Swati and Kristin, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership—and the book deal with Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins! To start, Swati, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
SWATI: I had just finished my first manuscript and was going on a vacation where I promised myself I would take a break and do non-writerly things. Of course, I got hit with inspiration, the perfect “what if” question, in the middle of my vacation. It started out as this image in my head that bloomed into the opening scene and before I knew it, I had a full-fledged story world and characters I couldn’t stop thinking about.
THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT is about a dutiful soldier who sets out to capture the rebel girl he believes killed his General, and the cat and mouse game that begins between them. Being thrown together challenges them both in new ways and forces them to discover things about their world and lives that they might’ve previously ignored. I wanted to write a story about the space between black and white, good and evil—the moral grey.
Kristin, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
KRISTIN: The word “sexy” is not one we use often when talking about young adult novels but there is a palpable romantic heat on the page almost from page one between the two main characters Esha and Kunal. After the first chapter, my heart was pounding with that excitement of reading a story that I hadn’t even knew I wanted until that very moment.
This is a lush novel—in every sense of the word. The gorgeous Indian setting, fully realized romantic relationship, the impossible stakes that both characters must face. It’s an amazing, and delicious read. I finished reading on a Sunday afternoon and emailed Swati right away to set a call.
Swati, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
SWATI: As I mentioned, the idea for this story came to me during a vacation last year and initially, it only existed as a bunch of disparate sentences on my phone. Once I got home, I wrote out an outline pretty quickly and sent out my first chapters to a critique partner. Her enthusiasm kept me going (thanks, Rosie!) and I then went through a couple rounds of revisions on this manuscript on my own and then as part of Author Mentor Match with Axie Oh, my mentor. Having those eyes on my manuscript was invaluable and I’m so glad I decided to enter AMM. After that, it was a flurry of sending to more critique partners and getting some non-writer (and brutal) betas.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
SWATI: I had participated in #DVPit in 2016 with a different manuscript and absolutely loved the community and the people I met, so it was a no-brainer that I would participate again. It’s an incredible feeling to put yourself out there and to be supported—the number of well wishers and encouragement I got for my pitch and story on #DVPit day still makes me feel all fuzzy inside to this day.
How was the experience for you, Kristin?
KRISTIN: I was literally a Twitter Pitch newbie when I dived into my first #DVPit. To say I was overwhelmed at the number of pitches coming fast and furious over the twitter transom would be an understatement.
But Swati totally had me at Winners Curse meets Ember In the Ashes. I remember being very excited to click the heart icon.
Swati, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
SWATI: Take advantage of any critiques that are offered on Twitter or on DVPit.com! My pitches only became stronger from getting other people’s opinions and critiques. And make sure you include what makes your story unique in your pitch. Also, be as specific as possible in your pitch!
Kristin, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
KRISTIN: To nail a Twitter pitch, writers need to find the magic combo of good writing, hook/concept, and how to position the pitch. Since writers have very limited space, a compelling positioning sentence can go a long way. As mentioned above, Swati used two known, successful YA titles to frame her pitch: Winners Curse + Ember in the Ashes. Another approach writers can use is “perfect for fans of ….” Fill in the blank.
Then add a sentence that spotlights the high concept hook—a new twist on an established narrative trope, something that flips the story to the unexpected. Twitter pitches that highlighted XYZ familiar story line but with a twist grabbed my attention.
Last but not least, you have to nail a bit of your own voice in the twitter pitch.
At the time, it had to be all in 136 characters. Thank goodness we all have a little more room now.
Tell us about The Call, Swati!
SWATI: I was in London at the time and Kristin lives in Denver, so there was a bit of a struggle finding a good time and then technical difficulties with our video chat, but it worked out! It was pretty clear to me within a few minutes that Kristin not only loved my manuscript, but understood my characters and themes on a level that challenged me to think deeper about the story I wanted to write. I loved her energy and our conversation. I’ll admit, I definitely had a little dance party in my hotel room afterward!
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
SWATI: “Indian WINNERS CURSE+EMBER IN THE ASHES: A cat & mouse game starts between a soldier & the girl who murdered his General #YA #F #DVPit #own”
Kristin, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
KRISTIN: That’s easy. It was the girl in the story who murdered his General. I must know more! Who is this gal, accused of taking out the most powerful man in the Blood Fort?
What else are you looking for these days? Is there anything specific on your wishlist that you’re hoping to find, maybe at the next #DVpit?
KRISTIN: This may sound odd but I deliberately avoid #MSWL. Why? Because I never want to close a door on the possibility of a story that I didn’t even know I wanted. I think back to offering rep on Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY. A novel about a Chinese girl and African American former slave who cross-dress as boys to disguise themselves on the Oregon Trail in order to escape an erroneous murder charge. Well, I’m pretty sure that scenario would never have made it onto a wish list! But I’m so thankful for repping such a wonderful novel and a truly talented author.
Finally, congratulations again on the sale of your novel to Alex Arnold at Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins! Swati, can you tell us about your editor? What was it like to speak with her for the first time, and what has your relationship been like so far?
SWATI: I was a bit nervous the first time I met Alex, given all the amazing books she's had a hand in, but she was lovely and I felt an immediate connection with her. Alex understood the story I was trying to tell and loved the elements I did: the romance, the world, and the characters. I've just started working with her on my book, but I'm already confident that we'll be able to play off each other's strengths to make THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT the best it can be!
Warm congratulations to Swati and Kristin for finding each other and finding the perfect publisher for this book! I’m looking forward to seeing this book hit shelves, and encourage everyone to add the book to your TBR.
Swati Teerdhala (@swatiteerdhala) is a YA writer represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary agency. You can find her on the streets of New York with a pen—or camera—in hand.
Kristin established Nelson Literary Agency, LLC, in 2002 and over the last decade and a half of her career, she has represented over forty New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Her goal as an agent is simple: she wants every client of hers to make a living solely from writing and 90% of her clients do just that. Follow her on Twitter (@agentkristinNLA)