I tracked down Elle McKinney aka ‘the pitch whisperer’ on twitter and we chatted a bit about writing, pitching and geeking out.
Novelpitch. HI Elle. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. Looking at your website I can only imagine that you are pulled in a million directions with your own writing, pitch contests, mentoring other writers, life outside of writing, plus all things geek, oh and of course taking care of The Manor. Do you have a ‘typical’ day? What is it like?
Elle McKinney. I do have a “typical day” and it is very boring, lol. Outside of random family and friends shenanigans, my days usually starts with a moment of prayer and meditation, then it’s off to the day job. If I’m working the later schedule, then I can maybe get some writing in before hand (Or Netflx, or World of Warcraft).
The day job takes a lot of energy, I help people design and troubleshoot their websites, so I usually veg out for a couple of hours when I get home. That usually involves more Netflix and World of Warcraft. FOR THE HORDE!!!! Or I’ll do some reading. My TBR stack is monstrous…
Then I set in to do the writing. Or the plotting. Or the editing. Or the editing for other people! I usually end the day the same way I started, with prayer and then a book. Or an episode of Archer. Danger Zone.
NP. Tell me about Pitch Slam! How did this brainchild it come about? What makes this contest different than some of the others out there?
EM. Pitch Slam is a…culmination of sorts of all the awesome contents I’ve been privileged to be a part of over the years. Whenever slush readers were tweeting hints and tips, a lot of folks on Twitter lamented that they couldn’t take that advice and then revise and resubmit their entry. Pitch Slam has two rounds that involve receiving feedback on their 35 word pitch and first 250 words of their manuscript. Then Pitch Slammers can make edits and submit those new entries for consideration for the agent round. It’s a lot of work on the back end, but we love this community and we love doing this. So worth it.
NP. You’ve been through two Agents. Can you talk about your own pitching / querying experience? In the end what worked?
EM. Two agents, yes. The first time around I was in the query trenches for two years I believe. Probably longer, but I can’t really recall. I revised that query letter so many times, it’s not funny. I’ve also entered hundreds of pitch contests, both on blogs and twitter. In the beginning, I didn’t have the best of luck with being chosen, but I enjoyed it so much that I just kept at it. (I enjoyed it so much I started a contest so I could still be part of it all, go figure.) Plus, I believed in myself and my work and knew something good would come of it all.
The first offer of rep came from a combination of contest and query. I was chosen to be on Team Brenda for the first annual Writer’s Voice contest. You know Brenda Drake, contest queen extraordinaire? She loved my story, and loved my voice. That seriously gave me the confidence I needed at that point, cause the query trenches can be merciless.
Now, when I say I understand how the contest world can be just as heartbreaking, I mean I truly understand. My story was chosen, but I got no requests. Zero. Zip. But Brenda believed in my manuscript and passed it on to a few folks she had connections with. In the end, it landed in the hands of my previous agent, who loved it and reached out to offer rep. I worked with that agent for about a year before she left the business to pursue her own writing.
At that point, I had a new manuscript I had written ready to go so I dove back into the trenches. By the way, I drafted that new manuscript while I was querying the first one. If I had not kept writing, I would have had no path to take after my agent and I parted ways. So, while I was querying, and entering the second story in contests–it did much better than my first–I wrote a third story. Got it polished up, starting querying and entering it. That third story is what caught the attention of my current agent. She was participating in a contest for a client and I submitted my story to her. She got to see the full query instead of a pitch, so I landed her with a sort of query/contest hybrid. The rest, as they say, is history.
WARNING: Falling cliches.
NP. Brenda Drake dubbed you ‘the Pitch Whisperer’! That is high praise. What do you think makes you so good at separating out great pitches from the so-so ones?
EM. It’s not necessarily that I can easily separate great pitches, it’s that I can help compose them on the fly. I love writing pitches, queries, jacket blurbs, etc. As long as it’s for other people. Cruel irony. A great pitch presents the main character and their goal, gives us an obstacle or enemy the MC must overcome to reach said goal, and something MC will have to give up in order to attain the goal. Brenda has an awesome formula on her website, should check that out.
