Karen and Victoria, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Karen, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
KAREN: One thing I loved as a kid was reading scary stories. These books gave me nightmares but they were so worth it! Growing up, I didn’t read many books where black girls went on daunting adventures or dealt with creepy things. I was born and raised in the rural South and I still remember the dark folklore of curses and haints as well as how secrets can go back generations. My book favorites are anything with ghosts so I’ve always been drawn to writing these types of stories. Middle grade novels are my first love and I wanted to write a story with horror elements and touches of humor. I also wanted to write a main character who didn’t dwell on the societal pressures of being a black girl. Instead I wanted to write a story about a black girl solving a ghost mystery.
Victoria, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
VICTORIA: It had a fabulous plot, and a wonderful voice, but I think the heart really captivated. Karen perfectly captured the core emotional experience of a young person coming of age with a real sense of generosity and warmth and a bit of spookiness.
Karen, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
KAREN: I always use an outline and I write in scenes. I also like putting my manuscript in the 3-act structure. My writer friend Phalia encouraged me to revise my middle-grade ghost story so I thought I would give it a shot for #DVpit and see what happened. She was one of the main reasons I entered the pitch contest in the first place. So I put all of the scenes in a spreadsheet and then based on her critique comments, I revised each scene in the manuscript in March and finished in early April.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
KAREN: It was such a great experience for me. I’ve met so many wonderful writers who have been so supportive and we have formed a bond and fostered a community. To be honest, I had low expectations because I’ve never done a Twitter pitch contest before so I didn’t know what to expect. My goal was to get maybe 3 or so interested agents who I could query. I was shocked by the amount of interest I got from agents and the boosting I got from editors so #DVpit exceeded my expectations!
How was the experience for you, Victoria?
VICTORIA: It was fantastic. I only wish I had more free time to hover over all the pitches more aggressively. I’ll also say that it was enlightening for me personally to see the sheer volume of people and material that benefitted from a dedicated space for their voices and experiences.
Karen, did you receive pitch help? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
KAREN: I did research on past Twitter pitch contests and I studied the ones that got 10 or more interested agents. I also read blog posts and followed #DVpit conversations on how to create captivating pitches. It’s a challenge to write a novel pitch in just 140 characters! I noticed the most successful pitches had comparisons. So I decided to create a comp pitch for agents to quickly get what my book was about. I created 8 pitches but the comp pitch was the one that got the most interest. As far as advice, I would say definitely stick to the main plot point, try to include your main character’s name and make sure you identify the age group and genre of your novel.
And Victoria, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
VICTORIA: I think the same advice that I’d give any querying authors and anyone planning to participate in any contest: do your homework. Research agents’ tastes, take a look at pitches, queries, and comp titles that have had success in the past or that piqued your interest. Deconstruct what makes them successful and learn how to apply those elements – a surprise hook, an interesting mash-up, a lively protagonist – to your pitch.
Tell us about The Call, Karen!
KAREN: Ah! The call. I had studied Victoria’s wish list and found that she loved middle grade books with a touch a magic and a dash of scary. Big factors that made her a top choice to query were her interest in cultivating underrepresented voices as well as her diverse client list. So when Victoria emailed me to schedule a call, I was so excited but also very nervous. After we started talking, I felt at ease immediately. She knew the business and she knew where my book fit in the market. I also loved her revision ideas and suggestions that could make the book stronger. After our initial conversation, I still had to talk with other interested agents but I was so impressed with Victoria that she was the one I chose as my agent.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
KAREN: “BLACK-ISH + GOOSEBUMPS: Sarah & friends must use spunk and snoop skills to solve ghost mystery in Southern small town. #DVpit #MG #ownvoices”
Victoria, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
VICTORIA: Karen pitched it as BLACKISH meets GOOSEBUMPS. What’s not to like? Two comps I love spliced together… it gets me every time.
What else are you looking for these days? Is there anything specific on your wishlist that you’re hoping to find at the next #DVpit?
VICTORIA: I almost find it easier to say what I’m not looking for these days since most of the books I’ve come to love the most were ones I didn’t even know I was looking for! I’m not the best fit for romance, but I’m always on the hunt for a dash of magic or mayhem, whether it’s in fantasy, magical realism, or contemporary. Also, lately I got into the Netflix original show STRANGER THINGS (which reminded me how much I love those classic Spielberg-ian coming of age 80’s nostalgia-fests, GOONIES, E.T., STAND BY ME, etc) so anything that’s reminiscent of that show would be great!
Warm congratulations to Karen and Victoria for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Karen Strong (@KarenMusings) writes middle-grade and young-adult novels where black girls explore the realms of magical realism and horror. She works as a systems analyst and is part of a team that develops software for federal law agencies. When she’s not working or writing, she’s on the lookout for the next pair of fabulous shoes in the humid heat of Atlanta, Georgia.
Victoria Marini (@LitAgentMarini) is a literary agent working with Middle grade, Young Adult and Adult fiction and non-fiction. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two tyrant-cats. When she’s not working or reading, she can usually be found coloring, binge-watching or dancing.