Laura and Sarah, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Laura, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
Laura: I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi but could never find the story of how to write it. Then when I was in the airport headed to visit my sister, the first line of the book came to me, a story about a Latina girl stuck in a world where aliens invaded and she believes she’s the last one left. After that first line, the story poured out of me. I’ve always loved alien invasion stories, so it was great to be able to write my take on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Sarah, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
Sarah: The voice. I wanted this main character to be the hero we don’t usually get to see. She’s not the plucky, self-righteous heroine, nor the snarky, woe-is-me anti-hero. Though sometimes she’s both. Laura created a character who, quite frankly, approached the apocalypse the way I would—optimistic despite some loud inner demons, angry, and confused. Plus, I’m a sucker for any “ragtag group of misfits” story, and Laura delivered a realistic, diverse group of teens to truly root for.
Laura, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
Laura: I always try to keep a deadline, if only to hold myself accountable. I was abroad visiting my sister and studying when I wrote the first draft. I wrote it by hand. Every day after my classes I’d sit down in my chair and write a chapter. After that, I sent it out to critique partners, and when they returned the book to me, then I made several changes. I usually repeat this process several times with anything I write, until I feel like it’s the best I can do. For this book in particular, I rewrote it four times.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
Laura: I loved the idea of doing #DVPit, and I’ve always enjoyed twitter pitches. I was excited about participating, but not expecting too much—I knew my book could be classified as ‘weird’, because of both the worldbuilding as well as not being something that we see a lot in the market right now. But I was pleasantly surprised. And I loved going through other people’s pitches and seeing what they were writing. It’s a great group experience, and it was wonderful to see so many writers supporting each other.
How was the experience for you, Sarah?
Sarah: Like all Twitter contests, it was a little overwhelming! Haha. There was a good chance I could have missed Laura’s pitch entirely. I even stopped participating in online contests around the time I was approached for #DVpit because I found I got more out of traditional queries. But I couldn’t really help myself when it came to #DVpit because I knew how necessary it was, and it was run really, really well. The sheer volume of pitches and eventual partnerships that came from it is proof of that. Looking forward to the next one!
Laura, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
Laura: I definitely got pitch help! It’s always great to go over several pitch options so you can diversify your feed. I had some critique partners brainstorm with me, and I tried to build my pitch around the main elements of the story that I thought stood out. Having a comp title is also great—be it another published book or a movie, it helps with placing your pitch in the feed.
And Sarah, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
Sarah: For the pitch, be as specific as possible! You only have 140 characters; make them count. I’m unlikely to request something that says “A girl must go on a journey after receiving a mysterious letter about her missing father.” That could describe 100s of books! Present a pitch that only describes yours. Character name, plot specifics, major conflict, etc. Things that can only be said about your book. Also, for #DVpit in particular, say whether your book is #ownvoices if you’re comfortable with that (meaning, you share the same marginalized identity as your main character).
Tell us about The Call, Laura!
Laura: I was so nervous! And excited! I had to call a couple of friends so they could calm me down so I didn’t freak out. It helped because I live in another country, so I wasn’t caught by the element of surprise. I was also nervous about stuttering a little—English isn’t my first language, so the only thought I had was, “what if I forget how to talk?”
In the end, I didn’t have to worry about a thing. Sarah is absolutely amazing, and it felt very easy talking to her. She was super nice and I asked a lot of questions and she answered them all. I got calmer by the minute, and I felt like we had a connection. When it ended, I kind of knew I’d sign with her.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
Laura: “Clover trained to be a pilot, not fight aliens. To save Earth, she must battle her PTSD and get flying again. #DVpit POC #ownvoices”
Sarah, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
Sarah: I’m not an agent typically drawn to the phrase “fight aliens.” What stood out to me in this case was that the main character was a pilot, and I am all for female characters in male-dominated fields! The other thing that jumped out at me was the character was in this big sci-fi disaster while struggling with a mental illness. Laura had also added #ownvoices to her pitch, which is what I was looking for specifically during #DVpit, and it gave me confidence that Laura’s voice would bring authenticity to a Latina heroine with mental illness, and treat those intersecting identities with respect.
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?
Sarah: When it comes to #DVpit, I’m always looking for #ownvoices. I don’t think a project needs to be #ownvoices, necessarily, and I’m open to anything that’s done well. But limiting myself during contests helps give me a focus in an otherwise overwhelming Twitter stream! As with Laura’s pitch, what catch my eye are the details that make an otherwise general premise (“alien sci-fi”) feel fresh and unique.
As for my wishlist, I honestly don’t know! My approach to submissions lately has been asking who benefits from any particular book. How will this book make a difference in someone’s life? And that can mean a number of things to me. Is it an all-caps ISSUE book that spurs important conversations? Is it a funny rom-com featuring characters of color who aren’t typically represented in that genre? Will whoever reads this book feel a little less alone, even in a seemingly small way? Good representation matters, and even if the story doesn’t demand any big societal changes, sometimes the book itself is the societal change.
Warm congratulations to Laura and Sarah for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Laura Pohl (@laurampohl)) is a YA writer and the creator of #PitchAmérica. She likes writing messages in caps lock, quoting Hamilton and watching old movies. When not taking pictures of her dog, she can be found curled up with a fantasy or science-fiction book. Born in Germany to Brazilian parents who love to travel, she makes her home in São Paulo.
Sarah LaPolla (@sarahlapolla) joined Bradford Literary Agency as an agent in 2013. She had previously worked in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, Ltd., and became an associate agent there in 2010. Sarah received her MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from The New School in 2008, and has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Ithaca College.
Representing MG, YA, and Adult fiction, Sarah is especially drawn to the following genres: literary fiction, science fiction, magical realism, dark/psychological mystery, literary horror, and upmarket contemporary fiction. No matter the genre, Sarah is drawn to layered/strong characters with engaging voices. She seeks stories that evoke strong connections and novels that offer a wide range of emotions. Whether they write dark, gritty YA, light coming-of-age narratives, or edgy urban fantasy, Sarah’s authors tend to reflect larger themes within a character-focused story, such as feminism, tolerance, and challenging the status quo.
Sarah is not looking for: nonfiction, picture books, inspirational/spiritual novels, romance, or erotica.