A Pitch Wars Success Story … Carla Luna Cullen!
The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Carla Luna Cullen and her Pitch Wars mentor Karma Brown here for a little Q and A. Carla recently signed with Erin Niumata with Folio Literary. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Carla, you were chosen for Pitch Wars, which was such a great accomplishment with over 2,000 applications and about 660 writers entering. What made you decide to send an application to Karma?
I didn’t! Karma was a Ninja Elf Mentor, so she picked me! On the day the Pitch Wars picks were announced, I was disappointed not to be chosen, even as an alternate, but I figured it meant my manuscript wasn’t ready. I dusted off my pride and sent a bunch of congratulatory tweets to writer friends who’d been picked. When I saw the announcement about the Ninja Elf Mentors, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, since only 1 or 2 were mentoring NA. It was a huge thrill when I saw that Karma had picked me the next day, especially since I was chosen to be her mentee!
It was so much fun having Ninja Elf Mentors! So Karma, what about Carla’s application made you choose her?
I came in as a Ninja mentor, so I asked the other mentors for New Adult authors/manuscripts they felt had a lot of potential but hadn’t landed in a mentee spot yet. Let’s just say that Carla’s manuscript, FIELD RULES, came highly recommended!
Got love how all mentors helped each other. And Carla, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
At first, Karma’s suggestions for FIELD RULES were manageable. She gave me a lot of notes about deepening my MC’s character–making her less boy-crazy and more vulnerable. I also added a few new scenes, with the result that my manuscript grew by about 5,000 words. So far, so good. Then Karma gave me feedback on the ending of the manuscript. I knew it was the weakest part of the book and she called me on it. I sent her a lot of frantic emails as I tried to figure out what to do (including one on New Year’s Eve – which was way over the top!). Finally, she said I should just rewrite the entire ending from scratch. I mulled it over for days, then had an epiphany (while cleaning my house!) and figured it out. I rewrote the last 60 pages in 4 days. When I was done, I knew FIELD RULES was stronger than it had ever been.
I get my best ideas while cleaning house or when taking a shower. Anyway, Karma, tell us about your experience with mentoring Carla? How was mentoring your other team members?
Carla was a dream to mentee – honestly! I tend to give a tough critique, because I figure it’s better to hear it when you still have a chance to fix it, rather than after you’ve depleted your agent list. She took every suggestion to heart, spent time thinking through the issues and how to fix them, and was very brave about slashing entire sections and rewriting as needed. She worked hard, and it shows in her book.
I had a blast mentoring my team for PitchWars (shout out to the other #TeamGoodKarma members Tena, Cara, and Megan) – they were all willing to work hard, very accepting of feedback, and have continued to support one another long past the contest!
I like when I get tough critiques, it pushes me to do better. And Carla, what was the wait like during the agent round and the days leading up to the offer?
I was so stressed during the agent round that I tried to stay away from my computer as much as possible. I did Pitch Wars last year, with a different manuscript (a YA fairy tale retelling) and only got one partial request. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, because I know how competitive Pitch Wars is. Fortunately, Karma and a few other writer friends alerted me when I got requests. After two days, I had three agent requests and one ninja agent request, which was more than I expected. I sent off the requests, then geared up to participate in a Twitter pitch party for Adult and New Adult manuscripts, called #Adpit. It took place ten days after Pitch Wars ended, so the timing was perfect.
I ended up with nine requests from #Adpit, one of which was Erin Niumata at Folio Literary. I was especially pleased with her request, since her Agency Bio said she was closed to unsolicited queries! I sent her a partial on Feb. 6, and she requested the full on Valentine’s Day. On Feb. 20, I received a follow-up email, which I assumed was a rejection, because it was only two lines. But I was wrong. She said she loved the manuscript and wanted to chat! I got completely freaked out, and emailed Karma, who helped me chill out. Even after Pitch Wars, Karma has continued to mentor #TeamGoodKarma!
So glad you found your match on #AdPit and that Pitch Wars helped you get your manuscript all nice shiny to snag an agent! Speaking of which, Carla, you signed with Erin Niumata with Folio Literary tell us about “The Call.”
