Success Story: Jamie Ofelia

We’re excited to share Jamie Ofelia’s #LatinxPitch success story! The PB author answered some of our most pressing questions about her experience with #LatinxPitch and her amazing PB debut, MIGUEL MUST FIGHT!, which was acquired by Esther Cajahuaringa at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers after the 2020 pitch event, and will be published in summer 2024. Congratulations, Jamie!

Jamie Ofelia’s PB announcement

1) Tell us a little bit about your experience with #LatinxPitch – where did you hear about the pitch event from, how did you feel the day of the event in terms of expectations, and how did the event lead you to sign with your agent?

I’m in the Kidlit Latinx Facebook group and I heard about #LatinxPitch through discussion there. (As a side note, if you are a Latinx writer or illustrator, published or unpublished, I highly recommend you join that Facebook group; it’s such an informative and supportive community.) On the day of #LatinxPitch, I was very anxious and excited. Even though they say not to do this, I’m pretty sure I scheduled my tweets because I’m a stay at home mom and I didn’t trust myself to balance tweeting all my pitches and taking care of my toddler son. Throughout the day I checked Twitter and thanked everyone who commented to show their support. Apparently the more you converse and engage with others on a tweet, the more likely it is that your tweet/pitch is to be viewed by others, because of the Twitter algorithms. So I tried to respond and engage as much as possible. And I tried to comment on my fellow writer’s tweets to show support! I got a few likes from different agents and editors and was very happy about that. I queried agents over the next couple weeks and my absolutely wonderful agent, Savannah Brooks, and I had “the call” about a week after I queried! One of the editors who liked a couple of my pitches was the incomparable Esther Cajahuaringa, with whom I signed a book deal at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers! So this long, tangential tale has a very happy ending!

2) What is your recipe for the perfect pitch? 

That’s tough, but clearly it has to be short, due to the Twitter format. I’d say make it clear enough to understand the premise or hook, while leaving a question of what will happen in the reader’s mind. When I’m writing pitches, I think of those punchy little tag lines that you see on movie posters. You want a couple catchy lines that convey that blockbuster quality drama and appeal. It always helps to have writer friends give feedback on your pitches before the event, too!

3) What would you say to writers who aren’t sure if they should pitch?

This is also tricky. Basically, if you’re wondering if your work is ready to submit, have a mental checklist in mind. Have you had several critique partners give their feedback on this book? Have you taken time to reflect on the feedback, find what critique notes resonate, and apply those edits to your work?

I once heard the advice that after you’ve completed and polished the book as best as you can, set it aside for three months. After you’ve had that break, you can pick it up again and read it with fresh eyes. It may be clearer then how to edit.

But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide when your work is ready to submit. If you’d rather only wait one month or not wait at all, that’s your call! The worst an agent or editor can do is just say no or give no response at all; rejections are always disappointing, but inevitable. They’re the risk we take as creatives.

4) What does an event like this mean to you as a Latinx writer?

Growing up, I wasn’t aware that there weren’t many books featuring Latinx characters or how that related to me. I just knew I felt bad about the way I looked sometimes because there were no Disney Princesses who looked like me, physically or culturally. In school I received the unspoken (and untrue) lesson that historically, Latinx people didn’t contribute much of value to our country or our culture. That’s pretty sad, considering I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Latinx people are the majority. 

But now we are seeing an exciting cultural shift where all kinds of diverse characters are taking the center stage in fiction and nonfiction, books, movies and TV. I feel so honored and inspired to take part in Latinx Pitch, because it is part of a movement that will impact how new generations of Latinx kids see themselves: as heroes of their own stories, as powerful, as beautiful. And I hope, going forward with this year’s Latinx Pitch, to add more stories of unsung Latinx heroes to all of our children’s libraries.

5) Finally, tell us all about your PB, MIGUEL MUST FIGHT! 

Okay, for this I’ll share my pitch that was liked by both my wonderful agent and brilliant editor.

