A Pitch Wars Success Story with Tobey Forney and her mentor Laura Heffernan
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 Tobey Forney and her mentor, Laura Heffernan. Tobey signed with Liz Parker of Inkwell Management Literary Agency after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Tobey and Laura on their Pitch Wars Success!
Tobey, what was it about Laura that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
I knew I wanted to submit to Laura immediately when I read her bio. Her energy and enthusiasm for writing, editing, and the Oxford comma jumped off the page. When I Twitter-stalked her, I found that she was very open, funny, and loves chocolate, so I knew we’d get along. We both love women’s fiction and time-travel books, and we’re fellow Mensans. It was meant to be.
Laura, what was it about Tobey’s 101 NORTH that hooked you?
The writing is so haunting and beautiful. I couldn’t stop reading. The entry actually came in fairly early in the submissions period, and I kept saying, “Well, I really want to pick something light and funny to work with… I’ll just read a few more pages.” Finally, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to pay any attention to my other submissions until I finished 101 NORTH, and I devoured the manuscript in a couple of hours.
Tobey, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
I was a Ninja-mentee, not officially announced until late October. Laura was incredibly supportive and helpful, and sent a long list of edits that I was eager to get to work on. I worked under the radar, trying to follow the same schedule as the other mentees. I kept up the pace for a while, but inevitably life intervened, and I wasn’t where I wanted to be when I got word that I would be participating in the agent round – excitement and panic set in simultaneously. I sent Laura my manuscript in chunks, working around the clock to incorporate her comments as I went along. I was changing tense and POV in one of the rounds, as well as story edits, so it was a huge challenge to get it all done without going cross-eyed. Laura was fantastic, always so quick to respond to my questions and giving me great advice on polishing my prose and my pitch. I thought I was the world’s biggest pedant, but Laura taught me a thing or two. She opened my eyes to things in my manuscript I knew were bad but didn’t realize I was doing (filter words everywhere!) I am incredibly grateful to her for helping make my manuscript shine.
Laura, tell us about your experience mentoring Tobey.
Tobey was basically a dream to work with. Her writing is beautiful, she’s a hard worker, and she didn’t need help with any of the mechanics. Basically, I sent her feedback about big picture issues, and she’d implement my changes flawlessly.
Tobey, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Liz Parker of Inkwell Management. 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.
I met Liz originally at a conference in June, where she requested the first 50 pages of my manuscript. But because of revisions and Pitch Wars, I didn’t end up sending her the pages until after the agent round, along with all of the other requests. In March, while I was on spring break in Colorado with my family, I finally received an offer of representation, and sent e-mail nudges to the other agents who had requested pages. Liz responded right away, requesting the full manuscript. Two days later, she emailed me saying she loved it, but that she had some comments, and that she’d love to talk if I’d be willing to consider them. I was excited about the prospect of working with her and interested in hearing her thoughts, so we had the call.
When she told me that she’d like for me to cut out the middle third of my story and bring in a new character to give the story another narrative arc, I was a little intimidated. But the more I thought about her idea, the more I realized that it was exactly what my story needed, and I began to get excited. The new character started to come alive almost immediately. I loved that Liz was willing to take me on as a client and work with me through these revisions, and I knew I had to work with her to bring out the best version of my book.
The other offers I had were from incredible and successful agents that I would have been honored to work with, but Liz’s vision for 101 North was impossible to pass up.
Tobey, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Pitch Wars has been an incredible learning experience for me. Working with Laura on a deadline was the impetus I needed to get the revisions done. It also gave me much-needed confidence in my writing. Knowing that she loved the manuscript was sometimes the only thing that kept me going. Being a part of the Pitch Wars community has been the icing on the cake. I’ve made friends with other writers who are on the same journey, and we share encouragement and resources. I tend towards introversion (especially on social media), so having a community to rely on has made this journey a little less lonely and a lot more fun.
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?
Tobey: ): Narnia. It was my introduction to fantasy, my first alternate universe. I read each book in the Chronicles so many times as a child that I still believe Narnia is real. I would have tea with Mr. Tumnus, visit the Beavers, and go everywhere on Aslan’s back. In my view, Narnia is a magical, more wholesome, less plasticky version of reality.
