A 2015 Pitch Wars Success with M.C. Vaughan and her mentor, Lynnette Labelle
We hope you love these success stories as much as we do. After all the writing and revising, the critiquing and the struggles, this is the time to celebrate all the hard earned successes for our Pitch Wars mentees and their mentors. Today, we celebrate with M.C. Vaughan and her mentor, Lynnette Labelle! Sometimes it takes more than a few weeks or even a few months, but M.C. and Lynnette didn’t give up. After Pitch Wars 2015, M.C. signed with Barbara Collins Rosenberg of The Rosenberg Group. Please join me in celebrating with M.C. and Lynnette!
M.C., what was it about Lynnette that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
Choosing a mentor was not unlike choosing agents to query. Research, research, research. I read through each mentor’s bio, looking for those who were grabby hands about contemporary romance laced with humor. And lo, there were many! I dug in a little further to get a sense of whom might be a good personality fit—professional, smart, witty, and knowledgeable about both writing craft and bidness. When I saw Lynnette Labelle’s bio, she struck me as all of these things times eleven. Plus, she edits a lot of different genres/subgenres, so I was confident she’d tell me if I was straying too far outside the lines of my chosen genre.
Lynnette, what was it about M.C.’s THE RELUCTANT PRINCESS that hooked you? The voice! M.C.’s voice, as you can see in her answers here, is amazeballs. I really liked the premise too, but without that voice, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Before I went through any of the entries I received, I had an open mind. I’d posted what I wanted to see in my inbox, and as long as the author didn’t stray from that list, I was excited to see their pitch. But, once I came upon M.C.’s entry, all others competed directly with hers.
This is where it got hard, because there were some fantastic entries in my pile. But, unlike an agent, I could only pick one. So, for me, it wasn’t about saying no to other writers, even though that’s what I had to do, it was about saying yes to this particular one.
Once I decided this was the manuscript I had to have, I let the other mentors on her sub list know my intention was to fight to the death for this story. I MAY have licked the entry to prove my point. I mean, nobody would want it now, right?
Because a couple of the mentors hadn’t chosen their mentee yet, there was a risk they could take M.C. and her fantabulous voice away from me. I freaked. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was stalk the mentor group and wait for those mentors to pick any entry but M.C.’s.
When the mentors confirmed M.C. was mine, mine, and all mine, I did cartwheels across the living room floor. By now, she and I had been talking on Twitter, and I really wanted to share the good news with her, but I couldn’t. Not until mentees were officially announced on Brenda’s blog. But once they were, there might have been some groovy dancing going on.
M.C., tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Since Lynnette’s an editor by trade and a writer by birth, she’s got the rhythm of the revision process down pat. On day one, she sent me her overall take on my MS, and asked me to chunk it out into 20-to-25 page sections. She’d crit a chunk, shoot it over to me, and each email contained her thoughts on that section. Handling the revision process that way meant I was able to grapple with my repeated gestures (‘eyebrows’ appeared roughly one thousand times in the MS) and pacing issues without feeling overwhelmed by ALL OF THE THINGS LEFT TO DO. I also loved that Lynnette wasn’t overly prescriptive—she’d tell me if motivation needed to be strengthened, but wouldn’t suggest precisely how. The two-month timeframe for the process was good too—not so much time that I felt like I could dawdle, but enough so that I knew I could get it all done.
Lynnette, tell us about your experience mentoring M.C.
M.C. was fun to work with. While I certainly would’ve brainstormed fixes with her if needed, it wasn’t necessary. She took my suggestions and ran with them. I loved that we were on the same page with revision ideas and that she delivered material on time, always meeting my proposed deadlines. This is important when you only have a limited amount of time to work together before the agent round.
M.C., after Pitch Wars, you signed with Barbara Collins Rosenberg of The Rosenberg Group. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
Before I can talk about the call, I need to set the stage a little. I’d been researching agents who specialize in kissing books and have a solid track record in both print and digital sales. That’s when Barbara came into my life—she is all of these things.
Off the query went, and within two days, Barbara requested a partial. Which is always exciting, I’ve gotta say. About eight weeks later, she sent me an email asking for the full, and I slingshotted it back maybe 87 seconds later.
