Meet Amanda Rawson Hill, author and Pitch Wars mentor. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Her book THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is coming in fall 2018 from Boyds Mills Press. The book follows 11-year-old Kate, who is starting to believe in what her grandmother calls “everyday magic”—she just hopes it can bring back her estranged feather or her erstwhile best friend.
When I saw the description for THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, my first thought was that 11-year-old me likely would have identified with the book and ate it up (and adult me probably will too). Was any of the book inspired by your own childhood?
Yes! Though more on a scene level than a premise level. In the book, Kate’s grandmother has early dementia. My grandpa died of Alzheimer’s when I was 15. There’s a conversation Kate has with her grandma where Grammy says, “I’m losing it, aren’t I?” and they talk about what’s happening. That was directly inspired by my grandpa sitting down with my mom and I remember him saying, “I’m not going to be myself for much longer.” Several other scenes with Grammy are inspired by my grandpa and a story Kate’s mom tells her about a piano recital is straight from my junior year of high school.
You did several revisions on your book. How did you tackle revisions and do you have any revision advice for other writers?
How did I tackle revisions? With just this bull-headedness, really. I went through all the usual phases when you first receive a hard crit. Denial, weeping, thinking about quitting. You know the drill. But after I got done doing that, I looked at each one as a challenge. I only started writing five years ago and so I’ve really tried to maintain this attitude that I’m just learning the ropes and I’m not very good so I take almost every bit of advice and revision suggestions I’m given. And you know, that attitude has paid off very well for me.
So my biggest piece of advice is to just lose any semblance of pride. Decide to be a student and really, really listen and think about (for a couple days) a revision note, before you decide not to use it.
And if you’re still not sure if it’s the right choice? Just try it. When I got into Pitch Wars, I had a mentor team. And my first mentor, Joy, gently suggested something that would require a total rewrite. I balked at first but as I sat with it, I could see the merit of it. But I still wasn’t convinced. So I said, “Okay, I’ll try it.” And since it was a rewrite, I gave it 10,000 words. And if I still didn’t like it after 10,000 words then I’d scrap that idea. Well, 10,000 words in and my CP was raving about the changes.
Third piece of advice is to wait a couple days before jumping into your revision to make a plan of attack. Each revision is different. Some require large chunks of your book to be rewritten (if not the whole thing.) If that’s the case, do the rewriting first. That way you’re not changing things in the rest of the book that you’re going to have to go back and change after the rewrite. But maybe your revision is more about character development, so in that case, you’ll want to do some off-page work with getting to know your characters first. Decide if you want to tackle your revision in chronological order, from beginning to end, or if you want to tackle it by hitting each revision note and then checking it off the list. I’ve done both and they have their time and place depending on the revision.
You got your start writing by writing a picture book. What made you decide to write that picture book and what made you decide to expand your writing repertoire and write middle grade?
I decided to write it so I could fall asleep because it would not leave me alone! Haha The next morning I read it and, of course, I thought it was publishable and immediately started looking for an agent. (Don’t roll your eyes at me! I’ve learned a lot since then! Haha) After that, I’d caught the bug. I decided to try everything just wanting to get some publication credits to my name and see what happened. So I wrote a nonfiction article for Highlight’s, a couple poems for a religious magazine. And then I think I realized that it’s REALLY REALLY hard to write a good picture book and get it published…so that’s probably why I started writing my first middle grade. And once you start writing middle grade? It’s really hard to stop. It’s such a special age category.
On your website you mention that you never thought you were a writer growing up. Looking back, does it surprise you at all that you became a writer?
Yes and no. It still surprises me in some ways just because, before five years ago, this wasn’t even on my radar. I never would have looked at my future and said, “I’m going to be an author.” But there were signs. I was very good at public speaking. I placed at state and qualified for nationals in speech and debate. So I think I’ve always been able to put together words to get my point across. I’d just never tried it in a story format.
I actually gave a speech at my high school graduation and ended it by saying something about, “There is an ocean of opportunities waiting for us.” And then I mentioned, “Books to be written.” I guess I didn’t realize I was talking about myself.
EVERYDAY MAGIC was also the manuscript you entered into Pitch Wars 2015. The agent round is one of the most anticipated events of Pitch Wars for mentees. Tell us about the craziness of the agent round. Did it make you nervous and how did you prepare yourself for it?
