Nayani and Taylor, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Nayani, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
NAYANI: Thank you! And thank you for setting this all up. It’s been wonderful.
MINSTREL SONG is a YA fantasy about a 17-year-old girl who must go to increasingly drastic lengths to protect the fugitive 6-year-old royal she’s taken into her care—powerful people want him dead, and he’s at the center of a web of intrigue.
Growing up, I always loved fantasy and adventure and ‘found family’ stories, especially if they had journeys in them—things like Megan Whalen Turner’s books, or His Dark Materials—so MINSTREL SONG definitely comes from that storytelling lineage! I was also excited about writing a clever female MC who operates in a bit of a moral grey area.
Taylor, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
TAYLOR: First of all, thank you so much for having us, and for all you do with #DVpit! This event has created a platform for such incredible authors, and my colleagues and I are so thrilled to participate. Thank you!
After the last #DVpit, I was watching my inbox for Nayani’s submission. I was so excited to read it, because something about her pitch was just hitting the exact right note for me (more on that later). I was overjoyed, then, when the story immediately sucked me in. But what truly sealed the deal was Nayani’s writing. Her control over her craft, the way every sentence was constructed, every scene layered and emotionally grounded—I was blown away. Even more than the story (which I was in love with!), I could not get enough of Nayani’s writing. I knew I wanted to work with Nayani well before I had even finished reading the manuscript.
Nayani, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
NAYANI: I’ve been tinkering with MINSTREL SONG for a long, long time. It was the project that I just kept coming back to and playing around with—I revised and rewrote until I finally felt I had something I was close to satisfied with, and then I started querying.
I tend to outline pretty closely, but as I revise the structure changes significantly. I have one wonderful CP who reads everything I write, and I won’t send anything out without having her sharp eyes on it first! And I have beta readers who give me feedback and broad-strokes suggestions. The best thing about all my readers is that, at this point, none of them bother about sparing my feelings…
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
NAYANI: #DVpit was a fantastic experience for me! I was really very new to the online writing community—I didn’t have twitter and had never participated in any kind of pitch contest, but I heard about #DVpit and knew I wanted to give it a try! I’d been querying for about two months, and had finally figured out what I was doing (sort-of), so I got twitter and jumped in. The agent response and editor bumps were a huge confidence boost and really kick-started the interest in my manuscript. It was also amazing to read so many other pitches and see so many people in the writing community interacting and supporting each other.
How was the experience for you, Taylor?
TAYLOR: #DVpit is such an impressive event. I love pitch days, because you can feel the excitement from everyone involved. In the last #DVpit, I was really looking for a fantasy to fall in love with, and I was definitely not disappointed!
Nayani, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
NAYANI: I’ll admit to doing this pretty impulsively, and crafting my couple tweets during work on the day-of (oops). But I read pitches that were getting interest to see how it worked, and since I’d spent so long obsessing over my query letter and figuring out how to ‘sell’ this MS, it made crafting short pitches easier.
I think comp titles can be a huge help. Listing a couple books that capture the same ‘feeling’ as your MS can convey so much more about your book than you’d ever be able to fit into 140 characters.
And Taylor, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
TAYLOR: I think Nayani’s advice is actually really telling. She knew her project so well, knew its in’s-and-out’s so thoroughly, that her pitches were very natural. When you pitch, you need to be able to identify the heart of your novel at the drop of a hat. Comp titles can certainly help, and I sometimes hope Twitter pitches will show me the atmosphere of a story. I know 140 characters isn’t enough to get all of the plot, so at least give me ambiance. I also think it’s incredibly helpful when your pitch can indicate the stakes of the book. That gets me emotionally invested right away!
Tell us about The Call, Nayani!
NAYANI: It was amazing! Taylor was so enthusiastic about the manuscript and understood it so well (and also had important and spot-on ideas about revisions). It made me excited about my own manuscript all over again. I thought she was going to offer a revise and resubmit, so when she offered representation part-way through the call, I was surprised and super excited.
I sent notes to the other interested agents letting them know I had an offer, and then spent a nervous week doing field-work for my day job in a location with very limited internet access. But I knew Taylor was the agent for me, and since then I’ve been working away at revisions that I know have just brought the book closer to what I wanted it to be all along.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
NAYANI: “QUEEN'S THIEF+SABRIEL. 17yo girl plays dirty to protect her unruly, royal, 6yo ward. Everyone powerful wants him dead. #DVpit #YA #F”
Taylor, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
TAYLOR: Right away, I was intrigued by the comp titles and loved that the driving relationship was a sibling relationship. But this pitch also showed the *stakes*! Our main character will go to great lengths to protect this person she loves. And if she can’t, he will die. MY EMOTIONS.
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?
TAYLOR: I can’t wait for #DVpit! I’m looking for magical realism, historical, contemporary and fantasy in YA and MG. I love literary writing, strong voice, and books that ask big questions. But more than anything, I’m looking for a story and cast of characters that will sweep me away. I’m also newly open to picture book submissions, so I’ll definitely be watching for exciting PB pitches as well!
Warm congratulations to Nayani and Taylor for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Nayani Jensen (@njensen_writes) lives on the Canada’s East Coast where she keeps busy writing and finishing up a Mechanical Engineering degree. In her free time she likes exploring outdoors and playing music. She’ll read just about anything, is a bit obsessive about Shakespeare, and has a particular soft-spot for folk music, musicals, and lattes.
Taylor Martindale Kean (@TMartindaleKean) is an agent with Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring all genres of young adult and middle grade fiction. She is particularly interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices, stories that stay with you, and diverse characters and authors. More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life and voices with impact, regardless of genre or category. Her clients include Emery Lord, Anna-Marie McLemore, Aisha Saeed, Nayani Jensen and more.