DISCLAIMER: This post is long and rambling. I considered making it short and concise, but I also want any querying writers who might stumble upon it to know the full story.
As excited as I’ve been to write this, I’ve also been procrastinating. Why? I guess part of me still feels like it’s a dream and will all disappear if I blink too hard. 2017 was a whirlwind of major ups and downs. It was a complete rollercoaster from one end to the other, both personally, professionally, and writerly! I started writing back in 2010, and it quickly became an obsession for me. Seriously, I couldn’t stop, but I also knew very little since I wasn’t much of a reader until a couple years before that. I know, you can all throw your virtual tomatoes, I’ll wait.
Okay, that’s enough. Really.
I loved stories growing up, but I was usually playing pretend in the garden instead of curled up with my nose buried in a book. When I discovered my love of reading—extremely late, I admit—it was love at first book. Pride and Prejudice, to be exact. Perhaps cliché, but there it is. Fast forward a few years, and I began writing my own. Ah, sheer bliss. I loved it from the very first line I penned. I learnt a lot from those first few books, but that’s a whole different post, complete with querying WAY too soon and nearly getting scammed into a publishing deal from a company on Writers Beware before I was saved by my very first CP. Lessons learnt, I moved on to research as much as I could and gained a lot of knowledge, while reading and writing even more.
Fast forward a couple more years and a MS I loved and queried widely. It was a paranormal romance, and any writer in that genre will tell you how difficult it is to find a home for it. I spent two years querying my PNR, trying as hard as I could to make it work, but eventually falling into a writing rut. I didn’t know which way to turn, and then an idea hit me. I plotted for the first time in my panster life, then wrote the first draft in about a month, and edited my first ever romantic suspense. 2016 ended with a new CP (Amy), and a decent draft of IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER, the book of my heart. I loved it and had a great deal of faith that it was the one. I felt like it was my best piece of writing/storytelling to date.
30 January 2017, I sent a bunch of queries—21, to be exact—and crossed my fingers. Of course the rejections rolled in, but this time with a smattering of requests. In March, I found another wonderful CP (Livi), which was quickly followed by a third amazing CP (Lucy), and more editing. We entered a Twitter contest together in April, #RevPit, but any hopes of getting in were soon dashed. I was pretty disappointed and still dealing with rejections from queries and full requests. The last rejection rolled in late June, but while the rejections stung, I’d also gotten some really helpful feedback from a few generous agents. While I was hacking at my manuscript, ripping chapters out and adding new ones, my lovely CPs mentioned another Twitter contest—#PitchWars.
I admit, I’d never heard of it. Yes, gasp! I mean, this is the big one, right? The contest writers drool over. Not that I knew that at the time. To me, it was another opportunity for rejection. Around this time, I found another incredible CP (Janet), number FOUR! I never dreamed of having four CPs I’d adore, but I was so lucky to have found them. Coincidently, Janet was prepping for—yip, you guessed it—Pitch Wars. I went back and forth about entering, one of the reasons being I’d just moved into a new house, and we were surrounded by renovations. The day job was already taking strain. I didn’t know if I’d even have the time, but after much encouragement from my mom and CPs, I decided to enter.
Choosing a short list of mentors to submit to was TOUGH! There were several I could have happily chosen, but I had to whittle it down to four. After reading bios and wish lists far too many times to count, I had my four. The submission window opened 2 August 2017 and, truth be told, I had very little faith I’d get in. Mentors were tweeting about how the quality of the entries was so high, and I thought I’d never make it. Then, a day later, I got a request for my full MS. Insert bouncing and screaming. I calmed enough to send my MS, along with answers to a list of questions. Six hours later, I had another request, this time a partial, from a different mentor team. Then I waited. And waited. 15 August came around, and I got another request, a partial again. I was super excited because hope had begun to dwindle. A few hours later, the same mentor team requested the full, along with some questions. *Tip for aspiring Pitch Wars mentees—be prepared to answer questions!*
Then something unexpected happened. 21 August, I got an email from a mentor I hadn’t submitted to, though she was definitely on my original list of potentials. I was thrilled she was interested in my MS, but a part of me was nervous because she’d also requested from a beloved CP—Janet. I didn’t want to “steal” her mentor (spoiler—this mentor totally picked Janet, and they had an awesome partnership and a happily ever after). At the same time, I was a little disappointed because I knew it meant one of my mentor picks had passed on my MS. The next day—yes, 22 August, literally TWO days before the picks were set to be announced—I got an email from Marty Mayberry, my future mentor and all around wonderful person! She’d received my MS from another mentor and was frantically trying to read it before the mentees had to be chosen.
