Pitch Wars Mentor Spotlight: Cindy Baldwin
Cindy Baldwin is co-mentoring this year along with Amanda Rawson Hill. They're both writers of Middle Grade, and they're super eager to find the next mentee to add to their tribe. Be sure to check out this great post written by Cory Leonardo (one of their past mentees!) on why you should sub to Cindy and Amanda: Why You Should Submit to #TeamMascaraTracks: A Recommendation from Cory Leonardo.
And now for the Q&A!
Hi, Cindy! This is your second time mentoring alongside Amanda Rawson Hill. Can you tell us a little bit about the pros of co-mentoring and how you balance feedback?
I am a big fan of co-mentoring, as long as you’ve got the right co-mentor! It’s really nice to be able to have somebody to help pick up the slack if you’re running into unexpected problems. For instance, last year there were a couple days when Amanda was sick and then a couple of days when I was traveling, both during the selection period, so we sort of took turns taking the lead on sorting through our slush. It’s also nice because typically my feedback builds on hers and vice versa, and by talking things over we’re often able to make connections we probably wouldn’t on our own. We are usually on the same page with most things, and have very similar tastes, so last year we didn’t run into many situations where we disagreed about something or had conflicting feedback.
Congrats on the sale of your Middle Grade debut, Where the Watermelons Grow, set for release in summer 2018! What’s one truth you’ve learned so far on this journey from drafting to publication?
Thank you! There have been SO many things I’ve learned, but probably the #1 lesson is that it is not possible to write a successful book all by oneself. I was a Pitch Wars contestant myself in 2015, and that was a watershed moment in my career, because while my Pitch Wars book didn’t get an agent, I connected with other mentees who became trusted friends and critique partners. I’d had critique partners before Pitch Wars, but I’d struggled to find people who really were able to push me in the ways that I needed. It’s no accident that once I found them, my next book immediately got an agent and a book deal. To this day, industry professionals will comment on things that they love best about WATERMELONS, and quite often they’re things that didn’t exist before my critique partners made insightful and much-needed suggestions.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
All of it?! Ha. But seriously, I feel like all the pieces are difficult in different ways. I recently went to a book signing for Laini Taylor’s STRANGE THE DREAMER where she said that she enjoys having written a lot more than she often enjoys writing, because she’s such a perfectionist that it’s hard to take pleasure in producing imperfect art. I definitely have times where I adore drafting or get really into revision, but I also have a lot of times when, like Laini, I write because I know it’s important to put in the work and not because it’s pleasurable. For me, the middle of the first draft—from about 25% in to 75%, when the climax begins—is especially tough. It’s often a serious slog, I generally have a really hard time believing in myself and my work, and it feels like it will NEVER END. Basically, I have to will my way through it. I often incentivize myself with the prospect of future book ideas that I’m dying to work on, and sternly tell myself that I can’t start those if I don’t finish the work in progress. I have a weekly schedule of the days and times I write (I don’t write every single day), and I try to stick to that as much as I can, which helps me to muscle through the hard parts.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
Amanda and I, along with a few other friends (including one of our 2016 mentees), just started a monthly middle grade book club, so I’ve been finishing up the book for July—Linda Jackson’s terrific debut MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON. It was a really hard book to read in a lot of ways, but so thought-provoking and important, and the setting was utterly vivid (one of my favorite things in a book!). I’ve honestly read so many really fantastic books in 2017! It’s been an unusually good year that way. Some of my recent favorites are S. K. Ali’s SAINTS AND MISFITS, Kristen Cicarelli’s THE LAST NAMSARA, Sandhya Menon’s WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, and Stacey Lee’s THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE. I’ve been recommending these books right and left to everyone I meet!
You were a 2015 Pitch Wars mentee and now you’re a two-time mentor! Having participated on both sides, what advice would you give the mentee hopefuls for 2017?
If you get selected, go into it ready to work. Pitch Wars can be really grueling, and I think it’s important that you be honest with yourself and with your potential mentor with regards to how much you’re willing to overhaul your book and do the work. Every now and then a mentee will get selected but not be really willing to do a lot of revision, which can be stressful for everyone involved. Even more important than that, though, would be the piece of advice I’d give both to those who do AND those who don’t make it into the contest: Use this opportunity to build your writing community! No writer is an island, and you will never achieve the success you hope for without friends, cheerleaders, and critique partners. The Pitch Wars hashtag, even if you’re not selected for the contest, can be a great place to meet other motivated and determined writers. Reach out to those whose work is similar to those, or those you feel you have things in common!
What qualities will you and Amanda be looking for in a mentee?
We are both voicey writers, and tend to be voicey readers, too. We love poetic phrasing, a deft hand with description that doesn’t veer into purple prose, and characters who are impossible to forget. We can fix plot structures, details, and character arcs, but if the voice isn’t there, that’s much harder to fix. (Even though I know that is the most frustrating thing to hear as a hopeful!) Amanda recently did a post on her blog (amandarawsonhill.com) about what voice is and how to develop it, and it’s a great resource.
And finally, what advice do you have for writers who may be attempting a major revision for the first time?
I’m actually working on breaking down my own revision process right now on my blog (cindybaldwinbooks.com)! I am a big fan of writing your own edit letter—in other words, making an exhaustive checklist of all of the things you know you need to fix (from your own reading, CP feedback, etc.). I usually organize my list with bigger and smaller fixes grouped together, and then start with the big, developmental edits—changing character motivations, plot points, and so on. When I’m done with those, I go to smaller things. I don’t usually revise chronologically, I revise one point at a time, so that I can better hold in my mind how things carry across the whole book. All of this really helps me to be a little less intimidated by a big revision… even though it can still be hard to jump in! I always have a day or two after I’ve written my edit letter where I feel like I’m at the edge of the high dive, terrified to scoot forward and plunge into the pool. At a certain point, I have to just make myself do it! I always try to remind myself, too, that revision is something that takes multiple rounds to get right. I won’t get everything perfect on the first try, and that’s okay.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Cindy as much as I did! For more on Cindy's revision process, be sure to check out the detailed series set to run on her blog late July/early August. This series is sure to be packed with revision gold (I know I'll be reading it!), but here's another great blog post of Cindy's to tide you over: So You've Written A Book. Now What?
For those entering Pitch Wars 2017, check out Cindy and Amanda's MENTOR WISHLIST HERE!
If you have specific Pitch Wars questions, be sure to hop on over to Twitter and tweet Cindy at @beingcindy. Or ask Amanda via @amandarhill32. And for more writerly wisdom, check out their respective author websites at: cindybaldwinbooks.com and amandarawsonhill.com.
And, as always,