A #DVpit Success Story:
Interview with Faith Kazmi & Kelsey Klosterman

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

FAITH: Thank you so much for the opportunity and community you’ve created with #DVpit, it’s an honor to participate in this interview!

My picture book is about a strong and determined girl who gets invited to a princess party but she doesn’t want to go because there’s no princess she wants to dress up as. She learns about the legend of an ancient warrior princess and a volcano from the Philippines, where her mom is from, and instantly feels a connection. After her journey to become the volcano princess, Gigi must face her friends at the party and see if she has what it takes to truly be her own kind of princess.

I wrote this #ownvoices story after attending my first SCBWI regional conference in 2017 where the theme of the conference was, “Find the Heart in your Story.” That emphasis allowed me to open up and write something that was very near and dear to my heart, which was incredibly affirming. My mom was an immigrant from the Philippines and came from the province that is home to this princess legend and majestic volcano. It was incredibly fun to play with these elements of my heritage and infuse a modern touch. In truth, this story is as much for me as it is for anyone else who reads it. This story explores belonging, the importance of diverse perspectives, and freedom to be true to oneself, which I think are important for us all.

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

KELSEY: I fell in love with Gigi’s character after reading the initial Twitter pitch, and my adoration for her was only solidified by the book itself. Gigi has so much heart and spunk, and she’s unrelentingly unique and unafraid to be herself.

Her refusal to conform to the norm is a breath of fresh air, but she never does so by criticizing what all of her friends love. The book is full of positivity: Gigi can love what she loves, and her friends can love what they love, and there’s no shame in there being any difference.

And in the end, this is a book about acceptance and determination and open-mindedness. Gigi shares her heritage with her friends, and she’s unabashedly herself. I knew at once this was a book I had to put out in the world.

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

FAITH: I’ve been working on this story since March 2017, and it has evolved from the original in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I’ve loved every step of the journey (mostly). My awesome critique partners have seen different iterations of this story and they have each been through their own submission/acquiring an agent processes, so that was really helpful. I also worked with a few other beta readers and had some formal conference critiques by agents over the past few years. Each time I received feedback I would ask myself, ‘how does this suggestion serve the heart of the story?’

In terms of organizing and keeping things moving, I have a mild addiction to google docs and love updating things as I go. Overall, in terms of writing, I’m more of a free flowing pantser, but I do embrace (and enjoy) the structural editing of the story as an important part of letting the story finish in the way it needs to be finished.

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

FAITH: I honestly can’t remember how and when I first learned about #DVpit through the twitterverse, but I definitely remember watching the pitches from a few #DVpit events, and it was powerful to see such amazing creativity, talent, and support. I participated in a few other twitter pitch parties, receiving a few likes here or there, but to no avail. I was reflecting on why I didn’t participate in #DVpit earlier, since I had tried other pitch events on twitter, but I realized that the timing wasn’t right for me. I wasn’t ready, my manuscript wasn’t ready, and I didn’t have clarity. What a difference a year can make.

Before I decided to participate in #DVpit I was in a bit of a writing slump and after receiving straight up rejections, close call rejections, encouraging rejections, and more. I asked myself why I was still doing this. I’m blessed in that I am engaged in other work that is meaningful and I really love, so I began to wonder if all this rejection was telling me something or even worth it. I know that rejection is absolutely part of the process (and will continue to be), but the great thing about that moment of doubt for me was that I gained clarity that writing stories for children was something I couldn’t not do. That moment also helped me to be clear and specifically think about what kind of representation I would want, and what was most important to me as an author, and a woman of color. That’s where #DVpit comes in.

A few weeks before the #DVpit event I decided I was going to give it a try. The community seemed amazing and authentic. Being part of something that centered creators who have been historically marginalized was exactly the type of opportunity that I thought could connect me to the folks with whom I’d like to work. And, the day of the event was great. I enjoyed not only seeing reactions to my tweets, but a built in plus to #DVpit was reading all of the amazing pitches, and seeing the likes come in for folks. There’s seriously so much talent out there. It was magical and definitely larger than me. The event was a great reminder that shifts are inevitable and every one person who put themselves out there was demonstrating great courage to pursue their passions. That’s what still sticks with me, and I think that’s also what makes it so special.

How was the experience for you, Kelsey?

KELSEY: I’m so glad I discovered #DVpit. It creates such an important, open space for authors to share their experiences and their work with the knowledge that everyone involved is rooting for their success. I’m thankful to have found a space that raises authors who have historically had difficulty getting their stories published and their voices heard.

