A Pitch Wars Success Interview with Eric Bell, His Mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza, and Agent Brent Taylor!
The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate Eric Bell, his Pitch Wars mentor, Joy McCullough-Carranza, and the agent he recently signed with, the lovely and amazing Brent Taylor of Triada US! We couldn’t be more thrilled for them. So without further ado, please meet Eric, Joy, and Brent as they recap their epic Pitch Wars success story.
Eric, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Joy?
I was just wrapping up the first draft of my new manuscript when I learned about Pitch Wars. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to get some great, intensive feedback, improve my skills, and potentially—gasp—put my work in front of agents! Joy seemed like she would be a great fit as a mentor; her critiquing style really appealed to me. And my book fit, like, four categories of things she said she was looking for, so that was nice!
Joy, what about Eric’s application made you choose him?
The voice in Eric’s pages LEAPT off the pages immediately. It was the best voice I’d ever seen in a Pitchwars entry and I laughed out loud multiple times on the first page alone. I was also pulled in by the subject matter – MG readers need to see more LGBTQ characters on the page, and I love that Eric’s story offers that so directly.
Eric, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars.
First, Joy sent me an editorial letter with broad changes she thought would be good for me to implement. Every primary character but two—the main character and his goofy, scene-stealing friend—had notes. Joy felt like the plot structure was in decent shape, so she only had a few smaller fixes for that. After I got those revisions to her, Joy sent me line edits, which went into detail about some of the micro-level problems with the manuscript (so many “just”s! So many ellipses!), as well as some of her issues from before that she felt I didn’t address thoroughly enough.
Additionally, Joy worked with other PW mentors—Rebecca Wells and Jessica Vitalis—to find beta readers to address the cultural issues in my book.
Overall the experience was intense, but in the best possible way. Joy and I worked well together. She taught me so much, not just about writing, but about publishing as a whole and even learning to be kind to myself.
Joy, tell us about your experience with mentoring Eric. How was mentoring your other team members?
Eric was great to work with. We had a lot of back and forth and he wasn’t afraid to push back when he disagreed with a critique, but mostly he was really receptive and eager to put in a lot of hard work, which he did. Last year (through a set of circumstances that will not be repeated) I ended up with three mentees. It could have easily been way too much, but they were all three so wonderful and such hard workers that it was a thrilling, energizing time. And all three have agents now, so any craziness was worth it!
Eric, after Pitch Wars you signed with Brent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency. Tell us about “The Call.” How did Brent contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I had accumulated a decent number of requests from my PW excerpt. I had originally planned on waiting until the week was over to start sending requested materials, but Joy convinced me to strike while the iron was hot. Brent Taylor was the first agent to request, so I sent him the full at 4:57pm. Around 7pm I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. When I listened to the voicemail, it was Brent—he’d finished the whole book in two hours and he wanted to call because he had “many a thought and a question” (I’m not relying on memory here, I still have the voicemail saved!). Needless to say, I was floored. I sent a Joy a panicked email literally asking “how do I not screw this up” in all caps. She gave me some encouragement and some good questions to ask, and I was ready to embark on my Call.
Well, as ready as I’d ever be.
Brent and I talked for about an hour. His enthusiasm was incredible, his personal connection with the book was almost spiritual, his determination to be my agent almost scary. I was nervous as hell, but in a good way; I was so floored that someone, let alone an agent, could have reacted to something I’d written in such an overwhelmingly positive way.
A week and a half later, I had gotten nine more offers from different agents. I weighed all the factors and I still know I made the right choice. Viva Brent!
Brent, what about Eric’s manuscript made you decide to offer representation? Tell us about “The Call” from your perspective.
Oh my gosh, I knew from page one that ALAN KIM IS NOT A COWARD was something special. I grew up as a gay kid in the south with not that much exposure to any gay representation whatsoever, and finding books featuring kids like me was extremely difficult. Eric sent me his manuscript at 4:57 PM on a Thursday, and I immediately dug in. I read the book in two hours and called my boss, begging for his permission to do absolutely whatever in the world it took to make Eric and his special manuscript mine. I called Eric at about 8:00 PM and poured my freaking heart out. This book meant the absolute world—no, the universe—to me, and I made it clear to Eric that I just wasn’t taking no for an answer. I can’t put into words what meeting Alan Kim would have meant to the 12-year-old Brent Taylor.
Eric, how long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself?
We were on submission for about a month. I distracted myself by working on my followup book. I don’t know that the distraction was always distracting enough though!
Brent, what is being on submission like for an agent?
Eric, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?Remember when I said I wanted Pitch Wars to help improve my skills and get great feedback and put my work in front of agents? I got all of that, and more. Under Joy’s care I blossomed as a writer and a person, and I have an agent—and a book deal!—to show for it.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you all 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?
