A #DVpit Success Story:
Interview with Jessica Kim and Thao Le

We are so delighted to have Jessica and Thao here to answer a few questions! Jessica signed with Thao through #DVpit, and has since found a publisher (the amazing Kokila at PRH). Let’s talk about the deal, the book, and the experience since #DVpit.

Jessica, first of all, congratulations on your book deal! Tell us about your book and why you wrote it.

JESSICA: My book is about a shy 11-year-old girl who loves comedy but can’t imagine doing it herself until she accidentally steals someone’s identity when she stumbles into comedy camp taught by her idol. Problem is, she’s supposed to be at the library studying for an upcoming scholarship exam to get into a fancy private school. Can Yumi figure out a way to do both?

I wrote this book because I wanted to tell the classic child-of-immigrant tale of wanting to make your parents proud but also wanting to pursue something creative– even if it’s against their wishes. The agony!

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

THAO: The very first scene, which takes place in a hair salon, and the mother-daughter interaction was what sealed the deal for me. It was so painfully relatable and FUNNY. My mother works in the beauty industry, so I grew up going in and out of salons and having “aunties” cut my hair (with my mother dictating the style). So I felt like I immediately connected with Yumi in a very personal way. And then of course as the story progressed, I just became more and more emotionally invested in Yumi and her family.

How was the #DVpit experience for you, Jessica? Do you have any tips or words of wisdom to share with future participants?

JESSICA: Make sure everything is polished and ready to go (pitch, query, and of course manuscript). Take advantage of all the volunteers who do critique giveaways ahead of the event. Get as many eyes as you can on your pitch and don’t try too hard to fit in your whole story. Remember, it’s a tinder profile picture not an exhaustive life story. The only goal is to get the agents to swipe right. Entice with voice, clinch with clarity.

How was the experience for you, Thao, and do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?

THAO: I agree with Jessica. For the #DVPit portion, remember that the information you can share in a tweet is so limited, it should really just be a thumbnail of the book. Something super short, sweet, and hooky is what I’m looking for. It’s basically a bait for me to want to read more. I think comps are useful in that way. And similarly with query letters, you don’t want to summarize the whole story (I don’t need to know about all the subplots), but you want to concisely convey the main character, plot, and stakes in a way that grabs the agent’s attention. Ideally I won’t read your full query if it’s a good one, I would only need to read a few hooky lines and then jump into the manuscript pages!

We’d love to hear how the whole submission process was for Jessica, from signing with an agent, to editing and polishing, to going out on sub to publishers, to getting news of your book deal. Catch us up on what’s happened since #DVpit!

JESSICA: DVpit was wild. Just wild. On April 25th, I woke up at 5:00AM PST nervous and hopeful. I’d worked really hard polishing everything and I was eager to get my book out there. Like an Olympic sprinter, I watched the clock and BOOM! the second the clock struck 5, I posted my pitch to Twitter in hopes I’d be among the first to show up on the hashtag. (I wasn’t, by the way. Not even close.) To my sheer delight, I got my first like six minutes later and HOLY COW after a few hours it caught some serious wind! Not all of them were agents, there were definitely some questionables and well-meaning family friends in the mix, but every like was so encouraging, I didn’t even care. And then, at the twelve hour mark, an agent emailed to schedule a talk with me! Whaaaat? The next day, we talked and I officially had my first offer. Nudge emails were sent, more calls were taken, offers were made, and countless tears of exhaustion/stress/joy were shed. After two weeks of intense hand-wringing, I went with my gut and signed with my amazing agent, Thao Le. We revised together for a month and went on submission.

And frickin’ A, would you believe that my book– the one about the shy girl from Koreatown– went to auction and sold two weeks later? All within two and a half months after DVpit? Neither could I. I’m still pinching myself.

I realize this is a highly unusual timeline. (Trust me, I’ve done pitch contests before and gotten crickets.) But I really do credit DVpit for opening doors that I assumed were closed to me. Some of the agents I got offers from were people I wrote off as impossible. Why would Super Agent X be interested in an unknown debut author who only writes Asian girl stories? Turns out they were! And if I never did DVpit, I would have never known because I was way too scared to query them on my own. DVpit allowed me to put my story idea in front of so many people– not just agents– but countless publishing professionals that I would otherwise have no access to. Personally, I think the buzz generated from this event played a significant factor in my submission process and I’m forever grateful! I love you, DVpit!

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

JESSICA: My editor is Joanna Cardenas and she is a splendid human being. She’s so thoughtful and thorough and genuine, I’d name my child after her. Too bad I’m not having any more kids. But I would if I were. She’d be Joanna Thao Constance Wu Kim. Anyway, the first time I spoke with Joanna, I got the immediate sense that she really got my book in an intimate and nuanced way. Kind of like when you meet a friend of a friend you’ve heard about for years and when you meet you feel like you already know each other. That’s what it was like. But with a fictional character that exists entirely in my mind and on the page. Also, I had long admired the books she’d worked so I knew we’d be a good match. Not to mention she works at Kokila which has the most DVpit on-brand mission ever. SOLD!

Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!

JESSICA: “11 yo Yumi is shy & nervous...

except when she does standup & steals the show

But her traditional parents don't know about her comedy thing

Problem is if Yumi wants to go to the new performing arts school she'll have to come clean about her double life
#dvpit #MG #OWN”

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

THAO: I immediately gravitated towards the traditional parents conflict (having personally dealt with similar issues myself!) and the performing arts/comedy element! I love stories about kids who are passionate about something and are striving towards their dream.

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?

THAO: I’m definitely looking for more middle grade featuring a diverse cast (particularly Latinx and Black perspectives). I’d love to see more fantastical and adventurous stories in the vein of ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME, as well as heartfelt contemporary ones, like an activist kid trying to save something they love or maybe a really cute and lighthearted LGBTQ crush story!

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

JESSICA: I know nothing. Really. I’m still revising it. Just watch for it in 2020.

What’s next for you?

JESSICA: I’m supposed to write another book. Eeep. No more questions about that please, it’s stressing me out.

Congratulations once again, Jessica and Thao, on finding each other and on the book deal! Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and best of luck with the publication of Stand Up, Yumi Chung! (which readers can add on GoodReads). We’re all excited to see it hit shelves!

Jessica Kim is a middle grade author who writes funny stories about Asian American girls and their Asian American lives. She lives in southern California and can’t get enough tacos. Follow her @jesskimwrites on Twitter and Instagram.

Thao Le is a literary agent at the Dijkstra Agency, representing children’s books from Picture Books through YA, as well as the occasional adult speculative fiction. She is actively seeking underrepresented voices to her client list. You can query her through QueryMe.Online/thaole, and follow her @thaole8 on twitter.