A Pitch Wars 2016 Success Interview with Sarah Van Goethem and her mentor, Jenni L. Walsh
Our favorite part of hosting pitch contests around here is hearing about successes. Today we celebrate Sarah Van Goethem and her Pitch Wars mentor Jenni L. Walsh! Sarah recently signed with Dorian Maffie of Kimberly Cameron and Associates, and we’re so over-the-moon excited for her. So please join me in congratulating Sarah and Jenni as they share with us their awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Sarah, what was it about Jenni that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
The minute I read Jenni’s wish list I knew my MS was a great fit as she listed that she was most drawn to historical and fantasy. As well, her own book, BECOMING BONNIE is set in the late 1920’s and mine is a time travel to the mid 1930’s. I thought she would have fabulous advice and have a great grasp on the era. Plus, I did mention her book right? Who doesn’t love a high-concept like that? Who wouldn’t choose to submit to Jenni?
Jenni, what was it about Sarah’s manuscript that hooked you?
First, it was the concept: THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE meets THE NOTEBOOK. I knew I had to read it, but I had my fingers so, so crossed the execution would live up to the hype I created in my mind. It did. Sarah is an extraordinary writer. Now, this is a bit of a unique success story because the MS Sarah and I worked on together during Pitch Wars wasn’t the one to get her an agent (even though she got an astounding 18 requests during the Agent Round); it was the MS that followed. But, I remember telling Sarah, “This industry can be wonky, but your talent will get you an agent, whether it’s this book (referring to our Pitch Wars MS) or the next.” I knew it was simply a matter of timing.
Sarah, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Jenni initially sent me an edit letter that encompassed plot details, things to watch for (filter words), areas to cut, and what to expand on. I will say here, that I was entirely new at this. Unlike some people who had a handful of ms’s under their belt, this was my first one. And I had no idea how to edit or do it well. Jenni sent the ms back with more ideas, and I knew I would have to work harder. Eventually we got to line edits.
Jenni, tell us about your experience mentoring Sarah.
Like I said, Sarah’s an extraordinary writer. She strings words together with a beautiful cadence that sucks ya into the pages. That sound writing ability is definitely something I look for in a mentee. I’d lob suggestions/feedback over the fence and Sarah didn’t just edit, but made those edits fit perfectly into her novel. I couldn’t ask for anything more!
Sarah, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Dorian Maffie of Kimberly Cameron and Associates. Please, tell us about “The Call.”
Although my Pitch Wars manuscript did very well in the agent round, it ultimately didn’t land me an agent. However, right after Christmas, I spent three months writing a new book, which I then pitched in #pitdark. One of my #pitdark requests came from Dorian Maffei, who had it only one week prior to offering. I was honestly dumbstruck. Writers in the querying trenches get so used to rejections that when someone finally loves something, you really do a double take! Newer agents really can be golden opportunities for writers, especially if you share the same vision. And never give up! My Pitch Wars manuscript may get revised yet again. But with every manuscript you learn something new and grow as a writer, and can return to the shelved ones with fresh eyes.
Sarah, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Working with Jenni was the best thing that could have happened to me as a writer. From small things like formatting properly, to big things like making every sure every scene has value, I learned a ton from being in Pitch Wars. One of the best decisions I ever made, hands down.
Now for some fun!
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?
Sarah: I’ve been a Diana Gabaldon fan for years, far before OUTLANDER was made into a series, so I’d have to say I’d like to go to the stones and fall through time (especially if Jamie is on the other side and will call me Sassenach).
Jenni: I mean, it’s a bit cliché because it’s such a common answer, but Hogwarts. Every day would be a new adventure.
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?
Sarah: Well my new favorite show is TIMELESS, so I’m probably in the lifeboat (time machine) with Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus, jumping all over the place in history (sweet!) to prevent Rittenhouse from some master plan to change history.
Jenni: Ohhhh I want to join Sarah. I recently did a TIMELESS marathon and loved the show.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Sarah: I recently read ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS, and I have to say the Goettreider Engine that starts the future is pretty darn cool.
Jenni: I’m wracking my brain and I can’t seem to get past Hermione’s time turner necklace. But I’m really trying for a non-HARRY POTTER reference since I’ve used that book already… ah ha, in the IN DEATH series by J.D. Robb there’s a pill called Sober Up that does as the name suggests. I’d say that’s more functional than fascinating, though.
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?
Sarah: I’m a morning person (after the kids are all gone to school). It’s butt in chair in my office, and I always work on the computer. Some days I’m still there when the kids get home (with the realization that I need to feed them dinner).
Jenni: My habits tend to change depending on my kids. I have a 1 and 3 year old. I used to work at night because the mornings were unpredictable as far as when my youngest would wake up. But he’s been sleeping later consistently, so I’ve been working in the morning on my laptop. Then, for the rest of the day, I jot down notes on whatever’s handy when parts of the story pop into my mind.
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?
Sarah: Well it’s nice to know it’ll be bestselling in advance; that definitely gives me more drive to finish by deadline. I’m pretty sure I’d be hiding in my office with chocolate and tea.
Jenni: laughing at Sarah. I’d hide away in my office too, with a jug of water. Sounds odd, but whenever I’m stuck, I sip. That could get dangerous if it was coffee (or alcohol – I’d need a Sober Up).
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Sarah: Honestly, my Pitch Wars community (what a great bunch) and Jenni. She’s still always there, being my cheerleader. My kids are pretty good too, always asking how books are coming along, or telling me I can’t give up. And my mom and my sister, always encouraging. Sounds like I’m pretty lucky, doesn’t it?
Jenni: I’ll echo what Sarah said, but at the very, very top of my list are my children and husband. Every part of my author journey has been for them.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Sarah: If you’re out there considering Pitch Wars, you should totally submit. It’s an intense two months, but you’ll learn a ton and the best part is truly the community. And don’t give up. Write more things! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Jenni: I can’t wait to see Sarah’s debut on shelves!
Thank you for sharing your Pitch Wars Success Story with us! CONGRATULATIONS!
Sarah Van Goethem
Sarah Van Goethem is a Canadian author of short stories & novels, who divides her time between writing and her three children who always seem to need to be somewhere. She’s a nature lover, a wanderer of the fields & forests, and a gatherer of vintage. She’s inspired by the natural world and the past, and her writing blends history with the magic of nature. She can be found at auctions, thrift stores, the back of her farm, maybe rooting through an abandoned house. And always in a rocking chair.
Jenni L. Walsh
Jenni L. Walsh has spent the past decade enticing readers as an award-winning advertising copywriter. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University, and lives in the Philly ‘burbs with her husband, daughter, and son. BECOMING BONNIE is her first novel, with BONNIE, Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree story, releasing in 2018. For the kiddos, the BRAVE LIKE ME series is Jenni’s middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.