A Pitch Wars Success Story with Mary C. Dunbar and her mentor, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Having our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal is one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Mary C. Dunbar and her mentor, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. Mary signed with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Mary and Laurie on their Pitch Wars Success.
Mary, what was it about Laurie that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
I knew Laurie was looking for YA contemporary manuscripts, and she had recently had her debut with Firsts. My manuscript touched on some of the notes that Laurie is great at dealing with in her writing – such as strained friendships, sex, and the MC facing his/her past. I tried to talk with all of the mentors I was considering on Twitter, and I really enjoyed interacting with Laurie. She seemed interested in my pitch, and I was excited to send her my application. When she asked to see the full, I was so excited I couldn’t send it fast enough.
Laurie, what was it about Mary’s THE WRECKAGE OF US that hooked you?
For starters… I had interacted with Mary on the #PitchWars Twitter hashtag, and checked out (ahem… stalked) her #PimpMyBio entry. I was so intrigued by her pitch and really, really hoped she would sub to me! When I saw her entry in my inbox, I did a little happy dance. I requested the full and the more I read, the more I absolutely knew I had to work with Mary. She is fantastic at showing the stakes in a pitch and also really understands the importance of voice. I appreciated that she took chances with her writing, and her style was so evocative and honest and real.
Mary, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Laurie sent me a very thorough edit letter addressing the areas that she felt that I could work on to make my manuscript stronger. She was so insightful and addressed everything from how to make my first scene pack a stronger punch to character motivation. I think she really liked the core of my story, and she had excellent ideas for making my chapter endings more powerful and ramping up the tension between characters. I tend to be a very character-driven writer, and Laurie showed me how I could have the characters carry more of the weight of the plot without losing any of their unique qualities.
I did several rounds of revisions with the edit letter in hand and with her in-document notes, and I sent my edits back to her in 50-100 page chunks so that I could make sure my changes were lining up with the ideas she suggested. We had a friendly back and forth dialogue about the revisions, and any time I felt stuck, I could send her what I was working on and she’d give me feedback to help get back on track.
Working on revisions was challenging, but it was SO worth it. Having a mentor like Laurie provided me a lot of insight into publishing and how the writer/agent can work, and I’m so happy that she chose my genre-bending story to work with.
Laurie, tell us about your experience mentoring Mary.
This was my first time mentoring in Pitch Wars, and let’s just say Mary set the bar incredibly high! From edit letter to final passes, she was so engaged and willing to work hard and listen to my suggestions. The spirit of Pitch Wars is being brave enough to tear your work apart to rebuild it better, and Mary wasn’t afraid to go there. We had such a great dialogue going—we bounced ideas off each other and worked together on every aspect of the book. Being able to accept and implement criticism is a huge part of growing as an author, and Mary totally shone. I never felt any trepidation to bring a suggestion to her because I knew she could handle it all!
Mary, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency. 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.
Rebecca Podos was one of my dream agents, and I didn’t get a request from her during Pitch Wars, so I was a little bummed out. I spaced my queries out, so hopefully I wouldn’t catch the agents who participated in Pitch Wars during a busy time. I ended up querying Becca in December, and she requested the same day. The very next day, I got an offer from another agent, so I had to turn around and send an “Offer of Representation” email. Becca said that she remembered my manuscript from Pitch Wars and had been interested but hadn’t requested because she had been ill. She promised to read quickly and get back in touch by my deadline.
Since it was mid-December and agencies were closing for the holidays, I set my deadline for Jan. 15. I’m glad I let agents have time to read, but oh my goodness, a month-long wait will drive you insane! Meanwhile I got a second offer, but I really wanted to hear back from Becca. All of my offers were fabulous agents, and even though I knew Becca was “the one,” it was hard to turn down the others.
On Jan. 11, she asked if we could set up a call, and she called me the next day. We had a great talk about my book and realizing that I know one of her other clients through SCBWI Midsouth. She also knows Laurie, so we gushed about her a little also, and Becca almost forgot to mention that she was offering.
Once she clarified that tiny little fact, she told me about her vision for THE WRECKAGE OF US, and it lined up perfectly with my own. Her revision suggestions were things I had been concerned about as I reflected on my manuscript after Pitch Wars, and even some things that Laurie and I had discussed that I hadn’t played up as much as I probably should have.
I went home that evening and told everyone I knew that I had found my agent. I also reached out to several of her clients and talked with them about working with her. Everyone spoke highly of her and said her edit letters were wonderful, insightful gems.
Even though I had made up my mind, I still had my manuscript out with several other agents, so I had to wait until Jan. 16 to tell her that I had chosen to sign with her. Since the 16th was a holiday, she sent the contract to me on Jan. 17, and I officially signed that day.
