Friday, August 16, 2013

A Success Story from Query Kombat

You may know her as "Champagne and Hot Dogs" from Query Kombat. But now, you know her as Stephanie Wahlstrom, author of "The Accidental Socialite," an author with TWO agents and a book deal!

We love hearing these success stories, so thank you so much Stephanie for agreeing to do this interview (this interview is fun, especially the "The Call" question, so read it all!).


1. First things first: CONGRATS! How does it feel to have two agents and a book deal?

Not gonna lie, pretty AMAZING! I still can’t believe this has all happened.

2. Tell us a little about your book.

It’s called THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE and it’s about Paige, a small town Canadian girl who moves to London and accidentally becomes famous.

3. What part of your book do you love the most, and what part of it did your agents/editor love the most? (This is a trick on my part to force shy writers to brag about their book.)

My favourite part about the book is probably when she stabs Prince William with a Star Wars McDonalds toy because a version of that happened in real life. I still can’t believe I wasn’t deported for it.

I think what the publisher and my agent liked best about the book was that they genuinely thought it was funny, which is completely and totally amazing, because my biggest fear was that I was the only one who thought it was funny.

4. What would be the best compliment you could ever ever get about your book, something that’d send you into the clouds even months after receiving it?

I’ve always said that all I want to do is entertain a person I don’t know in a language I don’t speak. I have always dreamed about being in an airport somewhere and seeing a random person reading my book in another language and laughing. That would be the ultimate compliment! Also, if there was a moment when someone referenced something in front of me from the book (in a good/funny way) without knowing I’d written it that would also make my life!

5. You were Champagne and Hot Dogs in the Query Kombat Kontest. You went FAR in the Kontest; how was that experience? Did it help you out?

Query Kombat helped more than I knew! First of all, it was a much needed boost of confidence. Also, the comments were very helpful. One of the comments in particular actually made a big difference to my book. Someone posted that Paige seemed too old to be acting the way she was. They were totally right! When I first started to write the book two years ago she was supposed to be 22-ish but I googled around and realized that in order for the book to sell she would probably need to be at least 25 (New Adult wasn’t a ‘thing’ yet) so I changed the age. When I saw that comment I realized I wasn’t being true to the story and changed her age back to 22. Then all of this happened. My mentor Jean Oram was also amazing. My query was much better because of her and that’s the one I sent out with the requests that resulted in my offers.

6. You also were a part of Brenda Lee Drake’s Pitch Madness. Brenda helped us TREMENDOUSLY in Query Kombat, so thanks goes out to her as well! How did Pitch Madness help you? How was that experience?

Pitch Madness helped me get a good understanding of what the heart of the story was, which I think is one of the hardest things. Pitch Madness was also so awesome because it introduced me to the twitter writing community which is completely amazing and super duper helpful!

I also perfected my 35 word pitch with the help of Mina Vaughn and that’s the one I submitted to PitchMAS in July which is where all the offers came from.

7. What are your thoughts on writerly contests? Should writers enter them? Why or why not?

ABSOLUTELY! It helps you figure out what’s going right/wrong and get requests. It’s also a great way to find support with other writers. I can’t stress enough how much everyone’s support and belief got me through almost quitting, like, a million times. But I don’t think it’s the only thing they should do. I have noticed that it was a lot of the same agents participating in the comps which means after you do a few there tends to be a lot of repeats, so less requests.

8. The fun fun fun part: Tell us about getting “The Call.” How was it/What happened/What did you do when you found out you got agented? And then, separately, when you got a book deal? Tell us the WHOLE story! We love stories like these. *grabs popcorn*

So, sit down and get a glass of wine. This may be a long one….

I’d been entering competitions and having some luck with requests, but still hadn’t ever got ‘the call’. There was a lot of ‘I like it, but I don’t love it’. Which is disheartening to say the least. It got to the point where I sat down with one of my best friends who is a lawyer and we talked about self-publishing and my timeline for it. But I wasn’t sure that was for me, so in a last ditch effort to get an agent, I took the 35 word pitch I’d honed in Pitch Madness and sent it in to PitchMAS in July.

I couldn’t believe I’d made the blog part of the contest! Not only that, but I got three requests, all from publishers. My grandmother and aunt were visiting that evening so I had a quick dinner with them and then went home super excited and stayed up until midnight sending the requests out. Then I was due to meet my boyfriend in Cannes the next morning at 11. I randomly woke up at 5am and looked at my phone and I had an email from Georgia McBride, Publisher at Swoon Romance saying she loved the book, was still finishing it and would offer by the weekend. It was Friday. I sat straight up, called my boyfriend who was still asleep like normal people and sent my lawyer friend a text that went something like ‘WAKE UP IMMEDIATELY. WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP’. Then I went to the gym because I had so much energy and then I sent an email to everyone who had my MS, which was the other two publishers and 3 agents and hopped into the shower. My friend woke up, thought I was dead/being kidnapped and called/texted several times. I sent her a screen grab of the email and she freaked out with me. I danced some more and then went to Heathrow.

