C.B. and Suzie, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, C.B., I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
C.B.: Thank you! It’s been an amazing ride so far. THE MISADVENTURES OF JEM HAWKINS is a MG Fantasy retelling of Treasure Island.
I wrote JEM because I want to help empower girls interested in STEM from a young age. My story focuses on two 13yo female hackers (internet pirates) who discover a map, and a picture of an island labeled T.I. online that might lead Jem to her missing father. But when Jem meets Sterling Silver, a rowdy one-legged sea cook, she learns the sea pirates are the ones she needs to avoid if she wants to get to T.I. in one piece.
It’s pretty much HACKERS meets THE MATRIX meets TREASURE ISLAND.
All the females in my story, from the girls, to their mums, to the pirates, are strong positive role models. I hope to show just how powerful women can be in male-dominated roles while also taking them on an adventure. I think JEM will give girls and boys a fun literary ride while showing them working together as equals, in jobs usually assumed for men.
Having lived the last 20+ years around the tech industry I know how intimidating it can be for women. If I can even make one girl feel like she can rule the world in that industry then I will consider my job done.
Suzie, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
SUZIE: The first thing that grabbed me was the pitch—a MG fantasy retelling of Treasure Island with two girls who are internet pirates: sign me up.
But as I started reading I was so pulled in by Jem. Her dad is missing and presumed dead, her mom is struggling to keep it together, and she’s sure her dad is in trouble and she’s his only chance. It’s a lot of pressure and she’s so smart and tough yet she’s vulnerable and she’s still learning who she is. I knew I had to be a part of her adventure.
C.B., how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
C.B.: With this book I pretty much started writing until I hit the end. I didn’t give myself outlines, completely pantsed it the whole way. I couldn’t get it out of my head fast enough. Once I finished I sent it out to my trusted CPs and a few betas, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.
They pointed out what worked and what didn’t, and then it was revision time. At the time I’d written JEM as a YA. But it didn’t feel right. I realized I wanted to age it down, that if I could reach a younger audience it might be more impactful in the long run. So I went through and changed the voice.
Since then, after signing with Suzie Townsend and New Leaf, we’ve worked on the voice even more and now I think it hits the sweet spot wonderfully. Suzie has been AMAZING in helping me tweak it. My story has come so so far under her guidance. I feel like every time I open her revision notes and get back to work it brings JEM to another level I would have never reached on my own and I will be forever thankful.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
C.B.: #DVpit was a turning point, probably the turning point, of my writing career. I almost didn’t enter. I’d just gotten back from RT16 and had connected with a few agents there about JEM, so I was working on polishing it up for them. But the day DVpit arrived at the last minute I decided to throw out a few pitches, because why not? I loved the whole premise, the agent who was throwing it rocked, the agent I was interning for said go for it, and my CPs said you better or else!
I honestly wasn’t expecting JEM to even be noticed.
I was floored at the love and outpouring I received on my pitches. Over 20 agent likes, a bunch of publisher retweets, a bunch of full requests, and ohmyglob offers of rep!
In the end, after talking to a few agents I couldn’t get my conversation with Suzie out of my head. The things she suggested to make my ms better felt so right and her vision fell in line with mine. I didn’t sign with her right away. But after a few weeks of revisions she called me again with an offer of rep and I about cried. I swear working with her is like PBnJ, it just fits.
The best thing about DVpit beyond getting my dream agent (can there be better?) was all the friends I’ve made from that day. They are some of the most amazing writers I know, and I’m so happy to be part of the #DVpit community. I encourage anyone who has a ms that fits the #DVpit requirements to give it a shot. Even if you don’t find your agent, you will find such a loving and caring group of writers and that is worth more than gold!
How was the experience for you, Suzie?
SUZIE: I had a lot of fun with #DVpit! Sometimes I’m a bit wary of twitter pitch contests, just because sometimes a pitch can sound great and then the query and manuscript end up being totally different or later I realize that I love a manuscript that was a pitch that didn’t grab me. Basically 140 characters is a tough way to pitch a book.
But with #DVpit, I requested a lot of pitches and I got to take a look at a lot of different queries and manuscripts with really unique voices because of it. And of course, I found JEM HAWKINS which is always the best possible outcome. I’m not sure if Cass would have queried me if I hadn’t favorited her pitch but I’m really glad I didn’t have to hear about the book from a deal announcement!
