Ray and Lauren, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Ray, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
RAY: Yes! So, my book is a young adult contemporary novel about a closeted trans boy named Dean. Everyone at his school thinks he’s a lesbian, including his girlfriend and friends, and he’s convinced himself that he can stay in that identity. But as senior year begins, he’s cast as Romeo in the school play, and through that role must come to terms with who he really is. I wrote the first scenes in 2009, and looking back, I think subconsciously this book started as a sort of wish fulfillment for me, a re-imagining of what it might have been like if I’d known I was trans in high school and been able to come out then. And in a sense, that’s still true: when I finally began seriously working on the book in 2015, I wanted to write the story I’d never had as a teen, the one I needed. I wanted to write a story that showed many ways to be trans and queer. I wanted to write Dean’s story not as a representation of what being trans is like for all trans people, but as his particular individual experience. I wanted to write a world that is realistic for current times, where the characters do face difficulty with their identities, but also one that imagines possibilities outside of struggle. Growing up, the queer stories I had access to usually featured only one cis gay or lesbian character, and centered around some kind of tragedy associated with being queer. I wanted to subvert those narratives.
Lauren, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
LAUREN: Thanks so much to you, Beth! Well, I’m a sucker for a Romeo & Juliet hook for one. I think there are three things that really won me over: I love Dean; I love that Dean’s friend group is mostly queer; and I love that each of the characters is handled with complexity, including Dean’s girlfriend and the kid who’s bullying him. There’s a lot of nuance to this story that feels very true to life.
Ray, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
RAY: During the run-up to the first #DVpit, I had already completed the manuscript before I knew I was going to participate, so I didn’t have much to do. The manuscript had benefited greatly from my fellowship through Richard Hugo House, a Seattle-based literary nonprofit, and the other fellows’ workshopping and critique. In the lead-up for the second #DVpit, I was finishing a big revision of the manuscript: rewriting it from past tense into present tense. I used #DVpit as my deadline, which was a great motivator. I am a big list-maker, and I prioritized the list of revisions for the manuscript from big to small tasks. I completed the rewrite first, which ended up taking care of a few of the smaller tasks along the way, such as fleshing out the characters’ interiority and deciding whether to keep or delete certain scenes and storylines. Anything that didn’t get swept up in the rewrite, I completed once it was done, and had two of the fellows who were part of my cohort at Hugo House read and give feedback on the manuscript.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
RAY: #DVpit was AMAZING. I entered it hoping but not expecting to find an agent, and certainly not expecting the response my pitch received in my second #DVpit. It was incredibly validating to see that trans stories, and trans authors, were wanted by agents, editors, and readers. I also made so many wonderful new writing friends and mentors, whose support has made this journey so much easier. Being new to the publishing world has meant that I often have questions I think are maybe kind of silly, or seem like things that everyone just knows somehow, but the community I’ve found through #DVpit helped demystify so much. #DVpit also helped me understand my manuscript better by forcing me to boil it down into one tweet. If #DVpit was a religion, I’d evangelize for it!
How was the experience for you, Lauren?
LAUREN: In this particular case, it was nervewracking!! I’d actually seen an earlier version of Ray’s novel from the first DVpit they entered, and recommended some revisions and asked to see it again. As they were working, I’d started to feel a little anxious that I’d made an error in not making the commitment to work with Ray on those revisions and feared another agent was going to scoop this one up. And then they entered DVpit a second time and, after sending off a passionate “I’m still super eager to read your revision!!!!!!” email, I watched that little heart count ratchet up with a feeling of total dread. But fortunately for me, it all worked out—the revised novel was exactly what I’d hoped it would be and more, and somehow I still got the opportunity to work with Ray!
Ray, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
RAY: In my first #DVpit, I was lucky enough to win a query and first 5 pages critique from Brian Kennedy (@bd_kennedy on Twitter!) and he continued to mentor me after that. My tendency is to include too much information, and try to spell out the entire plot of the book. Brian helped me think of the pitch as a teaser instead. That teaser doesn’t have to say exactly what the main character has to lose; it just has to imply what’s at stake, and filling in that blank is what will hook folks. I also took his advice of using my two best pitches, and alternating them throughout the day. It’s very worth it to either schedule a tweet for 8am EST/5AM PST (US time). That’s when my pitch got the most attention, both rounds.
And Lauren, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
LAUREN: My first piece of advice would be to read through all these DVpit success interviews to read the advice many great authors and agents have given! And my second is one that’s really crucial if you end up with the good fortune Ray had of receiving a landslide of likes and retweets: track them as they come in or do the research beforehand to find the best program/app to track them for you. DVpit is getting more and more traction, and last time there were a bunch of tweets that went some degree of viral from people who had no idea what those faves and retweets were supposed to mean. There was a lot of “wait, are there even that many literary agents total?” on the day. Twitter makes it super hard to see the full list of people who’ve engaged with a tweet if it’s more than a few or after the fact, and you want to know not only who all the agents are who’ve requested your work, but who all the editors are who boosted it. And it probably doesn’t hurt to know which authors boosted it as well—you never know who you might want a blurb from in the future, and knowing that they’re intrigued by your premise is a good start. If monitoring DVpit in real time feels like something your nerves can’t handle (or your life obligations won’t permit), then it’s extra important to figure out how you’re going to pull all that good data after you hopefully have a hugely successful DVpit. I don’t know what the best option is at the moment, but this is a question you should seek to answer before DVpit.
Tell us about The Call, Ray!
RAY: OH. EM. GEE. I was so nervous. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it was The Call, because Lauren didn’t say exactly what the call was for, and I’d read in a few places that sometimes agents call you without offering rep. But I also thought it probably was The Call. I was really excited, because Lauren was one of my top picks; she’d given me wonderful feedback after I queried her out of my first #DVpit, and asked for a R&R, which I completed around the time of my second #DVpit. As we talked on the phone, I was really struck by how thoughtful she was, how much she understood my characters and story, and how at ease I felt with her. The whole call also felt a little surreal! It was a culminating moment of a lot of hard work and dreams for me, and after we hung up, I jumped around and screamed in the kitchen with my roommates.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
RAY: "Everyone thinks Dean's a lesbian, including Dean & his GF. But when he's cast as Romeo in the school play, he realizes he's trans #DVpit #YA"
Lauren, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
LAUREN: It packs so much into so few words! “Everyone thinks Dean’s a lesbian, including Dean & his girlfriend” is just such a powerful sentence. So much so that I stole a version of it for the pitch letter! It tells you instantly that this is a story that addresses identity in a complex way. And then it’s followed up with that fun R&J hook. Plus I’ve been specifically on the lookout for trans narratives, since it’s an area of publishing that’s especially underdeveloped.
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: I’m looking for a super wide range of projects, and you can find out more at our agency website or my MSWL page. One thing I hope to find at the next DVpit is more books by disabled and/or neurodiverse writers, especially those who are underrepresented in other ways as well. And I’d love a really fun middle grade adventure series.
Warm congratulations to Ray 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!
Ray Stoeve (@raystoeve) is a queer, nonbinary writer from Seattle, Washington. They received a 2016-2017 Made at Hugo House Fellowship for their young adult fiction, and are on a personal mission to include at least one trans character in every book they write. When they're not writing heartfelt queer stories, they can be found working with youth, hiking their beloved Pacific Northwest, or on stage in drag.
Lauren E. Abramo (@LaurenAbramo) is Vice President and Subsidiary Rights Director at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, 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.