she spent more time reading than soaking up the sun. A former English teacher, she now works as an editor, consultant, and web designer by day and writes young adult fiction by night. Laurie loves traveling, alternative music, and stories that grab her by the heart and don’t let go. After a few years on the west coast in California, she returned to Florida, where she lives with her family and their many pets.
The interview …
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Megan, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor/s?
Gosh, SO MANY. Laurie is amazing. One of the things I remember most strongly was making sure Nicole (my mc’s) weaknesses and desires were really at the forefront of everything she does. I think this character-led attention has been the most helpful thing I’ve ever learned. Plus, it’s revealed how much I love figuring out characters and their motivations and histories.
That is great advice! Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
We did about two edits, making sure each scene really pushed the story forward and the plot was balanced. I had a lot of scenes in the last act which made the story feel weighted in the wrong places. When I submitted to PW, I didn’t love my book anymore and I couldn’t tell what was wrong with it. For me, the process with Laurie (and she reiterated this to me as well which is another reason she’s such an amazing mentor) she wanted to help me get the story out I wanted to tell so that was also a major editorial focal point for me.
I think as writers we can’t always see the issues in our manuscripts because we’re too close to them and have gone over them so many times. It really helps to have a mentor like Laurie guide you.
So Megan, 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)!
Ok, I’m going to tell you everything so buckle down, and maybe grab a cup of tea. Also, just for backstory: I’ve been trying to get an agent for 12 years and sent this project out to agents about 2-3 times(?) before, editing and changing things each round.
Firstly, I didn’t get my agent through the Pitch Wars showcase (Feb 2020) and did another two overhauls of the manuscript after the showcase during the remainder of the year. And I was terrified to query again. Pitch Wars is fantastic for a lot of people to find their agents, but it didn’t work that way for me, and that’s ok! But if anyone else didn’t get loads of requests an agent from the showcase, this if for you.
Thanks to my extra edits after the showcase I started querying in the January of 2021. Fast-forward three months exactly and on March 1st I got up (kind of peeved that morning and looking like Gollum) to check my emails. I’d taken my mail app off my phone in an ill-conceived attempt to stop looking at my email every ten minutes (it didn’t work), and my computer wasn’t booting up properly. I remember thinking is this a sign? Why am I even bothering to look? I’ll just go make breakfast.
But it loaded and there was my first ever ‘call’ email. (Note, this is the first agent offer, not the one I ended up going with but important for the story!)
Side note: two super cool things about this day. 1. The night before I was sitting in my window trying to write something else (as is the age-old querying advice) and there was a full moon in one of my windows and what looked like a firework spark through the other. I googled it and found out it was a falling star. So, I wrote one of my rare diary entries: I wonder if that’s a good sign for my book. IT WAS A GOOD SIGN, PAST MEGAN. 2. March 1st would have been the 100th birthday of my great-grandma, aka our family’s main ‘guardian angel’. So that was more than special, and I think her wagging a ghostly finger at me for ever doubting she’d help my dreams come true. Alright, Betty, I hear you.
Back to the email! It was super short and took me a few tries reading it before I realised what it said, I think that was when I took the shockingly excellent selfie of my three chins (which shall never see the light of day) and a picture of my screen just to make sure. Then I sprinted to my sister’s bedroom (I live with my entire family ATM) but her door was jammed closed while she did her usual workout, which she usually does with headphones on, so of course she couldn’t hear me practically screaming through the door. I shoved my arm through the gap, waving it around to get her attention—still nothing—and then grabbed a random towel on the radiator and flung it at her. That finally got her attention and she let me in, I then screamed at her again about the fact I had an email while she was taking her earphones out and she said, another request? I said NO AN OFFER I THINK I GOT AN OFFER and ran back to my room. Sure enough (we read it together), it was an email to have a call. I asked where the rest of the family was and she said they were out. Of course the one time they went out in a year, I got an offer call.
