Last November, some of you may remember me participating as a mentor in a contest run by author Brenda Drake called Pitch Wars. In this contest, writers seeking representation by an agent submit their pitch and first five pages to a group of agented, about-to-be-published, and published authors. These authors choose one writer to work with and mentor them by reading their full novel, giving feedback, and working with them to hone their pitch. Then all the mentees’ hard work is posted on Brenda’s site and agents swing by, leaving comments on the ones they would like to see more of.
Last year, hundreds of writers tossed their manuscripts into the ring to win a spot with the forty-odd mentors. Laurie nabbed hers with me the second I read her first line (I swear it had nothing to do with her being a fellow Lori/Laurie; that was just a bonus). Laurie’s writing feels effortless (believe me, I know how much work it takes to achieve that feat!). Her prose allows you to immediately connect with the characters and the story. And her sense of humor doesn’t hurt. I’m a sucker for novels that allow us to laugh even when they also make us cry. Laurie’s YA novel, FIRSTS, does both.
During the contest, Laurie tied for third place in terms of agent requests in the YA category. She received a whopping eight! While she didn’t sign with one of those particular agents, she did go on to receive offers of representation from four agents and signed with Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon agency in April.
The time frame for Pitch Wars has moved from the snowy winter to the sunny summer, and will kick off on August 18. I’m once again serving as a YA mentor. This seemed like the perfect time to sit down with Laurie and pick her brain on what the experience of Pitch Wars was like.
Before we begin, here’s the pitch we worked to hone for FIRSTS:
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes provides a unique service to the virgins of Milton High: the opportunity to get their awkward first time over with, judgment-free. But when her best friend’s boyfriend wants into her bedroom, it’s not just her secret that spirals out of control, it’s her life.
Hi Lori! Thank you!
The idea for FIRSTS and the name Mercedes just landed in my head one day, settled in, and wouldn’t leave until I gave them a story. I had just finished writing a New Adult contemporary and I wanted to write something completely different. I didn’t make any notes or conjure up a stitch of plot—I just started writing the opening scene one evening and the story unfolded from there.
Though you handle it so brilliantly, were you worried about writing about sex in YA, which is often thought to be a taboo subject?
In a word: yes. But only after I finished writing.
You know that saying, you should write the story you want and not necessarily write to the market? That’s what rolled around in my head while I was writing FIRSTS. I wanted to tell the story the way it came to me. But when the first draft was done, the doubts set in. I worried that it was too racy and that the sex was too prominent. I read some other YA books that dealt with sex and edgy subject matter, written by authors who are pushing the boundaries of the genre, and that helped me a lot. While sex is a big part of FIRSTS, it isn’t the whole story, and you definitely helped me balance the action with emotion and strengthen Mercedes’ vulnerable side.
Putting one’s work up for critique can be difficult. What made you decide to enter Pitch Wars? And do you have any advice for writers trying to decide if they should enter this year?
Confession: I almost didn’t enter Pitch Wars. I psyched myself out after lurking on the very busy Twitter thread, even though I had already chosen my four potential mentors and written my pitch. I’m so glad I got the nerve to hit send! I would be in a different place today if I hadn’t.
What appealed to me most about Pitch Wars is that if you’re chosen as a mentee, you get to have an agented, experienced writer critique your whole manuscript, as well as help you with your pitch and query. That level of feedback is invaluable to a new writer.
If you’re a writer on the fence about deciding to enter — do it! Hit send! If you’re chosen for Pitch Wars, be prepared to work hard. Be open to suggestions and critique, and be organized, because revisions take time. Have fun with it and get to know your fellow warriors, because they are great people.
If you aren’t chosen — don’t give up, and don’t lose hope. Keep writing, because that’s how you get better. And keep querying and entering contests, because having the courage to get your work out there is half the battle.
Give me one word to describe your Pitch Wars experience.
Okay, now give me more words!
Amazing! Fun! Exciting! Nerve-wracking!
Seriously, it was the best experience, from start to nail-biting finish during the agent round. I was somehow lucky enough to be both your mentee and an alternate on Evelyn Ehrlich’s team, so I felt like I won the mentor lottery! When I look back at the manuscript I sent you compared to what FIRSTS turned into, I can’t even believe the difference. The whole Pitch Wars community was so supportive and everyone wanted to see everyone else do well. I really loved being part of that.
How has it been to be working with an agent?
Working with Kathleen has been fantastic. She’s so smart and insightful, and I feel supported by her in every sense. She has such a positive attitude and killer instincts, and she is willing to push boundaries because she believes in my work. Not only that, but her other clients are wonderful too. I’m so honored to be part of Team Krush!
What are you working on right now?
I’m editing/revising a YA contemporary that I wrote after Pitch Wars. HEAVY is about Fiona, whose best friend disappears after an end-of-summer blowout party — a party at which Fiona did something that will have deeper consequences than she ever imagined. It’s all about the weight of a secret, and Fiona’s realization that secrets are the most valuable form of currency.
Now, for some fun stuff! I know you spent time in Africa, like me, but also worked as a model, very unlike me. Tell me more about your journey to being a writer.
Modeling was a huge part of my life before I got serious about writing. I had great experiences in the industry, met some awesome people, and lived in some really amazing places. But ultimately, I realized I missed being in the classroom. So I went back to school and completed my English literature degree, and afterward did a journalism post-graduate program, which I ended up not pursuing as a career. I admitted to myself that it was fiction I wanted to write, not news stories.
I’m very grateful for my journey to being a writer. As strange as it sounds, modeling actually prepared me a lot for the writing world. Models need to have a thick skin, because rejection is a huge part of that industry too. It’s nothing personal — just part of the job. When I started sending out queries for my first manuscript and the rejections rolled in, I tried to adopt the same attitude and it helped me stay positive.
Finally, do you have a favorite recent read? Doesn’t have to be a new release!
Ooh, this is a tough question! There are so many amazing books out there to choose from, and my TBR list just keeps getting bigger. A recent read I loved was SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian. The voice in that one just blew me away, and the author handles edgy subject matter brilliantly.
If there’s anything else you want to add, feel free!
I just want to let any potential Pitch Wars warriors know that if you get Lori as a mentor, you’re in the best possible hands. Her editing skills are basically beyond comparison. She will pick up on high-level plot and character points as well as small details that you probably overlooked. She will push you to make your work as great as it can be, and you’re so lucky to have her in your corner!
Aw, thank you!
Lori, thank you so much for having me on your site! I look forward to seeing all of the Pitch Wars entries and I will be cheering for you and your mentee from the sidelines!
A note to all potential Pitch Wars entrants: I’ll be giving away some query and first-page critiques in August to help you get ready for the Aug. 18 deadline. Be sure to follow my blog, Twitter, or Facebook to find out the when and how!
Becoming Jinn has a release date!
May 12, 2015, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
Available now for preorder!
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