A Pitch Wars 2015 Success Interview with Leah Collum and Scarlett Cole!
The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate Leah Collum and her Pitch Wars mentor, Scarlett Cole! Leah recently signed with Katie Shea Boutillier of Donald Maass Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for her. So without further ado, please meet Leah and Scarlett as they recap their epically awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Leah, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Scarlett?
Scarlett said she was looking for the perfect mashup of women’s fiction and romance, and my novel is women’s fiction with romantic elements. Plus, she’s a Scorpio and I’m a Pisces, so we’re a match made in water sign heaven!
Scarlett, what about Leah’s application made you choose her?
I was very fortunate to have received a number of fantastic manuscripts, but there were several things that made THE LOVE TEST stand out. The overall premise is incredibly timely. I love the notion that within the current debate about immigration, there are so many shades of gray to be considered. It’s a provocative question – what would you do if you knew someone who was attempting to carry out immigration fraud? Especially when family, friendship, and love are at stake. Leah’s style of story telling felt very fresh to me. I loved her voice, and I could see huge potential for further character development. I knew I could have impact. And finally, it fulfilled my criteria of walking the line between Women’s Fiction and Romance.
Leah, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
It was intense. I added 11,000 words to my overall word count in two months. Between my full-time (and then some) day job and revisions for Pitch Wars, there were times when I wasn’t sure how I could manage it all. But Scarlett was amazingly supportive. Her initial editorial letter was so insightful, and she was full of encouragement as well as suggestions for where and, just as importantly, how to improve my novel. She really went far above and beyond the call of mentoring duty by reading multiple versions of new material and even helping me polish my query letter! I am so lucky to have had her as my mentor and cheerleader on this wild but very fun ride!
Of course, I can’t talk about the awesomeness that is Pitch Wars without giving a huge shout out to my fellow mentees. Our Facebook group has been a place of support and camaraderie that is absolutely priceless. They are an amazing group of writers, and I’m so honored to be part of this group!
Scarlett, tell us about your experience with mentoring Leah.
This was my first Pitch Wars. I’d heard so many great things about it in the past, and a chance meeting with Brenda Drake (… all hail the Queen of Pitch Wars!) meant I could participate this year. As my first mentee, Leah was a dream to work with. She did three things exceptionally well.
The first was accepting the feedback. I used to be a senior executive at a large retailer in Canada before I quit to write full-time, and before that, a management consultant advising Fortune 500 companies. Reading, digesting, and accepting feedback is a learned skill. I was once told it was like getting a sweater from your grandmother at Christmas – it might be ugly as sin, but it was given with love! Leah really paused and considered what the feedback meant, figured out how to apply it to her story, and nailed the second version of her manuscript.
The second was setting out a clear schedule of when stuff was going to get done. We broke down the weeks and set deadlines. This helped us both plan to be available when the work needed to be completed.
The third was getting it done and being up for the challenge. I made some big suggestions, for example, let’s add at least 10,000 words. And Leah jumped in with both feet. I really admired that attitude.
Leah, after Pitch Wars you signed with Katie Shea Boutillier of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Tell us about “The Call.” Can you tell us the details about the offer: How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Katie contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
Katie didn’t participate in the Pitch Wars agent round, but I’d been researching agents and thought she might be a good fit, so I decided to query her. I’m connected with one of her clients through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. I let her know that I was planning to query her agent, and she graciously offered to let me use her name as a referral. She even reached out to Katie behind the scenes to let her know my query was on its way! (Side note: nothing beats the writing communities I’ve found through Pitch Wars and my membership in WFWA. Writers supporting writers is where it’s at!)
I queried Katie on November 5 and received a full request on November 6. She sent me an e-mail saying she was loving it on November 12, and I was on pins and needles, obsessively refreshing my e-mail, until November 18, when I got an e-mail from her asking if we could talk on the phone.
I was super nervous during our phone call, but also thrilled by Katie’s enthusiasm for my novel and her offer of representation. Touching base with some of her clients through e-mail and by phone, though, as well as reading their published work, is what really sealed the deal for me. Katie represents a group of awesomely talented women’s fiction writers who had absolutely glowing things to say about working with her; I knew I wanted to be part of that group, too.
