Gia and Léonicka, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Gia, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
GIA: My book tells the story of a career-focused young black woman whose hard work is paying the dividends she’s wanted since childhood. But, growing up with an undiagnosed, mentally ill parent left scars that touch on everything she does, particularly when it comes to her love life.
I wanted to tell this story because considerable progress has been made in reducing the stigma of mental illness, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that the ill person isn’t the only one affected. And if that person is a parent, their child or children learn to cope with the world in unhealthy ways. Also, I want there to be more conversation around mental illness in the black community. I hope that while entertaining readers, my story gets them to question what factors influence the way they move in the world.
Léonicka, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
LÉONICKA: I got hooked so quickly. Twenty pages in and I was already fan casting! But it was the characters’ vulnerability that kept me reading. Gia’s writing style is clean and unencumbered which leaves plenty of space for the hero and heroine to wrestle with their emotions and reveal their soft, tender insecurities. I was rooting for them the whole time.
Gia, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
GIA: I am a very grateful PitchWars alum. My mentor, Diana A. Hicks, gave me the tools to improve my manuscript and get it ready to query. I was a pantster, but ended up retrofitting my work into a plot outline. My current work in progress has a loose outline now, something I wouldn’t have done before.
PitchWars connected me to other writers, and I now have a close circle of critique partners who give me great feedback about my work. And, who helped me whip my #DVpit pitches into shape!
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
GIA: I’d participated in #DVpit before, with limited success, but I was still excited about the event, due to its goals. This time around, I almost didn’t participate because I was query-weary. And because pitching is not my forte.
But, I updated a few old drafts and sent them to my CPs. In the past, I think I’d had two or three likes. This round, I walked away with thirteen!! Some of those from editors who have since contacted my agent because they want to be included on her submissions list. See the importance of supportive writer friends?
How was the experience for you, Léonicka?
LÉONICKA: I was really nervous! I had just joined the agency a few months prior and only opened to queries a few weeks before. I was worried about taking on more than I can handle but #DVpit’s mission aligns so beautifully with my own that I knew I couldn’t let imposter syndrome hold me back. I went with the goal to only participate on the Adult pitch day and only ♡ 10 pitches. But the FOMO was real on day 1. I participated in both days and ♡’d over 45 pitches. Of those, 16 writers queried me. It would be easy to dwell on the sting of being rejected by 66% of the pitch writers, but every query is an invitation and I did my best to make it a pleasant experience for all 16 writers, even though I could not represent them all.
Gia, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
GIA: It bears repeating: get thyself a writing community. I am certain I would not have had the amount of interest that I did, if it weren’t for my CP’s suggested improvements for my pitches.
And Léonicka, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
LÉONICKA: Craft several pitches that combine different comp titles or highlight different elements of your work. Then A/B test them with booklovers who haven’t read your book to get a sense of which 3 or 4 resonate with them most. I often found myself ♡’ing a pitch in the afternoon after passing on a previous pitch for the same book.
And be ready to research the agents and query sooner rather than later. I’d set aside dedicated time to review DVpit queries. Writers who sent their materials a month or two after the pitch day, missed that window and were in my regular query queue.
Tell us about The Call, Gia!
GIA: You mean the one where I was desperately trying to play it cool, but failed spectacularly?
I spent the time between Léonicka’s email and the Call gathering advice about questions to ask. Yet again, getting in touch with other writers. I’m in a couple facebook groups, so I asked there, and of course directly from my CPs.
Léonicka answered many of them before I had to ask, due to her professional outlook on the agent-client relationship. I’d done a little research into her as well, and really liked her commitment to improving diversity in literature. We clicked over the phone, and discovered an interesting surprise: in spite of living in different countries, we’d gone to the same high school in the US!
We had a second call with Samantha, my co-agent, where we went into greater detail and I had the chance to ask follow-up questions. Again, we clicked well and I felt that as a team, Léonicka and Samantha would provide the support and industry savvy I was looking for.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
GIA: “From STARFISH to Olivia Pope
Raised by a narcissist, Isadora proves her worth by doing everything right.
The new hottie at work can only be eye-candy.
Unless she wants to toss her life’s dream, and give mom another reason to say, "told you so".
#DVPit #CR #IRMC #OWN”
Léonicka, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
LÉONICKA: The Olivia Pope reference is what got me. I instantly envisioned the Olivia and Papa Pope dynamic and was curious to see how that could end in a Happily Ever After. In retrospect, I wish I’d read all of Gia’s pitches to get more context, because the manuscript was much more robust than I’d anticipated. But the pitch got me reading, so mission accomplished.
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?
LÉONICKA: I’m closed to unsolicited queries right now, but I could easily be tempted to wade into #DVpit again! I’m eager to find rich historical fiction (think Philippa Gregory and Isabel Allende), high fantasy that will stretch the limits of my imagination, and a YA romance that can steal my heart from Peter Kavinsky.
Warm congratulations to Gia and Léonicka (and Samantha!) 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 achieving her dream job in politics, Gia de Cadenet moved to France to continue her studies. Over a decade later, she’s a French citizen and reaching another dream: writing novels that entertain, but also inspire readers to look at themselves and at others with greater compassion. Particularly those struggling with mental illnesses. Follow her: @Gia_DeCadenet
Léonicka Valcius is an Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency. As the founder of #DiverseCanLit and the Chair of the Board of the Festival of Literary Diversity, serving readers and writers of colour has been the core of Léonicka’s career. She brings this same mandate to her work at Transatlantic. She is actively building her client list as she co-agents with more senior colleagues. Follow her: @leonicka
Samantha Haywood is President of the Transatlantic Agency. Haywood specialises in international publishing and has extensive experience selling authors in North America for publication and TV/film representation. She represents a diverse and vibrant client list of authors, ranging from award-winning and bestselling fiction to narrative nonfiction and graphic novels. Haywood is a founding member and current President of PACLA, the Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents. Follow her: @s_haywood