A 2015 Pitch Wars Success Interview with M.K. England and her mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh
We hope you love these success stories as much as we do. After all the writing and revising, the critiquing and the crying, this is the time to celebrate all the hard earned successes for our Pitch Wars mentees and their mentors. Today, we celebrate with M.K. England and her mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh! Sometimes it takes more than a few weeks or even a few months, but M.K. and Sarah didn’t give up. After Pitch Wars 2015, M.K. signed with Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, who helped get M.K. a book deal with Abby Ranger at HarperCollins Children’s. Please join me in celebrating with M.K. and Sarah!
M.K., what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Sarah?
From her list of interests, I knew she was into the same kind of feel that I am. She specifically mentioned Firefly, which is a big comp title for THE DISASTERS, and also loved Avatar: TLA and Korra, Star Wars, and much more. She was also actively supportive of LGBTQ+ content. We’re also both board game nerds and love attending nerdy conventions, which were fun bits to have in common.
Sarah, what about M.K.’s application made you choose her?
I knew M.K.’s book was the one for me pretty much right when it hit my inbox; I had a serious flood of subs for Pitch Wars in 2015, yet M.K.’s sub was the only one I absolutely could NOT put down. I remember being in a bad mood/having a rough day, yet her ms made me laugh out loud multiple times! Her MC pretty much grabbed me by the hand and refused to let go until I’d followed him through his story, and the mix of action, humor/wit, and diversity that felt so true to our world won me over in an instant. There’s nothing sweeter or more appealing to me than sci-fi done well.
I also knew from M.K.’s application, and from emailing with her, that she was going to be a serious, dedicated worker, and I wasn’t disappointed! I also learned through emailing with her that we shared oh-so-many favorite books and fandoms–which, while of course not a factor for choosing a mentee, was the icing on the cake as I knew it meant we could become good friends in addition to the mentor relationship!
M.K., tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Stressful, but fun! I was still very young as a writer and had only written one [very bad] book before this one, so I was still learning how to revise. Sarah had me make a revision outline and do some other planning and analysis before I started, and it was my first time actually making changes that involved adding and deleting scenes, rather than rewriting within the existing structure. That sounds extremely amateur, but that’s the level I was at in fall of 2015! Now I gleefully rip apart my manuscripts and am obsessed with novel structure. Just goes to show how much you can grow and learn over the course of a year!
Sarah, tell us about your experience with mentoring M.K.:
M.K. was a dream to work with! She was really organized and an independent, hard worker throughout the process (I’m an independent worker, too, so I appreciated this about her). I was consistently impressed by how she built upon my ideas and took them in unexpected directions; she delighted me with a stellar revision and continued to work hard on the book even after Pitch Wars ended! Overall, I just feel like we approach the writing/revision process in a similar way, and that made it super easy to work with her!
M.K., after Pitch Wars you signed with Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary Agency, tell us about “The Call.”
Barbara and I actually had two calls because I did an R&R for her. In November 2015, she requested my full (with BBC Sherlock gifs, to my utter delight, we’re obviously soul mates), shotgunned it one day, and set up a phone call with me that same evening. My head was spinning! I was so excited and so hopeful for an offer but it ended up being, “England, this is good stuff, but here’s a laundry list of everything that’s wrong including some major plot changes I want.” B was amazing and excited about the book and also really intense, so I felt like I’d been hit by a bus when we got off the phone…but in the best way!
She hooked me up with two of her fabulous clients, Kerri Maniscalco (STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, now available!) and Sarah Nicole Lemon (DONE DIRT CHEAP, March 2017), who provided another round of very in-depth critiquing with B’s feedback in mind. I made the revisions, sent them over in late February, and got The Call: Part Two a few days later, on March 3rd. Actually, it was a voicemail, in which she sang to me and demanded a call back ASAP, which I received in between doing story times at the library. I freaked out, called her on my lunch break, fielded two more offers over the weekend, and accepted hers on Monday!
M.K., can you tell us the details about the offer: How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did they contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
Sarah and I actually went on sub on the same day, me for my PW book and her for her latest YA fantasy, which we celebrated by going out to dinner together on sub day. Fortunately, we both sold quickly! I was one of the lucky ones—I was only on submission for a few weeks before Abby Ranger at HarperCollins Children’s preempted the book. We had a phone call first, during which we discussed her vision for the book and my openness to further plot-level revisions, then a bit more time for the book to go through their acquisitions process. Before long, we had a deal! This all happened as I was in the middle of moving to another state and changing jobs, so I had plenty to distract me. My new co-workers probably thought I was a total slacker because I kept having to duck away to take phone calls! My partner and I celebrated with dinner and amazing beer at our favorite local restaurant. THE DISASTERS is coming from HarperCollins Children’s in Fall of 2018, plus a second unrelated book in Fall 2019. I can’t wait to share my space nerds with the world!
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
1) It got my manuscript in good enough shape to catch Barbara’s eye, and gave me practice in making larger changes during revision.
2) I got to put “#PitchWars” in my query letter. Even though Barbara wasn’t in the PW agent round, she already had several clients who had been mentors or mentees. She was familiar with the contest and the quality associated, so I imagine it probably helped.