BO THE BRAVE x ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES x FERDINAND THE BULL

Miguel’s family nags him to quit doodling and join the family business: sword fighting. But when El Dragon attacks, Miguel must save his family and prove his colored pencils are mightier than the sword! #PB #LatinxPitch

This story is a fantastical, larger-than-life version of my brother’s and my own experiences of expressing ourselves, forging our own unique paths, and defying expectations of family and society. I think on some level, we can all relate to the desire for family’s support as we pursue our dreams. I hope you all have a chance to read and enjoy it; I’m really proud of Miguel’s story.

Jamie Ofelia headshot

If you’d like to follow my work, you can find me at @JamieOfelia on Twitter! Thank you so much for this interview and buena suerte to everyone participating in Latinx Pitch 2021!

As a biracial Latina, Jamie Ofelia is interested in writing casually diverse stories so that Latinx and biracial kids can see themselves reflected in mainstream children’s literature. She holds her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and is currently a stay-at-home mom living in Dallas, where she spends her days reading diverse picture books with her son. When her son gets bored, she continues reading diverse picture books all by herself.

Success Story: Anna Orenstein-Cardona

We’re excited to share Anna Orenstein-Cardona’s success story today on the #LatinxPitch Blog. Anna answered some of our most pressing questions about her experience with #LatinxPitch and her amazing PB debut, THE TREE OF HOPE, which was acquired by Beaming Books after the 2020 pitch event, and will be published in summer 2022. Congratulations, Anna!

Publishers Marketplace Deal Report

1) Tell us a little bit about your experience with #LatinxPitch – where did you hear about the pitch event from, how did you feel the day of the event in terms of expectations, and how did the event lead you to sign with your agent?

The summer of 2020 was very difficult because I lost my beloved Mamá, after a brave fight against cancer. It was a period of deep mourning, but also a time of reflection. A period of renewed appreciation that we must live each day to the maximum, follow our dreams, and consider the legacy we wish to leave in this world.

My mother’s legacy was her love of familia, culture, and having the courage to live our values. I was blessed to have a successful career in finance for more than two decades, but the cost of it was silencing my creativity. I had put my writing in the back burner for a long time. My soul was telling me that it was time to give it another go.

That’s why when I heard about #LatinxPitch via a group of writers on Twitter, I immediately penciled in the date of September 15th 2020 in my calendar. I didn’t want to miss it!

I also applied via #LatinxPitch & won a critique from the lovely Rene Beauregard Lute for my MG manuscript, which ended up being super helpful for both projects that I wanted to pitch that day – my picture book THE TREE OF HOPE and my middle grade novel BORICUACATS.

On the day, I was both nervous but also hopeful. My picture book received various likes from a mix of editors and agents.

Naomi Krueger, who is the acquisitions editor from Beaming Books, was amazing. She really loved the story from the start but suggested a few edits. So, I did an R&R (revise and resubmit). The process took almost a full year, but I am excited to share that my debut picture book will be published in August 2022. Wepa!

It’s been such an incredible experience and I am full of gratitude to Naomi and all those that championed this story. I am also hopeful to find an agent in the future who can represent my other work.

2) What is your recipe for the perfect pitch? 

I really think there is no such thing as a recipe for the perfect pitch because at the end of the day it is very personal. However, my advice would be to get to the heart of the story in the simplest way possible.

Anna’s #LatinxPitch Tweet

The way to achieve this is by letting your creativity flow. Write numerous pitches without giving it too much thought. I even recommend using Post-it notes and placing them up on a wall. Then choose the ones that you believe stand out the best, read them aloud, and go with your gut.

I also understand that using book comparables (comps) is helpful, however I did not use them for my picture book pitch because my story is inspired by true events.

3)What would you say to writers who aren’t sure if they should pitch?

This reminds me of when I was 21 years old and received a job offer to move from New York City to London. I was excited and petrified at the same time. You see, I didn’t know a soul in the UK and the job was demanding.

My mother said to me, “echa pa’ lante”, which means just go for it. It was the best decision of my life, both professionally and personally. I’ve come to realize that by setting our fears aside and moving forward boldly that we can accomplish great things, for ourselves and for others.

So, that’s my advice for all those writers who may be hesitant, echa pa’ lante!