As you can imagine, I had my doubts. It was SO CLOSE to the deadline. I was humbled by all the interest, excited I’d had more than one mentor even take a look at my MS, but I really didn’t expect to make it into the contest. 24 August, I waited for the picks to go live. I typed out thank you emails to all the mentors I’d chatted with, wishing them the best with their chosen mentees. I thanked them publicly on Twitter because they’d all been so lovely. And then the picks were announced.
I remember seeing Janet’s name right at the top, and freaking out for her. I was shaking as I scrolled through the list, almost in tears because she’d made it in, and I was soooo happy for her. Then, near the bottom, I saw my name. I couldn’t believe it. To make it crazier, Marty and her co-mentor Leonie Kelsall, had chosen FOUR mentees between the two of them—one they chose together, the adult scavenger hunt winner, and then two wild cards they each chose to mentor individually. I still think they’re crazy to take on so many, but I’m sure they’re very proud. Our little team of SIX people—#TeamFineWine—is doing rather well.
I instantly sent a message to Janet to get her attention because she hadn’t seen the list yet. And then the site crashed due to the thousands of hopefuls trying access it, which meant she couldn’t get on. When she asked who’d made it, I practically yelled “YOU” at my phone, and I may have omitted that I’d gotten in, too. Needless to say she eventually discovered it on her own, and we celebrated like only internet friends can—with an exchange of GIFs. That same day, I got a very sweet congratulatory email from Janet’s mentor. I learnt how my MS had been passed around behind the scenes, and I was even more humbled that these wonderful mentors had cared enough to try and find me a mentor. I’m still really grateful to all of them. But I couldn’t be happier with Marty. We worked extremely well together through the entire process. I was hoping for a partnership, and that’s exactly what I got, and I’m happy to call her a dear friend.
The actual two months of Pitch Wars was crazy. Everyone worked unbelievably hard. The ups and downs were extreme. The mentees were really supportive, and I was incredibly lucky to have Janet along for the ride with me. I leaned on her heavily, even if it was just a message to say, “hey, you still editing?”, it felt good knowing someone else was right there with me. I was also super lucky to have unwavering support from Livi and Lucy. Through September and October we revised, polished, and perfected our MSs and our queries. I was fortunate Marty helped me with everything, including a rewrite of my synopsis. She was an absolute pillar of strength and knowledge, her generosity made even more incredible by the fact I was one of FOUR mentees she was helping.
1 November 2017, the agent showcase went live. *Another piece of advice for future Pitch Wars mentees, take that first day off work if you can!* I got nothing done all day. Our #TeamFineWine connected in a group Twitter chat, watching the site and waiting for requests together. I must say, being part of a big group was so much fun. I got to celebrate an insane number of agent requests. Two out of our four mentees got A LOT of agent interest. The downside, however, was that by the end of the day, my fellow teammates had up to 12 requests, and I had 1. It was tough. Full disclosure, I cried myself to sleep, feeling like a failure and a fraud. I thought my poor mentor must be so disappointed. And I didn’t tell a soul. I wallowed in my misery all by myself. Nope, didn’t even tell my CPs. *More advice, don’t do that.* I thought maybe it was time to put aside those dreams of being a real life writer. Maybe this was all a sign to say, and I quote Babe, “that’ll do, Pig”, and finally focus on something plausible.
By the next day, I felt brighter, and I got a few more requests, though still only a total of four. We had to wait until the close of the showcase before we could send our requested materials. While I waited, I made a list of agents I wanted to query and prepped to within an inch of my life. The showcase ended, and I sent off requests, soon followed by those shiny new query letters. And, you guessed it, the rejections rolled in once again. But then, one shining Thursday evening, 16 November, I got an email from one of the agents who’d requested my full during the Pitch Wars showcase. In total honesty, I read the opening of the email quickly—because I’ve discovered after many rejections to instantly find those little words that say pass so you can mourn and move on—except, this one didn’t.
In fact, this email said that the agent would like to chat with me. Around this time, I had a minor melt down. I could barely read the rest. I took a walk through the garden to calm down—yes, in the dark. Then I returned to my computer, and typed a response with shaking fingers. The agent in question, the wonderful Amanda Jain, was so lovely, and even realised that I was in South Africa and she was in the U.S., so we arranged a time to suit both of us for the following Monday—the week of U.S. Thanksgiving. That was the longest weekend of my life, but it gave me a lot of time to calm the hell down, because I was a wreck. Not even two weeks earlier, I was bracing myself to give up on the whole writing dream, and now I had my very first call with a REAL LITERARY AGENT!