Before the week was over, she sent my edit letter, and I’m in the middle of revising right now. I’m so excited!
Mary, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Pitch Wars helped me in so, so, so many ways! Laurie’s insights about my manuscript helped me polish it to a state that was ready to pitch. My fellow mentees encouraged me when I was frustrated and cheered for me when I was excited (and let me do the same for them). Laurie and other mentees helped me perfect my query letter, and being in Pitch Wars gave me confidence in my writing that was lacking after I shelved my previous manuscript. I’d recommend Pitch Wars to anyone who is serious about having a career in writing. It’s an amazing experience!
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?
Mary: This is hard, but I think I’d choose the world of Harry Potter. Magic and castles? Yes, please. I’d love to teach Charms at Hogwarts.
Laurie: That’s such a tough question! Mary, can I join you in Harry Potter world? I’ll open my own pub and serve Butterbeer. Or hang out with the Weasley twins, because they know how to have fun.
Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?
Mary: I’ll pick Inej from SIX OF CROWS as my sidekick. Who wouldn’t be chasing us? Ha! We might not be faster than the bad guys on foot, but Inej would know how to escape and disappear. Kaz Brekker’s entire gang would be perfect sidekicks.
Laurie: It’s the known universe, and I’m running away from adults dressed as rabbits. (It’s a weird, irrational fear of mine.) My sidekick is, of course, my beloved little Chihuahua, Abby, because she goes everywhere with me!
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Mary: I don’t know that it’s an invention, but I’ve always wanted a magical wardrobe like in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. I spent a large potion of my childhood looking for it.
Laurie: I can be pretty scatterbrained, so I think I need my own Remembrall (from Harry Potter). It would be more fun than the Reminders app on my phone!
Share with us your writing process. Do you write everyday, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Mary: I don’t have a set process. As much as I would like to write every day, I can’t always schedule the time with a fulltime job and a busy family. I tend to write during breaks at work and in the evenings after everyone else goes to bed. When I’m in the middle of a project, I like to take a couple of hours after my day job once a week to go to a coffee shop or the library and focus.
I’m almost constantly brainstorming. If I’m sitting, I’m probably thinking about characters and plotting their next move or researching on my phone.
Laurie: When I’m drafting, I try to write every morning before work, and also on my lunch break. I’m more erratic on weekends—sometimes I binge write, and other times I take a break and binge Netflix instead. I can also be found wandering around typing in the Notes app on my phone, because when an idea strikes, you can’t ignore it! I write fast first drafts, so writing (almost) every day and keeping connected to the story is important to my writing process.
You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?
Mary: I need chocolate, pasta, coffee, and wine, and I’ll be set. I’d love to find a lodge or someplace with a gorgeous view where I can curl up in a window seat and write undisturbed until I’m finished. If it’s snowing, even better!
Laurie: Normally I’d say lots of coffee, but I’m expecting, so decaffeinated green tea it is! I’ll hide away in my home office, put on some music (I love writing to movie soundtracks), and keep a snack on hand that hopefully won’t make my keyboard greasy or orange. (I have a weakness for Cheetos and buttery popcorn, but almonds are less messy!)
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Mary: My writing buddies and CPs keep me motivated and inspired. We’re each other’s cheerleaders, and I always feel better after talking with them. Seeing my books on shelves in the bookstore has been my dream since I was in middle school, and that motivates me to keep trying.
Laurie: For me, it’s the knowledge that the more I write, the better I will get, and I always want to be improving. I also know that no matter how hard some days are, I feel my happiest and most fulfilled when I’m writing.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Mary: Keep working on your manuscripts. You never know when the right story will cross the right agent’s desk, and in the meantime, find your people, find your tribe, enter Pitch Wars and other contests, and push yourself to write better, fiercer, stronger words.
Laurie: Exactly what Mary said! And I’ll add—take risks. Don’t be afraid to write the story that scares you. If you’re passionate about it, that passion will come through in your writing. Remember—there are readers for your story, even if you don’t know them yet. Finding them is the hard part!
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Mary C. Dunbar
Mary has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. By day, she writes for a weekly newspaper and daydreams about her next story. She is a member of SCBWI Midsouth and lives in a small town where wrangles a preschooler, a husband, four cats, and a standard poodle. She writes YA contemporary that slips between genres and may or may not have ghosts. She is represented by Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency.
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, Firsts, is out now with Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press and was nominated as a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick. She is also the author of a series of short stories, The Boys Tell All, which is a featured series on Wattpad and has surpassed 330,000 reads. Her other short fiction has been named a finalist for the John Kenneth Gailbraith Literary Award.
Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris.
Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, and the world’s most spoiled Chihuahua, Abby. She loves lipstick, thrift stores, and champagne. Laurie is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.