4) What does an event like this mean to you as a Latinx writer?

I have dreamed of not only becoming a published author, but also representing my beautiful Puerto Rican heritage through my writing. Thanks to #LatinxPitch my dream has come true.

I am deeply grateful to all the hard work that the #LatinxPitch team does. I am also thankful to the numerous agents and editors who participate and the writers who support other writers with their critiques and advice. Together, a more equitable world is being created. One in which children will find a reflection of themselves and their culturas. This is not only beautiful, but much needed in a world where demographics are rapidly changing. ¡GRACIAS!

5) Finally, tell us all about your PB, THE TREE OF HOPE! 

When Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, jagüey blanco, the banyan tree that had stood guard by the historic San Juan Gate was uprooted and fell into the sea. For locals, the ancient tree, which weighed over 30,000 pounds and measured over 50 feet in height, symbolized the indomitable spirit of the Puerto Rican people and its fall was a shattering blow.

The TREE OF HOPE is inspired by the tree’s miraculous rescue and regrowth; a reminder of the power of community and the importance of never giving up.

Anna-Orentstein-Cardona Headshot

Anna Orenstein-Cardona was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is an alum of Faber Academy (Writing a Novel and Writing for Children). She is active in the Society of Children Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI).

She is an NFEC-certified financial educator (CFEI) and coach with over 22 years of experience working in global financial markets. In 2020, she founded Wear Your Money Crown® to help close the gap in financial literacy.

Currently, Anna is working on developing various projects, including more children books. She lives in London with her two very special furbabies and her Southern Gentleman husband, although spends as much time as she can in Puerto Rico, where she regularly gets involved in rescuing abandoned animals and supporting local charities.

Success Story: Rebecca Carvalho

We’re excited to be able to share Rebecca Carvalho’s #LatinxPitch success story! The Brazilian author answered some of our most pressing questions about her experience with #LatinxPitch and her amazing YA rom-com debut, SALT AND SUGAR, which was acquired by Inkyard after the 2020 pitch event, and will be published in fall 2022. Congratulations, Rebecca!

1) Tell us a little bit about your experience with #LatinxPitch – where did you hear about the pitch event from, how did you feel the day of the event in terms of expectations, and how did the event lead you to sign with your editor?

September 2020 was such a stressful month. A few days prior to the #LatinxPitch event, we had that Blade Runner, apocalyptic looking day in the Bay Area, when the sky was blood red with wildfire smoke. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. The birds didn’t sing that day. It got eerily cold. I couldn’t bear to venture outside. We were also in the thick of the pandemic and I feel like there was so much going on, my anxiety was at an all-time high.

We’d gone on sub earlier in 2020 with SALT AND SUGAR, but editors didn’t connect. At that point, my agent Thao Le and I were wondering what to do next.  

I was standing at that crossroads with my book when I first saw a tweet about the #LatinxPitch event. It honestly felt like a breath of fresh air. I was surprised to see that it was open to agented writers pursuing editors, too. I discussed it with Thao, who was super supportive and encouraged me to participate. We worked together on my pitch, scheduled it, and it’s cheesy to say this… but the sky finally cleared a lot on the day of the event, enough that it even looked blue again.

As exciting as Twitter pitch events are, I still didn’t know what to expect. I just knew I had to give SALT AND SUGAR one last try—writing the book had been such a significant experience for me, following my mom’s passing—and I just felt like I owed it to the story. I believed in my book, but I really wasn’t expecting #Latinxpitch to change my life.

I got so much support from so many people. I was speechless. As editors started requesting my book, Thao and I kept track of everyone and we later put together a list she was going to contact. I think one week later, an editor had already scheduled a call with us. It all happened so fast. I couldn’t believe how quickly the editor had read my book. She wanted to discuss her editorial vision for it and she was so enthusiastic, it all felt surreal. Other brilliant editors started showing just as much interest, too, and so Salt and Sugar went to auction. You can imagine how dizzying this whole thing can be… I’m grateful for my husband, who kept me sane throughout it all. I’m grateful for all the editors, who were so thoughtful and kind. And I’m extra grateful for Thao, who virtually held my hand throughout it all.