After I accepted Katie’s offer of representation, I celebrated with champagne and many happy phone calls / e-mails / internet posts to friends and family. I was so thrilled to share the good news!
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
I honestly don’t think I would have an agent today if not for Pitch Wars. I entered Pitch Wars with a 67,000 word manuscript in need of some pretty significant character work, and I came out of it with a 78,000 word manuscript strong enough to snag an offer of representation. I couldn’t have made that leap without Scarlett’s suggestions and support. There aren’t enough “thank yous” in the world to express my gratitude for all she’s done for me. And the emotional support from my fellow mentees—just knowing I wasn’t alone in this journey—kept me sane.
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)?
Leah: Sweet Valley High. I was obsessed with that series as a teenager. I would gobble up a new SVH book like candy every month!
Scarlett: I have to go with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters/X-mansion. Mainly because … Wolverine! And who wouldn’t want to be Jean Grey?
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Leah: I’m going to bend the rules here a little and go with Anne Boleyn. I know she’s not a fictional character, but her life has been fictionalized so often and in so many ways (novels, plays, film, television, etc.). I find her story absolutely fascinating. And because there are so many different representations of her character/personality, I’m not sure if I did meet her whether I would want her to be my confidante, enemy, idol, or kick-butt ally—or maybe a bit of each one at different times in her story!
Scarlett: This is too hard to narrow down… hmmm… Matthew Wellesbourne form Kathryn Le Veque’s The White Lord of Wellesbourne would be my hero (I do write romance). Any of Maya Bank’s KGI operatives could be my ally… no one would want to go up against those guys. And my confidante would be Tracy Whitney from If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon… I love her character arc from framed socialite into a brilliant criminal mastermind.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Leah: I’ll grab my trusty pen. I’ve heard it’s mightier than the sword. 😉
Scarlett: … Nagamaki. I spent a lot of time in Japan, and I love the legends of the Samurai, so this Japanese sword would be perfect.
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Leah: I run on caffeine. Specifically tea and Dr. Pepper. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
Scarlett: Sour candy. I work out all the time to offset this incredibly bad habit.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Leah: I’ve been reading writing practically my whole life. I studied English and French literature in college and got my M.A. with a concentration in French literature in May 2013. Six months later, I first heard about NaNoWriMo from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I thought, “That sounds like fun! I’ll give it a shot!” It turns out NaNoWriMo was just what I needed to launch into novel writing: deadlines motivate me. And from my experiences writing and editing that first NaNo novel, I learned so much that I was able to apply to writing and revising my Pitch Wars novel, THE LOVE TEST.
Scarlett: The first romance book I ever read was Nora Robert’s Jewels of the Sun. I’d always been a big book club reader hitting all of Oprah’s picks, but I was stuck in Chicago O’Hare airport because of a snowstorm and was in need of cheering up. The bright yellow cover in the airport bookstore called to me. I sat down in the most uncomfortable plastic chair and devoured book one, and grabbed books two and three before the snow cleared so I could finish the series. Since then, I’ve never looked back. But the series that made me think ‘I want to do this’ was Jaci Burton’s Play-By-Play series. Meeting the Riley family, and seeing how Jaci built up the series made me want to try to write series romance.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Leah: I want to send out a huge thanks to Brenda Drake for being our Pitch Wars fairy godmother and making all the awesomeness happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Scarlett: I’d encourage any author thinking about mentoring to give it a shot. It was a phenomenal experience. A big thank you to Brenda for all the effort she puts into this. And HUGE congratulations to Leah on her success.
Thank you for sharing your success story, Leah and Scarlett. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and say hello, celebrate with them, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re awesome!
Leah is a Women’ Fiction writer represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of Donald Maass Literary Agency, member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a voracious reader, an advisor/teacher of college students, and a world traveler.
Scarlett wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Check through her office cupboards or her computer and you’ll find half written stories and character descriptions everywhere. Now she’s getting the chance to follow that dream. She’s represented by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency, NY. Check out her wonderful books here or on her Amazon Author Page.