This was just before I was heading to a writer’s conference, RWA Nationals, which is a scrambly time for any writer. Because business cards! And practicing pitches! And packing the right shoes! We sent a few emails back and forth while I was brushing up on craft and hobnobbing with the most giving, lovely, supportive group of writers assembled under one roof (Lynnette included! We roomed together at the conference, because she’s awesome and neither of us snore). Did I mention having a lunch with a group of PW mentors that week? No? Well, it was just as mind-blowingly cool as you might imagine.
So I need to stop and say I had not yet enjoyed this kind of platonic flirty back-and-forth with an agent. My agent exchanges up until then had been polite requests and fulfillment of said requests, with perhaps too many exclamation points on my part. Barbara was lovely and told me about some of her other clients at the conference and I should say “hi” to them if our paths should cross. Which, wut? You don’t tell someone to chat with another client unless you’re, you know, interested, do you? I’m not saying I read some of these emails aloud to Lynnette in our room as she curled her hair for the Death by Chocolate dinner hosted by the RWA Kiss of Death chapter. But I’m not saying I didn’t, either.
Anyway, about two weeks after I returned home to the land of dayjobs and summer camp runs, Barbara emailed to see if we could chat. And I died. Well, no, because who else is typing this right now? But I did get this explosive, frothy, flip-flopping in my belly. Have you ever swallowed a live goldfish? Well, I haven’t, because ew. But I imagine that’s what it feels like.
I called and… Barbara and I chatted about the conference, and Baltimore, and my MS… and… and… she had some thoughts about the MS. Which—any writer knows—can feel like nails on chalkboard. But the stuff she was saying? Resonated y’all. As soon as she voiced them, I was like, “Yes, that makes PERFECT sense.” She’d read my MS, had compliments and specific thoughts about what it might be missing, and I loved it. Because she didn’t tell me what she thought I should do—she identified what wasn’t working for her, what she thought I needed to amp up, but trusted me to come up with ideas to address them.
So, I rolled up my sleeves and worked. I wrote an edit letter to myself and edited. And edited. And I loved the changes, which I would not have made if Barbara hadn’t expressed her thoughts. Two months later, I turned it in. And a week after that? Barbara and I scheduled another chat where she told me… She wanted to sell this book for me! And again I died. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES, I wanted to scream.
But I had other partials and fulls out. So, I nudged. Because I am nothing if not profesh. But ultimately, as awesome as the other agents were, Barbara got me, and she got me first.
M.C., how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
It’s probably the best training ground out there for the publishing process. MORE THAN ANYTHING, though, it helped to have people going through it with me at the same time, wonderful people who are willing to let themselves be vulnerable and express their fears. Lynnette, and the PW Class of ’15, through their kindness, and exuberance, and empathy kept me soldiering on. And that’s so important, for people to celebrate with you, to moan with you, to snark with you. And these are people who get it, who understand that you’ve bowed out of parties, or movies, or various other things so you could write, and the end result is this roller coaster of “yay!” and “sigh” reactions to each email in your inbox. Knowing people like this provides the courage, the absolute audacity, to say “I write interesting things you want to buy so you can live in my make believe for a little while.”
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
You’re outnumbered by the bad guys, what mode of escape would you take? (ie a Tardis, a flying car, a flying carpet, something from your favorite food, etc.)? And why?
M.C.: I write romance, so I’m probably supposed to say a cowboy or billionaire in a sweet fancy car that costs more than my college tuition. But, for realz? Star Trek Enterprise transporter, please. Because that seems like a very-not-messy way to escape trouble, and there’s likely some Earl Grey or Bajoran spring wine in my future.
Lynnette: As a romantic suspense writer, I’d probably say I’d want to ride in a Hennessey Venom GT, or something as fast as that car. Even better if it were as strong as a tank and bulletproof. As a YA author, I’d say I’d be overjoyed to drive ANYTHING motorized with two or more wheels. Bonus points if it can fly, turn itself invisible, and carry a real conversation.
What fictional character would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her/it?
M.C.: I couldn’t hang with any super heroes, because I’m pretty sure I’d be the human fodder that’d die an early death to make the audience feel the sads for the emotey heroes on screen. So, first choice: Falcor, the Luck Dragon from “The Neverending Story.” Because of course I would fly around the world scaring bullies into dumpsters. There’s also Mark Darcy, from Bridget Jones’ Diary, but I am a happily married woman and following that choice to it’s logical conclusion would simply be untoward. Perhaps also Bill & Ted so I could time travel without all the freneticism of Dr. Who in multiple incarnations? Or maybe…maybe…the Goblin King from Labyrinth. Yes, that’s the one. Because we would dance magic dance…
Lynnette: It’s a tie between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, as long as they’re willing to teach me how to use a wand. Because who couldn’t use a little magic in their life? A close second would be Tom Booker from THE HORSE WHISPERER, because I’d love to learn how to communicate with horses the way he does (and all animals for that matter).
