A #DVpit Success Story:
Interview with Kat Cho and Beth Phelan

** UPDATE: Kat Cho’s book has found a publisher! We are so delighted to have Kat back to answer a few follow-up questions about the deal, the book, and the experience since #DVpit.

Kat, first of all, congratulations on your book deal! We’d love to hear how the submission process was for you, from editing to polishing, to going out on sub to publishers, to getting news of your book deal. Catch us up on what’s happened since #DVpit!

KAT: Oh man, that’s a lot. I will try not to ramble too much (no promises). After signing with Beth we dove into revision land. It’s a strange world that I took up semi-permanent residence in. I built a little house next to a lake filled with my own tears. There’s also a screaming rock up on the hill. Anyway…revisions were actually great (now that they’re over). I learned so much about my story and it really helped me tighten everything and work in a collaborative process with someone completely new to my story. I hope that this will help me in the months to come when I edit with my new editor!

So anyway, revision did last a little longer than I anticipated, but that’s probably because end of 2016/2017 were not kind to my writing brain. But with the amazing support of my agent, I was able to power through and I’m quite proud of the product we created. It was very important for me to be 110% proud of my manuscript because the process of sending it to editors is a nerve wracking thing. I don’t think I would have survived it if I was constantly second guessing my creative decisions. So having an agent that was not only editorial but someone whose own creative mind was one I trusted was very key to me!

Anyway, life happened and I actually ended up moving from Chicago to the NYC area for work. And AS that was happening I got a message from Beth. She said that an editor wanted a call with me. And you guys, it wasn’t just AN editor. It was a DREAM editor. Someone who had edited books that I’ve absolutely adored by authors I totally look up to. So, suffice it to say, I was freaking out in my head. Another time I was grateful to my agent because she pretty much gave me the down-low on how editor calls can play out and prepared me for all eventualities.

So, I was actually at a doctor’s appointment when I had to go on the call. It had just finished and I ran down into the lobby and took the call. There were a bunch of people wondering why I was smiling like a loon, sitting in the corner (because that’s where the best reception was).

Anyway, two days after the call I got the official offer from Putnam Young Readers. It was a whirlwind of amazingness and I actually can’t recall everything because I was legit packing up a whole apartment and driving semi-cross country in between it all. But it was a great experience for sure!

Tell us about your editor! What was it like speaking to them for the first time? What is your relationship like?

KAT: So my relationship with my editor, Stacey Barney, is still fairly new. But I’ve gotten to talk to her on the phone a couple of times already. The thing that I was not prepared for on the first call is that the editor is kind of letting you know all the things they can do for you as an author. So it was a lot of “here are all the things you’ve always dreamed of on a platter” kind of things. Like we talked about my cover and my brain semi-exploded from the happy. What I love about Stacey is that she has a very clear vision not only for the book but for how my author path can go during this debut year. She’s been very great at guiding me through a tentative timeline of how things could go and how she imagines things playing out. I am so lucky to have her because I am someone who loves to know next steps and she just gives them to me before I even have to ask.

She’s also very understanding of my author quirks. Like when I spent 10 minutes on our last call rambling about youtube and bookstagram.

Looking back, is there anything you wish you knew or prepared for when you were first entering #DVpit and getting ready to pitch agents?

KAT: I do wish I had prepared for the weird internal pressure I would put on myself after pitching in a public event. I had this weird idea that since people KNEW I was pitching/querying they’d be paying extra attention and making note of how long it took me to get to milestones. I honestly look back and realize how silly that is. Everyone is too busy to worry about what I’m doing (if you are worrying, just assume I’m watching kdramas). But in my head I had to live up to these ridiculous outside expectations from some mystery audience to my writer career. I wish I could go back and tell past-Kat to calm down and get over herself. Everyone moves at their own pace, and mine worked just fine for me. I wouldn’t trade any part of my journey so far for anything.

Are there any updates you can share about your book? Pub date, hints about the cover, finalized jacket copy, pre-order links, etc?

KAT: Hahaha, I JUST got my book deal. So I have no idea what’s going on. I can say that the plan is for a 2019 publication date. No pre-order link, but my second home (after revision land) is now Goodreads where I just STARE at my book page. So if you want to hop over there and keep me company then I’ll just be there…looking at the generic beige graphic all books get before the cover reveal.

What’s next for you?

KAT: Sleeping! Hahah, just kidding. Except maybe not because I’ve been on 11 for the past two months. But the real answer is that I’m planning to draft book 2 (oh yeah, did I tell you guys that I get to write a sequel for GUMIHO? I still can’t believe it. It’s so surreal). So I’m about to jump into the drafting cave (my third home?). I’ve kind of refrained from making any writerly commitments this year because I want to keep my schedule clear for the inevitable random freak outs about my writing and life in general. But I am always on Twitter and my website if you want to find out what I’m doing with my life.

