Pitch Wars 2016 Success Interview with Sarena and Sasha Nanua and their mentor Stephanie Scott
Our favorite part of hosting pitch contests around here is hearing about successes. Today we celebrate Sarena and Sasha Nanua and their Pitch Wars mentor Stephanie Scott! Sarena and Sasha recently signed with Peter Knapp of Park Literary & Media, and we’re so over-the-moon excited for them. So please join me in congratulating Sarena and Sasha and Stephanie as they share with us their awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Sarena and Sasha, what was it about Stephanie that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
We loved Stephanie’s bio—she mentioned how she was looking for manuscripts about teens with unique and strong passions, which meshes with our main character’s love for cooking. We also tweeted her to see if she would be interested in reading our book (based on concept), and she said sure, so we went for it! Plus, we’re all #TeamGale 😊
Stephanie, what was it about Sarena and Sasha’s A TASTE OF DARKNESS that hooked you?
The pitch was Willy Wonka meets Chopped – a reality show cooking competition set at culinary institute that previously shuttered due to scandal. What hooked me more was the family dynamics, of a girl torn between her own culinary dreams and studying something more practical to care for her family. The character’s connection to her grandfather was sweet and added a mystery element with his connection to the institute.
Sarena and Sasha, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
It was definitely a unique experience. Prior to this, only 1 other published author had read this book, and that was in its ugly 2nd draft stage. We were so thankful that Stephanie had a great vision for it. Mostly, we really had to “up” the stakes—make it bigger, both internally and externally for Tessa, our main character. We changed the book from 3rd to 1st person and changed a lot of the plot. Looking back on it now, it was a lot to do, but we’re both very thankful we had this experience. If it weren’t for Stephanie’s guidance, we would probably be lost tackling edits for our new book from our agent. Even though we had school, we were able to wrap up edits during the agent round. We would send out sections of the book as we edited it so Stephanie could give us her thoughts throughout the process.
Stephanie, tell us about your experience mentoring Sarena and Sasha.
Sarena and Sasha were a dream to work with! Despite currently attending college, they turned in edits ahead of deadlines. They were eager to learn. Some decisions in editing don’t have a clear cut answer, and they both did really well in determining what to keep or cut. The point of view changed from third person to first in the revision – that was the authors’ choice that I supported, and they turned those changes around like pros.
Sarena and Sasha, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Peter Knapp of Park Literary & Media. 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.
We’re still shocked by how quickly things have gone. Though we didn’t sign with our PitchWars book, that experience really helped us edit this new book faster and more efficiently (we started it in December, after PitchWars). We entered the book in #DVpit in April to test the waters and see the reaction. We chose agents to send to from the requests and ended up with a full request from Pete the night we sent our query to him. That weekend, he read the book and we scheduled a call for Monday, when he offered representation. Honestly, I remember being on the Call, thinking, “Is this real? Does he actually LIKE this book?” It was shocking to say the least, especially after almost 2 years of querying this other PitchWars novel (sporadically, but still). We spoke for over an hour. He told us a lot about his agency and what they do, and asked us about our process and how we began writing. (We also have our own self-published trilogy, so we talked about that, too.) I remember him saying that he stayed up past midnight to finish our book. Even over a month later, I still can’t believe we have such an awesome agent on our side.
We sent out our “offer of rep” emails that day and ended up with 5 total offers over the 9-10 day waiting period. And waiting was STRESSFUL. A lot of people don’t talk about that aspect of getting offers. Still, the hardest part was saying “no” to those other amazing agents. They were all such great, genuine people we’ve admired for a long time. It’s hard to remember that agents are just people, and they get rejections, too. It was weird to be the one saying “no” rather than the one receiving it.
I remember trying to read and relax that week, but every time I picked up a book, I got distracted. We started summer school that week, so that was a pleasant distraction from our email. We tried to do some mini-celebrations (going out for Mother’s Day for example), and bought some books … hey, that’s totally acceptable, right? #treatyoself
Sarena and Sasha, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
It definitely helped us hone in on our editing process. Stephanie’s edit letter proposed a lot of good changes; similarly, our agent has recently given us an edit letter that has made us brainstorm a lot of new things. I feel like PitchWars allowed us the opportunity to learn how to rip a book apart and make it better. It wasn’t even “ripping” necessarily; it was learning how to enhance our work and take it to the next level.
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?
Sarena and Sasha: Hogwarts, no question! We are both huge HP fans. Sasha is Gryffindor and I’m Ravenclaw; we like to think of ourselves as real-life versions of Padma and Parvati Patil.
Stephanie: I have to join in Hogwarts. I’m Ravenclaw and have a strong interest in potion crafting.
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?
Sarena and Sasha: Probably running from Professor Umbridge. Hermione would be a great side-kick 😊
Stephanie: I’d like to imagine myself with the Fast & Furious crew driving with Gal Gadot (pre-Wonder Woman!) in a tricked-out muscle car. Obviously, I’d be her sidekick.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Sarena and Sasha: The Time Turner and the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter!
Stephanie: The infinite improbability drive in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for this, partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties.”
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?
Sarena and Sasha: We like to write in sprints whenever we can. We have a group of PitchWars friends we can connect with on Facebook and “sprint” with online. It’s a great way to keep accountable! We also love jotting down notes on paper—we have way too many journals to count! Some of which have countless unfinished novels that we wrote when we were younger. The first book we wrote, at age 9, was all written by hand.
Stephanie: I’m typically a “big chunk” writer, if you go by author Allie Pleiter’s Chunky Method of writing in big or small chunks of time. I write in evenings and on weekends, usually for several hours at a time rather than little bits every day. I’m working on doing more frequent shorter writing sessions.
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?
Sarena and Sasha: Goldfish crackers. Like, a LOT of them. And probably lemonade. We hide out in our fort—aka the office.
Stephanie: Herbal tea and popcorn. Sitting on my couch getting the words down.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Sarena and Sasha: Reading keeps us motivated. We are always so inspired by so many different authors; our favourites are JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Roald Dahl, Sara Shepard, Sabaa Tahir, and more. Of course, our writing friends also give so much support, and it’s really a great community.
Stephanie: Seeing author friends succeed motivates me. Writers I first met through blogs five years ago are signing deals and putting out second and third books.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Sarena and Sasha: PitchWars was such a great experience. Honestly, we entered on a whim. We had already gone through some major edits for this book in 2016 but we thought we might as well enter (literally right around the time the window for subs opened). It helps you understand the editing process, hone your craft, and work on deadlines. More importantly, you find your people—like Stephanie, our mentor, and all the friends we’ve made who went through the process just like we did. I can’t wait to see all our friends’ books on shelves one day, and to be part of the same contest is pretty special.
Stephanie: I’m so grateful I had the chance to work with Sarena and Sasha! It shows their dedication that they turned around a brand new draft right after Pitch Wars and ran with it. I’m thrilled for their success. Way to go!
Thank you for sharing your Pitch Wars Success Story with us! CONGRATULATIONS!
Sarena and Sasha Nanua
Sarena and Sasha Nanua are twin sisters living in Ontario, Canada. They love reading books in their spare time and enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels. They have been writing books since they were nine years old and are currently studying English and Professional Writing at the University of Toronto. The Gemstone is their first novel.
Stephanie Scott writes Young Adult stories about characters who put their passions first. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and its online YA chapter YARWA, and a current writing mentor in online pitch contests. She enjoys dance fitness and cat memes, and Pinterest is driving her broke. Her debut ALTERATIONS about a fashion-obsessed loner who reinvents herself is a 2017 finalist for the Romance Writers of America Best First Book RITA® award.