Pitch Wars Mentor Spotlight: Kerbie Addis
Kerbie Addis is co-mentoring for the second year in a row alongside Mónica Bustamante Wagner (this will be Mónica's SIXTH time mentoring!). Mónica is a YA/NA writer living in Chile, and Kerbie is an intern at a NYC literary agency. Kerbie also has a bachelor’s in English and a minor in Latin and is studying in the master’s program at Texas Woman’s University to become a librarian.
And now for the Q&A!
Hi, Kerbie, and welcome! This is your second time mentoring alongside Mónica Bustamante Wagner. Can you tell us a little bit about the pros of co-mentoring and how you balance feedback?
I can answer this both as a co-mentor and as a mentee with co-mentors. The pros are obviously that Mónica and I can get second opinions or help each other pinpoint why something isn’t working. I think co-mentoring opens up critique for discussion and makes the writer less likely to lock up and think “well I have to change this because my mentor said so” if they don’t like the changes. Sometimes co-mentors don’t agree on certain things, and that’s ok, we present both points to the writer and let them decide which would be better for their story overall.
I don’t think last year Mónica and I disagreed on anything, though, ha! We have very similar tastes and pet peeves. But I do remember when Mónica and Susan were my mentors in 2015, one of them wanted me to change something (it was very small, a line edit) and I disagreed with it. I was terrified of saying I didn’t want to change it, but my other mentor popped up before I said anything and said she thought the line worked and used the reasoning I would’ve used. I was SO relieved I didn’t have to bring it up first! I was really happy for the open environment they cultivated—after that initial fear of speaking up, I realized I could freely speak about what I wanted to keep and what I was open to change.
The drawback to this kind of collaboration, though, is it might be overwhelming for a writer to have two viewpoints at the same time. Again, Mónica and I usually agree on edits, but I can see where that might make the writer feel ganged up on. Just know that when we point stuff out together, it’s because we both want your manuscript to be the best it can possibly be, and if we end up picking you in the first place, it’s because there was about 50 emails behind the scenes of us fangirling over your book. :P
What is your opinion on prologues, especially in terms of querying or contests like Pitch Wars where you might only be able to submit the very beginning of your novel for consideration?
I’m gonna be really blunt here. You probably don’t need your prologue. I don’t think I’ve ever read a prologue that was necessary for the story—and if it was, the necessity of it usually was an indication of poor writing to come. Is your prologue just an excuse to info-dump elements that could be sprinkled throughout the story? Cut it. Is it backstory for a beloved character and doesn’t actually strengthen the plot? Cut it. However, is your prologue technically chapter one with a different name? In that case, keep it. For Pitch Wars, if you MUST keep your prologue, submitting depends on how long the prologue is. If the prologue is long enough to stand in for a whole chapter, send the prologue. If the prologue is only two pages, maybe skip it and send chapter one instead.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Getting the words down. I take forever with first drafts, but I welcome revisions with open arms. Most writers I know are the opposite—they hate revisions, but to me, it’s a welcome change, switching from one side of my brain to the other, from creative to analytical. To get those initial words down, I need accountability. Sometimes that’s a CP waiting for the draft, or I post my slowly rising word counts on sites like myWriteClub, where my friends can cheer me on or frown at my unfinished work. It also helps to chart out a plan for how many words per day using sites like Pacemaker so I can see the end in sight.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton! It’s such an amazing book!
You were a two-time mentee in Pitch Wars, and now you’re a two-time mentor! Having played on both sides of the fence, what advice would you give the mentee hopefuls for 2017?
I’m going to give some nice advice, and then some not-so-nice advice.
The nice: If you have a complete manuscript, submit! What do you have to lose? And if you don’t get in, that doesn’t mean you don’t have talent. Pitch Wars is very competitive. You might not get picked based purely on someone’s personal preference. I was a mentee twice, but I submitted three times. I got in, then I didn’t, then I got in again the next year. Does that year in the middle mean I was suddenly untalented, only to become talented again the next year? No, it means that year my manuscript didn’t resonate with the mentors. It was luck, pure and simple.
The not-so-nice: Don’t submit if you don’t plan on working. This is not a contest where you’re selected and everyone just lavishes praise and puts you out there for agents. You are expected to bust your butt revising. If you aren’t ready to give 110% of yourself, give up your spot to someone else who will.
What qualities will you and Mónica be looking for in a mentee?
Obviously a great manuscript ;D We aren’t looking for a perfect book. We’re looking for a book we can make perfect with our notes. Some choices, as mentioned above, will be personal preference.
We both value hard-working writers and writers who are honest about their process, including when they fall behind. It’s okay to need help, that’s why mentors are here! But we really want someone who is open about communication and lets us know when they hit bumps in the road.
I think we also appreciate talkative mentees, lol. Mónica and I can write loooooooonnnnnng emails back and forth. I love it! So we’d probably get along with someone like that, but that isn’t to say we’d pass on someone for being shy.
And finally, what advice do you have for writers who may be attempting a major revision for the first time?
OUTLINE! And plan, plan, plan. See if your plan makes sense on paper before tearing apart your manuscript. Look up beat sheets, particularly geared towards your genre, and use those as a rough guide. You don’t need fancy software to outline; I’ve outlined in Google Sheets/Excel before. It sometimes helps to use programs like Scrivener (or free alternatives like yWriter) where you can break the manuscript into moveable chapters/pieces, but this isn’t a necessity.
Tackle plot problems before you tackle small edits, like dialogue, tightening, etc. There’s no point in doing those small edits if they might be taken out completely with plot edits.
Don’t make promises to yourself about your book. For instance, don’t set story facts in stone, like “John and Mary are married.” Maybe the story works better without that. Keep everything open and subject to change. Forcing yourself to retain certain aspects of the story will hold you back from seeing big picture problems.
I hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Kerbie as much as I did! For even more writing wisdom, be sure to check out my interview with her on what it's like to work as a literary agent intern: Q&A with Author and Literary Agent Intern, Kerbie Addis.
For those entering Pitch Wars 2017, Mónica and Kerbie's MENTOR WISHLIST IS HERE!