Katherine and Lauren, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Katherine, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
KATHERINE: Thank YOU for your part in making this partnership a reality, Beth!
This book is about a girl who is separated from her best friends when they start three different middle schools. In order to stay connected, they become mascots at their respective schools and write about their experiences in a shared Google doc.
I wrote the first draft at a time when I was separated from all of my friends, and really hating the long distance thing. I have a group of three friends like Taylor does in the book, and we are all women of color, so it seemed natural to me that the three friends would all be Mexican-American girls. As a kid I loved reading friendship books and devoured series about groups of girls, and usually in these series there was only one Latina (or no Latinas). But in my real life, often everyone in the room is Latina, and that is depicted in this story.
I was a mascot in high school (I once got an award for being the most hydrated mascot at mascot camp) so I loved diving back into that weird world of sweat and secret identities for this manuscript.
Lauren, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
LAUREN: Thank you so much, Beth, for helping me connect with Katherine AND giving me a chance to talk about how brilliant she is!
First, I just really fell in love with Taylor, the main character. Middle school is brutal, and the idea of going through it without your friends by your side even more so, so the central conflict felt really compelling to me. And I found the friend relationships between the three girls so relatable—haven’t we all been in a friendship that’s increasingly tough to hold on to but we’re not prepared to lose? Friendship stories are my kryptonite, basically.
There were also two things that stood out to me about the novel that felt so important: one, that the book features a Mexican-American trio getting their chance to shine in the sort of story publishers have been publishing about white Euro-American characters forever. And two, I was really struck by the way the story casually explores the space between poverty and middle-class comfort, a background I think a lot of children grow up in (me included) but that I don’t feel like I see often. Taylor’s struggle isn’t, on the surface, about money, but if she was as affluent as your average book protagonist, several of the problems she engages with in the novel would be pretty easily resolved. I loved that the book subtly recognizes that not everyone has the money for the easy fix and that not every family is either in deep financial crisis or well off. In a variety of ways, I think this book offers a lot of kids a chance to see themselves in a story in the way they maybe haven’t before.
Katherine, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
KATHERINE: Yes I have some amazing, amazing critique partners I met along the way! I had one CP who helped me revise section by section, and others who looked at the manuscript as a whole and helped me figure out where to go from there. I also had a second crew of people read through the changes I made and make sure they worked. I’ve been surrounded by super supportive and talented writers throughout this whole process, and I’ve learned a lot from them.
I “pantsed” this particular project without an outline, so revision was crucial. This included several massive changes to the ending and cutting out a subplot that I loved but had nothing to do with anything, and really making sure each of the three main characters had their own voice and writing style in their letters.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
KATHERINE: It was amazing! I had participated in a previous #DVPit, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. But the outpouring of support from writers of all stages in their careers was a particular type of magical. I kept peeking at my phone between presentations, and authors of books I love were saying they wanted to read my story! Editors said they wanted to see it once it was agented! Everyone in #DVPit cheered each other on, and it was a lot of fun to be part of. It’s so invigorating reading all the pitches and feeling the energy of the event through twitter.
You’ve created an event that proves that authors of color and authors from other marginalized backgrounds are out here. With #DVPit no one can use the excuse that we don’t exist or that we aren’t submitting. You’ve done something so special here, Beth! And the community on twitter is all in and invested. It’s awesome.
How was the experience for you, Lauren?
LAUREN: I really love DVpit, so it was pretty great. More so than most Twitter pitch events, in my experience, DVpit is so rich with incredible projects (which is probably a sad testament to just how high the barriers are for marginalized authors in more typical submission processes). I often want more of them than I could realistically take on. Without DVpit I might well have missed the chance to find this book which is so perfect for me and my list, and I’m so grateful that you’ve made that possible, Beth. And, as Katherine mentioned, I love seeing all the author and editor support for the event. I’ve found some of the most exciting DVpit projects because others boosted tweets I might have otherwise missed in the feed. It’s great that there’s such a strong community that’s come together around it.