3) I learned a ton from Sarah about how the publishing industry works post-agent signing, so I felt more prepared when it was time to go on sub and start working with my editor.
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)?
M.K.: It’s gotta be Hogwarts. Even though I’m all about space, Hogwarts is painted so vividly I can’t help but want it! I’m a first-rate Harry Potter nerd and a diehard Ravenclaw.
Sarah: Hogwarts, all the way! Slytherin here, though sometimes I get ‘Slytherpuff,’ which I think is due to my love of animals and gardening and whatnot. I’d also be happy attending Brakebills from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians–seems like a pretty tough place, but they sure learn cool magic.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
M.K.: Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle and I would wreck the patriarchy together. Rosemary from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet would be my confidant, since she seems open-minded and easy to talk to. My idol is Miss America Chavez from the Young Avengers. How can you NOT want to be her? And my ultimate enemy will always, ALWAYS be Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That woman… *shudder*
Sarah: I think I’d get along really well with Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones; we have similar personalities. Sabriel from the Abhorsen series would definitely be in my girl squad as a kick-butt ally (she’s more practical than me, and keeps a cooler head, so she’d be good to have around!), as would Julia from The Magicians–she wields some serious fire power. My idol is definitely Dutch from the sci-fi show Killjoys; I want her confidence and mad skills at just about everything! As for a fictional enemy…Dolores Umbridge, all the way. I don’t think she needs an explanation! (And see? M.K. and I really are alike; we share an enemy in that foul Umbridge woman!).
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
M.K.: November cakes from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I’m a sucker for any kind of sticky bun with icing.
Sarah: Nuka Cola Quantum from Fallout 4 seems pretty magical. I wouldn’t say no to some Lembas Bread from Lord of the Rings either.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
M.K.: …flightsuit, hop into my X-wing, and fly loops around them like Poe Dameron.
Sarah: Attack bird! …Okay, my bird is still pretty young, but he’s been in a bitey-flappy-squawky mood lately–I wouldn’t want to cross him!
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
M.K.: Wasabi peas, a tradition started during NaNoWriMo 2014 with my writing wife, Lisen Minetti.
Sarah: I run mostly on chocolate, like Kit-Kat bars and Milky Way ‘Simply Caramel’; they’re good for the soul! Also green tea.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
M.K.: I’ve wanted to write since I was a child, so there are probably many answers to this, but the person who should get the credit is Maggie Stiefvater. At the same time I was reading the first two Raven Cycle books in early 2014, I started pouring over her backlog of writing advice blog posts. I found some words there that not only got my butt in the chair, but kept it there.
Sarah: Patricia McKillip’s beautiful fantasies, like Ombria in Shadow and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, read as if you’re straying through someone else’s dream; their blend of lyrical prose and romantic elements captured my imagination so completely. They made me start listening more carefully to the stories in my head waiting to be told. Tolkien, Rowling, Nix, and Gaiman might’ve had something to do with it, too!
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
M.K.: To the PW hopefuls out there: Always be learning! Listen to podcasts about writing and publishing, read books on the craft, make twitter lists of agents, editors, and authors who say smart things. Absorb as much as you can. I’ve never taken a single writing class in my life, but I have absolutely made learning about writing and publishing a priority. Writing classes are great if you can afford them, but if you can’t there are still plenty of ways to educate yourself. Just make sure it doesn’t take too much time away from the only thing that will really make you a better writer: Writing!
Sarah: I think M.K. covered it pretty well above, so I’ll just say: I’m so grateful to Pitch Wars for bringing us together and giving me a new lifelong author friend!
CONGRATULATIONS! We wish you the very best in all your writing endeavors!
Megan K. England is a writer and YA librarian living in the mountainy parts of Virginia. Before that, she was an experimental music composer, a book store clerk, a concessions worker, a customer service punching bag, a teaching assistant, and many other things that will never be nearly as cool. Young Adult is her category of choice for both writing and librarianing; she spends her days hanging out with teens at the library and thinks they’re the best people to write about.
Her professional writing and research includes topics close to her heart such as LGBTQ fiction for teens, diversity in youth literature, and makerspaces in public libraries. She is a member of many outstanding professional groups for writers and librarians (listed below) and is an active presenter at local and national conferences. Megan identifies as queer (bisexual and genderqueer) and is a fierce defender of fandom, fanworks, and fan culture.
When she’s not writing or librarianing, Megan can be found drowning in fandom, going to conventions, climbing on things the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or improvising truly terrible songs about her dogs. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if she never speaks of BBC Sherlock. She has it bad.
Go here to see M.K.’s Book Deal Announcement — (Sarah is in here too, for one of her picture books!)
Sarah Glenn Marsh
Sarah Glenn Marsh writes young adult novels and children’s picture books. An avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life, she’s been making up words and worlds ever since.
When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys watercolor painting, ghost hunting, and pursuits of the nerd variety, from video games to tabletop adventures. She’s never met an animal or a doughnut she didn’t like.
Sarah lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and their tiny zoo of four rescued greyhounds, a bird, and many fish. She is the author of Fear the Drowning Deep, the Reign of the Fallen duology, and several picture books.
Latest YA Book Deal Announcement (the project I sold while on sub at the same time as M.K.)