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 timetravel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. Currently, Kat lives in Chicago where she writes YA scifi and fantasy. She’s always willing to take a jumping photo.
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.