Katherine, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
KATHERINE: YES. Before the event, Meredith Ireland (another #DVPit success and a client of Lauren’s) had offered to help participants with last minute questions. I hopped in her DMs and asked if I should still pitch it. I was afraid all the participating agents who would be interested had already seen it, and that it was time to move on. Meredith told me that it’s always worth it if I was willing to send it.
Her advice was to change the comps and give it a try, and I’m so so so glad I did.
Therefore my advice to future participants including those who have entered before is to find the most appropriate comparative titles, and don’t self-reject. Ask for help if you need support or encouragement.
Focus on the parts of your story that make it standout. Highlight what is unique and intriguing about your work. Show us what you love about it so we can love it too. And don’t be afraid to abbreviate when necessary (if they are easy abbreviations to understand)!
And Lauren, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
LAUREN: I think the best advice I can offer people participating in DVpit is to really put in the prep work to tailor your pitch, your query, and your manuscript before you dive in. I’ve come across exciting pitches that didn’t capture the concept well, great pitches followed by sloppy queries, and manuscripts that sound promising but really aren’t ready yet. Date-specific submission events like this can make you feel like you need to rush, but you don’t. If you aren’t ready this time, sit back, learn, and work on your stuff so that you’ll be ready next time.
And for queriers in general my best advice is to think critically about where you get your guidance. There are a lot of well-meaning people out there giving writers unintentionally bad advice because people often mistake their experience for some universal truth. Vet people’s credentials before you invest your time following their advice. Don’t assume that someone knows their stuff just because they are popular or willing to help.
Tell us about The Call, Katherine!
KATHERINE: Lauren sent me an email on a Friday morning saying she read my manuscript and would love to discuss it with me…. WHAT?!?!!
(One cool thing about the #DVSquad is that you might find yourself DMing an author while scheduling The Call with their agent. Because of the timing of it Meredith was actually the first person I told, and she was cheerleading me through every step!)
I talked to Lauren maybe an hour later while pacing around my room with a notepad. Her ideas for revision made sense to me, and my mind started racing in the middle of our conversation of ways I could incorporate them. She also loved parts of my story that I hadn’t thought about in the same way, so it was obvious right away that her framework and point of view would be such an asset to this manuscript. Of course her experience in publishing is impressive and I knew I would be in good hands.
I absolutely loved the way she talked about her clients and their work and their careers, and I got to correspond with some of her authors who told me how much they adore her as well. And now I’m so happy to be among that group!
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
KATHERINE: “THE PAGES BTWN US + FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT: MexAm BFFs are separated for middle school & become mascots to stay connected #DVPit #Own #MG”
Lauren, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
LAUREN: Each part of it intrigued me, but I think what most made me want to take a look was that it was so clearly a friendship story. I’m just a total sucker for a nuanced friend group in fiction, and I’m always hungry for them.
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?
LAUREN: As you might guess, high on my priority list is underrepresented voices in all categories I represent. I want more books that reflect our intersectionally diverse world and more seats at the table for authors from marginalized communities. I have a broad list but mostly rep middle grade through adult fiction, primarily contemporary, romance, and thrillers. My nonfiction list is adult with a focus on social justice, where I tend toward authors tackling serious issues in very accessible, engaging ways. Specifically, I very much have an eye out for YA and MG novels that explore code switching, adult romance with characters from underrepresented communities, and own voices contemporary middle grade featuring autistic protagonists. And friendship stories, always.
Warm congratulations to Katherine and Lauren for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Katherine Maria is a middle grade writer originally from San Antonio, TX. She currently lives in Austin where she works at a nonprofit and reads lots of books. Katherine is represented by Lauren Abramo of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Katherine Maria can be found on twitter at @kmariawrites where she tweets about books and breakfast tacos.
Lauren E. Abramo (@LaurenAbramo) is Vice President and Subsidiary Rights Director at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, where she maintains a carefully cultivated client list with a heavy emphasis on middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction, and interdisciplinary, accessible adult nonfiction approaches to important issues in contemporary culture. In all categories she is especially interested in underrepresented voices.