After I got Erin’s email asking to chat, we set up time to talk the next day (Feb. 21). That night, I barely slept, and in the morning, I was a jittery mess. Erin offered representation right away, which was awesome. I loved her enthusiasm and her goals, and I honestly wanted to say “yes” immediately. However, three other agents had my pages, so I had to notify them. I gave them a week’s notice, and none of them offered (which was fine by me, because I really wanted to work with Erin!). I emailed Erin on Feb. 28 and accepted her offer. I got the contract from Folio on March 6, and that’s when I went public with the announcement on Twitter.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
What fictional academy/university/school would you most want to attend? (ie Starfleet Academy, Hogwarts, Jedi Academy, Camp Half-Breed, Battle School in Space, Beauxbatons, etc)?
Carla: I know everyone says Hogwarts, but I’d have to go with that answer, too. I absolutely love the Harry Potter books and the movies, and I’ve always wanted to learn magic.Plus, ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to attend a boarding school in England!
Karma: Without question, Hogwarts.
We should change that questions to “Other than Hogwars, what …” Ha! But seriously, I would pick Hogwarts too. They have cool ghosts! What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Confidante: Luna Lovegood, because she’s her own person and not afraid to be unique.
Enemy: The horrible and nasty Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
Idol: Princess Leia, because she’s the first princess I ever saw in a book or a movie, who wasn’t a typical damsel-in-distress. She could wield a blaster and had a ton of attitude.
Kick-butt ally: Indiana Jones, because he’s an archaeologist and he could get us out of any jam!
Karma: Confidante-Peeta / Enemy-President Snow / Idol-Dumbledore (I love that old wizard!) / Kick-butt ally – Katniss (can you tell I just watched Catching Fire?)
Heck yeah, Princess Leia can rock the two-bun style while kicking butt. And who wouldn’t want to handle a bow like Katniss! What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Carla: I’d probably want to be like Harry Potter in the first book and buy all the sweets on the trolley in the Hogwarts Express!
Karma: It’s a tie between dipping a cup into the Chocolate River in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and toasting with a cup of Butterbeer!
I’m thinking I want a chocolate river in my backyard now. You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Carla: I used to practice archery (and I’m a huge fan of characters who are archers, like Katniss and Legolas), so I’d grab my trusty bow and arrows.
Karma: Wand, naturally.
I’m in awe that you practice archery, Carla. And karma, who wouldn’t want a wand! What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Carla: Coffee, of course. For food, I prefer dark chocolate with hazelnuts and homemade baked goods (like pumpkin chocolate chip muffins or banana bread).
Karma: Coffee. Unless I’m doing revisions. Then I like a frothy London Fog latte.
Aww, you’re my people! Rae doesn’t drink coffee, I know, shocking. A coffee drinker and a tea drinker working together. Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Carla: This is a tough one, because there are so many authors I love. When I was younger, I was inspired by Ray Bradbury, Lois Duncan, J. R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit was one of my favorite books), Roald Dahl (The Fantastic Mr. Fox is another favorite), Paula Volsky (Illusion), and Michael de Larrabeiti (I loved The Borribles trilogy!). Some of my recent favorites include J. K. Rowling, Philip Reeve (The Mortal Engines series), Suzanne Collins, Sarah Bird, and Kristin Cashore.
Karma: Such a tough question … my favourite (note the Canadian spelling – hope it makes the cut!) authors are John Irving, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Amy Tan, but I also love reading contemporary young adult (Rainbow Rowell is a new must-read author for me) and middle grade, and have a soft spot for anything with magical realism. I write women’s fiction, but draw inspiration from nearly every story I read, regardless of genre. The only thing I can’t read is high fantasy. All that world building! I’m impressed anyone can write that.
Last question: Which team are you? Team Brenda or Team Rae? Kidding. No really. Thank you for sharing your success story. Rae and I couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS!
Carla: Thank you!! I know you two put in a ton of work for Pitch Wars, and I appreciate it. I really think that your contests have given writers an enormous edge when it comes to getting their work in front of agents, as evidenced by all the success stories.
Karma: Aren’t they one in the same?
Ha! We’re like two peas …
Wonderful interview you two! Congratulations on the success, and we can’t wait to hear about more successes in the future. Everyone else, go say hello to them on Twitter.
Why are you still here? Scram. Give them some love!
Carla Luna Cullen