A Pitch Wars Success Interview with Emma Nelson and her mentor, Jennie Nash
When our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal, it’s one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Emma Nelson and her mentor, Jennie Nash. Emma signed with Amanda Ayers Barnett of Donaghy Literary Group after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Emma and Jennie on their Pitch Wars Success!
Emma, what was it about Jennie that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
When I decided to apply to Pitch Wars, I spent several hours obsessing over each of the mentors. I checked out their mentor bios, websites, and social media. I was so drawn to Jennie because of her online presence and the fact that book mentoring was literally what she did for a living. I loved that she seemed so disciplined and structured and successful at helping many books come together. I wanted to be part of that!
Jennie, what was it about Emma’s manuscript that hooked you?
Emma’s manuscript had something about it that just kept calling to me. It had a very ambitious concept, a fun plot, great characters and all kinds of action — which are all great things — but a lot of entries had those things. Emma’s writing had something else that was special about it — a kind of pizazz. I could tell I was in the presence of a real storyteller.
Emma, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
The first thing we did was have a long call, I think it was almost two hours, where we talked about things we needed to nail down. They were big questions like genre, age category, MC’s internal goals, stuff like that. It felt like the most work was in the weeks before I actually started revising, because Jennie was adamant that I had to solidify the underpinnings before I could do anything with the plot or characters. After that, we did a few rounds of big content edits, and then some line edits/minor tweaking. We worked big to small, and it was a really great process that improved the book tremendously.
Jennie, tell us about your experience mentoring Emma.
She was the dream writer because she did a TON of hard work BEFORE we even started doing revisions. It was all the work she needed to do to answer who her main character really was, and what was actually happening to her on a soul level. It was the hard stuff, and Emma never complained or balked or said there wasn’t time. Plus in the middle of it she has a personal family emergency and had to stop working — but then she came back again with a vengeance and saw the project all the way through. She was amazing.
Emma, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Amanda Ayers Barnett of Donaghy Literary 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.
The day after PW, I started querying agents. It was such weird timing, partially because of the depressing election, partially because of the holidays, so I’d only sent out around 25 queries before I stopped for the year. On December 31st–the last day of the year–I got an email while I was at a family party. I’d had a few requests, but mostly form rejections, so I saw the first line pop up in response to a full — “I’ve had a chance to read your manuscript” — and then I didn’t open it to read the rest. I assumed it was a rejection. About an hour later, I put on my big girl panties and opened the email. It said that she’d read the whole manuscript…and she’d like to talk on the phone! I was so excited and surprised. She wasn’t one of the PW agents I thought I’d hear back from right away. She wasn’t an agent I knew a lot about. But I emailed her back right away and we set up a call.
It was a good call. We talked about what else I’d written, her background, her vision for my book, stuff like that. I had a two-page list of questions, but mostly I didn’t ask any of them. I hung up the phone and…cried. I’m not a crier AT ALL, and I was surprised that they weren’t tears of joy. I felt strangely deflated. After so many years of querying, so many books queried, the stress of Pitch Wars, and the stress of querying when PW didn’t go as planned, I felt exhausted. I know that sounds lame, but it took me a few days to get really, really excited. It wasn’t a reflection on the agent, I was just overwhelmed. (It was the same way when I had new babies. Maybe I’m strange.)
I didn’t have a lot of MSs out at that point. Four still from PW and a few from cold queries. I followed up with them and amidst the rejections, I got two R&Rs. One was easy to dismiss, but one was from a woman who has been my dream agent for years. My CPs know her by first name. She’s the agent I always imagined signing with. Getting an R&R from her was kind of crushing—both because it wasn’t an actual offer and because I seriously thought I would take it over the offer I had. R&R Agent and I emailed back and forth, and I really felt that it was worth risking the R&R to have the chance at working with her. I talked with my mentor on the phone, I talked to my agented CPs, and I thought a lot about it. But as the deadline got closer, I played the conversation with the first agent over and over in my head. Where the R&R agent wanted major plot changes, the offering agent loved those same elements. I called Jennie and said, “R&R Agent wants me to get rid of X.” She said, “Oh, but I love X.” It was the first time I thought that maybe R&R Agent wasn’t the best agent for this particular project, no matter how much I idolized her.
The more I thought about it, the more excited I became about the idea of working with a new agent who didn’t have as many clients, who loved the concept of my book, who had a good vision of where she saw it going. I became more and more convinced that THE ONE had shifted, and the unexpected offering agent was the one for me. I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
Two weeks after the initial call, I signed with Amanda Ayers Barnett at Donaghy Literary. She’s pragmatic and super smart and creative, and I’m beyond thrilled to be working with her. I truly believe that she’s worth all the heartache and years of waiting.
Emma, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
It absolutely helped with the book, the query, everything. PW helped me to make the book the very best I could BEFORE submitting it. I was frantically editing up to the night before the MSs were due, because it gave me a reason to go over it one more time and catch what I could. And then it gave me a mentor with a new perspective on what did and didn’t work. Working with Jennie was essential to me fine-tuning the plot and delving deeper into the characters. The book is so much better because of PW, and even though I didn’t sign with a PW agent, I know that I queried a better product than I would have without it.
