Well, as most of you know, we’ve already announced one #nestpitch success story. And I’m sure many of you have seen the tweets about the second one also. And if you missed it, let me introduce you to Niki Cluff.
Niki entered Nestpitch 2014 with her YA Magical Realism pitch… and we all loved it. In fact, Niki was one of very few who used the 2 pitches entry rule; and we loved both pitches! This told us a lot. After some tossing and grabby-hands, the wonderful Amanda Foody got to be Niki’s Mentor and from that, Niki got three agents requesting pages.
To refresh your memories, here is the Entry (without the first 300-words)
Title: SUMMONER BATTLES
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Word Count: 60,000
Pitch: In a weaponless world, avatars are used for battle. 16 y/o Evie can’t wait for her avatar, but when it’s a human instead of a beast, she’ll discover the peaceful government has a secret.
Answer to qu: My main character would be a jelly bean, you don’t know what flavor you’ll get.
Is that not a great pitch? It’s got voice and imagery and what’s at stake and what makes it unique… all in 35-words. That folks; is how you do it. And then, the answer to the question, “you don’t know what flavor you’ll get” – the mind boggles, and if you’re like me and don’t like liquorice, let’s hope it’s not the black one.
Without giving too much away, as Niki will fill us in below, the wonderful Cart Hart of Corvisiero Literary Agency found a match in Niki… and thankfully Niki agreed. To learn more about Cate Hart, here’s a link to her interview: https://nestpitch.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/five-minutes-with-agent-cate-hart-corvisiero-literary-agency/ 🙂
Getting to know Niki Cluff
Niki, aside from being an author, tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, what you do that pays the bills, when and where you write, anything at all you’d care to share.
I grew up in Prescott, Arizona moving to Chino Valley, AZ before my freshman year of high school. Now I live in a mere 30 minutes away from both Prescott and Chino.I’m a stay at home mom of 3 kids (four if you count the Husband) and a dane mastiff. When I’m not being a mom I deliver news papers on an early morning route and I also intern for Margaret Bail reading through her slush pile. I write whenever I have the chance, whether it be in the afternoon while the kids are swimming in the pool, or late at night after the kids and Husband are asleep. I’m the queen of copy-cat recipes, my hair is rarely the same color (currently black with blonde beneath) and I love makeup and figuring out looks from movies and TV. (Note from Nik: that’s Niki’s dog, together with her daughter… I don’t know which one is cuter!)
Qu1. Nik: As I said above, your pitch and first page instantly stood out, where did the idea come from?
Niki: Most of my ideas come while I’m on my paper route. I have about two hours of quiet where I can just think, something that doesn’t happen often during the day. I’m a video game addict and I love Japanese Anime. I wanted to write something that incorporated those loves. The idea of battling in a video game with holographic styled creatures really appealed to me and I wondered what a competition with these holographic creatures would be like. I’ve also wondered what the world would be like if there were no weapons. This was my solution for peaceful battles. I wanted to write something for the video gamers, like me, out there.
Qu2. Nik: Was this the first time you’d entered this manuscript into a pitch competition?
Niki: A year or so ago I stumbled across Twitter pitch parties and entered it a few times there, but this was the first time I’ve entered this manuscript in a contest.
Niki: I actually came across #Nestpitch by accident. A woman I follow on twitter retweeted the competition and I had just failed making it into another earlier one. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, so I entered two manuscripts (better odds). I’d just come home from my paper route when I checked the blog to see who the mentors picked. I assumed I didn’t make it. There was a somewhat negative tweet from one of the mentors about an entry that I was sure was mine. When I saw my name and pitch I nearly died. I quickly emailed the CP who helped my hone my pitch. Someone believed in my ms as much as I did. Amanda was amazing and extremely supportive. I can’t express enough gratitude for #Nestpitch and everyone involved.
Qu4. Nik: You entered two manuscripts, how did you come to have two ready for pitching?
