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by Nicole Maggi  

Last June, I handed in a major rewrite on a write-for-hire project, took a deep breath, and turned my attention to a new venture: the SCBWI-L.A. Mentorship. I had spent several weeks earlier in the spring selecting the recipient of the Mentorship, and I was excited to get to work with my mentee, pre-published author Edward Underhill. 

2020 mentor Nicole Maggi.

Over the course of the summer, as the pandemic grew worse and the world darkened, and my own creative spark began to dim, working with Ed was a beautiful bright spot, like a brilliant star in a moonless sky. His novel, a joyous trans coming-of-age rom-com, was a true escape every time I opened the manuscript.  

Throughout the summer we revised and brainstormed, tightened and tweaked, obsessed over phrasings in his query letter and agonized over the dreaded synopsis. With some trepidation, Ed decided to participate in #PitMad in early September, and we went back and forth over the perfect 280-character pitch. On the day of the pitch fest, he tweeted out his pitch for Always The Almost into the wild world of publishing Twitter, and we watched as it garnered “like” after “like” and three requests from agents. 

I’ve been in the publishing world for over a decade, and I have to admit that after all the obstacles and hurdles I’ve had to climb over, I’m a little jaded. But watching Ed experience the exciting highs that publishing can gift us, it made me believe again – in the power of dreaming big, and in myself. 

Those three requests from agents turned into three offers of representation. This might seem like a publishing fairy tale, but it was not a surprise to me. I knew that others would see in Always The Almost what I saw in it when I chose Ed for the Mentorship: a book that is exactly what we all need right now, that celebrates life and love, told in the very funny and absolutely genuine voice of the main character, Miles. I knew that agents would connect with it and, more importantly, see its potential for publication. 

Throughout every stage of the process, Ed and I conferred and analyzed every twist and turn on his publication path. With three offers of representation on the table, we got on the phone for an hours-long discussion of the pros and cons to each agent. When he finally made his choice, we were both confident that he had made a good, well-informed decision.  

I won’t take credit for Ed’s success – he did that all on his own, first by writing a great book and then by taking the scary step of putting it out into the world. But I think I can pat myself on the back a little for the advice I gave him along the way. Mostly, though, I feel privileged to be part of his journey. Being the 2020 SCBWI-L.A. Mentor was richly rewarding; it reminded me that there is still magic and joy to be found in writing books, even for the most jaded of authors. 

2020 mentee Edward Underhill.

The SCBWI-L.A. Mentorship program alternates between illustration and writing of a specific category or genre. For 2021, we are focusing on nonfiction for the first timeIf you are an SCBWI-L.A. PAL nonfiction author or author/illustrator interested in mentoring, please see the 2021 Request for Proposals on the region’s website. SCBWI-L.A. mentors design their own mentorship contest guidelines and choose mentors from the applicants who respond.

Proposals will be accepted from February 22, 2021, through 11:59 PM on March 29, 2021. Good luck! 

And if you’d like to learn how to apply as a 2021 mentee and for more info on any of other SCBWI-L.A. contests, check our contest page

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here. 

Nicole Maggi is the author of The Forgetting, an International Thriller Writers Thriller Award Finalist, a Junior Library Guild selection and a #1 Kindle Bestseller, as well as the author of What They Don’t Know. Her YA fantasy series The Twin Willows Trilogy (Medallion Press 2014), was called “reminiscent of Twilight and Harry Potter” by VOYA. She also penned the non-fiction MG book Hidden Wonders (Lonely Planet Kids 2019). Nicole holds a BFA from Emerson College and was the 2020 SCBWI-L.A. Mentor. 

Images provided by author.