Introducing YA Author Kelly Coon and her Amazing Story of Persistence

Thursday, March 21, 2019
I'm so excited to introduce you guys to Kelly Coon today! Kelly is a debut young adult author whose first fantasy novel is coming out at the end of October from Delacorte Press, titled Gravemaidens! Kelly's story of getting an agent and publication contract is truly one of hard work and perseverance; if you're feeling bummed out with a couple of rejections, then you are lucky you landed on this interview today. Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Read on to find out about Kelly, her publication journey, and what a wonderfully generous author she is.

WOW: Welcome, Kelly, we are very excited to talk to you today. We have a lot of YA writers and readers that read our blog. So, let's start with your book that is coming out in October. What is the title? Is it part of a series? Who is publishing? 

Kelly: Thank you so very much for having me, Margo! My YA fantasy is called GRAVEMAIDENS, and it’s being published on October 29, 2019, by Delacorte Press (Random House). It’s the first book of a duology centered on Kammani, a 16-year-old healer’s apprentice who has to save the dying ruler of her city, so her little sister, the lovely Nanaea, isn’t buried alive to be his bride in the afterlife.

WOW: That sounds very intense and also very cool! So, you are published by a big NYC publisher, and we also know you have a literary agent. A lot of writers are wondering: How did you do it?

Kelly: Before I got my agent, Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary, I had been rejected by agents 106 times over 9 years and 4 novels. 106 times I opened up my email inbox or tore open a letter, my heart pounding, hands sweating, and read some version of “No, your story isn’t right for us at this time.”

I’d carefully researched each one of those agents. I’d poured my heart into those first five, ten, twenty-five, fifty pages—whatever the agency required—and sent them on with my query letter, determined that this was going to be the time.

But again and again, I was wrong.

My problem wasn’t in my persistence. I was nothing if not persistent. The problem was that I did not have a growth mindset. I was banging on the door, trying to get inside the house, pounding again and again the exact same way, and getting nothing except a sore fist and a bruised ego. It wasn’t until I humbled myself and realized that perhaps I didn’t know what I was doing (maybe I should hunt for the hidden key and unlock the door!) that I made any progress at all. I was a good writer; I had my BA in creative writing and my masters in English education. But I wasn’t a good novelist. I had to open myself up to my failures, invest in educating myself about writing books, and write a story someone would want to read.

When I did that, I sent out eleven queries and got eleven full requests and two offers within a couple weeks. Kari and I clicked incredibly well over the phone; so with tears running down my face, I accepted her offer of representation. We had interest within two weeks of going out on sub to editors, and a pre-empt offer from Delacorte less than a month after we submitted. It was the most surreal, most exhilarating day of my professional life when I accepted Kelsey Horton’s offer for a two-book deal.

WOW: I love what you said about this entire process. We can all learn so much from your answer above about writing and learning and not giving up--no matter what you write. Thanks for all the details and encouragement. Your bio is super, super interesting! And I love the way you wrote it. Muffin readers, check it out here! But here's the part I think our readers will be really interested in: you have a BA in creative writing (as you mentioned earlier). How do you feel that helped you (or do you) with your publication journey?

Kelly: Having a creative writing background helped me immensely with many parts of my writing. I’m a better editor because of that degree. I understand how many rewrites go into a perfect snippet of prose or poetry. My degree taught me how to craft language to set a mood or thread a theme or make a character grow and change throughout the pages. I didn’t take any classes on novel writing since they weren’t offered in my program, but the classes I took in personal essay, poetry, short story, and business writing have helped me throughout my career as an editor, which is my day job, and a storyteller, which is my passion.

WOW: And you have three children, a husband, and a rescue pup, so how do you manage your life to balance your family life and writing time and marketing time?

Kelly: Haha! That is the question, isn’t it? (smiles) Last year, I was not great at balancing my life. Balance is actually the word I chose to focus on for 2019. I’m relentless when it comes to my job and writing, so I let my health slide last year because I just couldn’t figure out how to squeeze everything into the day. This year, I’ve set down some of my own heavy expectations and have forced myself to take a balanced perspective of my personal and professional life, so I can reduce my stress.

