Nafiza and Katelyn, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Nafiza, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
Nafiza: The Road of the Lost is a YA faery tale about a brownie called Croi whose life is turned upside down when she finds out that everything in her life, down to her identity and physical self, is a lie. The book follows her on her journey to find herself. I feel like this is about as simple as I can make it. I wrote this novel as my thesis for my Master of Arts in Children’s Lit program but Croi and her story have been simmering in my mind since I was a child in Fiji. As I grew, so did she. As my narrative expanded to encompass different countries, communities, and languages, so did hers. I got the opportunity to bring her to life through the MACL program and I am very glad I did so.
Katelyn, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
Katelyn: Oh my goodness, so many things! The writing itself is just gorgeous. It immediately yanks you in and refuses to let go. I saw, heard, felt Croi and her world from the very first pages. It’s rich and unique and so very vivid. Every word has purpose. My heart broke for Croi, this isolated girl desperate to know anything at all about her identity. Who is she, really? Nafiza sent me the full manuscript on a Friday; I read through the weekend, finished on Monday, and was on a call with Nafiza Tuesday offering representation. I knew the project (and the author!) was incredibly special, and I was terrified someone else would jump in first.
Nafiza, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
Nafiza: I feel like my manuscript was uniquely positioned. Because it was my thesis, I actually worked with a thesis supervisor who is also an author (Maggie de Vries) whose input while writing the novel was absolutely invaluable. I also had to defend my thesis to a room full of people who were not necessarily familiar with fantasy tropes. Although the most terrifying of all things was answering my panel’s questions so I had to be sure that there were no logic leaps and plot holes. I also have a core group of CPs who do not mince their words when telling me what I’m doing wrong. I am an avid planner. In fact, I create entire scrapbooks of my projects with character profiles etc. before I start writing.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
Nafiza: #DVpit was the very first time I pitched on Twitter and the experience was absolutely amazing. Apart from getting word out about my work, I was able to connect with many aspiring authors and make new friends. Additionally, I was able to see the kinds of amazing things that people are currently working on. My experience was a hundred percent positive and I would recommend anyone who is an aspiring author to participate in #DVpit.
How was the experience for you, Katelyn?
Katelyn: My first #DVpit experience was fantastic—clearly, since it brought Nafiza and me together! I didn’t know it was happening until day of (I’m not the best at Twitter, admittedly), but it was well set up and easy to jump right in. There were so many brilliant pitches, it was hard to narrow down my interest. I wanted to read everything, but—alas!—only so many hours in a day. I was so impressed, though, and will definitely be participating again.
Nafiza, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
Nafiza: Confession: I found out about #DVpit the night before it happened and so made up pitches off the top of my head on the off chance that I would be able to express my book in less than 140 characters. Karuna Riazi (@gildedspine) was kind and looked over my pitches as did my friend Yash (@SeeYashTweet). I had three prepared pitches but ended up using only one as it gained the most attention. Words of wisdom? Please be more prepared than I was ^___^. Prepare your pitches beforehand. Get someone to look over them. Have fun!
And Katelyn, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
Katelyn: Besides polishing up pitches, I’d say: don’t rush the next stage. Don’t query too soon, just for the sake of getting your work out there. You don’t have to send your manuscript out to interested agents/editors the next day if it’s not ready. Take your time. Keep revising. We’ll still be here, and we’ll still want to read, even if it takes some time to land in our inbox. And, on the opposite side of this: if you didn’t get much Twitter interest on #DVpit day, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Query your dream agents anyway. Just because you couldn’t sell them on 140 catchy characters doesn’t mean you can’t/won’t sell them on your beautiful finished manuscript. Keep fighting for your story.
Tell us about The Call, Nafiza!
Nafiza: Oh gosh. I think I’m still in a state of disbelief. Katelyn read my book so quickly that it immediately endeared her to me. The selling point for me was that she talked about my characters as if they are as alive to her as they are to me. How do I explain that feeling when you realize that someone else hears the same voices you do? Haha. I generally was not very well prepared for the Call (it is becoming a theme) but it is one of those moments in my life. You know, the ones you take out during the darkest of times to give you a little bit of hope.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
Nafiza: Here it is: “What if the skin you wear is a lie? What if another you resides inside—waiting? The Road of the Lost. A faery tale. #dvpit #fantasy #YA”
Katelyn, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
Katelyn: I was so intrigued by this question of identity—this feeling that what is on the outside and inside are two wholly different things. Why? And what does that mean for this character? It was a fabulous title, too, and I’m always a sucker for a good faery tale.
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?
Katelyn: I’m looking for fresh, honest, memorable, authentic, unique voices, from picture book through adult, though I have a special kind of love for YA—books that capture the spark of the teenage experience, told through diverse lenses, by writers from all walks of life. Show me a piece of the world I haven’t seen, or show me the world I see every day in a new and interesting way. I always like a good balance of contemporary (or contemporary with a twist) and fantasy, and rarely can say no to a query based on the pitch and the concept alone; it’s all in the voice and the quality of the writing for me. That’s first and foremost, always. Something might sound awesome in theory, but then the writing falls flat; or, on the other hand, maybe the pitch doesn't sound up my alley at first, but then the writing totally wins me over. That's part of what makes this job so exciting! You just never know what will make your heart sing next.
Warm congratulations to Nafiza and Katelyn for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Nafiza Azad (@Nafizaa) is an Indo-Fijian Canadian currently residing in British Columbia. She has a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and a great passion for pineapple. She speaks languages, some that can only be understood by those under four, and enjoys watching Korean dramas. She builds fictional worlds and talks about those that others create at thebookwars.ca.
Katelyn Detweiler (@katedetweiler) has worked at Jill Grinberg Literary Management since 2010, where she represents picture books, MG, YA, and adult. She grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and received her BA in English Literature at Penn State University—and then she packed her bags for New York City, where she started her publishing career in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Katelyn is also the author of two YA books published by Viking Children’s, IMMACULATE (May 2015) and TRANSCENDENT (October 2016). Katelyn lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn, playing with words all day, every day, her dream come true. She can be found at www.katelyndetweiler.com.