I got on a plane to Cannes and the second the wheels touched down, I threw caution to my mobile phone bill and turned on my roaming to find a two book deal offer from Publisher 2. Publisher 3 bowed out because they couldn’t read the MS in time. I emailed Publisher 1 re Publisher 2 and then met my boyfriend in the airport, told him the news and we both did a high five dance.

We drove to our friend’s place and that’s where I got a call from Pub 2 asking if I had any other questions. I was freaking out and it was so hard because there is pretty much no reception in the hills of Cannes. Then I got a 3 book offer from Pub 1. Then I almost fainted and a few min later I got a request in PitchMAS from Pub 4. Sorry, I know this is all getting a bit Gossip Girl cryptic and hard to follow, but that was how it happened. When I got reception, I emailed them all and asked if I could have some time to think and sent the MS to Pub 4. I had 2 weeks. Longest 2 weeks of my life!

I had no idea what to do, the offers were quite different and I really needed the help of an agent. But, the agents that had my MS got back to me and turned me down, even though I had two offers. I panicked and emailed Stephanie Thwaites, Curtis Brown’s Children’s Agent. I’d taken a course through Curtis Brown Creative that she taught with Tony Bradman. I highly recommend taking a writing course. It helped this MS a lot even though I was there with another one. Totally wished I’d taken it before I’d started writing. Anyway, I assumed Stephanie wouldn’t rep me, considering how amazing she is, but I was hoping she could offer a tiny bit of advice on some things like average royalties, sales figures etc.

To my surprise, she asked to read the MS and then sent me emails using words like ‘we’. I felt like a teenage girl whose crush hinted that he liked her. I sent a super awkward email saying something to the effect ‘does this mean you’re my agent now?’ and she was like, of course! Two weeks to the day after all the madness started, I went into the Curtis brown offices and signed with Stephanie. I had the same agent as Winnie the Pooh. Winnie. The. Pooh. EMERGAHD!

Then she took care of everything and it was so awesome. Curtis Brown works with ICM in the US and Stephanie asked Lyndsay Hemphill if she’d like to represent me there. And then she said yes! I couldn’t believe it! It was like all my dreams had come true at once. Stephanie and Lyndsay worked away behind the scenes and Pub 4 offered. It was so hard to make a decision between the three offers, but in the end, Georgia was super duper nice and also passionate about the book from the beginning and we all agreed Swoon Romance was the best place for THE ACCIDENTAL SOCIALITE in North America.

It was fitting that when I got the email from Stephanie and Lyndsay about a final decision I happened to be walking down Kings Road in London past the road my first flat share was on. I stopped right there and wrote back accepting the offer from Swoon Romance and then went to meet one of my best friends who was visiting from South Africa (and the best friend character in my book is loosely based on her). We had a glass of champagne and sitting there with her and with all the news, I welled up. This was my real life now, not just the daydream I’d been having for years!

9. Do you have anything to say to the herds of writers out there? Any advice?

DO NOT GIVE UP! I know everyone says that but literally the week before all of this started I was crying to my boyfriend about how much of a failure I was and told him I was quitting. I kept feeling like I was kind of good, but would never be good enough to be published and it was soul crushing. He made me promise to wait for five more rejections before I packed it in. I did and it worked out. But in the end, it just takes one person to be passionate about your work. Writers need to have balls of steel because there is no other job (except for TV… I work in children’s television and there is a lot of rejection there too, trust me.) where you work for so long on something and bare your soul like this only to get rejected constantly. Support each other and really take in comments and criticisms. Some of them won’t be right for you, but if I had ignored the comments in Query Kombat, I definitely wouldn’t be writing this interview right now.

Woo! Congrats, Stephanie!!! Loved your story, and all our good wishes are with you.

Growing up in Edmonton, Canada, a significant amount of my time was spent making up and acting out stories. I graduated from the University of Alberta with an English and Sociology degree and I also have a Bachelor of Motion Picture Arts (that’s a fancy term for Film School) from Red Deer College. After a fateful trip to Mexico in 2006 I decided to move to New York City to work in film development. A year later I went back home to write My Green House, a factual TV series. I moved to London in 2008 and aside from being obsessed with Eggs Benedict, Fruit Roll Ups and travelling, I also work in Children’s Television. The Accidental Socialite is my first novel.

You can find her on Twitter over here, and on her website over here! (Seriously. Go find her. And follow her (in a non-stalker way).)


  1. Congratulations on the representation!! I remember reading your query during the kontest, I love the concept!! This post is giving me so much motivation, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks for this super motivating post - Your reactions to the first email made me laugh out loud! Congratulations on your success, I can't wait to read the book!

  3. Thanks guys! It's still so surreal! If anyone has any other questions please feel free to ask. I know I had a million questions about competitions, queries, agents and publishers but was too shy to ask most of the time. The best place is probably my FB page

  4. I just want to add that I can't wait to read this one! SC had a great eye in picking The Accidental Socialite for Query Kombat. Best of luck, Stephanie!