When our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal, it’s one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Yael Mermelstein and her mentor, Jessica Vitalis. Yael signed with Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary Services, LLC after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Yael and Jessica on their Pitch Wars Success!
Yael, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Jessica?
How do I choose thee, let me count the ways. Her ‘favorites’ reading list echoed my own, she planned on being highly editorial and I knew I needed/wanted that, she was already an experienced Pitch Wars mentor, and I really connected with her personality when I watched the mentors video chat.
Jessica, what about Yael’s application made you choose her?
That’s a great question! When I first reviewed Yael’s application, I couldn’t figure out what an award-winning author with several published books could possibly want from me. After skimming her application, I set it aside, assuming she was way overqualified. But as I read through my submissions, I kept returning to her material. Her writing was literary and gorgeous, but at the same time fun and quirky. Plus, I was drawn to the themes in her story. I emailed Yael and asked for her manuscript along with a synopsis and soon realized that Yael’s already incredibly writing would be a great match for my plotting skills. Her warm, down-to-earth personality sealed the deal.
Yael, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Yael, tell us about what it’s like to feel like you’re wasting time because you’re breathing? Jessica is a perfectionist (in a good way), which is why she’s had so much success guiding her mentees in this contest. I knew she expected quite a big rewrite on the second half of my book as we had corresponded prior to her selecting me as her mentee. But I don’t think I fully grasped the enormity of the commitment. Being rather ‘type A’ myself, there was no way I was going to let her down and so regardless of all of my other commitments—family, work and otherwise, I was going to whip this MS into shape. Under Jessica’s expert tutelage, I did that. I can’t vouch for how well those other compartments in my life managed during this time period though!
Jessica, tell us about your experience with mentoring Yael. How was mentoring your other team members?
Working with Yael was intense. I asked her to rewrite an enormous portion of her manuscript, including the entire second half. Despite her other commitments (including her career as a freelance writer, her role in a play, and mothering seven children), Yael didn’t blink—she attacked her manuscript and shed the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to take her work to the next level. We typically corresponded multiple times a day and developed a wonderful friendship in the process. The experience was challenging and exhausting, but also enriching and deeply gratifying. Luckily, I had fantastic co-mentors for my other mentee, Kit Rosewater, so I was able to time the revisions I did with her for periods where Yael was deep in rewrites. It all worked out perfectly and I’m proud that both my mentees found representation for their beautiful work.
Yael, after Pitch Wars you signed with Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary Services. Tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Saba contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I was extremely lucky to receive ‘the call’ within a few weeks of the end of Pitch Wars. Jessica and I were doubly excited because Saba is Jessica’s agent and we loved the idea of being agency sisters. Here’s the ironic part. Though I am a successful author in the Jewish market, it has been my dream since 2007 to find an agent and break into the mainstream market. After Pitch Wars, I was so pumped from all of my hard work that when I didn’t hear anything in the first 48 hours I fell, and hard (I know how ridiculous that timing is, but you try to reason with emotion). With my husband’s help, we worked very hard to focus on all of the blessings in my life and I convinced myself that I would be absolutely fine regardless of what happened. I went from being obsessed with getting an agent and devastated every time my inbox was empty, to being completely apathetic about the whole process. When the email from Saba came, I actually had to work on myself to reignite my passion for my long held dream. Jessica totally picked up on my emotional mood and I remember emailing her consistently, outlining the process of thawing my frozen emotions.
Speaking to Saba was like a bucket of hot water on the block of ice in my brain. I connected with her right away on many levels. She is very bright and articulate, well read, and I identified with her suggestions for revising my MS. Beyond that, and equally important to me, I found her to be a kind and upstanding human being who abides by a moral and ethical code of conduct. Though we come from different backgrounds, I found that our cultures have a lot of commonality as well. Saba and I spoke for an hour and a half and I knew that I wanted to work with her as soon as I hung up the phone. When I left the room I told all my kids, called my husband at work, called my parents and sisters in the U.S. and then my kids and I put on some music and danced!