NP. You are also a Pitch Wars mentor this year. Can you explain what that is? Feel free to give a shout out to your team.
EM. Essentially, I selected a writer and her story, and I get to guide her through revisions and edits in order to polish the manuscript to be presented to agents. And yes, I GET to help her. It’s an honor to be a mentor, that someone is willing to trust you with their hard work. I’m humbled by the opportunity, and excited to help take an awesome story to the next level. Shout out to Team Catalytic Chaos!
NP. When would you recommend that aspiring authors jump into online pitch contests? Do you have a favorite for someone who is up and coming?
EM. As soon as possible. Not as soon as you finish the first draft, but once you’ve polished, re-polished, and polished summore. Just like with querying, you don’t wanna dive in too soon, or before the story is “ready.” My personally recommendation is not before the fourth draft.
NP. If you had the opportunity to write a fan-fic piece that you knew would get made into an animation / live action movie or TV, what would it be? (I hear Pacific Rim 2 is on hold, maybe they need a rewrite?!)
EM. YUSSSS!!!! Pacific Rim. Oh, my gawd, that movie. Gundams. Mmph. Okay, reeling it in. It would be awesome if I could write a Pacific Rim sequel. Or prequel. I’d love to write something for Word of Warcraft, or maybe Gargoyles. Hell, most of the shoes I loved watching that were cancelled prematurely. OH! Young Justice! Yaaaaaaaaassssss. Batman Beyond. So many! I can’t pick.
NP. I know you’ve been to DragonCon (great cosplay!). Have you attended other fan or writer conferences? What was your favorite?
EM. I’ve attended Planet Comic Con, KC Comic Con, Naka-Con, about a billion cons when I lived in Orlando. I will have to say that DragonCon is probably my favorite simply because of the size and scope. I hardly attend any of the sessions, mostly wander around taking pictures of all of the awesome costumes, attending the contests, watching anime, playing Cards Against Humanity and Werewolf. I didn’t get to go this year… *sniff* Bawt! I will be there next year!
NP. So many people have found success through online pitch opportunities. Do you have a favorite story of Pitching Success?
EM. All success stories are my favorites, though I will say I’m particularly fond of the ones that come out of Pitch Slam, or that I help in some way. Whether I offered feedback on a pitch, helped edit a query letter, anything, the best part about all of this is helping each other. Lift as you climb, we’re all in this together.
NP. Tell me about your upcoming book!
EM. I don’t have a book out, but I hope to change that very soon. ^_~
NP. Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
EM. Keep going. Seriously. I’m not kidding when I said I’ve entered hundreds of contests. Perseverance separates the published from the unpublished.
And keep writing. If I had stopped after the first story, I would not have gotten to the one that snagged the attention of my current agent. Same with if I had stopped after that second story.
If I had not kept going, kept writing, I have no idea where I would be in my life right now, let alone my career. Writing is such a huge part of who I am, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be the same person answering these questions if I had thrown in the towel.
Writing is, by nature, a lonely undertaking, fraught with negativity. There are so many No’s, but it only takes one Yes. And the No’s cannot in ANY way prevent the Yes from happening. Only you have control over that. When your self-doubt starts to pick at your confidence, tell it to shut the hell up, cause you’re busy being awesome.
Again, thanks for letting me do the interview!
NP. No THANK YOU Elle! It is all about writers helping writers. Keep at it!
More on Elle McKinney
Elle lives the single life in Kansas City, surrounded by more nieces and nephews than she knows what to do with. She spends her weekends watching Saturday morning cartoons and defending her crown as the Mario Kart queen. When she’s pretending to be a grownup, she plays the part of freelance writer, published poet, and an active member of the writing community via social media outlets (which is a fancy way of saying she’s addicted to Twitter). She also enjoys long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
Links to a few of those social media outlets can be found below. Links to many more can be found on her website.