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?
Emma: This one is tricky because I tend to read darker fiction, and I have no desire to live in a zombie-infested dystopian or an evil empire or a serial-killer plagued city. But one book that I’ve read recently in which I thought the world building was incredible was Heartless by Marissa Meyer. The world was so interesting in its own way, even though it was a new take on Wonderland, and it was so flawless that a rabbit in pants or a talking cat could show up, and they seemed absolutely normal and believable. I would want to live in this world early, before the terror and sadness hit. I’d help Catherine at her bakery, watch the incredible magic tricks, and invite myself to all of the tea parties.
Jennie: I would go to the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and I would work with my neighbors to build a solid little house on the banks of a creek. I would make soap and carve wooden spoons and go into town to splurge on flannel to make warm clothes for my loving family. I am drawn to how simple that life seemed. It wasn’t an easy life, of course, but it seems so much less confusing than ours.
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?
Emma: We could be running from anything at all, and I’d pick the same sidekick every time: Furiosa from Mad Max. She has a great heart, she’s fearless in the face of tyranny, and she’s absolutely badass in a high-speed chase. Together, she and I could dominate.
Jennie: I can’t read or watch physical violence so my bad guys would have to be doing something psychologically or morally insidious like banning books or embezzling money from the good guys. And without question I would have Jason Bourne by side because he’s ruthless and awesome, he drives a mean car in a chase, and he happens to be the spitting image of my husband, which would please me.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Emma: I really loved the virtual reality of Ready Player One. I think it’s an awesome concept, and it would be so fun to play in different worlds and fight virtual bad guys instead of the real ones.
(Do these answers make you wonder how in the world Jennie picked me? I’m really into genre fiction, and she’s almost exclusively into contemporary and historical reality. It makes me unbelievably happy that we’re SO different but still worked together so well! 🙂 )
Jennie: (In response to Emma’s comment, above, all I can say is that story is story is story. I love a good story no matter the genre! I was not looking for genre fiction, but I was looking for a tale really well told — which she definitely had!)
I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars (very late to the party, I know) and I loved that John Green invented a cancer drug that doesn’t yet exist so that his character could live a few more good years. At the end of the book, he says, “Note: this drug is not real. I made it up because I wish it existed” (or something close to that.) I read that line again and again because I thought, YES, John Green!! Seize the power! If we can’t make a better life here on earth, we can make it so in our books.
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?
Emma: I can’t get rid of my kids long enough to do any kind of dedicated routine, so I’ve gotten good at sprints. I usually do 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, depending on when I can fit them in. I’ve learned to be really fast and focused for 20 minutes, so I’m usually way more productive in those sprints than I am if I have long chunks of time. I do at least one sprint every single day.
Jennie: I write in sprints, often late at night or early in the morning. My babies are grown up and gone so I have the luxury of a quiet house.
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?
Emma: When I can get away, I usually go to the local library, put in my headphones, and bang things out. Since I can’t eat in there, I’ll have a bottle of water and save the snacks for rewarding myself when I’m finished!
Jennie: I would not leave my house or my office. It is my favorite place in the world to think and to write. It’s nothing super special, but the walls are orange, the spirit here is happy, I can close the doors, and it is almost always perfectly silent. I would step out to the kitchen at regular intervals for coffee and tea, and the fridge would be full of awesome leftovers — turkey chili, roasted veggies, maybe some of my mother’s cheesecake.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Emma: I’m really, really lucky. I have a husband who’s supportive, I have siblings and parents who always ask how the writing is going, I have the best CPs, I have awesome writer friends I’ve met through conferences and projects. I’m as lucky as can be. If I fail, it’s entirely on me, because I have all the support anyone could ask for. Beyond that, I stay motivated because I really believe that as long as I’m working toward my goals, I will be successful. And there’s nothing I want more than to succeed at being a writer.
Jennie: I am constantly inspired by the writers I help through my coaching. I get to watch people pushing through the difficulties up close, and see their courage and persistence. It never fails to inspire me in my own work.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Emma: I love Jennie Nash with all my heart. I’m so grateful to Brenda, to PW, to the amazing community of PW mentees who have inspired me and kept me going. I’m so honored to be part of such an incredible group of writers. And I’m thrilled to see where the journey goes with agent Amanda.
Jennie: I love you, too Emma! just want to say congratulations and enjoy the ride!
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Emma Nelson is an avid reader, aspiring writer, and is obsessed with finding the best resources on writing craft–from inception to publication. She’s a mom to three munchkins, with whom she has spontaneous dance parties and plays more princess dress-up and Super Mario Brothers than she cares to admit. She has an M.A. in American Literature, is a monster board game collector, a Wunderkammer aficionado, and a lover of all things fall and Halloween.
And she loves to write.
Jennie Nash is a book coach and the Chief Creative Officer of AuthorAccelerator.com, a coaching program that gives writers weekly personalized feedback at the start of your book, during the writing of it, and when it’s time to pitch. Visit her at jennienash.com.