Our Lips AREN'T Sealed: Bethany Baptiste
Let me tell you bout this
Super trying tricky tricky
Thing called querying
Shawty tweet that book pitch if ya wanna
Let me tell you bout this
Waitin', ghostin', nudgin'
Partial requests and send me more's
Head fulla hopes and dreams
Let me tell you bout this author shit
This writing and waiting shit
This perseverance and grit shit
This hushmouthed shit
Read on for all the info you wish these hush-hush people would share about querying, finding an agent, and. the steps to authordom.
1. Welp, the first question for these sorts of things usually is the ‘how did you get your agent’ question--something I’m sure you’ve shared many times! But, would you please share the journey again, along with any advice for querying authors.
In August 2019, I finished writing a story about witches, love potions, politics, and Black sisterhood. It took me two years to get to type THE END. I cold queried a few agents, but I also participated in PitDark and DVpit in October 2019. I got a couple likes from both pitch parties and received a few full requests. Most ended in rejections or cicadas and crickets. From January 2020 to May 2020, I trunked my witchy pastel book and went on a writing/querying hiatus. It was the best decision I made. The world was sick with COVID-19 and it was screaming for justice for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
My book reflected what was happening in the streets across America. My friends encouraged me to re-query again, but it was like hitting a raw nerve for me as a Black woman. Back in 2019, I was told there was no market for witches or more issue books. However, I agreed to participate in PitMad, but I didn’t expect many agent likes. Much to my surprise, I received a lot of interest from agents and lots of support from the writing community. I was even more surprised to find that a full manuscript request from eight months prior turned into an offer of representation. I nudged all the PitMad agents who had my query, partials, or fulls. Eventually, I got two more offers and I signed with John Cusick of Folio Lit/Folio Jr.
My advice to any querying authors is to find a query support group. Invest in friendships with other writers for the sake of your mental health.
2. Are there any particular red, or even yellow flags, that you’d tell BIPOC, queer, and other marginalized authors to specifically “look-out for” when seeking representation?
Always check an agent’s client list and their sales to see evidence of inclusivity and diversity. Do they have experience in representing marginalized authors? You need an agent respects and supports you for you and will learn/listen about important issues pertaining to your identity. What kind of authors do they represent? Don’t query an agent who reps problematic authors. What kind of books are they selling to publishers? Don’t query an agent that sells problematic books. What kind of publishers, imprints, and presses do they sell to? If they only sell to small presses and you’d like to be published by a big or major publisher, they’re not the best fit for you.
3. Pitch contests have exploded over the past few years, and that’s how you found your agent. However, there have been some rumblings about there now being too many pitch contests, or a decline in agent participation. What are your thoughts on this? How do you think pitch contests should be viewed in the writing community?
You know that saying “if there isn’t a seat at the table, build your own table”? For years, marginalized people have been told this. The most known pitch contests are inclusive with hashtags, but there are so many participants at these events, so many marginalized authors get overshadowed and overlooked. So, folks have decided to create their “tables” so they can be seen and heard. I admire this so much and I applaud the organizers who’ve filled a need in our community.
While I do think a lot of agents are “pitched out,” I think it’s important to remember that pitch contest are one way to get an agent, but it not the only way. Aside from getting agent likes, pitch contests are useful in other ways: interacting with the community, meeting new mutuals, and practicing your elevator pitch skills. Sometimes, pitch contests can be an industry thermometer and a learning tool for you. What kind of pitches are agents liking? What comps are being used? How are these pitches written?
4. Your ‘Polish your Pitch, Bitch’ packet is a popular resource! You also don’t hesitate to tweet and share other useful information about the writing and publication process. Why do you think it’s important to give this knowledge? Who do you hope it helps?
Publishing is very guarded and secretive which puts marginalized writers at a major disadvantage. I know what it’s like to stumble around, trying to get answers from an industry with sealed lips. Knowledge of pitches, writing, and publishing gives marginalized writers some footing on an uneven playing field. I want to help in any way I can, one unnecessarily long tweet thread at a time. If you know the floorplan of publishing’s maze, you can’t get lost like they want you to.
5. Writing can be a lonely journey. It is also hard to explain its ups and down to those on the outside. How did you find your writing people? Why is it important to have them?
In the beginning, when I was a rookie in the Twitter writing community, I interacted with mutuals who eventually became some of my closest and dearest friends. After I participated in PitMad and I was back in the query trenches, I straight up tweeted if there were any query support groups. I made so many friendships and bonds. Like you said, writing is a lonely journey, but there’s a reason it’s called the query trenches. Querying can be a war on your mental health. Having supportive writing friends is like taking a Flintstone vitamin. They make you a little stronger. You might rant, scream, cry, or want to give up, but their encouragement and support is in your system.
6. What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Has this changed?
I used to be a devoted pantser. I’d dive right in, figure things out along the way, and circle back to earlier chapters to sprinkle any story-stuff-bones to support the ever-changing plot. Now, I consider myself more of a plantser or a discovery writer. To avoid boredom, I can’t know the entirety of the plot, but I will create a worldbuilding bible (histories, magic rules, character profiles, etc.) to set up the story’s parameters and I always know all the story beats for Act 1. I’ll write a few chapters. Stop, plot out a few more, write them, stop, plot out a few more. It gives me wiggle room and allows me to change course instead of following predetermined paved path which makes the little pantser in me happy.
The biggest change I’ve made is my stories are written in three acts. I’ve split them into four. No more 25-50-25. I like 25-25-25-25. It helps with story pacing and no more murky middle!
7. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
I burn out very easily. I’m an elementary teacher. Between writing lesson plans, grading assignments, teaching, and writing, it’s a clown act trying to juggle it all and I always keep dropping the “writing” ball to survive the school year. My form of self-care is mental health days, weeks, months, seasons. I’ll catch up on reading. I’ll binge-watch. I’ll listen to new ASMR. Splurge on candles. Eat my favorite food. I’ll pamper myself until I have a sense of peace. I will not hesitate to walk away from writing to preserve my passion for it at all costs. The whole “distance makes the heart grow fonder” thing? That’s me with writing. When I start to miss it, I know I’m in the right headspace again to go back to it.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Your dream author redtable guest is_____________
Oh, oh, oh! I would give anything to sit across the table from L. Divine. I devoured her Drama High series as a teen. Back in the 2000s, Black YA books were practically nonexistent. She’s a GOAT.
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
I’m allergic to Save the Cat and if you bring it near me, my eyes will water.
10. Pitch a Shakespeare remix that goes along to the tune of a popular song.
Romeo & Juliet to the tune of DRUNK IN LOVE
I’ve been drinking, I’ve been drinking
I get sleepy when this poison get into me
I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking
Why Tybalt had go and to act up, Julie?
I want you, na na
Why we gotta be star-cross’d, Julie?
I want you, na na
WE DEAD TONIGHT! OOOOH! OOOOH! WE DEAD TONIGHT! OOOH! OOOOOOOH!
Bethany Baptiste is an inner-city educator by day and a young adult SFF novelist by night. If she’s not writing a lesson plan or a story, she does retail therapy in Florida bookstores and takes scheduled naps with her three chaotic evil dogs. You can visit her at bethanybaptiste.com or @storysorcery on Twitter.