Rebecca Kuss (who was at Inkyard Press at the time) was my acquiring editor. It felt like a dream come true, honestly. Everyone at Inkyard Press showed so much love for my Brazilian story, and they all assured me they’d take good care of my career and my book. A book that had been a dream I dreamed together with all my loved ones. Many thanks to Bess Braswell and Claire Stetzer (my current editor)! Thank you, #Latinxpitch, for putting the right people in my life at the right moment!

2) What is your recipe for the perfect pitch?

I don’t know if I have a perfect pitch formula. It’s honestly so subjective. But if I were an agent combing through all the pitches, I’d look for the more straightforward pitches that tell me right away the problem the main character is facing (or how they’re stuck) and how they’re going to take action to solve it, or at least what’s the journey the reader will go on with the main character, so I know what’s at stake. Seeing comp titles helps, too, but I don’t think they’re absolutely necessary.

Rebecca’s Pitch During #LatinxPitch

My pitch for Salt and Sugar was “17yo Lari Ramires and Pedro Molina were born enemies. Their families’ bakeries have always been at war with each other, but when a supermarket preys on their community and corners the bakeries, together they must create the perfect recipe.”

One pitch that’s my favorite EVER was Dustin Thao’s #DVPit pitch for You’ve Reached Sam: “Heartbroken after her boyfriend’s death, Julie calls him to hear his voicemail—but he picks up. It’s their second chance at goodbye, but the connection’s temporary. The longer they talk, the more impossible it is to let him go. YOUR NAME meets IF I STAY.” I teared up reading it and I felt so emotionally invested right away.

3) What would you say to writers who aren’t sure if they should pitch?

I’d say go for it. You have nothing to lose. I’ve participated in other pitch events in the past (I’ve been pitching different projects on Twitter and querying since 2012, actually!) and I know how hard it is seeing your pitch sitting there without any likes, but you’ll at least make new friends, meet potential beta readers and CPs excited to read your work, and network with agents and editors. 

Participating in a more focused pitch event like #LatinxPitch is an even better opportunity, because the founders of the event advocate for different cultural backgrounds in publishing and they attract like-minded agents, editors, and writers.

4) What does an event like this mean to you as a Latinx writer?

It means the world to me. I was born and raised in the Brazilian Northeast, and I traveled alone to the United States with a scholarship to study English at Lawrence University. My mom was a single parent and she was unemployed, dreaming I’d one day achieve all my academic plans. Things were so tough back then, it wasn’t until after graduation that I reunited with her in Brazil, because all those years we just didn’t have money for me to fly home on Christmas. We wouldn’t have had enough to send me back to school, you know?

Writing has been a constant throughout my whole life. It’s been my dream for as long as I can remember—back when I was in first grade, getting in trouble with a kid who thought I’d named a character after her—but as much as I believed in my work, I didn’t know if it would ever be published. I’ve encountered so many people who doubted my writing because English isn’t my first language. I’ve always felt like I had to prove my worth as a writer the moment I stepped into a room. 

Things like getting an agent, finding the right editor, and getting a book deal, at times, sounded like winning the lottery. I felt some of it relied on luck, too. On meeting the right people at the right time… so an event like #LatinxPitch was like suddenly finding an open door. I’ve received so much love and support from the Latinx community on Twitter, and for the first time in a while I felt like my words were celebrated and needed.

5) Finally, tell us all about your YA novel, SALT & SUGAR!

SALT AND SUGAR is a telenovela-esque YA rom-com debut that follows the grandchildren of two rival Brazilian bakeries who fall in love despite their families’ feud while working to win a contest that would save both of their bakeries from being driven out by a predatory supermarket chain.

If you like stories that feature multi-generational feuds, enemies-to-lovers romance, childhood neighborhoods, and characters that bond over food, add SALT AND SUGAR on Goodreads. Publication is planned for fall 2022 (Inkyard Press).

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57814701-salt-and-sugar

Follow Rebecca on Twitter (@cavalcar) and on Instagram (@rebeccacarvalhowrites) for more book news!