Taylor and Saba, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Taylor, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
TAYLOR: When I started writing THE NINTH LIFE I wanted to explore the complex ideas that come with life, death, humanity and the soul. The saying about a cat having nine lives is the root of the story, but I tweaked it a little bit. In my version, there’s gods and goddesses at work behind the scenes, and wild hearts yearning for a new life.
There’s a ton of YA out there that unpacks sensitive topics beautifully, but I wanted to present certain issues in a different way. Why can’t two people date or hook up and stay friends after? What is it like to be on the outside of an eating disorder? How much time is left to stay young and free? These are all questions Austin contemplates during his ninth life.
Saba, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
SABA: Oh my goodness, where do I start? Taylor’s writing is lush and evocative, her storytelling swept me away, and, most significantly, she integrated and manipulated the speculative element in the narrative perfectly. I’ve been looking for a fantastic character-driven, YA contemporary with nuanced, unforgettable characters and a fresh, speculative twist for the longest time, so when I finished her book, I knew I simply had to offer!
Taylor, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
TAYLOR: This was actually the first book I ever completely outlined. I wrote a one-sentence summary for each chapter, printed the document, and referenced it as I wrote. The first draft started in first person, but I scrapped it at about fourteen thousand words and started over in third person. I was about, oh, five chapters out from completion when I noticed that there was going to be another DVpit soon, so I contacted my beta and we got to work. I had just finished the early draft a couple days before I pitched and thankfully my beta had notes for me to look over.
It’s always good to have support when you’re working on a book. I can’t stress enough how important my critique partners and betas are. I got my revisions back from Saba a few weeks ago and the first thing I did was re-write, edit, and ship the new draft to betas.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
TAYLOR: The first time I pitched was during the very first DVpit. I was pitching FORTITUDE SMASHED which was picked up by Interlude Press shortly after the pitch party.
This time I was dead set on finding an agent. Not only was it an amazing experience for me since I landed such an awesome agent, but I also scrolled through the tag for hours! It was heartwarming to see so many lovely diverse stories floating out there ready to be nudged into the world. It gave me a lot of hope.
I think everyone goes into pitching with a little bit of doubt, but I believed in my book and I knew someone out there would believe in it too. I’ve tried to keep that mentality as I get deeper into the publishing industry. It isn’t easy and it takes grit and strength to keep plodding along. Watching DVpit take off, seeing the success stories pop up on my feed in the days, weeks and months after the pitch party has been incredible.
How was the experience for you, Saba?
SABA: It was fantastic—kudos to Beth Phelan for brainchilding this amazing initiative! It filled my heart with joy and hope to see pitches for so many rich stories by talented, marginalized writers—and of course, getting the chance to represent one of them has been a dream as well!
Taylor, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
TAYLOR: Don’t give up, and get tough. I know it’s probably been said again and again, but it’s honestly the best advice I’ve received and the best advice I can give. Pitching is nerve-wracking. It can be emotionally draining, too. It’s okay if you don’t get a single like, just keep working on your awesome book and try again next time. It’s also okay if you get ten likes and ten passes, just keep working. Someone out there is eager for your words. This industry is full of impatient creatives trying to master the art of patience. You’re not alone.
When it comes to crafting a pitch, I think stellar comps really help. I took some time the day before DVpit to write out my pitches with appropriate tags and comps. Some of the comp titles I used were a little long so I incorporated emojis which can be eye-catching and savvy if it’s done well.
And Saba, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
SABA: Seconding all of Taylor’s advice! But other than that, I recommend past #Dvsquad member Aminah Mae Safi’s answer to the same question—it’s got the best advice out there on how to perfect your pitch. I have it bookmarked and you should, too!
Tell us about The Call, Taylor!
TAYLOR: Ah, The Call. First off, Saba hooked me when she requested the full. She sent me a lovely e-mail after I sent her my opening pages, asking about my writing style, some of the important issues presented in the book and about me in general. It was refreshing. I’d never had an agent be as engaging as she was. After that, I sent the full and chewed on my nails for a couple weeks. The manuscript was with a few different people at that time, but I was very excited about potentially working with Saba. I did my homework before sending her the full and noticed how similar our tastes were, so I had a good feeling.
I think it was about two weeks later, maybe a bit sooner, when Saba e-mailed me to schedule The Call. I was ecstatic. Over the moon. My heart literally fell into my knees. I babbled about Saba to my parents and betas and asked them all to keep their fingers crossed for me. Once we got on the phone, we talked first about style, voice and where I saw myself going, then we got into my book. I was nervous, but the conversation was light and easy, even though I completely forgot what I had lined up to say. I think that’s a good sign that you’re with the right person. I never felt under pressure or out of my league talking to Saba. She made me feel comfortable, totally made me cry (I don’t think she knows, but yeah, I was just sitting there on my bed crying while she gushed about my book) and she also believed in my words. That’s when I knew I had to work with her. She got it. She got me, my story and was excited for my next books, too.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
TAYLOR: “ARI&DANTE + WHEN THE ☾ WAS OURS After 8 lives as a cat - old soul discovers heartache, friendship, love & sexuality as a 17yo boy. #DVpit #Bi"
Saba, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
SABA: Well to be honest, pretty much anything comped with ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE is basically an insta-request for me, but then I saw the #Bi hashtag and I was completely sold!
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?
SABA: These days, I really want a contemporary MG sibling/friendship story with a high concept and a lovely, timeless, classic voice centering POC characters. Fingers crossed I find one soon!
Warm congratulations to Taylor and Saba for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup artist, Taylor Brooke turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she’s traveling, hiking or reading. She writes Queer books for teens and adults. Her debut, Fortitude Smashed, will be published by Interlude Press in September 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @taysalion.
Saba Sulaiman (@agentsaba) is an agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She is looking primarily to build her Middle Grade and Young Adult lists, and is particularly interested in contemporary realistic stories. She’s also open to category romance (all sub-genres except paranormal), literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction, tightly plotted, character-driven psychological thrillers, cozy mysteries à la Agatha Christie, and memoir. Being a first generation immigrant who is constantly negotiating her own identity and sense of belonging in a place she now calls “home,” she is committed to highlighting more diverse voices with compelling stories to tell; stories that demonstrate the true range of perspectives that exist in this world, and address urgent and often underexplored issues in both fiction and non-fiction with veracity and heart.