Happy Release Day to The Outs!

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome my friend and critique partner E. S. Wesley to The Winged Pen to talk about the release of his debut, The Outs.

JA: Congratulations on your debut! Can you tell us a little bit about The Outs’ journey toward publication? 

ESW: Sure thing! The Outs was the culmination of other work I’d done in the past, developing this idea and exploring what a world like this would look like. When I finished it, I threw it into the mix with an online contest called Pitch Wars, and the manuscript landed me an awesome mentor (JA Souders—go read her stuff!). Throughout the process, I got some really great agent interest, but Curiosity Quills saw the pitch as well, and asked to have a look. I’d heard great things about CQ, and when they offered on the book, I was happy to take them up on it.

JA: This story is a great mashup between a psychological thriller and a comic book-style adventure story. Can you talk a little bit about what gave you the idea and what other works from those genres inspire you?

ESW: I love, love, LOVE psychological thrillers. Something about having an author toy with my mind really adds a nice punch. As the story of The Outs began to form, I knew that it was the perfect vehicle for something like this.

As for the comic-booky thing: Kitzi (one of my two main characters) pretty much demanded it. In fact, Kitzi made herself come to life and demanded stage time. When I wrote my first draft of the story, she wasn’t even in there at all, but once she entered the scene she took center stage. And she demanded to be a superhero all her own, with her disability forming the core of her superpowers (can’t say much more about that, because SPOILERS!). From there, it was just a matter of seeing where she took the story, and I couldn’t be happier with her.

I’ve always loved the idea of people whose weaknesses double as their strengths anyway. There’s something so amazing about seeing someone take a rotten deal and turn it into something good that gets me where it counts, you know?

Also, if you love superhero stories and haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners series (starting with Steelheart), then you’ve got some catching up to do. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

JA: You also write middle grade. How is MG different than writing YA and which do you prefer?

ESW: I totally love both, but for different reasons. Writing YA, I get to explore what it’s like to step into adult decisions for the first time, and take your life into your own hands. Middle grade can get some of that, but only so far. The strength of middle grade writing lies in the freedom to explore EVERYTHING. I think YA readers tend to have certain expectations—romance, angst, sequels—but middle grade readers haven’t come up with those limitations just yet. And besides, who doesn’t love stories about friendship?

The Outs does that, too, though. It shows a grittier version of life, more like what we discover when we see for the first time that our actions can have far-reaching consequences. And Caleb and Kitzi’s actions have really far-reaching implications.

JA: I know you work with children and teens. How does that reflect in your writing, and in the voice of your characters?

ESW: I think a lot of people have this idea that teens don’t have deep thoughts, or they don’t look beyond themselves. Having spent time with them and heard their deepest struggles, I know that’s a load of garbage. Teens think about all the same things adults do, but their thoughts and feelings about those things are heightened because they’re learning to handle life for the first time. Adults are jaded; teens are fresh. They see the world with new eyes. They allow themselves to feel their fears and make mistakes, and there’s something cool and honest about that.

JA: What does your writing day look like? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share with our readers?

ESW: For me, it’s all about routine. Getting up at the same time and putting my butt in the chair to work is all it takes to get started, and I won’t let myself whine about writer’s block or anything like that. Always move forward, you know? I typically work from around 7:30/8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Sometimes I go a little longer, but not often. Gotta rest sometime!

JA: Congratulations and thank you for joining us!

E.S. Wesley is an author and advocate for the safety and mental health of young people. A long-time mentor and counselor, Wesley has worked for years to protect, encourage, and empower young adults to navigate a life that rarely makes sense. He believes all people are just waiting for someone to relate to their stories, so he makes up stories in the hope that someone will read and find a home there.
His stories are often strange and twisty.
Wesley lives with his wife in Texas, where he’s always writing. Texas has a lot of things that he likes, but Shelly is the best of them. Second best is his son, who introduced him to his wife. Sometimes we do things out of order—that just makes life more interesting.
Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or subscribe to his mailing list.


Literary Auctions: The Inside Scoop with Pitch Wars Winner Eric Bell

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 headshot-1
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 vitalisJessica 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


Meet The Winged Pen’s Pitch Wars Mentors

Laurel joked on Twitter, “I kind of hate to tell other writers that our @WingedPen CP’s are #PitchWars mentors. I mean, they’re a trade secret!”

I agree! But they are so generous to donate their time and wisdom to helping other writers get through a major manuscript revision. So, all of us at The Winged Pen want to make sure everyone knows how awesome they are. That way they get ALL THE MANUSCRIPTS! This post is to introduce them to the Pitch Wars crowd.

gabrielle byrne2Gabrielle Byrne lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. She writes fantasy for middle grade. You can read her full bio here, but the bottom line is that her background is eclectic, as is her taste in music. Things she loves: green curry, thunderstorms, purring cats, and nudibranchs. Her agent is Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. You can find her wish list at www.gkbyrnebooks.com

Marty_MayberryMarty Mayberry lives in New England with her husband, three children and three neurotic cats. She works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist during the day and writes YA/Adult fiction whenever she can find a spare minute in between. In addition to PitchWars, she mentors/judges for Michelle Hauck’s Sun vs Snow and QueryKombat. This year will be her second time mentoring for PitchWars. She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Dijkstra Agency. Her wish list is at www.martymayberry.com.

jessica vitalisRepresented by Saba Sulaimain of Talcott Notch, Jessica Vitalis writes middle grade fiction. In addition to mentoring Pitch Wars, Jessica volunteers with the We Need Diverse Books campaign and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and our very own 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). You can find her Pitch Wars wish list at www.jessicavitalis.com

Rebecca: Being a Pitch Wars mentor is a huge time commitment! Why do you do it?

