We’re so excited whenever one of our mentees gets an agent offer or a publishing deal. Celebrating these successes is one of our favorite parts of the Pitch Wars process. We hope you can join us in congratulating Mia P. Manansala and her mentor, Kellye Garrett. Mia signed with Janet Reid of New Leaf Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be happier for them!
Mia, what was it about Kellye that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
We both write young WoC amateur sleuths that are sarcastic, nosy, and broke as a joke. I knew she’d not only “get” my story, but improve it beyond anything I could do on my own. Plus her MSWL was so organized and perfect and fit exactly what I had/needed. All hail The Plotting Queen!
Kellye, what was it about Mia’s Death Comes to ComiKon that hooked you?
I’m a sucker for a snarky first person amateur detective novel with a unique setting that I haven’t seen before, which is exactly what Mia wrote. I’d been secretly following her journey since we’d met at the Malice Domestic mystery conference last April but it never occurred to me that she’d be interested in Pitch Wars. When I found out she was thinking of applying, I literally couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It was everything that I hoped it would be. And, perhaps just as important, I knew exactly how I could help make it even better.
Kellye, tell us about your experience mentoring Mia.
I consider myself politely blunt (someone else recently said I have a silk-covered iron fist) so I straight up was like, “Cancel all your plans and kiss your hubby goodbye because you are going to be in Writer’s Hell for the next two months.” The revision process was very intense (it wouldn’t be Pitch Wars if it wasn’t) but Mia handled it like a champ. She never once complained about all she had to do. I’m talking 12 page outlines, multiple revisions and dealing with me randomly hitting her up on Facebook messenger to talk about any random thing that popped into my head—most of which wasn’t even writing related. She simply sat her butt in a chair (or hid in a hallway during her lunch breaks at work) and revised.
To me, the best mentor-mentee relationships are ones that evolve into friendships and I’m very happy to now call Mia my friend. I hope we’re both in this mystery game for a long time.
Mia, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Kellye was extremely hands-on; in the beginning, we chatted every night while editing my outline and beat sheet together on Google Docs. It took two whole weeks for me to tear apart my original MS and write a 12-pg outline; I removed a subplot, killed off characters (figuratively and literally), adjusted character backstories and actions, cut out a (terrible) sex scene, etc.
I’m not good at working from home, so I’d often stay late at work, typing away in an empty classroom and scaring the cleaning staff who didn’t expect anyone to be there at nine o’clock at night. You’d think after two straight months of this, they’d remember me, but nope.
It was definitely intense, but Kellye was there every step of the way: whether to cheer me on or give me some real talk, brainstorm ideas when I got stuck, or just chat about random things when I needed a break, she was down.
Also, I peeked at her answers and she said we’re friends now, so yay! No take-backs! She’s stuck with me now ^^
Mia, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Janet Reid of New Leaf Literary Agency. She also writes the well-known Query Shark blog. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
I first met Janet at Malice Domestic 2017. I had just won a grant for unpublished traditional mystery writers, and the committee chair for the grant had set up a lunch meeting with an agent so I could ask her questions about the industry and figure out what to do next. That agent turned out to be Janet Reid.
She was so patient and kind as she explained what her job entailed, what to look for in an agent, and fielded all of my questions. She then gave me her business card, inviting me to email her if I had any more questions about agents and to query her when my manuscript was ready. I took her up on both those offers, and she was quick to answer each time.
She was also the first agent to offer representation. When I got her email asking to set up a call, I stared blankly at it for a second having lost all reading comprehension (both from the shock and also because I was sick and on cough syrup with codeine in it).
I showed it to both my husband and my mentor to make sure I wasn’t reading it wrong. Once it sank in that THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING, I fired off a quick email to set up a time and was like,
After our call (which I kept interrupting with coughing fits), I told myself, “That’s it, we’re good. How could I say no to the Shark?”
But then I came to my senses and remembered that I had quite a few fulls and partials out with other agents and it would be extremely rude (and foolish) to not inform them of the offer. So I fired off a bunch of emails informing agents of the offer, and sat back to see what happened.
Rejection happened. LOTS OF IT.
I also got more offers in that same week. And so began three weeks of agonizing, and emailing agents and clients, and getting more offers and rejections, and talking on the phone (which I HATE). I talked on the phone more in those three weeks than I have in the last three years. In the end, I decided to go with my head and my gut (my heart wasn’t very helpful in the matter. It kept wondering why I had to reject all these lovely people who really liked my story and were just so nice and helpful).
Janet had been on my “Dream Agent” list for so long, and her clients provided such enthusiastic yet balanced references for her, I knew I’d be crazy to turn her down. Plus I love how she dedicates herself to helping up-and-coming writers, giving out invaluable advice on both her personal blog and Query Shark. She’s extremely tough and savvy, yet kind and approachable. I must’ve emailed her at least five times and asked a million questions, but she was always patient with me and gave honest, fair advice.
Once I’d made my decision (and finally signed that contract!), I experienced a sense of peace I hadn’t felt since before Pitch Wars. I know I’m in good hands.
Mia, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am now without Kellye’s guidance and the revision skills I learned during Pitch Wars. I might not even have a finished manuscript; entering PW was the push I needed to complete my story and finally put myself out there.
