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#PitchWars to Publication (Part 1)


I had the idea for Planet Earth is Blue somewhere around 2014, but it was just a vague note in my "Possible Middle Grade Novel Ideas" folder for an embarrassingly long time. I just couldn't come up with a main character, and without that, there's not much to go on. (I'm very much a character-driven storyteller.) Over a year later, while out for a walk, I was listening to David Bowie's Space Oddity on my iPod when Nova's voice started to develop. The rough draft took off from there.

During that time, my writing buddy, Katy, and I got together about twice a week at various cafes around Brooklyn, NY. She and I had both recently abandoned our previous WIPs and were diving into new ones. Coincidentally, both of our plots center around a protagonist who knows a missing loved one wouldn't just up and leave and never come back, but there's pretty much where the similarities end. Katy and I exchanged ideas and manuscripts, celebrated when things went well, commiserated when they did not, and drank far too much iced coffee (me) and iced tea (her). In 2016, I entered my recently complete rough draft into a Twitter contest called #Pitchwars. It’s run by author Brenda Drake and is more than a pitch party – it’s a mentorship program. I was absolutely thrilled to receive four requests from the Mentors to whom I submitted, and one of them, Ellie Terry, ended up choosing me as her Mentee.

Ellie wrote a middle grade novel-in-verse, Forget Me Not, which is the awesome story of a girl named Calliope, who has Tourette’s Syndrome. Calliope and my main character, Nova, have quite a bit in common, including an interest in space (Calliope likes astronomy in particular, whereas Nova's more into space travel) and some difficulties controlling their vocalizations and movements. I was honored to be working with Ellie , not only because I loved the sound of her book (which hadn't been released yet) but because she completely *got* my entry, Planet Earth is Blue. We worked together to turn the rough draft into a manuscript I could query to agents.

I received a number of requests from various agents during the Agent Round that follows the Mentorship period, but I also started off on the journey known as “cold querying." That meant sending out the pitch to agents I already knew about and thought might be a good fit. At the top of my list was Katie Grimm from Don Congdon and Associates. In her #ManuscriptWishList she listed among her interests, "Space," "Misrepresented voices," and "The lies we tell ourselves," and she included Rebecca Stead on her 'Looking for the Next...' list. (Side note: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is my favorite book of all time, edging out Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. I've met Rebecca at least three times at various book events and fangirled embarrassingly every time.) So I submitted my manuscript to Katie, and to my delight she asked to read it right away. It wasn’t long before she called me, told me she cried while reading it – the ultimate compliment! My favorite books are those that make me cry! – and added she wanted to represent me. I accepted, of course, and we started back down the road of editing, to get the manuscript into the best possible shape before sending it out to editors at publishing companies.

During the editing process, several other people read the book to add their thoughts, including some chosen by Katie and others who happened to be my Facebook friends (or the children of my Facebook friends) who responded to my PLEASE READ THIS DRAFT, I'M BEGGING YOU! post. I especially wanted to get feedback from kids between the ages of ten and thirteen, adults who were between ten and thirteen when the Challenger Space Shuttle launched, and anyone who watched it either live on TV or in person. I was lucky to find people in all groups!

A fellow PitchWars entrant, Yael, contacted me to say that she had been in Florida watching the launch live and would be happy to exchange manuscripts so we could give each other feedback. By a stroke of lucky coincidence, her middle grade novel features a protagonist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like me, so I was able to relate to him on a deeper level and give her feedback that other readers might not have, just as she was doing for me.

Another person I spoke to about the book was my friend Kris, a special education teacher and mother of twin then-tween girls. She shared her memories of watching the launch from her classroom and one of her daughters, Mackenzie, read the latest draft and gave feedback – she was my first kid reader!

I had a number of other awesome readers to whom I owe my thanks, too many to list here, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kathy L (a friend from community theatre who is always the first to volunteer to read anything for me no matter how rough it is), Carolyn (my best friend since babyhood, born within days of the Challenger Launch) and my supportive writer friends who gave their feedback, including Dee, Amie, and, of course, Katy.

When the edits were done and it was time to send Planet Earth out into the world, my agent, Katie Grimm, asked if I had any particular 'dream editors' I wanted to send to.

"Yes," I said. "Wendy Lamb, because she edited When You Reach Me, the best book ever written." (I guess I was feeling a bit... ambitious.)

So much goes into that submitting-to-editors process, from here I’ll just skip ahead to the point at which my heart stopped: exactly one day shy of two weeks after Planet Earth went on submission, Wendy Lamb wanted to talk. At this point, my heart stopped. A word of warning, this happens several times.

We arranged a phone call for the next morning, a Friday. I couldn’t sleep Thursday night because I was afraid I’d end up sleeping through the call, or that my phone would die, or that my apartment building would get struck by lightning for some reason, so I stayed up all night immersed in Harry Potter fanfiction to keep myself distracted.

Wendy phoned at 9:30 in the morning with her assistant, Dana Carey, also on the line. The three of us talked for ninety minutes, during which she said she loved Planet Earth is Blue. She wanted to talk to Katie about making an offer. I don’t think my heart resumed beating until the call ended.

Long story short, Katie called me back a few hours later, and I officially had an offer from Wendy Lamb and Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. I tried to play it cool when I told Katie, “Yeah, I think we should take it.” But I was not cool. Not even slightly cool. I was far too excited and overwhelmed to be cool. (It had been a dramatic 24 hours for me on a cardiovascular level.)

The first people I told about the book deal were my mother, Katy, and my goddaughter Meadow, who had just turned eleven two days earlier. It didn't feel more real when I said it the third time than it did the first.

Shortly thereafter, I got another call from Wendy, this time telling me she was excited to work with me. I think I expressed feeling the same but honestly, I was still so elated from the news I can’t be sure I said anything that made any sense! It's been over three months now and I still lose the ability to form proper sentences when I speak with her over the phone, tonight included.

Planet Earth is Blue is due out next summer, 2019, with a second book to follow. And that was my path from #Pitchwars to Publication... part one!