We are so delighted to have Amélie Wen Zhao and Peter J. Knapp here to answer a few questions! Amélie signed with Pete through #DVpit, and has since found a publisher. Let’s talk about the deal, the book, and the experience since #DVpit.
Amélie, first of all, congratulations on your book deal! Tell us about your book and why you wrote it.
AMÉLIE: Thank you! I am so incredibly excited. My book, Blood Heir, is a young adult fantasy that’s set in a Russian-inspired world of frozen tundras and marble palaces and opulent mansions. The story centers on Anastacya Mikhailov, the heir to Cyrilia who has the power to control blood. When she is framed for her father’s murder, she is forced into an unlikely alliance with a cunning (and annoyingly charismatic) crime lord in order to hunt down her father’s murderer—and to unravel the greater corruption gripping their empire.
At its very heart, Blood Heir is about a young girl born with a horrible disposition who is led to believe that she is the monster—which reflects both how we fear those who are different as well as how we internalize others’ fear of ourselves. These messages truly took flight in the post-election climate of 2016: with a diverse cast that fights against prejudice and oppression, it parallels the darkness that we see in today’s world—but ultimately, is about a girl who chooses to fight for the light. Ana realizes, in the book, that there are two types of grief: one that breaks you and crushes your soul, and another that makes you stronger, that you wield like a sword and wear like armor, and carry with you when you begin to make the world a better place. In these past two years, I found a thousand reasons to cry, but I sharpened my pen and wrote a hundred thousand words instead.
Pete, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
PETE: I fell in love with Amélie’s writing from the very first sentences: the story has a relentlessly twisty plot, and I was endlessly surprised by what hid around each corner. But more than that, it was the depth of Amélie’s two protagonists, each of which is holding onto secrets and the pain that comes with them, and how their journey to save themselves slowly becomes one where they are saving one another from past trauma and present danger. Plus, the world Amélie has built is dazzling, with icy rivers, dangerous moonbears, and the glittering Deities’ Lights. I was, in a word, enchanted.
How was the #DVpit experience for you? Do you have any tips or words of wisdom to share with future participants?
AMÉLIE: It was surreal! I had just joined Twitter in August 2017 and did not know the difference between retweet and quote-tweet, and one of my critique partners told me about #DVpit. I had never even heard of Twitter pitches, so that morning I quickly looked up how to write one, played around with my pitch for a few minutes, threw it on Twitter, and then went back to work.
My pitch really snowballed. But the most special moment to me—and this is really embarrassing—was when I checked back and saw that Pete (one of my long-time dream agents) had liked it. I texted my CP, screaming, and stared at that notification for about five minutes. And… the rest is history!
Tips or words of advice—this is super timely, because I recently wrote a blog post titled “How To Write A Killer Twitter Pitch.” To condense it all: 1. Use comps! 2. The most effective Twitter pitches are the ones that attract eyeballs, not the ones that try to boil down the entire book into 140 characters. It doesn’t have to capture all the main elements/plotlines of your book. Display the core elements that are the most interesting.
How was the experience for you, Pete, and do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
PETE: The exciting thing about #DVPit is that you are anticipating a submission before it comes in—I remember liking Amélie’s tweet, and so when it arrived in my inbox I knew I wanted to look at it right away. And I did—I read the book as quickly as I could and offered within a week!
In terms of advice: I would say remember to frame your story through the lens of your protagonist(s), because it is those characters that bring a premise to life, and that ultimately invest readers in a story’s outcome.
Amélie, we’d love to hear how the whole submission process was for you, from signing with an agent, to editing and polishing, to going out on sub to publishers, to getting news of your book deal. Catch us up on what’s happened since #DVpit!
AMÉLIE: It felt surreal! I entered #DVpit in October 2017, which really fast-tracked the process for my publishing journey. All the credit goes to Pete, who is literally the best agent ever. I signed with Pete in early November, and from the very first hour he already had a timeline and plan-of-action (which is a testament to what kind of an agent he is). Pete got my edit letter back to me in two days and we did one major round of revisions and a few more minor tweaks over the course of three weeks. I’d heard about submissions and was prepared for a long, drawn-out process, but with Pete’s guidance, it was really painless! It’s true that publishing is an industry where either nothing happens or everything happens all at once. We had a whirlwind few weeks and we went to auction. Though it was so difficult to choose, in the end, Krista Marino’s and Delacorte’s enthusiasm and experience really won me over.
Tell us about your editor! What was it like speaking to them for the first time? What is your relationship like?
AMÉLIE: Krista is just so genuinely warm and energetic—on our first call, she honestly just wanted to get to know me. We chatted about books, about vacations, and it was such a nice way to connect. Most importantly, she also really showed me that she got the heart of my book, its themes, and its parallels to the real world.
Since then, we’ve started on the revisions process, and Krista is an absolute superstar. With her guidance, we’re hammering down a lot of finer details and expanding this book in ways that is going to make it the best and strongest version of itself. I am so, so excited.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
AMÉLIE: “SIX OF CROWS x ANASTASIA: Exiled heir strikes deal w/ cunning conman: help her regain throne in exchange for her blood magic. #DVpit #YA #F”
Pete, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
PETE: First, the comp titles—I love both of them! And next, I was so intrigued by the fact that this heir was exiled. This raised immediate questions that I was excited to see answered: why was she exiled? And why does the conman need her blood magic? How will he help her regain the throne? It manages to both promise a great premise and leave intriguing questions that have me eager to know more.
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?
PETE: I am looking very broadly across genres in young adult and middle grade fiction. That said, two titles that I think represent what I’m particularly eager to find in each category are The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Both of these books are remarkably ambitious in both the thematic ground they cover and the way the stories are structured, tackling themes about how culture and history shapes identity, about how our families shape us, about loneliness, and, yes, about one of my favorite subjects: romance! They’re smart, impossible-to-put-down reads with a lot of heart and with things to say. If you’re writing contemporary like this, please—I’d love to see it! But I also will always love SFF, too!
Amélie, are there any updates you can share about your book? Pub date, hints about the cover, finalized jacket copy, pre-order links, etc?
AMÉLIE: Not any that I can share yet (or Pete will have my head)! Just kidding. But the book is up on Goodreads, so you can add it: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38205707-blood-heir. Stay tuned for more coming up!
What’s next for you?
AMÉLIE: I’m hard at work on Blood Heir II (guys, I’m having the most stressful time trying to think of a title) and outlining Blood Heir III. I know it’s super early, but I like to get a head start on things! I was also working on a Chinese Communist-era-inspired young adult fantasy that I plan to pick up again at some point in the future!
Congratulations once again, Amélie and Pete, on finding each other and on the book deal! Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and best of luck with the publication of BLOOD HEIR. We’re all excited to see it hit shelves!
Amélie Wen Zhao (@amillipages) has been putting pen to paper since she was in kindergarten. Born in Paris, raised in a multicultural community in Beijing, and currently living in New York City, Amélie has a bone-deep love for traveling and immersing herself in new worlds and cultures. Her debut young adult fantasy BLOOD HEIR, the first in a trilogy, will publish with Delacorte Press in 2019.
Peter Knapp (@petejknapp) is an agent with Park Literary & Media, where he represents middle grade and young adult fiction. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband.