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by Edward Underhill

Editor’s update (6/1/21): The deadline for the SCBWI-L.A. 2021 Mentorship Contest has been extended to June 18, 2021! Get your entries in ASAP!

In March 2020, my partner had just moved her work home for the foreseeable future, my day job was suddenly paused while everyone scrambled to set up remote work, and Los Angeles was entering lockdown. With the roads suddenly quiet outside and more time on my hands, I decided to take a risk and submit my newly finished YA novel for the SCBWI-L.A. Mentorship Contest with mentor Nicole Maggi.

I was so convinced I wouldn’t win that when Nicole emailed me to tell me I was her pick, I completely misread the email and thought it was the nicest rejection I had ever received. (It took me until the third paragraph to realize it was not a rejection!) I was shocked. Nicole thought my story had “enormous potential.” She was excited to help me polish it up to send it off to agents!

Over the next six months of what became a very dark and surreal year, I pinched myself every time I talked to Nicole. I couldn’t believe I had this wonderful person in my corner. Not only was Nicole incredibly thoughtful and perceptive about my novel (she once distilled the heart of my story down to a single, perfect sentence, after listening to me Angst About Everything for ten minutes), she was also full of wisdom about the publishing industry. She was always honest and thorough with her critique, but also so easy to talk to that I left each of our conversations with renewed determination. She kept me grounded but encouraged me to dream, all with a lot of laughter that reminded me not to take myself too seriously. 

Nicole helped me polish my manuscript, coached me through researching agents, poured over my query and synopsis for hours, and even obsessed with me over a 280-character tweet pitch for #PitMad. She got me through agent request freak-outs, and when it came time to choose an agent from three offers of representation, she spent hours with me on the phone to help me make the best decision I could. 

I got everything I hoped for out of the 2020 Mentorship: a manuscript I’m enormously proud of and a wealth of advice about the publishing industry and the writing life in general. But I also got so much more than I anticipated: a genuine friend who is still the first person I text with news, questions, and anxieties about writing, and who still offers me guidance even though the official mentorship period has ended. I told Nicole recently that if I ever have the opportunity to write an acknowledgments section for this book, it’ll just be her name five hundred times. Let’s be real, I was only kind of joking. Nicole’s mentorship gave me gifts I didn’t even know I needed, and I would not have gotten here without it.

The SCBWI-L.A. 2021 Mentorship Contest will be accepting entries from April 19 through May 31, 2021 (Editor’s update: the deadline has been extended to June 18, 2021). This year’s mentor is Joseph Taylor. For more information about the mentorship and instructions on how to apply, check out the SCBWI-L.A. Mentor Contest webpage.

Best of luck to all who apply!

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Edward Underhill writes music for animated TV shows by day and words for teenagers by night. He grew up in Wisconsin and earned his bachelors in music composition from the Oberlin Conservatory (while also writing queer ghost stories for a campus magazine). A queer trans man, Edward is a recipient of the SCBWI-L.A. Mentorship Award and currently resides in Los Angeles with his partner and a talkative black cat.