Congratulations once again, Kat! Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and best of luck with the publication of GUMIHO. We’re all excited to see it hit shelves!

[The original interview follows.]

Kat and Beth, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Kat, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.

KAT: I wrote GUMIHO for myself, thinking if it didn’t pan out on the page then I could just move on. But I couldn’t put it down and it became a weird mass of everything that I love: friendship, family, heritage, Korea, and (of course) angsty drama. I don’t know if I started out trying to write the book I needed when I was younger, but I did end up writing the book that I’d have loved as a younger reader. I was thrilled to write something that I was constantly excited about. I’d write a scene and then read it the very next day on the bus to work as if I was reading a real book on my e-reader.

The concept for GUMIHO is a Korean fable of a nine-tailed fox that can live forever by eating the livers of men. I used to read a book of Korean folktales that my parents bought for my sister and me when we were kids. The thing that always struck me about it was how they were so deeply rooted in Korean ideals and mindsets. They could be translated into how we live in America, but they worked best when you understood the root of the stories. It was very apparent that I had to set this story in Seoul. And that’s where the fear stepped in. I not only wanted to get it all right, I HAD to get it right. It helped that during the time I was writing GUMIHO I had the chance to go to Korea a bunch of times (for business and for personal reasons). I actually started writing the manuscript in a small cafe in Seoul with my cousin, and I wrote most of the ending when I was back there two years later. The symmetry of it was not on purpose, but felt right.

I didn’t write the story for it to be about Korea. I wrote it to be about the characters, but I can’t deny that it is in a very real world and culture. One that influenced me in my life even when I didn’t know it.

Beth, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?

BETH: This was a manuscript that I agonized over. I faved this on #DVpit and then I waited for what seemed like forever. When it finally came in, I dove in very quickly and then emerged from the story totally satisfied. The world struck me first; I loved how transportive it was. It felt familiar and detailed and rich and bold. The setting came alive. Kat also did an amazing job translating the mythology into a contemporary story and I loved how she wove fairy tales into the narrative as well. Things just clicked for me, and I was especially thrilled to find a contemporary fantasy that not only explored a mythology we haven’t seen very much before, but one that was so close to my own (and the author’s) roots.

I loved it.

Kat, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?

KAT: The concept for GUMIHO sat in my “ideas” file for a year before I actually began outlining. And the outline was a skeleton for another year [insert dancing skeleton GIF]. Finally, as I was querying another MS, I picked up GUMIHO again. Since they say to work on a new WiP when you’re querying, I figured it was a good time to start working on this idea that I’d had in my head for awhile. I tried to become more of a plotter for this book. Wrote a lot of outlines. And talked to my cousin a lot about random imagery and Korean concepts I wanted to include. In hindsight, I should probably buy her a fruit basket or something to say thank you. My research consisted of watching EVERY Korean Drama ever, reading old Korean texts and fables, going to Seoul, and eating all of my halmoni’s home cooking (okay fine, that last one wasn’t really for research. It was for my belly).

I have a few CPs for different stages. One is my go­-to for my rough drafts. She reads chapter by chapter even if the pages are rough. I have a critique group of authors at different stages at any point in time. So we can send out a bat signal and ask for eyes on our current project and at least one (if not many) will answer with their availability. And I have a few beta readers that get the MS when it’s the shiniest I can get it.

And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?

KAT: I had #DVpit in my sights since it was announced, but when the week came, I’d made up my mind not to enter. I’d just gone to a conference, which was the first time I pitched my story to agents. I got a couple of requests so I thought I shouldn’t push my luck with immediately entering another pitch event. And I’d done a Twitter pitch contest with my last MS and got a very tepid reply. It wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, Twitter pitch contests are great because a lack of favorites doesn’t mean “no.” However, I didn’t want to lose the mental momentum I felt from the conference I’d gone to.

However, on the morning of #DVpit, I checked the hashtag to cheer on some of my CPs who were entering. And the community support was phenomenal. I’m not joking when I say I got a little teary eyed seeing how amazing it was. There were authors I look up to who were cheerleading of course agents.

I decided to post one tweet. That way it might be seen by a few (and I knew my dream agents were taking part in #DVpit, so I have to admit that I was hoping at least one would give me a Twitter heart).

I was floored by the support I directly received. I’m actually still emotional now thinking about it. There were so many people who were so enthusiastic about my book and sent me messages of support and excitement. The day was a blur. My phone got SO HOT since I couldn’t turn off the Twitter app because I was afraid I would miss something. It was one of the most exciting days of my Twitter-writing life. And, I cried (for the first of many times) in my office from writer happiness. (My coworkers were great sports about my bursts of emotions that day).

How was the experience for you, Beth?

