It’s Pitch Wars Success Story time! Please join us in celebrating WT Brown and her mentor, Rebecca Petruck. WT recently signed with Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management! Congratulations!!!
WT, what’s your favorite writing tip or trick you learned from your mentor?
Rebecca really helped me with structure. My initial manuscript was very episodic and Rebecca helped me identify the main story elements, and then take the whole story apart so I could weave the story elements together in a more cohesive whole. I had also never written a manuscript for middle grade before, so Rebecca helped me SO MUCH with developing my middle-grade voice. Going from screenwriting to writing a middle-grade memoir was a steep learning curve, for sure!
Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
Before diving into edits, Rebecca assigned me a series of tasks, such as writing several versions of a logline, rewriting certain sections “in scene,” outlining the arcs for each separate element… As opposed to an edit letter, my revision process started with a friendly call with Rebecca during which we talked about major restructuring, discussed which elements needed to be added/enhanced, and decided on a few deadlines. Then, I got to work! The assignments I worked on prior to diving into the edits helped a ton. To give you an idea about timeframe, the first major overhaul draft was completed before the winter holidays, then we had another call and notes about that draft in early January. I worked on revisions for a second draft until the Agent Showcase in early February.
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)!
Based on Penny’s bio, she was one of my top choices for agents. I first received an offer from a different agent who also was extremely appealing, and in fact I was pretty sure I would sign with her. However, when I notified all the other agents who had my full manuscript, Penny responded right away indicating she would also like to represent me. Although I had watched many of my Pitch Wars colleagues negotiating more than one offer of representation, I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, too. When I spoke with Penny, it was clear that we had a lot of experiences in common, and my gut told me that she just “got” my manuscript the best.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
My time working with Rebecca made me a much better writer. Imagine having a one-on-one instructor devoted to your manuscript for several months! It’s crazy for me to think of how much time and energy these mentors devote to the mentees. Pitch Wars definitely increased my visibility among the writing community, and the Agent Showcase resulted in multiple requests to read my work.
One aspect of the Pitch Wars experience that might not readily be apparent is the support network that’s fostered among all the mentees. Whether it’s just to commiserate, or to find critique partners, or to ask for opinions of information, my fellow PW mentees are one of the best aspects of my Pitch Wars experience.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Make sure you have the time! At one point, I turned down a lot of get-togethers with friends, even though we were in the height of the holiday season. I believe my response was, “I really, really want to see you, but I need to churn out 80 pages in the next 10 days.” Know your story inside and out, what you want to say through your story, and be prepared to be receptive to feedback and your mentor’s suggestions.
Pitch Wars is intensive and yes, some of the mentees do get agents and book deals out of it. However, always keep in mind that you might not — and it’s a hard hit to the ego to receive rejection after rejection even after ALL THAT WORK. Make sure you keep in mind that at the very least you will have received some invaluable advice, time, and feedback that will make your manuscript better, and that’s a win in and of itself.
Rebecca, tell us about your experience mentoring your mentee.
Waka is wonderful to work with! Her PW manuscript was a memoir, and I was nervous about negotiating how to stay true to her experiences while also revising for more of a story arc. Waka was not only open to suggestion, but also willing to dig deeper for those things that can make us feel vulnerable, either because they are emotional intense or embarrassing. Waka is brave and funny!
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Everything Waka did was amazing! She completely rearranged the elements of her manuscript, deleted almost the entirety of one section, and wrote new scenes from memories that served the theme more effectively. She was a champ!
Specifically, I’d say one of the most amazing things she did for me as a reader was explain Japanese concepts, especially about language, that are difficult for Americans to grasp. She did it in a very accessible, friendly way that never felt like it bogged down the pages.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
I think mental preparation is as important as the preparation of the pages. The volume of PW submissions means that, for MG last year, less than 5% of people become mentees. Not getting in doesn’t reflect on a writer’s value or the quality of the manuscript.
PW is a fantastic opportunity regardless because of the COMMUNITY that has developed around it. Plan to spend the 4-6 weeks prior to PW on Twitter, on the message boards. Get to know other people. Don’t be shy about reaching out to someone who feels like a match. People have found lifelong CPs and friends via PW, and that’s with none of their manuscripts having been chosen!
How about some fun questions for WT and Rebecca.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
WT: Definitely not my house! I have three kids and so if I’m there, I’m constantly bombarded with distractions. I’m a coffee house writer for sure. But the place I can really get some writing done is in an airplane, strapped into my chair at cruising altitude with the seatbelt sign on. Nothing like being told you can’t get up, even to pee!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
WT: Probably Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read THE LITTLE PRINCESS and THE SECRET GARDEN over and over again as a little girl. The situations of young girls on their own trying to navigate their worlds spoke to me, and might have influenced my desire to write my manuscript WHILE I WAS AWAY as well.
Rebecca: I would like to spend the day with Frances Hardinge, author of two of my favorite-ever books, CUCKOO SONG and THE LIE TREE. We would spend the morning shopping for hats, then the afternoon over a proper English tea, when we’d geek out talking all things books and writing and the power of girls and the creepy fantastic. After the sun has set, we will tour an aged and poorly-lit castle and its surrounds, then say goodnight with a hot toddy in front of a fire.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Rebecca: I would like to meet Nimona, the eponymous MC from NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson because OMIGOSH ALL THE REASONS! Some of the reasons involve spoilers so I won’t include them all here in case there’s anyone who hasn’t read the graphic novel yet, and if there are…what are you waiting for?! Go read this book! Nimona owns who she is and doesn’t particularly hold back because parts of who she is aren’t “socially acceptable” (by whose definition, right?). She’s fierce, loyal, funny, cunning, brave, and maybe occasionally thoughtlessly cruel which somehow manages to be one of her charms. I love her!
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
WT: One of my favorite writing tricks is the Pomodoro Method. Before I knew about it, I’d look at the clock and see I only had 30 minutes before I had to rush off to the next thing. Thirty minutes didn’t seem like enough time to write anything! But now I can say, “that’s enough for one Pomodoro!” I turn off WiFi, set the timer for 25 minutes, and write until the timer goes off. Half the time, I turn the timer off, skip the 5-minute break and keep on writing.
W.T. Brown is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. When Stanford Magazine published her essay, “Third Time’s the Charm” in 2016, Waka decided to expand the subject of this essay into a middle-grade memoir which was selected for Pitch Wars 2018. Through the Pitch Wars showcase, Waka found representation with literary agent Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management.
Waka has also written numerous screenplays (comedies, romantic comedies, and animated features), which have placed in the semifinals of the PAGE International, quarterfinals of Screencraft, and 2nd-round of the Austin Film Festival writing competitions. Her first short film DOUBLE TAP, produced by the DC Asian Pacific American Film organization, was an Official Selection for both the 2018 DC Shorts and Portland Film Festivals.
Rebecca Petruck is the author of BOY BITES BUG and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s “…funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one.”
STEERING was an American Booksellers Association New Voices selection as well as a Kids Indie Next List title.
She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington. She has been a mentor for SCBWI Carolinas, Pitch Wars, and Writing in the Margins.
She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary.
Rebecca’s book BOY BITES BUG is available on indiebound.