Laura: Hogwarts, so I could learn magic. Because magic!
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?
Tobey: I’m running from artificial consciousness bent on world domination and Neo is at my side, turning perceived reality into binary code.
Laura: We’re probably running from Daileks, because I want the Doctor as my sidekick. He has a sonic screwdriver, and a time machine.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Tobey: Without a doubt, the Tesseract from A Wrinkle in Time. I’d love to travel the universe far and wide, then come back and tell everyone its secrets.
Laura: Probably the aforementioned sonic screwdriver, although that’s a TV show. I wouldn’t mind having a purse like Hermione’s from Deathly Hallows. Ohhh, or a copy of the Hitckhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That would be cool, especially if it came with a babelfish.
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?
Tobey: I have three kids and I’m starting two businesses, so I write when I can. I wake up at 5 am when I’m writing so that I can get a precious, quiet hour in before the day descends on me. Then I work for another hour or two after I get the kids off to school. I tote my laptop with me wherever I go in case I have downtime. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes, I’ll take out my computer and start writing. Magic can happen in those fifteen minutes. I also get inspiration in yoga class and on walks. When it hits, I email notes to myself so I don’t forget.
Laura: I write when I have an idea I’m working on, usually in the mornings. I like to try to get a couple thousand words out before breakfast. Sometimes I’ll sprint with other writers if I feel like I’m behind in my word count or really want to get an idea out. But my process is pretty variable. I don’t write every day, because I’ve found that forcing myself to write when I don’t have anything to say makes me resentfully churn out garbage I just have to delete later.
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?
Tobey: Any Starbucks, with a bottomless cappuccino (I’m not sleeping, since I’m on deadline), salted dark chocolate and a huge bottle of water.
Laura: Chocolate chip cookie dough, Cadbury mini-eggs, and cinnamon coffee with chocolate milk until I’m done. I’d probably hide in my office, although on a nice day, I’d go sit on my back patio instead.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Tobey: I have a monkey on my back that won’t leave me alone. If I’m not writing, the monkey’s not happy. One of my best friends is also a writer, and she inspires me each day. We brainstorm story ideas and work through plot holes. We also talk each other off the ledge and inspire each other to keep going. My husband is also an unflagging supporter of my writing, and will take the kids to Chick fil-a for dinner on a moment’s notice. And my kids love that I write. By chasing a writing career, I hope to show them that doing what they love is within the realm of possibility, something that I had to figure out on my own.
Laura: My other writing friends, including several PitchWars mentors, are my biggest support. I’d never have made it this far without them. Writing is such a solitary act, nothing is more important than finding other writers to share successes and frustrating moments with.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Tobey: Just a huge thank you to Brenda, Heather, Laura, and the entire Pitch Wars community. I’m so happy to be a part of it!
Laura: Winguardiam leviosa? (I panicked.) Ok, but seriously, I love this manuscript so much, and I can’t wait for the world to get to read it.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Tobey Forney – Mentee
Tobey always wanted to be a writer, so she majored in chemistry and went to law school. When she realized her law firm didn’t pay salaries for writing books, she took time off to raise her kids and her imaginary characters, and to chase down the story ideas floating around in her head. She’s currently at work on her debut novel, 101 North, which centers on two women impacted by 9/11: Erin, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, and Rosie, the 9-1-1 dispatcher who heard his last words. Tobey’s a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, a nonprofit attorney, Mensa member, Presidential Scholar, and member of the Writer’s League of Texas. She is represented by Liz Parker at InkWell Management.
Laura Heffernan – Mentor
Laura is a California-born women’s fiction writer, represented by Michelle Richter at Fuse Literary. One Saturday morning when she was four or five, Laura sat down at the family’s Commodore 64 and typed out her first short story. She’s written both fiction and non-fiction ever since. Laura also works as a freelance editor and interns for a super cool literary agent. She is the author of AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR (Kensington) & SWEET REALITY (9/5). http://amzn.to/29HvlW4