“WriteMentor is a lifeline for connection and learning and opportunities that I never would have had access to otherwise. It has, quite literally, made ALL the difference.”
Writer Melissa Kay Valente describes how being part of the WriteMentor community via the Hub membership platform helped her secure agent representation
I’ve just been doing my end of year review and setting goals, as many of us do at the start of a New Year, and in the spirit of this I am trying to celebrate the wins – let’s face it there are so many rejections (err passes) and knocks along this journey. But it’s very hard not to feel like Braggy McBraggypants (as Julie Hedlund puts it!). It seems somewhat fraudulent to be answering questions for a ‘success story’ when there is still so far to go. Though, I’m not going to lie, after all these years it is lovely to be asked! And the fact is, I have just reached a major milestone. Just a few of months ago, I signed with the incredible Alice Williams. It feels like all my Christmases came at once! Not least because, when I wrote my 2022 goals list at the very top I’d put: sign with Alice Williams! I keep having to pinch myself – it’s real!
On the flip side, I’m suddenly hyper aware that this is where a whole new sort of work begins and it all feels a little daunting. Now I have to face rejection (sorry passes) on a whole new level! I’d spent so many years on the other side of the proverbial gate that it never really crossed my mind how anxiety-inducing the search for success might be at this new stage. But I do have a stack of stories and experiences (and an Alice in my corner) and that makes me feel that everything I did before was not a waste of time. I am beyond excited to be starting the next phase, even if I do feel ridiculously ‘new-kid’!
It does make me wonder, though, if anything will ever actually make me feel like a success and not an imposter. I’ve done all the vision boards and New Year goals, the visualisations and gratitude practices, not to mention all the courses and the critiques and notebooks and zoom sessions, but in many ways I always feel underqualified. I think perhaps it never ends and – I now realise – perhaps I never want it to. I have absolutely loved every up and down. These are what make it real and heartfelt and build our connections and push us onwards.
Tell us about your writing journey from the start until now
I suppose writing has always been in my life. I used to go to sleep to the sound of my mother’s typewriter. She also read to me every night and I discovered such variety and escapism in those tales. In my teen years I wrote angsty poetry, in my twenties I began working on two Young Adult novels and short stories, and my thirties saw me move into journalism. I also became an English teacher, and began to explore younger kidlit. By the time I hit my forties I was obsessed with Picture Books, Chapter Books and Middle Grade!
In the past few years I have done so many courses and every free zoom session I can get my hands on, plus found the most amazing WriteMentor critique group. I have lived and breathed stories, filled a stupid number of notebooks and loved every second.
What I haven’t loved so much is the shortlistings that never quite make the cut, the silence following submissions, the standard from rejections and the endless self-questioning that goes with this game. It’s hard. But through it all, critique partners have encouraged and helped me chip away at my writing (thank you thank you thank you Working Titles and PB7). In fact, it was them who inspired me to try a 1-2-1. My first two were such great experiences. There was so much kindness and handholding from Elane and Sarah of I Am in Print and so much generosity from the agent and editor I spoke to – encouraging me to continue.
So….when I saw Alice’s 1-2-1 opportunity come up via the WriteMentor Hub I knew I had to try. She had been closed to submissions for so long and I just wanted her to see my work. I knew by now that these are amazing opportunities for insightful feedback, not intended as above the slushpile, get-an-agent cheats so I set my expectations to ‘vaguely realistic’ (dialled down by at least 1000%) and wondered if I could perhaps just make enough of an impression for her to remember me if she saw my work – when I submitted it later.
Ha, who was I kidding? Even closed to submissions Alice sees hundreds of emails a day and I know how amazing her slushpile is – I’ve helped to critique a bunch of the stories! So when my WriteMentor 1-2-1 turned into a Revise & Resubmit and my R & R submission turned into a request for more stories just a few weeks later, I could not believe my luck! Then, she suggested we talk – I nearly popped*! (*Risky word for a typo!). When she actually said she wanted to work with me – well, let’s just say I didn’t play it cool!
Why did you decide to join WriteMentor’s Hub?
Actually, I blame Emma Finlayson-Palmer! There was a competition that got me interested initially and when I did some clicking I saw that she was part of the team. I had met Emma a few years earlier when we were longlisted for the Undiscovered Voices competition together and joined an incredible weekend writing workshop. It was the first moment I thought I might be getting somewhere and I will never forget how much I learned that weekend, nor all the lovely people I met.
Anyway, when I saw that Emma was on the team I took it as a sign, and thank goodness I did – the WriteMentor Hub has given me so much. My crit partners (gold), the learning sessions, the community, the encouragement, the competitions and the ultimate 1-2-1! Best decision ever!
I hope this little anecdote also shows that each small step may well be connected in ways you could never have predicted. It’s such an exciting journey – the plot twists are endless!
What has your experience of having an agent been so far?
Well, it’s early days but I can say that Alice has been brilliantly proactive – I already have one PB out on sub, another in final edits and in January we will be looking over my chapter book (which I’m frantically trying to finish over Christmas) and a few other PB texts, so it’s all go.
The other side-effect of this new step, so far, is that I feel very lucky to have joined a family of amazing authors – including WriteMentor’s very own Clare Helen Welsh and Sophia Payne.
Can you tell us a little about the book you signed with and how you came to secure representation.
The one that caught Alice’s attention in our 1-2-1 was a story about a narrator who feels he’s not in the right story (the kids keep falling asleep!). The main character is a flamboyant peacock so it’s a voicey, meta, picture book with plenty of humour and a lovely foil character. I followed it up with a lyrical and uplifting tale about grief which turned out to be a good choice, and then I also sent the pitch for my chapter book – based around a series concept I worked on with Amy Sparkes. I genuinely wanted to hear what would work best for the stories and the commercial market they have to make their niche in and Alice had such solid, clear advice that it I felt brave enough to act on it and submit the revisions.
What is your best piece of writing advice?
Show up at the page! Honestly that little phrase has got me back at the keyboard and out of procrastination-mode more times than I can count! Sometimes that’s all it takes!
Why do you think it’s important to be part of a community?
It’s everything. Writing for children takes a village anyway – we are not lonely writers typing away in remote rooms. The magic only happens when we are part of a press of professionals (sorry, an invented collective noun!) who make our good idea into a diamond. If I ever get to write one of those ‘acknowledgements’ sections at the back of a book, the anxiety of it might finish me off – I’d never be able to name everyone, the list would be longer than the book!
It’s been especially crucial for me because I live in Tanzania, East Africa, which is a fairly remote location, at least in writing terms. WriteMentor is a lifeline for connection and learning and opportunities that I never would have had access to otherwise. It has, quite literally, made ALL the difference.
Join the WriteMentor Hub
Develop writing craft, receive critique on your work from peers and kid readers, pitch your manuscript to agents, and learn from and network with industry experts through monthly workshops, webinars, and chats. Most importantly, foster life-long friendships with fellow writers.
Read more success stories
Since 2018, over 100 WriteMentor writers have signed with agents or secured publishing deals like Melissa via our summer mentoring programme, novel awards and membership to the Hub. Could you be our next success story?