With all the Pitch Wars excitement in the air, I thought it would be fun to invite the MG winner of PitchWars 2015 to stop by for a chat. Eric Bell, thanks for joining us!
Your 2015 PitchWars entry generated tremendous enthusiasm during the agent round. I’d love to hear about that, but first … let’s talk about your publishing deal. Your middle grade novel sold in a two-book deal at auction. In my head, I see an auctioneer standing up at a podium with editors flinging out bids at lightening speed. I suspect the reality of a literary auction is somewhat different. How did your deal unfold?
That’s actually how I used to think of it too: some type of real-time bidding war where various editors gather together and keep raising their bids. The reality is a bit different, but no less exciting! What happened with me was we got our first offer, which came in at a set amount. Once we had more than one offer, however, my agent Brent Taylor kept the other editors informed that there were other offers on the table, so the editors could adjust their own offers accordingly. Much like when you receive an offer from an agent, you give everyone with the manuscript a deadline to respond by. One thing Brent told me is that, while it’s tempting to side automatically with the highest offer, other factors can play a role too, like if you really want to work with a particular house, or if you click with a particular editor. In the end I signed with Ben Rosenthal at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, and they’ve been just terrific.
Congratulations! Can you tell us anything about the story and/or when it’s scheduled to release?
ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD is the story of twelve-year-old Alan Cole. Bullied by his big brother Nathan and his emotionally abusive father, Alan has a massive crush on a popular boy in his class. When Nathan gets wind of this, he blackmails Alan into playing a game designed to maximize Alan’s humiliation and discomfort—and if Alan loses the game, Nathan swears he’ll out him to the whole school. Some of the things Alan is tasked with doing in the game include passing the school swimming test, standing up to his father, getting his first kiss, and becoming the most well-known kid in school, all of which are downright impossible for the shy, timid Alan. But he refuses to give up. He’s determined to prove the title right—that he’s not, in fact, a coward.
The book is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release.
Now let’s back up and talk about the Pitch Wars process. I read on your blog that you thought previous manuscripts were stronger than Alan Cole Is Not a Coward. How long have you been writing, and how long had you worked on this manuscript before Pitch Wars?
I’ve been writing with the intent of publication since 2012. ALAN COLE is the third novel I’ve written, and I didn’t think it was “The One” until I got a ways into it (specifically, chapter 7). I spent maybe four or five months planning the book out and about a month actually writing it, which is standard practice for me. I had just finished the first draft when I heard about Pitch Wars, and I got a second draft written in time for the submission window.
You worked with veteran MG mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza. Were you surprised by the level of work she suggested before the agent round?
I was fortunate that Joy didn’t feel the book needed much structural change apart from a few relatively minor issues. She had some very targeted areas of character and stakes she wanted me to focus on, mostly centering around Alan’s family. There was at least one area I thought I had fixed when it came time for Joy’s line edits (which came roughly one month after her initial edit letter) but Joy didn’t think I had gone far enough with it, so I edited it some more. Even though the book didn’t need its innards ripped out and surgically readjusted, it was still a lot of work. But it was good, solid, honest work.
Your success interview is posted over at Brenda Drake’s blog, so we won’t go into too much detail about the agent round, but suffice it to say it resulted in offers of representation from ten agents. For many writers, this this the stuff dreams are made of. Was it as exciting as it sounds?
First, the bad. It was exciting at first, but—feel free to not have sympathy for me over this—it quickly became overwhelming. I was practically fielding a call a day, sometimes two or three! And several agents hopped back on the phone with me more than once. I actually cut my deadline short because I had already made my decision and it was just getting too stressful. And writing nine rejection emails was heartbreaking, especially since everyone was so passionate.
Now, the good. Yes, this was a dream come true. To receive one offer is incredible; ten is almost beyond comprehension. It was one of the greatest ego boosts of my life to have all of these literary professionals so invested in something I wrote—something I created—and wanting to build a career with me. If I had any doubt I had created something special, that doubt went away very fast. It was also, not going to lie, kind of fun to be on the other end of agent interactions. Now they were the ones who wanted to work with me! Ultimately it was a real once-in-a-lifetime experience that, despite the stressors, I’m so privileged to have been privy to.
What’s next for Eric Bell?
Eric Bell is currently working on the second book in his two-book deal. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to really go into detail about it, but it’s another contemporary middle grade and he thinks he’s finally finding his groove with it after months and months of planning. He also lapses into third person if he’s not careful.
Eric Bell graduated from the Robert E. Cook Honors College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a degree in Psychology and a minor in English. Once the other kids at recess began pretending to go on the adventures he came up with, he never stopped telling stories. ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD is his first novel.
Posted by: Jessica Vitalis
Jessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign*, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate). She’d love to connect on Twitter at @jessicavitalis