Niki: I started writing in 6th grade. My best friend and I wrote fan fictions to each other instead of taking notes in class, gradually moving to my own creations. Writing is something I always enjoyed doing, but I feared rejection. The last few years I got really serious about it. I wrote my first ms and queried it, learning the process, gathering CP’s and progressing. While I was querying agents and entering contests, I worked on something new. It gave me a chance to step back. I found myself fretting over every rejection and wondering what I was doing wrong. I needed a break. Writing something new gave me fresh eyes when I came back to the first and vice-versa. Through that process I was able to write two ms and edit them. Great CP’s helped me strengthen my pitches. It helps to have supportive people around.
Qu5. Nik: With regard to Cate Hart, how did the request go from partial to full? Did you do any research beforehand or did you already know of her?
Niki: I didn’t know who Cate was until I read the Five Minutes With interview on the #Nestpitch blog. I researched every agent participating in the contest. There were a few I already knew about since I was querying outside of contests, but Cate was new. Luckily she has a wonderful blog with great insight. As for the request, I received an offer from another agent. Out of courtesy I notified Cate. She replied asking for the full and a week. I willingly obliged. After reading her blog, I knew she was someone I wanted to work with. I secretly hoped that she would offer me representation, my fingers crossed the entire time.
Niki: The waiting was excruciating! At first I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d gone from constant rejections to a couple of offers in a matter of hours. I actually had to research proper etiquette in notifying agents with partials and fulls, what sort of questions to ask, all the important things I hadn’t considered. Once I knew what to do, I emailed Cate to let her know. Like I said before she emailed back requesting the full and a week. I would like to say that I patiently waited that week, but I didn’t. I checked my email every few minutes. I talked my husband to death with possible scenarios and squealed with giddy delight at the thought that I may actually get the agent I wanted to work with, Cate. Of course, my husband brought me back down to earth and I managed to refocus my energy on helping my CP’s, working on some new ideas and continuing to email other agents, just in case. Five days later she emailed me back wanting to set up a time to call. It was another email I received at 6 AM after doing my paper route. I actually jumped and did a fist pump in the air, carefully landing so I wouldn’t wake the rest of my family up. I won’t deny it.
Niki: Honestly, I couldn’t sit still once we set up a time. I went to my dad’s birthday party the day before and I squirmed in my chair the whole time. From the email to the day she called I had a couple days to sort through all the questions running through my mind and research anything and everything I would need to ask an offering agent. I wrote them down, knowing I was capable of forgetting everything once excitement got the better of me. I’m pretty awkward on the phone. When the call came I ran into my bedroom and locked the door so the kids wouldn’t interrupt. Cate was wonderful. She was kind as she introduced herself and informed me that she wanted to offer representation. I struggled to keep from giddily laughing (which probably would have come out more like the bray of a donkey in my excitement) and thanked her for the interest. We talked about the story, how unique it was and the way she wanted to present it. I asked her about edits and she gave me a good idea of things to work on and how to improve and let me know that she would send a more detailed email about the edits later. I asked her my questions, such as: was she more into traditional publishing, or digital and indie, if she was a hands on agent or not, was she interested in representing me for my career or just the book, etc., things I couldn’t learn from her profile on Corvisiero’s website or through her blog. She patiently answered each and every one of my many questions without complaint. She walked me through the contract, explaining each and every section so I knew exactly what I was signing. I wanted to immediately say yes, but I also wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything else I needed answered, so I asked her for a couple days to consider and sort through any more questions I may possibly have. Cate was gracious enough to give me the time, not that it mattered. My gut told me Cate was the right agent, but it was really nice to make sure I knew everything I wanted to know before I signed.
NOTE FROM NIK: It’s so clear that Niki and Cate were looking to create the start of a long-term relationship. Look at the topics covered… and then take note for when your turn comes!
Qu8. Nik: After having gone through the query process and the #pitching competition process would you recommend your aspiring author friends do pitch competitions? And what advice would you give them?
Niki: I would definitely recommend them, but not just for finding an agent. They’re a great place to learn. Each competition I’ve entered had mentors who gave their time freely to posting trends, statistics and other things they noticed while reading through the mountains of entries. They offer such great and valuable advice that you really can’t get elsewhere. Agents don’t always have the time to give that sort of insight. It’s also where I met my CP’s. They were in the trenches just like me. They understood what I was going through. It was nice to have someone waiting on the sidelines with me, but competitions aren’t for everyone. They do require some research before hand. I always read everything the host posts about the competition and research the agents involved. There is no point in entering a competition if every agent has already rejected you, or if there isn’t an agent representing what you write. Sometimes it’s hard to put your work out there, even behind a computer. That’s totally cool. For me, they were a great opportunity to grow and connect. Not to mention I got seen by multiple agents who actually liked my writing.