Balance, as I’ve found out, takes disciplined scheduling for me. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true! Doctor’s appointments, sports practices, work deadlines, writing deadlines, gym time and everything in-between gets written out and color-coded on a giant white board in my office and put into my phone’s calendar system. It’s helped me focus on what’s important!

Another one of my tricks is that I fit my work into little portions of the day when I have down time. If I’m at a baseball practice with one of my sons, I sit in the car and edit instead of just playing on my phone. If I’m on my phone, I’m scheduling marketing social media posts on Buffer or ordering groceries for my family to be picked up the next day. I look at my task list and slide it in where I can. That way, I can usually accomplish what I’ve set out to do. For the times I can’t, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being superwoman (arghhhh, so hard) and acknowledge that sometimes, I’m going to fail and it’s okay. I’ll try again the next day.

WOW: I love these tips. Ordering the groceries online while waiting somewhere and picking them up later--brilliant! So often we ask these questions of writers, and this time, we got some great specific answers--thank you! Speaking of marketing, I know many of our readers will be as enamored with you and your books as I am, so what is the best way for them to stay up-to-date with you and your news regarding your upcoming books or anything else you're working on? I personally signed up for your newsletter! So should readers do that? Follow you on social media, too?

Kelly: Thank you so much for those kind words. It’s scary being a writer on the brink of wide and very public critique, so I appreciate you saying that! If anyone wants to stay in touch, they can follow me on Twitter, Instagram , and Facebook, or sign up for my newsletter! My newsletter goes out once a month, but I update my social feeds regularly.

WOW: Awesome--thanks for the links. We love to ask our published authors: what is the best piece of advice you can give to writers who are currently struggling in any way: to get published, to find writing time, to get an agent, to sell their books?

Kelly: The best thing I ever did was find fellow writers who believe in me and can critique my work. If you can afford to do so, go to a writer’s conference and put yourself out there as someone looking to connect with critique partners. If you can’t afford a conference, then get on Twitter and follow the #writingcommunity hashtag to find a critique partner that way. My writing improved so much after I became vulnerable enough to let other people read my novels and began to critique theirs, too. Plus, when you’re struggling, you have a buddy who might understand what you’re going through.

Also, if you find yourself sitting in a puddle of gloom after reading this or after getting a rejection, I do not want you to picture me with my agent contract in hand dancing around my office or screaming with glee when I got my publishing contract because those were just two moments in the thousands I put into securing a literary agent and getting a deal.

I want you to picture me sitting at my desk, wiping tears off my blotchy face after my 106th rejection, pulling tentacles of woe from around my neck, and trying again. You do not know when the next email will be a “Yes!”

WOW: That's right--and there are so many stories like that from authors who just didn't give up whiel also improving their craft and knowledge about the business. Thank you so much for talking with us today! Readers, don't forget to check out Kelly here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Thanks for doing this interview.

Kelly--Your story is encouraging to wannabe novelists everywhere (and I'm one of them). Your novel (especially the problem) sounds intriguing. Congratulations on the two-book deal.

I agree. I thought I had what was a good manuscript but it needed a major revision--AKA scrapping most of it and rebuilding it. An adept editor (Margo Dill--the same Margo who interviewed you) showed me the way.

So far, I've gotten 4 rejections. 102 more to go...

Angela Mackintosh said...

What an inspiring interview, ladies! :)

Kelly: Your rejection story and your persistence is so motivating! I like that you said you had to open yourself up to your failures and educate yourself, and write a story people want to read. People ask me why I don't write a novel or memoir, and I am working on a memoir, but I'm completely realistic about it. I know I need to do a lot of work to even get to that publishable state. I'm in baby steps and realize it could take years, but I'm cool with that.

Congratulations on your two-book deal! Your book sounds amazing, and I'm so glad Kari is your agent. She's fantastic.

LOVE your pep talk at the end. I agree, finding a good critique partner is so important. And "tentacles of woe" is such a great image! :)

Thanks for the interview! :)

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