Yael, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success? Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
Pitch Wars didn’t help with my success, it IS my success. I revived my MS for Pitch Wars, brushed off its cobwebs and then allowed Jessica to take a supersonic vacuum cleaner to it. Working with Jessica was a joy. She’s smart, insightful, patient and incredibly dedicated to her craft. And I simply adore her as a person too. I would not be an agented author now if not for Pitch Wars. I’m so grateful to Jessica, Brenda, Heather, Nikki and the whole hardworking crew.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
You and your favorite character from your favorite book are meeting at your favorite restaurant. Which character are you with, what restaurant did you choose, and what’s on the menu?
Yael: I desperately want to have lunch with Theodore Finch from ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES so I can tell him to please, please get some help for his mental illness so that things can turn out differently for him. He can choose the restaurant but it has to be kosher. 🙂
Jessica: Hmmm. I just finished The Grisha Trilogy, so I’m hankering to sample Russian cuisine. It’d be intriguing to dine with the privateer from Siege and Storm, and I’d let him choose the menu.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
Yael: So torn! Probably Richard Peck because I enjoy learning from people who are older and wiser than me and he’s so brilliant and hilarious it would be a ball of fun.
Jessica: I’d love to spend a day with Kate DiCamillo; she brings tremendous heart to her work and seems warm and genuine.
What book character or movie character best describes your personality?
Yael: Georgie McCool in Landlines by Rainbow Rowell. Beyond sharing certain personality traits, I’m always wondering about doors not opened, and how the past twists itself into the present and then the future based upon your choices.
Jessica: How about I tell you which character I wished best described my personality?!! I’m going to go with Alina from Siege and Storm (I may be a teeny-tiny bit obsessed with The Grisha Trilogy right at the moment.) She’s brave and smart and strong and she’s filled with courage and integrity.
You just won a spot on The Amazing Race what fictional character do you team with and what makes him/her/it a good match for this adventure?
Yael: I will admit I had to look up what ‘The Amazing Race’ was before answering this question. If I understand correctly, I’d love to have Faith from THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge along for the ride. She’s a super strong girl who can navigate any terrain.
Jessica: I’ve never watched the Amazing Race, so this is a tough question to answer. But in keeping with my Grisha obsession, I’m going to say Mal; he’s an amazing tracker, so I have to imagine he’d make the perfect partner in a contest of this nature. (Plus he’s super cute, so there’s that.)
You only have two hours to finish edits, where do you go for some quiet time?
Yael: My husband’s office is a ten minute drive from our apartment so I’d go there as long as he’s home watching the kids. It’s a rather lonely place when it’s empty but so long as my kids aren’t banging on my door…..
Jessica: Normally I’d say my office, but these days I seem to be more productive at Panera. Except when I’m distracted by the adorable elderly ladies who have taken up playing cards there on Wednesday afternoons. They all wear sunglasses several sizes too large, jingle with glamorous jewels, and are all-around too cool for words.
What fictional character would best describe your mentor/mentee?
Yael: Jessica has the resourcefulness of Charlotte in Charlotte’s web, not to mention always having a reassuring answer to whatever conundrum comes up and boy can she spin a web of words. But her heart is pure Fern Arable—soft and sensitive
Jessica: Despite my reservations about comparing my beloved mentee with a pig, I’m going to have to go with Rosita from the animated movie Sing; they are both tremendously talented with a zillion children and hearts of pure gold.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Yael: have to mention the mentee FB groups. It forms such a sense of community and is another amazing facet of pitchwars experience. I WISH I had more time to devote to cultivation those relationships. Every is so supportive and encouraging, it’s a really fuzzy place.
Jessica: A giant thanks to Yael for trusting me to guide her through this process. And, as always, a giant thanks to Brenda and the rest of the PitchWars community for their constant enthusiasm and encouragement. <3
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Yael Mermelstein – Mentee
MG and YA writer and reader represented by Saba Sulaiman of The Talcott Notch Agency. Mom of brood, wife of one, musical theatre actor and audience. And Yael’s latest book entitled I Promise You is published by Israel Bookshop Publications.
Jessica Vitalis – Mentor
Jessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Her debut, a middle grade novel called NOTHING LIKE LENNON, is currently out on submission. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate).