A #DVpit Success Story: Interview with Jenn Polish and NineStar Press

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

JENN: Thank you so much for doing this, Beth: It is so immensely soul-soothing (not to mention tangibly life-changing) to have a virtual space for variously marginalized authors to come together to be centralized and celebrated. So thank you, truly, for all your hard work with #DVpit.

As for my novel, LUNAV is a YA fantasy that I essentially conceived of as a lesbian fairy tale. To be honest, I was driven to write it mainly by the ABC show Once Upon a Time: the two women leads in that show, Regina and Emma, have no heterosexual explanation for any of their interactions, especially as the show progresses. It was heartbreaking to watch such a beautiful, romantic love story happen on screen but have it not be acknowledged as such. It still is heartbreaking.

And even though we get to see beautiful romantic relationships between women from brilliant authors like Malinda Lo and Daniel José Older, I wanted to write my own.

So, Evelyn and Sadie.

Sadie’s a half-faerie spy in a land where dragon eggs grow on trees, and Evelyn is the human government official she’s supposed to spy on but—oops—falls for. (Oh, lesbians and our deeply inconvenient crushes.) For me, the book is about magic and dragons and romance, yes, but also, deeply, about family, about power, about friendships between women, about the kind of normalization of queerness that celebrates rather than erases our uniqueness.

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

JASON: Jenn has a way of weaving a tale that stood out for me when I assessed this manuscript. I was immediately entranced by their story and the unique little details added. It’s obvious that Jenn feels their writing deeply; it communicates clearly and moves the reader.

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

JENN: My number one critique partner is my number one favorite writer and one of my very best friends, Marcos Gonsalez (@MarcosSGonsalez). He’s sitting next to me as I type this, and we’re always good for leaning into each other and asking what just the perfect word is to describe something. His feedback is unfailingly insightful, thoughtful, and critical, and I don’t know where I’d be—as a human being or as a writer—without him.

My other main critique partner—who is also much more than that—also gave me a thorough edit of the novel: my fiancée, Erika Turner. And here’s where we go into my process: when I get edits back from Erika, I enter The Writing Hole. Usually with Marcos, who will be working on his projects concurrently with mine. Erika is the most brilliant editor I can imagine, and when she says, “hey babe, I think this scene you have toward the end of the book would work better as like the second scene,” I listen, even though it means literally rewriting the entire book.

So, my process really looks like a lot of intellectual/emotional collaboration and a lot of rewriting. I go on sprees. I rewrote the final version of LUNAV in a month (it was, I think, my fifth full rewrite). I use a lot of storyboarding to help me get there, and it might look chaotic, but it helps immensely.

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

JENN: Oh, the world of Twitter. I was pretty burnt out by the time last year’s #DVpit rolled around. I was coming off a lot of rejections from wonderful agents that I greatly admire, and I was feeling pretty close to self-publishing. I didn’t want to expect much from #DVpit because at some point in the pitching process, your expectation-meter can break: you don’t want to expect anything, ever, because somehow hopelessness feels like it’ll make rejection hurt less (spoiler alert: it doesn’t, even though you might get numb to it).

But Erika and Marcos both encouraged me to go for it, and they helped me with my pitches, and bam! NineStar Press for the win.

After I signed with NineStar, the #DVpit community has been hugely welcoming, and that’s been a truly moving experience for me. I know I said it before, but really Beth, thank you for facilitating this kind of community: not an easy feat!

How was the experience for you, NineStar?

SAM: We love participating in #DVpit. It’s essentially everything we stand for as a publisher. Having an event that aligns so well with our purpose and function within the publishing community is amazing. It’s exciting to be able to see what people are coming up with, and we always look forward to it.

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

JENN: Oh yeah. The help was invaluable, because in my experience, my critique partners can always tell me what my book is about in a more interesting and concise way than I can. When you’re that close to your own work, it’s hard. So they would be able to look over my pitches and say, ‘hey, you can reword that to hook the reader in sooner’ or ‘actually that detail was my favorite, so you should emphasize that in your pitch.’

In terms of “wisdom,” I’m still in shock that this whole thing is happening, so I’m not sure I consider myself wise yet. But. I would say to vary your pitches. A part of your book that appeals to one agent or publisher may be ‘meh’ to someone else; but if you emphasize a different aspect of your book in another pitch, that same agent or publisher might be sparked by it! Remember that you’re allowed to pitch six times throughout the day, so vary it up. And in terms of stress, try to draft your pitches beforehand and perhaps even schedule them so it’s not something you have to worry about logistically the day of.

Also: do that whole believing in yourself thing. If you’ve gotten far enough to consider #DVpit seriously, you’ve written a book! That’s amazing and it’s something to celebrate. The world needs your words, so don’t give up.

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

SAM: Don’t waste space on the title. We don’t need to know the name of your story, but we do need to know what it is about. The title can take precious characters that instead could be put toward a hashtag or a few extra words to grab a publisher/editor.

Tell us about The Call, Jenn!

JENN: Oh. That call.

So I was dogsitting with my fiancée for one of my best friends. Erika was downstairs with the pups and I checked my email to find LUNAV amidst the subject line.

Now, if you’ve queried for a while, you know the sinking sensation that comes with those emails: the, ‘great, another rejection’ feeling, but also that little nugget of hope. So I was pretty in shock when the email ended with words like “thrilled to offer you a contract.”

When Erika came back upstairs, I just said her name and apparently I was super grave about it. She thought something terrible had happened. Oops. I don’t remember what I said to her, but suddenly she was tackling me back onto the couch in excitement and pride.

So, initially, she was more excited than me, because, as Yoda might say, the shock is strong with this one.

Jenn, what has the editing/publication process been like since #DVpit? Any news you can share about the book at this point? Publication date, cover, blurbs…?

JENN: Naturally (as with all of publishing), there’s a lot of the waiting game until Jason and I can really dive into our edits together, which I’m extremely excited about. In the meantime, both Jason and Rae have been absolutely stellar about answering all my questions and laying out NineStar’s process for me. I feel like I know what to expect from the process, which is a beautifully intensive, multi-round editing process, followed by a back-and-forth with the wonderful cover artist at NineStar who will be bringing the cover and map of LUNAV to life.

Y’all will have to wait with bated breath for the cover, but for now, get ready for March 26th: the release date!

And, I don’t want to hold out on you, so here: the blurb is below!!

Give us the pitch that hooked your publisher!

JENN: Here goes:

“Faeric spy Sadie was expecting to complete her mission, not to fall in love with the girl in charge of the human govt. #DVpit LGBT OWN DIS”

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

SAM: A few elements stood out when reading this. In the short amount of characters available, Jenn gave a truly great outline of what we could expect from the story. It is essentially a tag line, and it did what it needed to: it made me want to read it and know more. On top of that, Jenn used their tags very smartly. I knew this would fit us for a LGBTQA+ story, as well as that it comes from their experience of their own voice and provides representation of disabled people.

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?

RAE: We are always looking for new, fresh stories and, of course, ideas and narratives that are seen in mainstream fiction but with characters throughout the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. However, we are especially looking for Science Fiction space operas, epic Fantasy tales, and imaginative Paranormal/Horror.

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

Jenn Polish (@JennPolish) is a YA fantasy author and instructor of English and Theatre at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Their debut novel, LUNAV—a lesbian fairy tale set in a world where dragons hatch from trees—is set for release with NineStar Press in March 2018. When they’re not teaching, writing, or working toward their PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center, they’re probably fanbying over a wide array of comic books or hitting the gym.

Click here to find out more about the team at NineStar Press.