A #DVpit Success Story: Interview with Lana Wood Johnson & Bridget Smith

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

LANA: TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT is a novel as text transcript of two teens who are slowly falling in love even though she thinks he’s someone else and hates him in real-life.

I originally wanted to write a retelling of “Return of Martin Guerre” which is an excessively nerdy reference that probably only my MCs would giggle at, but ended up writing a story that was much more personal.

Haley, the MC, has anxiety and is demisexual. So instead of fake husbands returning from war, I wound up telling the story of forming an attraction that doesn’t have anything to do with the physical world.

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

BRIDGET: I loved the format—as Lana says, it’s written entirely in texts between two people (or rather, two phones, which sometimes fall into other hands)—and I was really impressed by how she managed to construct a story with absolutely no narration. I’m also a complete sucker for stories where we watch a character gradually fall in love while refusing to talk about it, especially when coupled with mistaken identity. Delicious!

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

LANA: I’m a pantser normally, but this book was its own special level of pantsing. It’s entirely in texts with no narrative. I found myself writing whole scenes without really thinking about it beforehand. I did manage to stop a couple times and re-route the story towards something that looked LIKE a story.

Over the last several years I’ve acquired a small cohort of amazing authors around me who read, brainstorm, understand, and encourage, and they’ve been of amazing help. This time I had the extra bonus support of the youth shelter I work at and the LGBTQ+ Outreach Worker who helped me ensure the voices reflected teens today and not the 90s.

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

LANA: I love the opportunity that Twitter Pitch events give every author. They’re a chance to hone skills that will be important throughout our career and gauge the interest of those we wouldn’t always think to query.

But I especially love the opportunities that are inherent in #DVpit.

I was extremely hesitant to participate, especially with my last manuscript. I have a large amount of passing privilege in my identities and disabilities, and my priority is always in lifting voices that are going to reach people that don’t always get reached. At first I wasn’t sure that was me. Then Riverdale happened and suddenly it was clear MY identities were also terribly misunderstood.

#DVPit is as much a showcase of the amazing voices of marginalized authors as it is a chance for marginalized authors to connect with agents who are likely to respect and embrace their marginalizations. My participation with TECHNICALLY became about finding an agent who wasn’t interested in homogenizing my characters, but who respected their identities and mine.

When it was THIS PARTICULAR tweet that gained attention, the one that centered Haley and Martin, my heart lifted a bit and I realized that my stories are also important to others.

How was the experience for you, Bridget?

BRIDGET: My favorite part of #DVpit is seeing a) what writers are coming up with and b) what potential readers are responding to. It’s a great snapshot of the publishing zeitgeist. It also means I get things in my inbox that I wouldn’t have otherwise—though Lana had actually queried me a week or two before! In general, I find Twitter pitches a limited medium, as I’m most interested in voice and character, which are the hardest to convey on Twitter. But while not everything I pick in #DVpit will be a hit for me, I’m always pleased with the variety it brings to my inbox.

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

LANA: I’ve done so much studying of pitches I feel like I could write a whole dissertation on the useful things I’ve received, but the earliest advice I got and the one that helped me the most was that not all categories and genres have the same pitching needs.

I’ve participated in a lot of events and I’ve even been “that person” who has “ALL the faves”, and the lesson I learned from those faves is that it’s not the most wins that’s valuable, it’s the best match.

My comps were a 90s movie and an epistolary from 1920s. I have tension but no stakes. Despite all this it found the right agent for ME.

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

BRIDGET: Write a few different pitches, and run them by people who haven’t read the manuscript to see if they’re understandable and appealing. Try to convey character + conflict + stakes, with some of the book’s voice if possible. Remember that writing a snappy Twitter pitch is a very different skill from writing a great novel, and don’t be discouraged if this round doesn’t work out. And if there’s an agent you think is a good match who didn’t favorite your pitch, go ahead and query anyway—it’s perfectly likely they just didn’t see the tweet!

Tell us about The Call, Lana!

LANA: I distinctly remember having a call. I didn’t dream it. It came after a very long, very intense day at the shelter. Fortunately, I had a very strong understanding of Bridget and her working style because the podcast she co-hosts is one of the many publishing podcasts I subscribe to.

I believe I was able to ask coherent, nerdy questions about taxes and rights and I came away with what felt like a good idea of our future interactions. Though I did take the chance to thank her (and her co-host) for introducing me to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!

LANA: “Daddy Long Legs meets You've Got Mail. Bi 17yo Martin woos demi 16yo Haley via text even though she hates him in real life. #DVPit #YA #LGBT”

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

BRIDGET: Honestly, Daddy Long Legs is one of my most beloved books, so pretty much anything that comps to that is going to get my attention! I’ve always loved epistolaries, and I was intrigued to see how the modern version of that would play out.

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?

BRIDGET: I am desperately in want of a warm, funny, and layered f/f YA contemporary, especially one with a strong hook. I’ve come close a couple times, but there’s still that gap on my list! I’d also love an adult fantasy with really memorable characters and smart prose, or an adult sci-fi that feels like SHARDS OF HONOR (talk about watching characters fall in love while refusing to talk about it!). Otherwise, I’m just looking for something wonderful!

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

Lana Wood Johnson (@muliebris) has a degree in history, a background in IT, and way too many cellphone ringtones memorized. When not writing, Lana works with a local youth crisis shelter in Minnesota.

Bridget Smith (@bredalot) is an agent at Dunham Literary, Inc., where she represents middle grade, YA, and adult novels, with special interest in fantasy & science fiction, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Her tastes run to literary and character-driven novels. She is also the co-host of the podcast Shipping & Handling with Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary.