Meet YA fantasy author and 2016 Pitch Wars mentee Adalyn Grace. She is also a former literary agent intern and former intern for The Legend of Korra at Nickelodeon Animation. She is represented by Hillary Jacobson of ICM Partners.
You were a 2016 Pitch Wars mentee. What inspired and got you thinking about the concept for your Pitch wars book DONOR?
The idea for DONOR came when I began to imagine what it’d be like to live in a world without consequences — a world where people didn’t need to worry about exercise or concern themselves with the foods and substances they put in their bodies. In this story, there’s seemingly a cure for all of this: a corporation that specializes in advanced medical procedures by breeding and supplying organ donors. This corporation is called Donor, and society has grown dependent upon it. People have fallen victim to greed and vice. They have their cure and their perfect lives. But how would those people react if they knew their organ donors were real, unwilling humans? What if the truth threatened to take away their perfect world? Would they care?
That’s where the idea for DONOR came from! The story is told from both a girl who has received a donation in the past, as well as by one of the unsuspecting donor patients who is soon to be up on the chopping block.
What was your biggest takeaway from your experience as a Pitch Wars mentee?
The biggest takeaway for me, personally, was realizing that I absolutely can do this. Publishing has always been this scary distant world that everyone wonders how the heck they can break into. It feels impossible to reach sometimes, but it’s not! Not at all! The people reading your manuscript WANT to like it. They want a reason to fall in love, not to say no. I also realized that, while all this is true, I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. There was more work for me to do, and more I needed to learn before I was in a position to be offered representation.
Also, I realized how important the community truly is! Your friends, critique partners, beta . . . All of their advice is really so beneficial; you just need to be willing and open to listening to it!
What advice would you give to authors who are unsure of whether or not they want to submit to Pitch Wars this year?
Just do it. Seriously, it was one of the best things I did for my career, and taught me so, so much! Spend your time right now taking CP and beta advice. Have others read your book, and be willing to do the same. Also, be open to listening. PW sometimes calls for huge edits, and it may feel hard and scary at first, and the work is worth it. If you want it as a career, you’re going to have to put in the work and be open to feedback even if you think your manuscript is in the perfect condition. Just try! Do it. Dooooooo itttt.
Tell us about how you got your writing start. When did you start writing and when did you decide you wanted to be a published author?
I started writing when I was in fourth grade, on Neopets! Hahah, I would roleplay on the boards, and got so obsessed with it. I had written hundreds of thousands of words by the time I was thirteen, when I wrote my fist full manuscript. It was 120k of horrible paranormal YA that will never see the light of day, but I loved every second I spent working on it. I knew I wanted to tell stories for my career.
There was a period where I moved over to working in animation, with the intent to write for a show one day. I worked on the amazing show The Legend of Korra, and I realized that, while I loved this, I didn’t want to tell stories for other people. I wanted to tell mine. So I quit working in animation, took up a part time job at a bar, and wrote with all my free time. It was scary to give up the “stability” of a respectable career (though the animation industry is never necessarily stable), but I took the risk and feel that it paid off.
Was there anything specific that drew you to writing YA fantasy or any other YA authors who influenced you?
In my opinion, YA as we know it now really popped when Twilight came out. I was the right age, and that darn book sucked me in. It made me so hungry to read! I was already writing at that time, but Twilight introduced me to a new category of books (YA) that I really enjoyed and never got out of. With the switch of NA into mostly a branch off of the Romance genre, I feel that YA is now really still growing and developing with the help of authors like Leigh Bardugo, Kiersten White, and Sarah J. Maas. They are certainly pushing the boundaries and expanding the mindset of what is acceptable as YA, which is amazing and something I would like to be a part of. There’s really nothing that eases the transition between YA and Adult (some would still argue New Adult, but I disagree), so I’m so glad these upper YA Fantasy books are becoming a thing, and I feel that my writing demonstrates my desire to keep this expansion growing.
You recently signed with your agent Hillary Jacobson of ICM. What was getting the offer like? Did you do anything to celebrate?
Oh my gosh, getting an offer from Hillary was a dream. She was one of my top “dream agents” I subbed to, and I nearly fainted when I got her email wanting to schedule a call. I haven’t celebrated yet because I’ve been dealing with edits, but SOON!
Did you land Hillary with your Pitch Wars manuscript or a new one?
A new one! I had a lot of interest in my Pitch Wars manuscript (probably about 30-40 requests?) but nothing ever came of it.
When I got my agent, I’d recently been in a car accident that broke two of my ribs and a small part of my spine. I had to stop working due to the inability to move, basically, and was living off the money from the accident. I knew that, if I wanted this, now was my chance. I would never be able to work in a bar again due to how physical it is and the damage I’d done to my body, and any other part time job wouldn’t be enough for me to stay living where I lived (in San Diego). So, I knew that I either needed to go find a full-time job and probably take longer to get my agent, or I could try to throw myself into writing very quickly first, and try to snag myself an agent.
That’s what I did. In the course of three months I wrote two YA fantasies. I never queried my first one, because I was swept away by the second. Within 24 hours of querying, I had two agent offers. It was absolutely mind boggling. This came years after querying my Pitch Wars YA Sci-fi, and after receiving somewhere between 100-150 rejections, and very slow responses from agents!
I may not have gotten my agent through Pitch Wars, but the skills I made through the contest heavily influenced my ability to produce this book as quickly and as well as I did. Also, the community I built for myself made publishing feel SO much more accessible, and gave me friends who were going through the same struggles I was. It gave me friends, my critique partners, and taught me SO much about this field of work.
You’re a recent literary agent intern. Has your internship experience changed the way you think about querying and the slush at all?
I recently ended my internship, but reading from the slush really helped me to see what it takes to keep an agent reading! Beginnings are so, so important for catching a reader’s attention. Agents have SO much to read that if you can’t do that very quickly and very well, they’re going to move on to the next manuscript. I can’t tell you how many times I would have stopped reading something early on, if I didn’t have to. Beginnings are what you need to suck in and trap a reader, and I think they’re very important to nail down.
Do you think you might want to become a literary agent someday or work some other position in the publishing business? Or is writing enough for you?
I used to think so! However, since I started working with Hillary on my most recent YA Fantasy, I no longer think so! I have had SO much fun on this book, and it would be more than enough to get to do this for the rest of my life.
And finally, the most important question of them all. Your first published article was about how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Now that you’re older (and wiser) what are the top three supplies you’d want to have on hand during a zombie apocalypse?
Oh gosh!! Hahaha, you did research on me!! That’s so crazy. Honestly, I feel like my younger self was pretty wise and certainly onto something. What you need is a machete, running shoes, matches, a source of water, a first aid kit, and a jar of Nutella. Most of the materials are for your ability to hunt and survive a zombie attack. The Nutella, however, is for your last hoorah, when the zombies eventually trap you.
It’s good to see my humor hasn’t changed through the years.