Yes, another Pitch Wars Success Story! We love these! Please join us in congratulating and celebrating Stacy Nockowitz and her mentors, Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill! Stacy signed with Rena Rossner at the Deborah Harris Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
Stacy, what’s your favorite writing tip or trick you learned from your mentors?
My mentors taught me to be very mindful of the main character’s arc. I hadn’t considered that the main character needs to earn his resolution. The character arc needs to be complete in order for that resolution to be satisfying for the reader.
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
The revision process was grueling but very satisfying. Amanda and Cindy sent me an extensive edit letter that covered everything the book needed, from hitting the “beats” to carrying the themes through from beginning to end. That letter, along with the resources that they suggested, became my points of reference for every revision I made. Amanda and Cindy were wonderful about helping me through any difficulties I had. I feel like I emailed them constantly! They were cheerleaders, editors, and teachers all at once. They really made me think about every sentence that I added or deleted, as well as the roundness of scenes and the contribution of each scene to the book as a whole. My mentors taught me more about craft than I can express. The revision would not have been nearly as comprehensive without their input.
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 received a fair number of requests during the agent showcase, not a huge number but enough that I felt good about what I’d presented. I sent all of the requested materials to the agents, and the very next day, I received an email from Rena Rossner, requesting a call. She had fallen in love with my book and wanted to talk right away! To say that I was on Cloud 9 would be an understatement. I had queried Rena about 8 moths earlier, before Pitch Wars, when the book was still quite a mess, and she’d rejected it. But she was my dream agent, so when she asked to read it after Pitch Wars and then emailed me about The Call, I was ecstatic! We spoke soon after, and it felt like a perfect match from that point on. I did receive offers of representation from two other agents that week, but I knew Rena was the one for me! I was very lucky in that I didn’t have to wait long AT ALL. The entire process was seamless for me, especially with the guidance I received from my mentors.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Pitch Wars has meant everything to me. I really didn’t think I had a shot because I only received one request from the mentors to whom I submitted. I am still kind of stunned that such amazing mentors as Cindy and Amanda liked my writing enough to take a chance on me. There have to been two aspects of Pitch Wars that have been irreplaceable: 1. learning about the craft of writing from two stellar mentors; and 2. becoming part of the Pitch Wars community, which continues to be one of my main sources of strength through the publishing process. The Class of ’18 is so supportive and kind, and we keep each other going through the roller coaster ride that is the submission process.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
I’m sure everyone is going to say the same thing: Just do it! What do you have to lose? Be sure to read the mentors’ wish lists very carefully, and take your time considering who you’d like to submit to. Keep your expectations low. Positive feedback from mentors does NOT mean they’re definitely going to choose your manuscript! And be prepared to tear your manuscript apart. That’s the only way you’re going to put it back together as a decent whole.
Cindy and Amanda, tell us about your experience mentoring your mentee.
Cindy: Stacy was a joy to work with! From the very beginning, Stacy’s impeccable middle grade voice stood out to me in my slush pile, and I was so excited to get the chance to work through a few revision drafts. Her writing style is truly something special; THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER is easily one of my favorite middle grade reads of all time!
Amanda: Stacy was great! She worked hard and really got what we wanted her to do. (With only minimal freak outs haha.)
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Cindy: Stacy is such a hard worker and was game for anything Amanda and I suggested. We gave her a LOT of work to do on her ending, and she delivered beautifully! Her revision work took a book that was already so strong and made it even stronger and more compelling. She’s a rockstar!
Amanda: Stacy excelled as a writer in Pitch Wars but also kept being an awesome school librarian! AND prepared for her son’s wedding. That’s a lot on one plate!
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Cindy: The #1 piece of advice I give to aspiring writers at any stage is to find yourself some good critique partners. Critique partners can really make or break a writing career! Twitter can be a wonderful place to find them. If you’re preparing to enter Pitch Wars, I highly recommend connecting with other hopefuls on the #PitchWars hashtag. Even for hopefuls who don’t make it into contest, the Pitch Wars community can be a rich and helpful resource.
Amanda: The best thing you can do is really focus on what makes your manuscript special and stand out. Is it the awesome premise? Then really hone your query and start us off with a bang. Is it a great character and voice? Then make sure the voice is clear from the first sentence and infused into your query.
How about some fun questions for these three?
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Stacy: My back porch. Our neighborhood is very quiet, and I need total silence to write. I would live on that porch if Ohio winters weren’t so cold!
Cindy: 99% of the time I work at home, usually while my daughter is at school during the day. But I always feel like I work even better if I have a few hours to escape to my local library. Something about being in a different setting is so good for focus!