Eric: Doug Swieteck from OKAY FOR NOW and I are about to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. He won’t know what to do with the size of the portions! Whatever he wants, I’m treating. Kid’s got enough problems in his life without paying for a gigantic burger or plate of pasta.
Joy: I love how this question sneakily tries to get me to choose a single favorite book. Nice try, Brenda! I’m going to continue my pattern (having answered this question previously with Etienne St. Clair from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS) of choosing a swoony YA boy. Having recently finished the marvelous THE WINNER’S KISS by Marie Rutkoski, I’m going to say Arin, and I really couldn’t care less what we’re eating. Because I’m with Arin.
Brent: I have so many favorite characters from a ton of books, but for the purposes of this interview I’m going to say that Alan Kim and I are enjoying a casual lunch at O’Charleys, eating chicken tenders, drinking Mt. Dew, and trying to save room for caramel pie.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
Eric: I want to sit down with Gary Schmidt and absorb all of his writing craft like some type of narrative sponge or voice vampire.
Joy: This time around I have to say Lin-Manuel Miranda, because I am completely Hamilton-obsessed, not to mention I also write plays, and he is a genius whose mind I would really love to get a closer glimpse at. I don’t care what we’d do, but it would be awesome to sit in on one of his rehearsals.
Brent: I’m fortunate that my job in publishing has allowed me to spend time with a handful of my favorite authors, but I’ll be ambitious in my answer: a day with Jerry Spinelli where we discuss all the misadventures I got into as a kid as a result of his stories and characters and the humongous influence they had over me.
What book character or movie character best describes your personality?
Eric: On good days, Stargirl Caraway. Kind-hearted and unabashedly herself. On bad days, Peter Pettigrew (minus all the really bad stuff he did). Anxious and afraid to speak up for himself. Fortunately there are more Stargirl days than Wormtail days lately.
Joy: In my last success story interview, I said Hermione Granger, and that really hasn’t changed. Though my husband does refer to me as Minerva (as in, McGonagall) when I’m stern with the kids.
Brent: I feel a deep connection to Max from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
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?
Eric: Team me up with Hermione Granger, because she’ll have an answer to every possible obstacle and she’ll ingest an entire atlas in preparation for the journey. Or team me up with Popeye, who can just lasso the Grand Canyon together and save us a few extra miles.
Joy: Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials, because she’s smart and scrappy and fearless, plus her daemon Pan could come in very handy on the race as he can shape shift into the different animals.
Brent: A character from ALAN KIM IS NOT A COWARD named Zack, who is rambunctious and filled with more energy than I’ve ever encountered in anyone—fictional or in real life!
You only have two hours to finish edits, where do you go for some quiet time?
Eric: My room’s quiet enough. If I get distracted by shiny objects or the internet, I can go to Barnes and Noble.
Joy: I stay in my house and send my husband and kids out so it’s quiet.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Eric: Thanks so much to Brenda for making the whole thing happen. I’m thrilled and privileged and humbled to be in this position.
Joy: Pitchwars continues to be one of the brightest spots on my publishing journey, and I’m thrilled to have had a chance to be part of the development of this book, which I hope will really touch readers who need to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book, as well as readers who never expected to connect with a character like Alan Kim.
Brent: Pitch Wars is such an amazing opportunity for unpublished writers, and I’m so grateful to everyone involved (especially Brenda and Joy!). I can’t wait to see what Pitch Wars 2016 looks like.
Thank you for sharing your success story. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS!
I’ve been writing ever since I learned the alphabet, but I only got into writing as a career path within the past few years. My debut middle grade novel ALAN KIM IS NOT A COWARD, about a gay twelve-year-old boy blackmailed into playing a high-stakes competition with his bully big brother, is due out Summer 2017 from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. I am represented by Brent Taylor of Triada US Literary Agency.
I enjoy strawberries, video game music, pretending to be an adult, and sarcasm. I do not enjoy long walks on the beach. Everyone always says they enjoy long walks on the beach. I am firmly taking a stand against long walks on the beach. You could say I’m pretty crabby about it.
Joy writes plays and children’s fiction. She has a degree in theater from Northwestern University. Her plays have been developed and produced in Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, and New York. In 2012 her middle grade novel FRAMED made the long list for the Times of London/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize. In 2013, her middle grade novel NOWHERE BIRDS made the long list for the same prize. Joy is a Pitchwars mentor and an MG/YA editor with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Her fiction is represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.
Associate Literary Agent Brent Taylor’s tastes are eclectic, but all of his favorite novels are similar in that they tend to have fresh voice and fantastic writing.
He is seeking smart, fun, and exciting books in the following categories: middle grade, young adult, women’s fiction, literary fiction, and crime fiction. His favorite books include: The Time Traveler’s Wife, White Oleander, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and The Westing Game.