Later in the day I spilled boiling coffee on myself (I was excited, ok?) and I remember standing under a cold shower hoping it didn’t scar and thinking to myself, this is not how I expected this day to go. Thankfully, I was fine. But my sister had called our parents to tell them what I’d done (I promise I’m not clumsy I’m just surprisingly heavyhanded for being 5ft tall) and so they came back sooner than expected. I’d planned to clean the house and pop champagne when they arrived, but alas, mum comes back in the house asking where I am before the others fully get in the door and I show her the bottle of champagne and then there’s a lot of screaming and almost hugging (because, half-burn) and more screaming and demands from my dad as he finally gets in the house to know what the hell is going on.
Ok, phew. Now, the day of the call. Honestly, I’d psyched myself out the night before. Maybe it was the twelve years of trying and failing to get an agent (probably, lol), maybe I just had no faith in myself anymore (also true) but I was convinced my book was crap and the agent wanted to do an R&R. Like, 100% convinced. I felt kind of sick and sad about it all. I also thought this because she didn’t technically offer in the email, just wanted to talk. So in the call when she offered (after talking about edits, another reason I was not prepared for the offer) I thought I’d heard her wrong. But alas, it was an offer!
After the call I checked my email to find ANOTHER OFFER (!?!) from the agent I ended up signing with. At this point I’m thinking WTF IS GOING ON. The second agent had started reading the manuscript that morning (it was passed to them from another agent in a different branch of their agency) and so they knew I had a call that day. They were so excited and asked if they could have the weekend to finish reading (umm, yes!) and a call on Monday. I was astounded! They hadn’t even finished reading and they wanted the book?! Needless to say, I ran back through my house to where my family and I had been discussing my earlier call, screaming like a Banshee. I hadn’t expected anything from that referral. More champagne ensued.
Come the morning of the next call (a few days later) I was trying to stay calm, chatting with my parents in the kitchen whilst making breakfast and wondering how I would talk with the agents later. We hadn’t discussed if it would be via zoom etc, so I figured they’d email me and let me know. When I got upstairs to my room, the agent had emailed me saying that the company was so excited about my book (!?!) and there were quotes from about six other people who’d read the book and loved it in the company (!!!). Multiple people (including Foreign Rights and Movie/TV agents) would be coming on the call to talk about what they loved about the book and what they all did in the company. Needless to say I was FREAKING OUT. I tried to calm myself down my listening to music whilst getting ready and then only sat down when I had a few minutes left. Torturous, nervous minutes.
I hadn’t spoken to so many new people in well over a year (maybe two, I’m happily a hermit at this point) so it was overwhelming but amazing. Once I’d heard from everyone, I was able to speak with the agent and was blown away by her enthusiasm and love for the book. She picked out so many things—right down to specific lines—that were favourites of hers (and mine!).
I then had another week and a half of a damn hard decision and more requests. Right up until the last day I was hearing things back. One agent had lost the PDF and wanted it again, another asked for a full, another passed. It was a lot and was genuinely the hardest decision of my life. This was the thing I’d wanted since I was 13. And, I’m not joking. I submitted my first manuscript to agents at that age (I was a keen child). And now I had a choice. It felt like my life would go in different directions depending on who I picked.
On the deadline day, my dad made an incredible chocolate cake with fresh (highly addictive) whipped cream and chocolate ganache and I sat on the floor with a coffee and cake and I sent the emails. It hadn’t felt real to me until that point. Everything was just words on a computer screen. All the words I’d written, all the books I’d typed out, the countless revisions, the countless rejections, and I still felt in limbo until I got my agent’s grin-inducing response. Then I shoved more cake in my mouth, sat back and thought, It’s finally happened.
Only now, months later, is it starting to sink in.
Your side note gave me goosebumps. Love this story! How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
The edits I did getting into Pitch Wars, and the ones I did after it (after not securing an agent) taught me the thing I needed to learn the hard way about writing: I have to love every part of my book. That’s something that only I can get right. But having someone else to talk to about the book, who knows about craft and sees the book afresh is absolutely invaluable.
