Check out my interview with Kristen Lee, a YA Contemporary author represented by Molly O’Neill of Root Literary. We talk about her perseverance through the query trenches, her author goals, and the revision journey her novel has been through!
Hi Kristen! Can you tell me about the book that got you your agent?
KL: I got the idea for I GOT LIFE a little after I graduated college. Savannah (my main character) is navigating being one of the few black people at her all white university, a reality that I lived for 2 years. When I graduated I realized I still had a lot of hang ups about my time at that particular university and decided to write it out, thus I GOT LIFE was born.
It’s about a girl named Savannah, who leaves the comfort of her Memphis home to attend a prestigious university on a full scholarship. There she’s a victim of a hate crime that leads to her uncovering an admission scandal on campus.
Can you tell me a bit about your querying journey? For example, was the project that got you your agent the first book you queried?
KL: I GOT LIFE is the first project I ever queried, so everything was new to me. Thankfully I had some great people on my team along the way. I began to write IGL in late 2016 and then I stopped. In August 2017 I picked it up again and finished my first draft a little before Christmas of that same year.
In March 2018 I applied for a small mentorship called Binders and Author Mentor Match. I didn’t get into AMM but I was accepted into Binders. In July 2018 I really begin to query. There were full requests, a lot of “you’re almost there” but no offers. I revised my eyes out and applied for AMM again in March and got in!
With the help of my dope mentor, J. Elle, my novel flourished. She helped me cultivate a list of agents who would get the heart of my book, and held my hand as I navigated the query trenches. She actually connected me with Nic Stone, who personally referred me to my now agent Molly O’Neill!
Was there a time in your querying journey when you felt like giving up?
KL: Definitely. Especially around the time after my Binders mentorship, I thought my novel was the strongest it has ever been but I still wasn’t quite there. I took a long break before starting to revise again.
How did you get the strength to keep trying?
KL: I’m all about manifestation and praying. I knew being negative would halt the progress I’d made as a writer. I had a dream and I wasn’t going to let those nagging thoughts in the back of my head stop me.
When and why did you start writing?
KL: I’ve been writing for about 10 years now. I started writing fanfiction in 2010 when I was a sophomore in highschool. I still have access to those old stories actually, its funny to see your progress over the years.
I started writing because I’m a creative person. Writing, painting, sketching, photography, singing. It’s all apart of who I am. Although I didn’t think I could write original pieces until I wrote I GOT LIFE. Honestly, when I first sent it around to beta readers I thought I was in over my head but even the first draft received good feedback. That led me to be more confident in my writing. After that first draft round, I began to work on other pieces and now you can’t stop me from making up story ideas. It’s a gift that I’m blessed to have and intend to continue to use it.
What inspires you?
KL: The people I see and conversations I overhear while on the train.
The neighborhood that I grew up in.
I’m inspired by all the black girls who may not have a platform for their voices to be heard.
I’m inspired by Aretha Franklin’s music. Old school music is my jam. I got the title of my book from a Nina Simone song actually.
The stars. Although now that I live in NYC I don’t get to see them that much.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
KL: I’m a plotter! When I come up with a story idea I write down the chapters and then one sentence of whats going to happen in each chapter. More than likely I’ll get new chapter ideas and add them in as I go. Being a plotter allows me not to get flustered while writing, especially since I have a short attention span. If I didn’t have an outline in front of me who knows where my characters would end up (probably shelved because I wrote myself into a box).
What’s a book you’ve read lately that you’re OBSESSED with?
KL: I haven’t been reading much since I’ve been busy with IGL among other things (I know, shame on me) but I recently got around to reading Monday’s Not Coming and omygosh. I’m now obsessed with all things Tiffany D. Jackson. The way she keeps you on the edge of your seat? Iconic.
What’s your author dream? Fanart? Movie adaptation? Fanfic?
KL: I’m speaking this into existence. I want one of my books to become a television show. My favorite pastime is looking up actresses to play one of my characters.
Do you have any advice for future AMM mentees?
KL: Breathe. Don’t obsess over the results. You sent your book into the world, you wrote a book! You got a mentorship! Rejoice in those accomplishments, no matter what the outcomes are. Be present with your mentor, if you’re not feeling a certain change tell them. You have a wonderful backing behind you, your mentor will be your biggest champion.
Your story heavily features drama around college submission scandals, much like we saw recently. Was your story inspired by your experiences, by the news, by a mix of the two? Was this story always inside you or did current events help spark the need to write it?
KL: It’s a mixture of the two. J. Elle actually pitched that I freshen the hook with the admission scandal piece. With everything that was going on in the media I agreed because it felt imperative to write about. Going to a predominantly white, wealthy school it was easy for me to draw from lived experiences.
Do you have any advice for querying authors?
KL: Everything you’re feeling right now is normal. Don’t sweat it if you have had 20 rejections (which honestly isn’t that many), or if other people are getting bites and you aren’t. Keep your eyes on your own paper. This is your journey alone, and it will be different from other people. Celebrate every accomplishment along the way, work on your craft, and be persistent!
Thank you so much for your time, Kristen!!
Kristen Lee is Memphis native living in New York City. She is a social worker who is currently pursuing her Masters in Social Work. She is a dog mama, and a Sims fanatic. She is represented by Molly O’Neill of Root Literary. She is dedicated to representing black people in her work.
Follow her on Twitter here!