Gabrielle: Like so many mentors, I participated in Brenda’s contests. My book, MANTICORE, was chosen for the 2013 Pitch Wars (Steph Funk was my ninja hero). With her guidance, the book got so much better, and with a new title–GETTING RID OF LUCKY, it got me repped. I met great friends and colleagues, and remember how much the support and belief meant to me then—and still means to me now. I want to help perpetuate that in the writing community.

Marty: Many writers have helped me grow as an author. I wouldn’t be where I am without their help. PitchWars is a chance to pay some of that back. It’s a win-win for everyone, because I learn just as much from my mentees as they learn from me.

Jessica: I wrote for years before developing a solid set of writing skills and signing with my literary agent. Along the way, I was desperate for someone—anyone—who could help me understand what was “missing’” from my writing. I love sharing the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years and having the opportunity to provide the kind of guidance that I longed for earlier in my career.


Rebecca: How would you describe your critiquing style? What kind of help could a mentee expect?

Gabrielle: I’m definitely tough love. I’m very kind, so being blunt has been hard won. I’ll let you know what’s working for me, and what isn’t. I’ll offer support, and compliments, where appropriate, but I won’t sugar coat the work. You’ll get an in-depth editorial letter, as well as line edits. I’ll help you find solutions, and to understand where things are going wrong. I’ll also never push you to do anything to your story you don’t want to do. It’s yours, and taking my advice, or not, is your call. Rock on.

Marty: Last year, I gave general feedback about pacing, plot, and ways to improve the MS overall within 2 weeks of the pick announcement. My mentees and I discussed what they felt worked best regarding the issues I identified, and we brainstormed if they wanted to take the MS in a different direction. After all, this is their MS first, and I respect that. After my mentees revised, I did line edits, then a third read to polish just before the agent round. I also helped my mentees with their pitches, queries and synopses. I believe I give a kind critique, although I won’t hesitate to be plain if needed. My goal is to help another author take their writing to next level, and this only works if we’re honest with each other.

Jessica: According to one of my mentee’s from last year, my 2016 mentee should expect enough red ink on their pages to give them a heart attack! That may be true, but I’ll also provide a lengthy editorial letter talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript and outlining suggestions for big-picture changes, as well as a suggestions for how to manage the Pitch Wars timeline. I’ll work closely with my mentee throughout the process, brainstorming ideas, providing feedback on revisions, and helping polish the manuscript for the Pitch Wars round.

Rebecca: Pitch Wars is a tough contest. Less than 10% of the writers who submit are chosen by a mentor. What advice did you get when you were entering writing contests and querying that you would like to pass on to the Pitch Wars crowd?

Gabrielle:  Most offers of representation do NOT come through contests. Contests are great for the feedback, the network of support, and for the feeling of quick turn-around that we all crave. They are NOT the end-all, or the be-all.  Practice. Be Patient. Persist. Getting in (or even close) is a lovely confirmation of your level-up, but not getting in, does not necessarily mean you’re not ready.

Marty: Each person gets there at their own speed and in their own way. Respect  yourself and your writing, but be open to listening to a differing opinion. And, even when you’re discouraged, never give up.

Jessica: I rushed into querying two full manuscripts before putting the brakes on my third. The extra time and care I spent polishing paid off because I received an offer of representation from the first agent who read the work (at an online conference rather than via the traditional query process). So it’ll come as no surprise that my biggest piece of writing advice is to not rush into querying and contests. After your manuscript is “finished”, put it through a rigorous round of reviews (maybe even several rounds) with critique partners and beta readers. Set it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it out loud. Print it in a different font and read it again. Only after you are convinced it’s the very best you can make it is it time to send it out into the world and even then, I’d suggest doing so in small batches so that you can make revisions and reevaluate the manuscripts readiness based on the feedback you receive.

Rebecca: Lightening round – coffee or tea?

Gabrielle: Coffee.

Marty: Earl Grey, please. Black.

Jessica: Coffee—blegh! I’ll take a lovely cup of peppermint tea any day of the week.

Rebecca: Sweet or Salty?

Gabrielle: Salty.

Marty: How about both? Chocolate covered pretzels.

Jessica: Both! (Preferably in the form of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Rebecca: Dog, cat or other?

Gabrielle: Cat.

Marty: I enjoy dogs, but kitties are my kryptonite.

Jessica: Cats all the way.

Rebecca: Plotter or pantser?

Gabrielle: Plotter, with flexibility

Marty: A mix of both. Once a plot bunny grabs hold of my mind, I take long walks and expand the idea to determine if it’ll hold up for a full-length novel. If it passes the walking test, I think up a hook, midpoint, and ending. Then, I write a query/pitch and run the idea past my agent for marketability. After that, I jump in and write, letting the characters take me on the journey they wish to tell.

Jessica: That’s a tricky question for me. I’m a pantser at heart, but find that my work benefits from plotting at some point during the process. I wrote a blog about my hybrid process here.

I’ll close with a shout-out to Brenda Drake, the Queen of Pitch Wars, a thank you to Gabrielle, Marty, and Jessica, and wishes of luck to all the potential mentees in the Pitch Wars crowd!

RA 2951Rebecca J. Allen writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.