It also gave me invaluable connections to new friends who have not only supported me during the hard times and been so patient and giving where beta reading is concerned, but also allowed me to cheer on them in their careers too. As every person’s journey is so different, that’s another incredible light in the process. Seeing other people’s dreams come true is truly so heartening to me.
Those things, combined with Laurie’s notes, made Pitch Wars the most important thing I think I’ve done yet in trying to hone my craft and get an agent.
Making new writer friends and gaining that support is such a great bonus to Pitch Wars. Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
I entered twice actually, the first time was in 2017 (I think?) with a different manuscript, then I entered again in 2019. So my first piece of advice: don’t be disheartened if you haven’t got in before, and if you want to, try again! (I did use a different manuscript the second time, though)
Secondly: do this because you’re trying to improve your book, not for the hope of a splashy agent day. I did it because I wanted to fall back in love with my book and needed a mentor to help look at it and tell me that it wasn’t terrible and that they could help me fix it, but I still hoped I would have loads of requests come the agent round. We all hear the wildly exciting stories! But please remember that if that doesn’t happen to you, it’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t mean you’ll never get an agent. It just means that you’re destined for something else just as amazing! So please don’t be disheartened. And my DMs are always open for anyone going through that!
Great advice, Megan! And Laurie, tell us about working with Megan.
I had a wonderful time mentoring Megan! Her story was a perfect fit for me in terms of the content and my strengths as a mentor. I knew from the opening pages alone that I would love working with her, and it’s been a pleasure ever since! (We still chat regularly almost two years later.) I always see mentoring as more of an ongoing conversation, and we started the process with that in mind. Megan was open to suggestions while staying true to her own vision for the characters, and I can’t wait for the world to fall in love with them like I did.
It’s such an awesome feeling when you connect like that. We’d love to hear about something amazing Megan did during Pitch Wars.
Megan cut over twenty thousand words from her manuscript during Pitch Wars. While the length has changed several times during her revisions since, I feel like this was an accomplishment for several reasons. She was able to tighten and focus the story and pacing, which I think will continue to be a strength in her writing, and she handled those revisions with nuance and attention to detail.
That is such an accomplishment! Cutting is tough, and learning what should go is a great skill to have. How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
I think the best way to prepare for Pitch Wars is to embrace the opportunities to connect with other writers in the community and to set goals that are in your control. Statistically only a few of the many applicants will be chosen as mentees each year, but there are many other ways to benefit from the program. Writers can connect through the hashtags on Twitter and Instagram and the Pitch Wars forum. The blog posts, including the query and first page critiques, can offer valuable insight. And even reading the showcase entries in your category from previous years may help you to see what draws you in quickly; you may even find your future favorite author!
Megan’s description of the manuscript in her query letter was instantly appealing as there were so many elements that resonated with me straight away. As soon as I started reading I was completely hooked and put everything on hold so I could devour the manuscript. I loved the idea, connected with the characters, felt completely absorbed by the story and immersed in its world and was blown away by Megan’s tremendous and seamless writing. I couldn’t wait to share it with team at CB and they all felt the same way – Megan was a writer we felt so strongly we wanted to work with and we’re so excited to have her on board.
Love this! So happy you connected so quickly to Megan’s story. How about some fun questions for Megan and Laurie.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Laurie: With all the changes in the past year, I now do most of my writing and editing in my room at home.
Megan: My bedroom. I’m currently (thanks to Covid) living back home with my entire family (parents, siblings and nana, all six of us) so my room is the only place I won’t be hearing everyone else. Though, for good measure, I’ll sometimes put headphones on too, we live in an old Victorian house—the walls are pretty thin.
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Laurie: This changes from time to time, but right now I think I’d choose Stephen King, and I’d love to have him show me around a little town somewhere in Maine.
Megan: Besides every author I love and pester them about writing advice?? I think Roshani Chokshi. She seems so fun and fascinating, and I’d love to go to a Museum and dinner with her. I know she’d have a million interesting facts and know where to go for an exquisite meal. I’d probably sneak a few writing questions in, too.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Laurie: Maybe it’s just because of the release of Shadow and Bone, but I think I’d go with the crows. I’d forgotten how much I loved the whole crew–Kaz, Inej, Jesper, and Nina in particular.