BETH: It was a pretty emotional day for me as well! I can’t say that I didn’t also burst into tears here and there. I was moderating the event and wanted to make sure I was present and available should anything go wrong or should people have questions.... But I knew I just had to participate as an agent as well. Kat’s was a tweet that first came across my screen because it was getting boosts from a few other published/agented authors and I’m so grateful for the community that came together to support and encourage the participating writers. It was an exciting experience and a delight seeing all of the incredible ideas come through the feed!

Kat, did you receive pitch help? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?

KAT: I definitely ran my pitch by my CPs. There was one who was already agented and one who was entering #DVpit and I asked for advice from both. I told them I only wanted to tweet once, so it was a bit of pressure to pick the ideal pitch to post. But they were both so nice, not only critiquing my pitch but dissecting what would be the best for representing my story.

If I was going to pass on advice, it would be to get advice about your pitch. Get advice from someone who’s read the book and someone who hasn’t. It helps to get fresh eyes. But I will say that sometimes, there can be too many cooks in the kitchen. So, once you get a feel for what’s working, you can probably make the final decision yourself. It is, after all, your book. And, since #DVpit lets you post more than one pitch, you don’t have to do what I did and put all the pressure on one pitch to hold your whole story (it’s only 140 characters after all).

And Beth, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?

BETH: Definitely my advice is to keep writing and keep going. Pitch events can be flawed, because all we get to see as agents is 140 characters. That won’t tell us much (or anything, really) about your writing. So even if you don’t get any likes on your pitch, you should absolutely still query. And one thing that I noticed during #DVpit was how many writers were there for each other. Find your community, support each other, and pay it forward! I think these sorts of events can help build those ties as well.

Tell us about The Call, Kat!

KAT: Do you have an hour? Haha. No, I’ll try to summarize. It was warm that Thursday and I’d had pasta for lunch. Oh, not that kind of summarizing? Sorry.

Beth has been on my agent radar for a couple of years. I knew her because of a conference I attended a couple of years ago where she was present. And because I adore her social media presence (I’m addicted to Twitter).

So, Beth emailed me asking for the call and I cried (again). At that point my coworkers were used to my random outbursts and gave me happy hugs. I probably didn’t get a lot of work done that day since we scheduled the call for the afternoon.

The best part of the call was that it wasn’t just, “let’s talk about the manuscript.” We talked about #DVpit, about her dogs, about books in general. When it came down to talking about GUMIHO, Beth was ON POINT. She had her notes ready and didn’t beat around the bush about what she thought were the strengths and what could use work. It was one of the reasons I always had her at the top of my list, she’s willing to work on the manuscript and give the tough love that’s needed. I liked that she just laid it out there. It wasn’t a small list actually, there were some major tweaks suggested. But she was willing to talk them through with me right then and there. It turned into a mini brainstorming session and I could just imagine that this was how our agent-author relationship could be. I felt very energized just talking to her about ideas and what-ifs for my book. It was the perfect mix of enthusiasm, business talk, and dorkiness. I could feel her enthusiasm for my work and how exciting it could be to work with her. In the end, I tried to be cool ‘cause I didn’t want to be a total weirdo on the phone with her (which I don’t think I accomplished). And when we hung up I died. I’m ghost Kat now. We were actually on the phone so long that everyone else in my office had gone home, but I didn’t care. It just meant I had privacy to do my happy dance (think part running man part robot).

Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!

KAT: “Based on Korean myth, Jihoon & Miyoung fall in love, only prob is Miyoung’s a gumiho, immortal 9-tail fox that preys on man #DVpit #YA #OWN”

Beth, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?

BETH: I’m always interested in Korean folklore and legends so when I saw this, I immediately perked up. The concept was big and fun and intriguing and there was a creepiness to it too (“preys on man”—WHAT?) that excited me. It also made me laugh because I love when pitches have a set-up where things are great EXCEPT x; and in this case, it was love EXCEPT she might eat him! Those are some high stakes. I just had to know more.

What else are you looking for these days? Is there anything specific on your wishlist that you’re hoping to find at the next #DVpit?

BETH: I’m definitely still looking for even more intersectional diversity in all categories that I represent. I’ve also been very determined to find more #ownvoices stories about trichotillomania and/or excoriation disorder and particularly hungry to find more diversity for my adult list. I’m closed to queries for now, but I’ll be looking for these things and more at the next #DVpit!

Warm congratulations to Kat and Beth for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!

Kat Cho (@KatCho) used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. She currently works in NYC as an editorial assistant. Kat's YA contemporary fantasy debut, GUMIHO, comes out with Putnam Young Readers in 2019.

Beth Phelan (@beth_phelan) has been a literary agent at the Bent Agency since 2013, where she represents MG and YA fiction, adult romance, thrillers/suspense, and the occasional cookbook. She’s a graduate of NYU and is really into her dogs, food, and beer. She can also be found at bethphelan.com and on Instagram at beth_phelan.