C.B., did you receive pitch help? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
C.B.: Enter. Take a deep breath, work that pitch out, and press send. You won’t regret it. And if you need some moral support hit me up, I’ll cheer for you from the sidelines! But no matter what make sure you enter.
And Suzie, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
SUZIE: Definitely revise your pitch and get a few people to weigh in on it—people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t.
When you get requests, definitely send your manuscript. Every time I’ve requested manuscripts—from contests or conferences or even queries—there are always times when the manuscript never comes in. And there’s just no reason for that. Send the manuscript! Worst case scenario, I won’t offer representation, but you’ll be no worse off than you were before.
Tell us about The Call, C.B.!
C.B.: Yay, this is my first “about the call” blog post
Oh, man where do I start? About 2 days after DVpit I received a call with an offer of rep from querying at RT16. That agent was awesome and so endearing. But she did let me know she didn’t work with MG too often. I took that into consideration as I knew my story still needed some work.
So I sent out my offer of rep emails to all the agents who had my full or queries, including the DVpit agents. Suzie asked for the full and got back to me within a few days. She pointed out areas that still needed work, like getting Jem’s voice down even more, and a few other places that I fully agreed with. Then she said she knew I had an offer, but would I be willing to do an exclusive R&R with her instead.
I was so nervous. Pass up a sure thing for the great unknown? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted, no, I needed, Suzie’s help to make JEM shine. It was worth the risk. She’s got such a wonderful client list of MG authors and I knew she’d be able to rock JEM out.
She’d told me how much she loved Jem and how much she believed in me and my story. She got me hook, line, and sinker right there. She believed in me OHMYGLOB.
So we spent a month revising (longest month of my life!) and then I sent her my revisions and probably wore a hole in the floor from pacing while waiting to hear back from her.
And then on May 31st I got the most amazing email of my life. She loved the revisions and felt so good about us working together that she wanted to officially offer me rep. A happy dance ensued, and when I was finally done dancing we had THE CALL and I said yes yes yes!
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
C.B.: She liked a few of my pitches but this was the first one that caught her eye.
“Jem & Dee,BFF hackers write code to uncover a map to Jem's missing dad in this STEM, girl positive Treasure Island retelling #POC #DVpit #MG”
Suzie, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
SUZIE: All of it :) That sounds like a silly answer, but really this is a great pitch. The “Treasure Island retelling” gives me the basic gist of the plot and at the same time, it’s clear that this novel is wholly its own story because it’s two girl hackers.
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?
SUZIE: I’m looking for MG, YA, and adult projects with unique voices who are telling stories that I feel like I haven’t read before. This is another silly answer, but it’s true. I’m open to anything. I wouldn’t have known that I wanted a MG Treasure Island retelling until I read JEM HAWKINS.
Warm congratulations to C.B. and Suzie for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter at @C_B_Catalano and @sztownsend81 so you can do the same!
After C. B. Catalano realized she spent more time daydreaming than living in the real world she decided to write them down to share with others. Now ready to share those daydreams with everyone, she writes MG and YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media. She can be found wandering around the Pacific Northwest with her 3 kids, husband, and new puppy. After moving 21 times over the span of 7 states and 18 years she thinks she may have finally found a place to call home (for now) and aims to explore all that Washington has to offer.
Prior to joining New Leaf, Suzie Townsend graduated film school, earned her Masters of Education, taught high school English, and coached a swim team. In her spare time, she read everything she could, which prompted her move to publishing. She got her start as an intern at FinePrint Literary Management where she was hired as an assistant before making the move to literary agent. She’s been part of the team at New Leaf Literary & Media since its inception in 2012.
Suzie represents all brands of children’s and adult fiction. She loves women’s fiction, all subgenres of romance, fantasy, and crime fiction. On the children’s side, she particularly loves YA and MG. Suzie loves strong characters and voice-driven stories that break out of the typical tropes of their genres, and she’s always looking for unique new voices in stories.
For more info on her clients, recent sales and forthcoming projects, please go here. Suzie also answers questions on the New Leaf tumblr.