Oh, the agent round. I was actually a Pitch Wars mentee in 2014 as well. And that year I got three agent requests. So I went into the 2015 agent round not really expecting any more than that. I actually expected possibly less because my book was so quiet and nothing really happened in the first 250 words. One of my mentors helped prepare my expectations by challenging me to pitch “Because of Winn Dixie” and make it sound exciting. IT’S REALLY HARD! Some books just don’t do well with a short pitch and only one page and I was sure that my book fell under that category. It ended up getting 12 requests which was just…mind blowing. Every single one felt like this amazing, unexpected gift. It was the first time I really let myself think that maybe this book had a chance.
But even with all that exciting stuff, it’s still a really hard and exhausting few days. Because by the time the agent round rolls around, you’re not just in it for yourself anymore. You’ve bonded with all of the other mentees and you want everyone to do well. And so you cheer for the people raking in requests and ache with the people not getting any. I was the “mother” of our Pitch Wars group and so I spent most of the agent round just trying to keep everybody’s spirits up.
You’ll be a mentor for the second year in a row. Has anything about mentoring ever surprised you?
I was surprised by how much I loved my two mentees’ books. I knew I’d find a book that I liked and could work with and help. But I think because it’s still so hard to believe that my mentors loved my book, I just wasn’t sure how much I’d feel for other peoples’ books. But holy cow! I fell so hard for their books. Reading them was a delight and I can honestly say that Cindy and I are their biggest, hugest fans. I think I’ve been most surprised by that depth of feeling.
This year you are on a mentor team with Cindy Baldwin. How do you go about choosing a mentee as a mentor team?
Well, Cindy and I teamed up because we’re just very similar. We write similar kinds of stories, we love the same books, we signed with the same agent! So, we were hoping that we would easily agree on which book to choose. And we did. Kit’s book was one of our very first subs and we knew we wanted it immediately. After reading the first few pages of Cory’s book, I texted Cindy and was like, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!” And I was really nervous, because another mentor I was friends with was like, “I was surprised she sent it to you. I didn’t think it was a good fit for you.” So I thought maybe I was not thinking straight or something. But Cindy read it and immediately got back to me just raving. And honestly, that was that.
But if you want the nitty gritty of how we choose, we have folders. Request more, maybe, and no. And if something is a no for either one of us, it’s a no for both of us. If something is a maybe, we both come back to it later. And if something is in the request pile we’ll either both read and then request, or we’ll just request without the other one reading. Sometimes you just know.
How do you go about handling and splitting the editing on a mentor team?
By the time we’ve made a decision about a mentee, we’ve usually read most, if not all, of their book. So we talk a bit about our ideas and then one of us types up notes. The other one reads them and adds their own if they weren’t covered. Then we both read the revision and send back separate notes. We made poor Cory go back and fix her climax like 5 times until it was PERFECT. And we both work on the query and first page. This year we might have to split it up more since we both have book deals now and there might be revision deadlines or something. But hopefully not.
Any Pitch Wars advice you’d like to give to the upcoming batch of 2017 mentees?
Don’t let the green-eyed monster hurt your friendships and community. While Pitch Wars is going on, there will be some things that make you jealous. But it’s what happens after Pitch Wars that can really be hard. Some of you will go on to have huge and immediate success. Some of you will have to query for several months before finding an agent. Some of you will get an agent very quickly and then never sell your book. Some of you won’t get an agent until your next book. Or maybe the book after that. And all of these different trajectories can make it hard to have a thriving, caring, working community. My advice is three-fold.
- Remember writing karma. Be as excited for others’ success as you want them to be for yours. Your turn will come. Put good karma in the bank.
- Your feelings are valid, whatever they are. And so are everyone else’s feelings. Someone feeling sad that querying isn’t going well for them doesn’t take anything away from the person celebrating their book deal and vice versa. Allow all the highs and the lows to mix in your group and celebrate and cry together.
- Find ways to stick together so that you can all learn from each other but also be mindful of others’ feelings. Because you’ve all gone through this experience together. Stick together.
How about some advice for hopefuls who don’t make it in this year?
Use the lead-up time to the announcement to find CP’s and beta readers. A mentor is just a glorified CP. You can do the same thing with hard work and another pair of sharp eyes. I know lots of people who didn’t get into Pitch Wars but then went on to get an agent or a book deal (or both!)
Honestly? The answer is always work, work harder, keep working.
Want to know more about Amanda? Visit her author website.