Amanda: My bedroom with the door locked!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Stacy: I’d love to spend the day with Chaim Potok, the author of The Chosen. We’d talk Jewish history (well, he’d talk, and I’d listen) and Jewish culture. In addition to being a writer and an academic, Potok was a painter, so I’d love to spend an afternoon painting with him. Then, I’d like to go with him to a deli in New York City and share some matzoh ball soup!
Cindy: My six-year-old has been obsessed for the last year with the Ramona Quimby series, which she’s listened to on audiobook probably ten times at this point. I’d love to sit down with Beverly Cleary (who is 103 this year!) and pick her brain about how she managed to so perfectly capture the little kid psyche. The children in her books are so realistic and so vibrant. As an author, she really knew what makes kids tick, and what goes on inside them. I can only imagine she’d be full of advice for middle grade writers like me!
Amanda: I’m cheating and naming more than one. Kit Rosewater, Cory Leonardo, Remy Lai, Karen Chow, and (obviously) Stacy Nockowitz. All my mentees. We’d sit around and eat chocolate and talk.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Stacy: It sounds cliché, but I’d most like to meet Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. What a feminist icon! I feel like we’d be great friends because she has a razor-sharp wit, and she would probably have a ton to say about the current geopolitical situation.
Cindy: Anne Shirley, my truest kindred spirit!
Amanda: Anne Shirley. Because I know we’d be bosom friends.
If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?
Stacy: Jane Austen fandom. Hands down. I put together a grant proposal to go to England and “walk in Jane’s footsteps,” but it was rejected. I was heart broken. I’m not really a fandom type of person, and I doubt I’d participate all that much, but I love the idea of being immersed in the world of her books.
Cindy: Harry Potter.
Amanda: Harry Potter.
What inspired you to start writing?
Stacy: I’ve been writing since I was five or six years old. In middle school, I wrote Star Wars fan fiction before fan fiction was even a thing. I was so inspired by the books that I read- Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wizard of Earthsea- and I wanted to create worlds with interesting characters and situations like I’d found in those books. As a kid, I lived in my head a lot of the time, and I wrote constantly. My husband would probably say that I still live in my head today!
Cindy: I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, so I can’t for sure remember what it was that made me want to begin. I know, though, that books played a big role in it! As a kid, I was addicted to the way books could transform my world; I loved the feeling of venturing to far-off places and meeting characters filled with magic and life. I had a very vivid imagination, and I loved telling stories and writing them down. As an adult, I still love to live in imaginary worlds, which is a big part of why I write!
Amanda: A picture book text writing itself in my brain when I couldn’t fall asleep.
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Stacy: I don’t necessarily have a consistent routine, mainly because my job as a school librarian takes over my life from mid-August through the end of May. I don’t get to write nearly as much as I’d like to during the school year. During the summer, I spend my days out on my back porch with my laptop. I always have a few tried-and-true tools/resources by my side: the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a printout of Larry Brooks’ Story Structure sheet, and tabs open to K.M. Weiland’s web series, Creating Stunning Character Arcs.
Cindy: As a stay-at-home mom writer, I’ve had to learn to be pretty adaptable in my writing process. I don’t always write at the same time of day or in the same location. (I’m filling this out in the middle of summer break, for instance, and sitting at my desk trying my best to ignore the zillion questions my daughter is shooting my way as I work!) I don’t even always write every single day! For me, there are a few things that are really crucial to my writing process: reading good books, which get me excited about writing when I’m feeling lackluster; setting small, achievable goals that help me to chip away at a work in progress even if I don’t have large chunks of time to dedicate; and making myself sit down and do the hard parts even when I’m feeling super uninspired. I also believe in taking breaks! I often take a few weeks off between manuscripts, and sometimes I’ve ended up having to take several months off to deal with injuries, emergency issues that come up in my family, or other things. I always come back refreshed after a break and excited to get going again.
Amanda: I write at night time after I get the kids into their beds. I sit outside their rooms, on the hallway floor and type away for 30 minutes to an hour.
Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with 25+ years of experience in middle school education.
Stacy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University and holds Master’s Degrees from Columbia University Teachers College and Kent State University. An unrepentant Jersey Girl, Stacy still teases her hair and uses plenty of spray.
When she’s not writing or matching great kids with great books, Stacy can most likely be found reading or rooting on her beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Her kids have flown the coop, so Stacy lives in central Ohio with her husband and their silly dog, Lily. The Prince of Steel Pier is her first novel.
Cindy Baldwin is the author of the critically acclaimed novelWhere The Watermelons Growand the forthcoming Beginners Welcome. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.
Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. (Which explains a lot about how she turned out.) After getting her degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University, she lived all over the US before finally settling down in Central California. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, was published by Boyds Mills Press in September 2018.