NOTE FROM NIK: Niki makes some excellent points here. #Pitch comps are about connecting as much as they are about *winning* – also, doing your homework and researching the agents, what genres they represent, etc. is crucial, as is being aware of who you have already submitted to. There is no value in entering a competition if all the agents have seen that MS; enter another comp or submit another MS.
Niki: I read slush. That’s what I do for Margaret Bail when I have time. I can honestly say that the slush pile does work. It takes time. There are thousands of people out there who want the same thing, who have a story of their own to share. It may take a while for an agent to find yours out of the many that don’t follow the guidelines or the mss that aren’t right for them, but they get there. Sometimes its about the right story with the right agent at the right time in the market and that can take a while to figure out. It’s easy to get impatient. #Pitching competitions are the same way. It’s all a matter of preference, as much as I hate to be cliché. So many people say that, but it’s true. Agents are readers just like us, it’s how they get into the business in the first place. They have genres they like and ones they don’t. Not every story that comes across their desk is going to be one they love. We don’t love everything we read either. These competitions are a great way to get your name out there, to have multiple agents see your pitch or first page. It’s exposure you can’t get otherwise. People get signed one of three ways: they meet an agent at a conference, they query or they pitch and everyone already signed worked hard to get where they are. Sometimes pitching is the only way to get your name, and writing, out. I didn’t have the opportunity to go to conferences since I do a paper route 7 days a week and people don’t like to sub routes. I also live in a slightly rural area and don’t have access to many conferences. #Pitch competitions gave me the chance I needed. I couldn’t be more grateful to the people who take the time to put the competitions together and volunteer to mentor. They really do make all the difference.
NOTE FROM NIK: As someone who lives in Australia,I can certainly understand not being able to attend conferences. Our other success story (thus far) lives in Japan… the beauty of online and email pitch comps it you can be anywhere in the world and still be a part of them.
Niki: Editing. I get to go into my writing cave (which may or may not look like the Batcave) with all of Cate’s wonderful and insightful suggestions and edit my work as many times as it takes until it shines and we are both happy with the results. She gave me so many ideas that will strengthen my writing and the overall story. Then I’ll let her do her thing, from what I understand, and I’ll work on cleaning up another ms of mine and a new idea I got while traipsing around the French Quarter in New Orleans on vacation. I’ve hit the halfway mark. Getting an agent is definitely half the battle, but there is still a ways to go before I hit the finish line!
Thank you so much for taking part in this Q&A Niki, I know the entire #Nestpitch Team are so very happy for you, and promise, when you have your first book deal, you’ll come back and visit (and share the cover too) 🙂
If you want to follow Niki’s progress, you’ll find her on blog here: nikicluff.blogspot.com & you’ll find her on Twitter here: @ And don’t forget to congratulate Niki’s awesome agent Cate on her great taste and foresight! Cate can be found on Twitter here: @ and on her blog here: catehart.com
Final thoughts: Pitch competitions DO WORK – period. No, they are not for everyone and no, not every pitch that is selected to be featured will result in an offer from an agent. Not even every pitch that has a request by an agent will end in an offer of representation, but as Niki pointed out, pitching competitions offer so much to all those who enter. You *meet other authors, people with whom you can form relationships, some of whom will become friends/BETA readers/CP partners. You extend your contact list to include successful authors and not just successful but successful generous authors who give freely of their time, people who are there for you well beyond the pitch-faze. You increase your presence on social media. You develop confidence.
These are all intangible but invaluable benefits to entering pitching competitions. Oh yes, and you might get yourself an agent too! So, as you look at upcoming events (and there are several excellent ones in the next 6-months which I will be posting updates on), and as you scroll through the Mentors and the Agents, don’t dismiss the opportunity and positive effect of #Pitch Competitions.