I wish I could have spent all day scrolling through pitches and liking all the ones I want to request. I found myself still going through them long after the work day was over. When I found Faith’s pitch, I had a great feeling about it. I knew there was going to be something special in that story.

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

FAITH: A few months before #DVpit I attended a writing conference in Nevada that was a ‘pitch-fest’ and I learned a lot from the faculty, from doing quick pitches with feedback, and from hearing others pitch. And, as a special bonus at that event: I got to briefly meet and thank Beth Phelan for creating #DVpit, and let her know how much it meant to me to see that in action, even though I hadn’t (yet) participated .

I’m sure many others have suggested this: read through the #DVpit website, there’s a wealth of resources and advice! It’s so well thought out, and I definitely spent time looking through much of it.

My own advice/wisdom would be to prepare beforehand, get feedback, and then remember that everything you’ve done prior to the event has prepared you for the moment. You’ve done your part and remember what you can control, and what you can’t. When it’s time for the event take lots of deep breaths, let go and see what unfolds, step outside of your own pitch and watch magic happen in the community and believe in yourself unconditionally.

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

KELSEY: Don’t be afraid—or rather, put yourself out there even if it’s scary. Your book is important, your experiences are important, and your voice is important. I’m so thankful to have found a space that elevates marginalized voices in such a safe and supporting way.

Communicate carefully with anyone who expresses interest in your book, especially if they make an offer. Do your research, check their history, and make sure to get them on the phone if possible to have your questions answered. You should be one hundred percent comfortable with the agent you work with—after all, author-agent relationships are longstanding and based largely in trust in each other.

Tell us about The Call, Faith!

FAITH: Where to begin? I have to start before the call. After #DVpit, I sent requested materials out, and received a quick response from Kelsey. I hadn’t heard of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, yet, but immediately got the chills when I began my research and saw some of the works they represented. It was exciting to me to see an agency that had a long record of representing works by a wide range of authors, including underrepresented voices, and those with messages that aligned with my work and belief system.

Leading up to the call, over email Kelsey was very warm, enthusiastic, and understood the heart of my story. She also asked if I was open to edits, which I very much was (am), and I was excited to learn this was an area of expertise she had! She offered representation and let me know that I’d have the opportunity to work with both Kelsey and Charlotte (how exciting!). Before the call, Kelsey also answered quite a few questions via email, which was extra kind, and nice to be able to refer back to.

The main thing I remember during the call, was that my heart was pounding and my mind kept reeling wondering if this could possibly be real, and if I was asking everything I needed to ask. I felt reassured by her responses, and her approach to working together. She answered all the questions I had and encouraged me to take my time and make the right decision for myself. As a writer sharing something so connected to my identity, I was relieved and heartened that I didn’t feel like I had to explain or validate the importance of telling this story. While it shouldn’t even be a thing, that meant so much to me, and I’m grateful #DVpit helped to create space for that. Ultimately, Kelsey’s sincere enthusiasm for my work was the main factor, and as we’ve been working together over these past few months, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!

FAITH: “Unafraid to stand out, Gigi decides not to dress up for her friend’s princess party. There’s not one she wants to be, until she learns about an ancient warrior princess from her mom’s province in the Philippines. #dvpit #pb #ownvoices”

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

KELSEY: I was drawn to Gigi ever since I saw that pitch. The heart of the story is in that one tweet: Gigi just wants to be herself, and she’s not going to let anyone tell her otherwise. The legend of the ancient warrior princess was an extra level of intrigue, and I did find myself wanting to know more about that princess, Daragang Magayon.

I’m also very drawn to #ownvoices stories, so seeing that hashtag included in the pitch gave it major points for me.

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?

KELSEY: I’m looking for children’s fiction of all types, with an emphasis on young adult, middle grade, and picture books. In terms of genre, I’m looking primarily for fantasy and contemporary novels—my favorite thing to see in my inbox is a diverse YA fantasy. I’m always looking for high-concept ideas. For picture books, I look for memorable characters, unique plotlines, whimsy, and humor.

I’m always on the lookout for diverse casts of characters—including all types of diversity—and I have a particular eye for #ownvoices stories.

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

Faith Kazmi (@faithkaz) is a children’s author who deeply appreciates the chance to travel and see the world with family and friends. She is also fond of the beach, the stars, and all things teal. While most of her writing happens at night, her professional identity during the day includes working with incredible college students who are interested in exploring gender equity, identity, feminism, and justice.

Kelsey Klosterman (@klklosterman) is an editorial-style agent who works on children’s fiction at the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. She primarily represents young adult, middle grade, and picture books, with a particular eye for fantasy. When she’s not reading, she can often be found writing, drawing, or playing video games.