Cory Leonardo is the author of CALL ME ALASTAIR, which will be published by Aladdin in Summer 2019. She was also one of our Pitch Wars mentees last year. We asked her if she’d give us a “blurb” to convince you all of our awesomeness and she basically sent the best letter ever. We hope it gives you some insight into what you can expect from us.
Dear MG Pitch Wars hopeful,
When Amanda and Cindy asked me to write a testimonial for their mentor page this year, I jumped at the chance to tout the impressive list of gosh-darn, superhuman everythings they offer their potential mentee. It’s how I’ve come to write you this letter. The next step, of course, is to name every one and try to rightly convince you that the buck stops here at #teammascaratracks. I assure you: I will fail miserably. There are too many things to count and not enough words in my trusty thesaurus to describe them.
For those pressed for time or a wee bit antsy, let me leave you with the one sentence you need to come away from this letter with:
YOU ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, UNQUESTIONABLY, WITHOUT A DOUBT, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, *MUST* SUBMIT TO THIS DYNAMIC DUO, NO IFS, ANDS, OR BUTS. PERIOD.
Okay, so that was two sentences. But, thank you. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled program.
Now, for those of you willing to hang in a little longer, I’d be honored if you’d lend me your eyeballs for a few minutes more. I’ll try to do this justice.
I stumbled upon Pitch Wars the last week of July last year. I’d recently finished a first draft of my MG novel, CALL ME ALASTAIR, and was planning on revising and submitting to agents in the fall. But after reading up on Pitch Wars and seeing the astronomical success rates (and after, I’ll admit, some hemming and hawing, for I’m woefully indecisive), I decided I would submit. The next question was to whom. Not many—okay, no one—wanted a novel about an anthropomorphic parrot. In fact, most of the mentor wish lists included the dreaded phrase, “no talking animals,” and it seemed my fate was sealed. I selected a few maybes to put on my list, and then came across Amanda’s and Cindy’s wish list. I remember it distinctly. I remember the heart-hammering feeling of knowing that this, this! would be a dream come true. I fell in love with their voices, their wit, their camaraderie, their passion for children’s literature and this wild, wonderful thing called writing. I shared so many of their favorite books and authors and knew we loved the same heart-felt tear-jerker. I knew my book fit what they were looking for.
There it was. I think the exact terminology was, “We’re not fans of books with talking animals.” Part of me wanted to cry. I was already convinced ALASTAIR needed them, that if anyone could fall in love with a talking parrot and his story, it was these two. I took a risk and submitted anyway. In fact, just in case there was an order to these things and the first-selected mentors got first dibs, I stacked my list. #Teammascaratracks was at the tippy top.
It was 9 p.m. the night before I was leaving for a 5 a.m. 15-hour drive. I snapped my laptop shut and resumed packing, thankful the submission was done and nervous about how it would all turn out.
It would come as a bit of a surprise (note the sarcasm) that less than two hours later I got an email from Amanda saying she’d like the synopsis. Approximately 3.5 seconds of rejoicing was quickly snuffed out when I realized I had no synopsis. No problem. I thanked my lucky stars I was an English major once-upon-a-time and had spent many the all-nighter writing papers. Admittedly, there was some Googling involved and a lot of mad-hatter typing, but sometime after 3 a.m. that bad boy was submitted.
Two hours of sleep is fine when your husband’s driving, I told myself. But then, the next morning, another email. This time: 50 pages. 50 pages I hadn’t yet edited, and the suggestion that adding POVs might be needed. I spent the rest of the car ride chewing on that little tidbit, and by the time we’d arrived at the beach, I knew there was a way I could do it. I spent most of the night editing and sending off my reply.
Again, all was well. The sun was shining, the beach was calling. Life was one glorious palm tree after another. Until…
Another email. Amanda and Cindy wanted the rest of the book. Another 140 unedited pages.
Long story short, there was a full day fixing those and sending them off. And then there was nothing left to do but chew my fingernails until the announcements were made two weeks later.
I was genuinely shocked when they picked me. I’d been Twitter-stalking them but hadn’t suspected. A year later it comes as quite the surprise that they were able to hold it in so long (here’s looking at you, Amanda). Amanda’s like a three-year-old with a secret. I’m certain that if you asked her family, there are times where they’ll find her sitting on her hands in front of her computer so as not to type those secrets away. It’s adorable, frankly. But they kept it in (there was one questionable GIF), and once all our names were plastered up there on that glorious Pitch Wars document, there was much rejoicing.
This is basically Amanda with a secret.
Oh, and a 6-page edit letter. Single-spaced.
Team Mascara Tracks is nothing if not prompt.
Pitch Wars hopeful, if you are ever the recipient of such a letter, let me reassure you. You will cry from joy at your mentor’s gushing—but will weep uncontrollably from fear and uncertainty at the rest. I had never received such detailed notes on even a page of any manuscript I’d written, and here I’d received a comment on all of it. Comps. Concerns. Structure. Plot. Pacing. Characterization. Theme. Big picture. Small picture. Resources. Everything. I was astounded that they took the time and had thought about my book so deeply and thoroughly. But I was also a bit heartbroken. There were things wrong with my book! There were concerns! The title! The climax! My book needed work!
One thing I’ve found is that every edit letter is the same in one respect. It will crush you for a bit. But you will pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, wipe the tears from your eyes, and get to work. Every. Single. Thing Amanda and Cindy said, every one, was right on. Over the next few months, I grew to trust their instincts more and more. They were always right, and every time I took a little while for their comments to sink in, I’d come to the same conclusion, make the necessary changes, and every time the book was better.
These two marvels spent hours upon hours upon hours, reading, sending notes, doing line edits, big picture edits, researching agents, answering a random assortment of questions, walking me through agent phone calls, the submission process… the list could go on forever. I will, always and forever, be indebted to these amazingly beautiful women who daily astound me with the scope of their imaginations, their knowledge of writing and the writing industry, their willingness to help, and their passion to teach and promote other writers. The fact that they’re phenomenal writers themselves (who somehow find the time to do it in between being awesome everywhere else) pretty much seals the deal: they’re the best ever. It’s official.
Amanda and Cindy have been my cheerleaders, my editors, my teachers. They are writer-mamas who know when to offer a virtual hug or a virtual lecture (though you never feel naughty, only that you want to rise to their expectations). They do all they do with joy, grace, enthusiasm, skill, and a whole lotta love. Today, they are more than all that, however. They’re my beloved friends. (And I’ve already informed them I’ll never be able to write another book without them.) They are a treasure to me.
I can say now that CALL ME ALASTAIR would never be the book it is without them. It would never have garnered the attention of agents like it did, gotten several offers, sold to S&S/Aladdin, and would not be cozying up to a bookstore shelf in Summer of 2019, were it not for Amanda Hill and Cindy Baldwin, #teammascaratracks, human beings extraordinaire. In a few years, when I’m holding my book in my hands, I will never look at it and not think of them. (The same is true for parrot and Jane Austen GIFs).
The questionable gif mentioned above.
If I can leave you, dear Pitch Wars hopeful, with one piece of advice, it is this: take a chance at these two, the very best mentors this experience can offer. Make a wish, say a prayer. Watch for falling stars, hunt for clovers, save your birthday candles, and collect as many dandelion puffs as your arms can carry. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you.
All my love,