What fictional character(s) best describes your personality?
M.C.: Daria Morgendorffer, with a soupcon of Tracy Flick.
Lynnette: Dorothy from THE WIZARD OF OZ because we both love adventures, exploring, and meeting new friends, but when it comes right down to it, there’s no place like home.
You just won an entry into a game show and you may only bring one fictional character with you to beat the clock. What show is it and who would you choose to join you?
M.C.: Well, it kind of depends on the game show, now doesn’t it? If it’s American Ninja Warrior, I’m for sure bringing Wonder Woman. If it’s Jeopardy? Cliff Clavin from ‘Cheers.’ But if it’s Survivor? Probably Matt Bomer. Because he would be lovely to watch during all of the challenges.
Lynnette: If it’s America Ninja Warrior, I would bring Superman. I thought about bringing the Hulk, but he’d be too heavy for some of the obstacles. If it’s The Price Is Right, I’d bring Scrooge. I’m sure he knows prices better than anyone. If it’s Survivor, I’d bring Abu from Aladdin. He’s small, quick, and clever, but he’s totally someone who’d fly under the radar.
You only have two hours to finish edits, what do you grab–coffee, tea, wine, hard liquor, or some fictional drink–to fuel you through the time crunch?
M.C.: Coffee, black as onyx, all day long.
Lynnette: Coffee, tea, and/or Red Bull. No, YOU’re drinking a can right now.
Who is your biggest supporter of your writing?
M.C.: My husband—hands down, no contest.
Lynnette: My hubby. He even makes dinner if I’m working late (either on my WIP or editing for a client). Quite the catch, right? I KNOWZZZ.
What fictional character would best describe this person?
M.C.: Superman. Or Indiana Jones. Or Jack Ryan. Superjones Ryan? He’s so good, man. He’s the unassuming, good, decent, fight-for-justice guy most of us aspire to be.
Lynnette: No character can live up to him. He’s set the standard that high.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
M.C.: Just, whatever you do, find writer friends. They are the only ones who really, truly, in their bones understand what it’s like to present your (raw, unpolished, out-there) ideas to other skilled people and ask—nay, make them—tell you where you suck.
Lynnette: Never submit a first or even a second draft to a contest, agent, or publisher. Always have other people, preferably writers, read your work to help you find issues with the MS. Yes, there will be issues you don’t see. Be open to constructive criticism. This is a tough business. You need to develop a thick skin early. Watch what you put on social media. This is a small industry. Insulting, be it indirectly or directly, another writer, a freelance editor, an agent, or a publisher only makes YOU look bad, and it makes others think twice about working with you. Most importantly, enjoy what you write. Don’t write to a trend. It’ll show in your work. Write what you want to write, and if it’s not selling, put it aside until that trend comes back. They always do. Eventually.
CONGRATULATIONS! We wish you all the best in your writing endeavors!
M.C. Vaughan is a Baltimore-based author of contemporary romance riddled with humor and local flavor. So, if you want to giggle throughout your sexy stories, welcome! You’ll root for her characters as they fall for their perfect people…and simultaneously want to throttle them for being big dummies about love.
She grew up in a house crowded with family, friends, books, music, and the occasional ghost. After graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in English literature (and an unofficial major in student-run theatre), she worked in sports marketing, higher education, toy production, and software development.
Currently, she lives in Maryland with her husband and three delightful kids.
Lynnette Labelle is a freelance editor with over fifteen years of experience. She’s the owner of Labelle’s Writing on the Wall, an editing and coaching service for writers.
Lynnette has a bachelor of education degree from the University of Manitoba, where she specialized in English and French. She excelled in Advanced Creative Writing in university and studied writing for children and teens through the Institute of Children’s Literature. She’s a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Romance Writers of America, and Savvy Authors. She’s been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2015.
Lynnette won 2nd place in the 2016 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest and was a finalist in 2015. She won 1st place in the romantic suspense category of the 2014 Winter Rose Contest offered through the Yellow Rose RWA chapter and 1st place in the 2015 Denver Molly contest.