I often think of Seneca’s wise words:
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Publishing, I’ve learned, is often at the whims of this kind of luck. However, opportunity is not equally distributed. That’s why pitch contests that uplift and amplify the voices and stories from the margins are so important.
That’s why I mentor writers, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, so they too can be prepared to meet their moment. As a writer for kids of all ages, I know young people need to be able to see it to dream it. Stories representing the richness and depth of the diversity in our world are needed now more than ever.
Growing up in the 1990s, I had access to more fiction about the Latin American diaspora than previous generations but it was not the bulk of what I read nor was it part of my high school’s curriculum.
The books I read on my own at the end of high school and assigned to me college including In The Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, Drown by Junot Díaz, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García, Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey by Ariel Dorfman, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Esperanza Rising by Pam Puñoz Ryan, and Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas were my lifeblood.
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In college, the course “Immigrants, Exiles, and Refugees” was a revelation. I learned about the “one and a half generation”—the children of immigrants who had been born in different countries of origin and moved to the United States as children.
As a person adopted from Colombia to the United States at the age of three what was I? What if my adoptive parents weren’t immigrants or part of the Latin American diaspora themselves? What if I didn’t know and wasn’t in contact with my birth parents?
People straddling continents, cultures, languages, and families. It took me years to return to writing in my own voice but now I write for the young person struggling to fit in when they have not yet found a place to belong. I write for my younger self who saw some approximation of my lived experience but lacked many mirrors, even genetic ones.
Fast forward past a career in mission-based communications and starting a family, to last summer when we moved our family of four across the country from Massachusetts to California. With this big change, I decided to return to writing for myself again. To write the kinds of books I wished I could have read as a young person grappling with my identity and how I wanted to show up in the world.
I threw myself into revising a ten-year-old manuscript based on trips I took at age twelve and twenty-five back to my orphanage, which evolved into a middle grade (MG) magical realism story set for the most part at a Colombian orphanage.
When I learned about Twitter pitch contests, I decided they were just the way to break through the noise (and avoid the slush pile) for my anxiety-ridden self as I entered the query trenches. It sounded a bit like dating on the apps where an agent or editor would profess their interest via a like and then I could do my research and decide to swipe right or not.
In 2022, #DVpit was in August and I set my sights on it as the first test pitching my MG magical realism. I prepared my query package, including a one-page synopsis, and researched publishing as much as possible. Luckily, during #DVpit, I attracted agent interest and subsequently researched and queried a handful of them that I felt were the best fit for me.
The next month, #LatinxPitch offered another opportunity to pitch my project. With more luck, I received more interest and submitted to another handful of agents and editors. A few were quick rejections from both pitch events, which after the initial sting, I appreciated. For me, my anxiety is lessened by receiving an answer right away, even if it’s disappointing. Very few had any personalized feedback apart from noting my word count was a bit high for middle grade (I killed a lot of darlings after that) and suggesting I revise and resubmit after aging my characters up or down (I did not).
For nearly seven months, I didn’t hear back from any agents with the full MS of my MG magical realism story. In that time, I undertook sweeping revisions of that manuscript, attended conferences, met a critique partner, found a local writing co-working space, and participated in NaNoWriMo 2022.
During November as part of NaNoWriMo, I wrote more than 50,000 words of a YA contemporary manuscript largely in person during LeftMargin LIT’s Writer’s Bootcamp, and then spent two months revising it with beta reader feedback. To keep myself busy as I waited to hear from agents on the MG project, I decided to start querying the YA project to test my premise and I applied to the Las Musas Books mentorship program.
I only sent out a few queries for the YA book before I heard back in March from one of the agents who liked my #LatinxPitch back in September. When she offered representation in April, I was ecstatic.
Then, as I’d been advised on the Kidlit Latinx Facebook Group, I let each of the agents still considering my work—both those who had my full MG manuscript and those who had recently received my YA one—that I had an offer of representation. With those notices, I sent a synopsis of whichever second project they didn’t have and let them know my two-week deadline for getting back to the first offering agent. Many stepped back and wished me well, some never replied (I later officially withdrew my queries via Query Tracker), and one other agent asked to read my YA manuscript and subsequently asked for a call.
I couldn’t imagine there could be a better match for me than offering agent #1 but there was. For the first time in my writing life, I felt completely seen by offering agent #2.
I asked #1 for a few more days to make up my mind and in the end, I went with #2 who had liked my pitch during #DVpit.
Setting the goal of being ready to query for the 2022 #DVpit event gave me a hard deadline for preparing my query package. The writer friends I made during #DVpit, #LatinxPitch, and in-person at LeftMargin LIT cheered me on and buoyed me as I continued to hustle and put myself and my work out there. Belonging to the Kidlit Latinx Facebook Group inspired me to apply to the Las Musas Books mentorship program, which I just completed with my Madrina mentor Cindy L. Rodriguez.
Without these opportunities and the preparations I undertook to meet them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, on the cusp of submitting that MG magical realism to editors. I didn’t get an MFA in Creative Writing. I don’t know a ton of kidlit writers who can pull strings for me. What I did have, was access to organizations like #DVpit to provide opportunities for me. I will forever be grateful for that.
Tomorrow is #DVpit 2023, taking place on Discord. You’ll see me lending a hand as one of the volunteer moderators on the server, paying it forward to the pitch contest that got me my agent.