Ignyte Interview Series: Beth Phelan
The Ignyte Community Award celebrates the Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Beth Phelan has served the community as a literary agent and founder of #DVpit. #DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase manuscript pitches from marginalized voices that have been historically underrepresented in publishing. We are honored to count Beth among our finalists and have interviewed her here about her endeavors.
What does it mean to you to be considered for the Community Award?
I’m so grateful! There are so many people that I hugely admire who are nominated alongside me and I’m definitely trying to check my imposter syndrome at the door so I can enjoy and appreciate this honor. FIYAH is such a cool and important magazine and platform, so being recognized by them feels surreal.
#DVPit has become such a huge event that uplifts and amplifies marginalized and often silenced voices in the writing community. Can you share any particular aspirations or ambitions that you have for #DVPit in the future?
There is so much more I’d like to do to expand #DVpit’s mission. I’ve rallied a planning committee to help put together a free virtual writers conference that we’re hoping to launch early 2021. After that, I’m looking to plan a mentorship program. There’s a lot more to come but I have to keep it under my hat for now!
Some great stories have come out of publishing. Is there a particular body of stories you’d like to see from the industry that haven’t yet been widely told?
I think we still have a long way to go in many, many areas but I’d really love to see more indigenous voices celebrated and much more intersectionality across the board.
Why did you start #DVPit? What was the initial spark? Was it something specific?
It actually began as a submissions contest in early 2016. I was frustrated with the diversity discourse and wasn’t sure what was in my power to do, so I put out a call for “diverse voices” with a promise that every writer would receive personal feedback and that 10 people would get 10-page critiques, with one querier getting a 50-page critique. I ended up signing an author from this and was just so overwhelmed with my choices that I figured my power was in getting other agents to do the same—power in numbers. But the submissions contest was so much work, too, that I wanted to stage the mission in a way that wasn’t daunting to anyone, so they wouldn’t have any excuse not to participate. Twitter pitch parties were already a thing and I personally loved the flexibility of them and the control that I had, so it made sense to me. I ended up adding things like the critique giveaway and Q&A for the extra boost to participants. Just wanted to give them the best shot possible.
How do you manage it all? #DVPit? Agenting? Being a warrior for marginalized voices and a pillar of the writing community?
Won’t lie, it’s a struggle every day. Between work and my personal life, it’s all hustle. Being an agent means that I work on commission—my income is unreliable, and I don’t make any money from #DVpit, so I have to be careful with how I balance everything. It takes a toll, but I’m lucky to love what I do, and that I have the will to keep pushing. I’m still learning how to take breaks and enforce boundaries. I’m a work in progress and I always will be.
What do you think is the greatest accomplishment of #DVPit so far?
I think every year that it keeps going and keeps matching book creators with agents/editors is the greatest accomplishment. It hasn’t let up, and I’m really grateful for that.
If you could change one thing about publishing what would it be?
More transparency. There is a lot of lip service and back-pedaling and mistakes. It’s hard to make change when we’re being sneaky about the things that need changing. I feel like our progress is at a crawl when it doesn’t need to be. Not that everything will ever be perfect, but the resistance to changing the status quo can be frustrating.
What’s your all-time favorite speculative story or even trope?
As an agent, I never miss an opportunity to plug clients’ books—they are my favorites, after all. Maybe that’s cheating, but these books really are terrific. Released recently are Shveta Thakrar’s s-t-u-n-n-i-n-g YA contemporary fantasy Star Daughter and Kat Cho’s super engrossing YA paranormal romance Vicious Spirits. Upcoming is an emotionally-charged speculative YA novel from justin a. reynolds called Early Departures. And a little farther into the future, we’ll be blessed with King of the Rising, sequel to Kacen Callender’s debut adult fantasy Queen of the Conquered. Please check them out!