Not only that, but the PW 17 mentee community was instrumental in me keeping my sanity during this whole process. They beta read for me and cheered me on. They workshopped my query and pitch. We celebrated requests/calls/signings and commiserated over rejections. And I can’t wait for the day I have an entire bookcase filled with books from these amazingly gifted writers.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
Share with us your writing process. Do you write every day, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Mia: I used to be an early morning writer, but PW taught me to squeeze in writing whenever there’s time. A lot of my ideas come to me on the train while I’m commuting to/from work, so I’ll jot them down in my phone’s Note function. Pen and paper don’t work for me; my handwriting is atrocious and I find myself self-editing when writing manually. Typing allows me to think through my fingers.
Kellye: My favorite quote is from Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.” So my process is “Start writing when I literally have nothing else to do.” This is usually when I’m in my PJs in my bed. (Sorry for the visual!) I also keep a bullet journal specifically to track my progress and do pages and pages of free thought about plot and scene ideas. (Although like Mia, my handwriting is atrocious.) My BuJo has a calendar, character list and page count tracker, among a few other things.
You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?
Mia: I’m a tea lover, but tea is for relaxing. When it’s crunch time, black coffee is the drink of choice, with the occasional Coke. No, Pepsi is not an acceptable alternative.
I’m pretty sure I lived in an empty corner classroom at work and subsisted on Costco deli meat sandwiches (‘cause I’m cheap), deep dish pizza (crazy filling and kept me going), Cadbury mini eggs (my crack), and ice cream (duh) for the entirety of Pitch Wars. Still trying to figure out how I gained 15 lbs…
Kellye: When I was on deadline for book 2 in my Detective by Day series, I actually hid out for a few days in a hotel in New York City. I live in New Jersey so it was as close to a staycation as I’ve ever taken. Manhattan has tons of $1 pizza places so I’d probably fill up on dollar pizza and Snapple Iced Tea or Coke. Because I agree that Pepsi is not an acceptable alternative.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Mia: For who, it’d definitely be my husband. He’s always been amazingly supportive, and I never would’ve made it this far without him. As for what keeps me writing, it’s not only the dream of seeing my book in stores and libraries someday, but the thought of other marginalized people reading my stories and finally seeing themselves and their experiences reflected in literature/media. It’s not an experience I really had growing up, you know?
Kellye: I’m very blessed to have an entire group of people in my corner, from my family to writing friends who I’ve literally asked, “Can you give me notes on this 300 page book in two days?” and they’ve said yes without hesitating. And most of these folks I’ve met through either Pitch Wars or the Sisters in Crime organization.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Mia: Oh man, this is a surprisingly difficult question. Off the top of my head, I’ll be basic and say actual butterbeer from Harry Potter. Or maybe the wine from Atlantis in Neverwhere. And because I’m a monster, I’ve always wondered what a Chocobo tastes like.
Kellye: Let’s just say if I was accidentally locked in Willy Wonka’s factory, my attempts to get out would be very half-hearted. I would avoid the chocolate river though. Doesn’t seem very sanitary. I’d also avoid the chewing gum, but that’s a given, right?
What fictional character would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her/it?
Mia: Afternoon tea with Elizabeth Bennett would be so much fun. We’d sit around sipping tea, nibbling pastries, and throwing out intense shade while being witty af.
Wonder Woman’s my girl and I love her to death, but hanging out with her would be us stopping wars and giving life lessons and whatnot. Lizzie and I would just go on long walks together and be petty.
Kellye: One of my writing inspirations is Valerie Wilson-Wesley. She has a series about a black female private investigator named Tamara Hayle who lives in Newark, New Jersey, which is about 20 minutes from where I grew up. Valerie and Tamara are the reason I ever thought I could write a mystery novel because…representation. So I’d kill to hang out with Tamara. (Well maybe not kill because then we’d be chatting because she was investigating me.) We’d have to get our hair done then hit the fish and chicken spot for dinner. Then maybe we’d see a show at the performing arts center—NJ Pac to us locals—in downtown Newark.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Mia P. Manansala
Mia P. Manansala is a writer of words (most of them sarcastic) and the winner of the 2017 William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship.
A lover of all things geeky, Mia spends her days stress baking, playing video games, reading cozy mysteries, and dreaming of becoming best buds with Wonder Woman and Kamala Khan.
When she’s not sassing her ever-so-patient husband, she’s cuddling her dogs Max Power and Bayley Banks (bonus points to those who get the name references) at her home just outside of Chicago.
She’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Chicago Writers Association, and Chicago Nerd Social Club.
Kellye Garrett is a 2014 Pitch Wars mentee-turned-three-time-mentor. Her Pitch Wars novel, Hollywood Homicide, was released by Midnight Ink in August 2017. It was a Library Journal Debut of the Month and described as a “winning first novel and series launch” in a starred review by Publishers Weekly. It was also recently nominated for a 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel. Hollywood Ending, the second book in the Detective by Day series, will be out on August 8, 2018.
Prior to writing books, Kellye spent 8 years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the CBS drama Cold Case. People were always surprised to learn what she did for a living—probably because she seemed way too happy to be brainstorming ways to murder people. A former magazine editor, Kellye holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. Having moved back to her native New Jersey, she spends her mornings commuting to Manhattan for her job at a leading media company—while still happily brainstorming ways to commit murder. Multi-Author Blog