Megan: At the moment, probably Gideon Nav from GIDEON THE NINTH because I love her and would be completely obsessed.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Laurie: I’d have to go with the Andrew McMahon fandom. Everyone in the community is so cool and supportive, and if I had to pick one pop-culture thing that I wouldn’t want to do without, it’s Andrew’s music.
Megan: I honestly know very little about fandoms! I don’t think I’m much of an internet person and never really had friends who read YA when I was a teenager, so I think it’s a part of the book community that’s kind of passed me by. But, I will say that the SHADOW AND BONE/SIX OF CROWS Netflix show is a lot of fun to talk about with PW friends!
What inspired you to start writing?
Megan: Oh, a lot of things. To be extremely honest, the first thing was boredom. I was 12/13 and was pestering my mum for ideas on what to do for the day and she told me to go and write a book. Needless to say, I haven’t stopped since.
The older I’ve gotten, I’ve realised what inspires me to keep writing is both the stories that I haven’t gotten out yet, and that feeling you get when you either come out of the cinema or finish a great book. That who am I?? what is life??, shellshocked adventure feeling drifting back into the real world and feeling so much. That’s one of the highlights of my teenage years, and if I can give that to readers, I’ll be satisfied.
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Megan: I was quite the pantser (and I think I am when I start a new project), but I’m definitely enjoying editing/outlining a bit more the more I learn about craft, so it depends on the stage of the project. I’m quite the night owl, though, so I usually wake up late and make breakfast and coffee, then head straight to my desk and check emails (still haven’t broken that querying habit). My desk is a pretty large black wooden thing we got for about £5 and I love it. It’s kind of banged up, but I like a large desk with plenty of space.
Sometimes I watch a bit of a TV show while I finish my coffee, other times I’ll browse Pinterest and my aesthetic boards for the project I’m working on. I never look at the news in the morning, and only ever get to it at the point in the day I feel emotionally ready. Then, I begin! Most of the time I end up doing other random things throughout the day, and, perhaps because I’m such a night owl, I tend to properly sit down when the sun sets with my second coffee of the day. I find night-time really helps me hone in on the computer screen. Perhaps also because my house if full of people it’s less likely they’ll walk in to talk or need me for something.
In terms of writing tools, again it depends on the state of the project. For drafting: Scrivner. For editing, Word. I’ve recently discovered (like, yesterday) that having the screen show two pages rather than one is super helpful for me when editing. For me, it makes the book look unfamiliar and works wonders! I also occasionally rob my nana’s kindle and use that to read/edit the manuscript which is one of my new favourite things as the book looks like it could be a real, published thing!
Other writing tools are things like Pinterest (my aesthetic boards are always on an open Internet tab). I’m a Pinterest obsessive. I’m on there most of the time. I think because I also paint/went to art school for a while, I’m a very visual person. Making an aesthetic board for each project is crucial for me to get my story right, especially when something is wrong and I don’t know what—then I head back to the aesthetic board to find if I can see the problem if I can’t find it reading. I think triggering those different parts of the brain can really help, especially if you’re super stuck (like I’ve been many times on different projects).
I also have a playlist or two for the book. I used to always light a candle, but since Covid and lack of candle-smelling excursions, I’ve ran out of all of my candles and my favourites are getting expensive, so I just leave the room dim. With this project, I have a lot of notes all over my table, specifically key word lists. These are crucial for me when I’m both editing and writing, as these key words lists give me the ‘vibe’ I want in the story. I also made a fake title page for the book (I just really like the way the title of the book looks capitalised) which I prop up to the side for motivation. Finally, for this current project, I have the perfume that I used to wear as a teenager with me, back from when I first began this manuscript. It always makes me remember the feelings I want to evoke in the book and reminds me that I’m writing this book for no-one but teenage Megan.
Thank you Megan, Laurie, and Stephanie for the interview, and thanks to everyone else for stopping by and supporting our mentors and mentees!