I freaked out all of Monday, 20 November—one exact month, to the day, before my 30th birthday. I was a mess. And then when the time came, Amanda and I had some technical difficulties thanks to my lack of skills with technology, but we finally connected about an hour after our scheduled call. Clicking that answer button was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had no clue what was coming. I didn’t know if it was an offer or a R&R, or nothing. I’d heard horror stories of agents calling to reject an author. While the odds were unlikely, it still played through my subconscious. But the call went so well. Amanda was so sweet, and she made me feel a lot calmer. The line was clear—which had been a concern because I was in SA and so far away. She could understand my silly South African accent, and didn’t even comment when I kept saying, “ja” (Afrikaans for “yes”), which I just knew was going to happen. But best of all, she answered all my questions before I even had to ask. I had my list all prepared in front of me—thanks to my amazing Pitch Wars mentor—but I didn’t need it.
We chatted about my MS—what she liked and what we could potentially make better. I jotted down notes, still unsure if it was an offer or a R&R. And then, about 20 minutes into our call, she said, “so, of course I’m calling to offer representation,” and I almost fell off my chair. “Of course,” I thought, giggling like a kid because, what was happening? I had an offer! When you’ve been querying for so long, and you finally hear those words—there is no way to describe it. Words fail, which is ridiculous for a writer. And then—this was what sealed the deal for me—she talked about a potential sequel for my MS, with a character I wanted to explore, and I knew she got me.
We ended the call, and the first thing I did was talk to my mom. I remember telling her that I already adored Amanda and that I wanted to just sign with her right then. But that’s not how it works. To make matters more complicated, it was the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., so we arranged a two week deadline, giving other agents a chance to either offer or step aside. That was a long wait, especially when I was so excited. I didn’t get another offer, and while some might be disappointed, I was happy to have the choice simple. I knew Amanda was the right one for me straight away, so sending that acceptance email was such a relief.
4 December 2017, I accepted my offer of representation! Ahhhhhh!! Insert much screaming and excitement.
You’d think that would be the happily ever after, wouldn’t you? I sure did. I made my announcements, celebrated and chatted with Amanda. Early January 2018, I got to work on my first ever agent edits. It was terrifying and exciting. Then, something else unexpected happened. My agent decided to move to a different agency. Which meant that two months after I signed with her, we terminated our contract. Of course, agents move around pretty often, so it’s far from uncommon. But the last thing I thought might happen two months after signing, was to be technically agent-less again.
It was a mere week later when I got another email from her to let me know where we’d be moving—BookEnds Literary Agency. I was over the moon! I’ve had a little crush on their agency for a few years, so moving with my already beloved agent felt like the true fairy tale ending befitting a romance author.
There’s a lesson here, right from Pitch Wars to agent, which is why I included the whole long story in this post—expect the unexpected. It may be a cliché, but it’s true. Every writer’s journey is different, but allow yourself to be open to all types of possibilities. Without Pitch Wars and the wonderful mentors, I might never have found my agent. I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!
I’d also just like to add how much effort all the Pitch Wars mentors put into this contest. They give so much in exchange for nothing. More than that, Brenda Drake and her entire team deserve a million thank yous for all the hard work they put in. I’m eternally grateful!
Stats, because I believe writers want to know the stats. First, let’s do a *total for ALL queried manuscripts, and then I’ll do those specific to the manuscript that won over my agent.
Years spent writing pre-agent: 7
Completed manuscripts, excluding abandoned partials: 8
Queried manuscripts: 4
*Total queries sent: 126
*Total rejections: 125
*Total full\partial requests: 15
And the winning manuscript…
Queries sent: 53
Rejections\step asides (yes, they feel very different): 52
Full\partial requests (excluding Pitch Wars): 7
Pitch Wars requests: 4
Timeline: Note, this was a lot faster thanks to Pitch Wars…
Agent showcase: 1 November 2017
Requested materials sent: 11 November 2017
Request for call: 16 November 2017
Call/offer: 20 November 2017
Acceptance of offer: 4 December 2017
Signed with agent first time: 11 December 2017
Left first agency: 11 February 2018
Signed with same agent at new agency: 14 February 2018
I hope this gives some interesting insight to querying writers. It’s a long and often slow journey. Some authors get lucky and find their agent quickly and easily, but that’s the exception. And while Pitch Wars is an awesome opportunity—it has the power to completely change a writer’s life—it’s not the only path. Every journey is unique. Good luck with yours!