Success Story Interview - Jordan Marisa Kelly

An Interview with Jordan Marisa Kelly (jordanmkelly on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jordan Hamessley of JABberwocky Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
THE SUN FROM BOTH SIDES is a YA Contemporary about a sixteen-year-old girl on a bus headed to New York City. As the East Coast rolls by, she tells her seatmate about the life, and the girl, she left behind in Florida. It's the first book I ever finished.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
As long as I can remember! I started writing stories as soon as I learned how to write words. I've always been passionate about it.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I started writing this book in August 2016 and signed with my agent in July 2018.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I never felt like giving up on this book in particular, but I gave up on every other book (and there were several) before I started this one. I think with this book, it was just about having a concept I was passionate about. I never really ran out of ideas for these characters and this story.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I write in the in-betweens. In the morning before I go to work, when I get home, on the weekends, etc.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
SO MANY TIMES. On my computer, there are seven "drafts" but each of them was worked on so long and so thoroughly that it feels more like 298,398,920 drafts.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
The most valuable feedback I received for this book came from the mentor I was matched with through a program called Author Mentor Match. But I did also have a handful of beta readers, and my boyfriend is always the very first person to read new drafts.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I write from the hip, mostly. AFTER finishing a draft, I will use the cork board in Scrivener to make an outline and use that to see the books structure laid out in front of me. That helps me find inconsistencies, places where the plot slows down too much, etc. and I will use that info to guide me through revision.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I was very fortunate- I only queried the book for a little over a month, from the time I sent out my first batch of queries to receiving my first offer. I had never queried a book before this one.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I sent around 20 queries.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I considered a lot of qualities when picking the agents I submitted to- their client lists, their level of experience in agenting and publishing in general, and the reputation of their agency. I also looked at what kind of books were on their wish lists.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
I occasionally personalized the query. If there was something very specific on the agent's wish list that applied to my novel, I mentioned that. When I queried Jordan, I mentioned that one of her clients was my mentor in Author Mentor Match.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:
Edit your book ruthlessly before querying. Find beta readers, critique partners, apply for mentorship programs like Author Mentor Match or Pitch Wars. Then edit your query ruthlessly. Do your research on best querying practices, do your research on agents, follow their guidelines. Send your queries in batches, so if your first batch gets poor responses, you have the chance to edit your query before sending more.

I'll also say that my query broke some "rules" when it came to query structure. Most people will tell you the query should be around 250 words and mine was almost 400. I was also strongly advised by a couple critique partners to pitch the story chronologically, even though the story is a non-linear narrative. I tried really hard to write a query that felt right to me while still obeying these "rules" but ultimately decided that they didn't work in my case. So while I absolutely recommend reading advice on query structure, I also recommend listening to your gut. I think the most important thing when it comes to writing a query letter is making your concept shine and hooking the agent.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Jordan Marisa Kelly:

Query Letter:

I am contacting you because your client ... mentored me through the Author Mentor Match program and she told me that you are actively seeking LGBTQ stories. I hope that you will be interested in THE SUN FROM BOTH SIDES, a YA contemporary in 83,000 words.

When sixteen-year-old Whitney Crane sneaks off and boards a bus to New York, her seatmate, a stamp collector, asks her what she collects. Whit is accustomed to lying about many things—her real name, her family history, her sexual orientation—but she tells him the truth: Whit collects her father, a best-selling author and literature professor who struggled with mental illness. Whit was six the last time she saw her father, but she's never given up trying to learn about him through newspaper articles, his favorite books, poems, and postcards he’s sent her, which Whit believes contain coded clues to his whereabouts.

Months before her secret trip, Whit’s family had decided it was time to let go of the past. They moved to a sleepy Florida beach town where Whit's brother, her best and only friend, ditched her for the neighborhood surfing goons and a hostile girlfriend. While Whit would never be the picture of high school popularity, she managed to befriend Josh—a server at the late-night boardwalk diner called The Elsewhere Café—and enlisted him to help decipher her father’s clues. Even better, she started a relationship with Valentina, the girl of her dreams. But after everyone got caught in a web of Whit’s lies, Josh and Valentina abandoned her and Whit's brother took a self-destructive turn. More isolated than ever, Whit resolved to finally figure out how her identity and her father’s fit together.

Whit is ready to solve the puzzle, but it will take more than following her father’s treasure map around New York City. Whit must come to terms with what's real and what isn’t in order to put together pieces of the father she’s tried for so long to collect—and, if she’s lucky, the pieces of her own life, too.

THE SUN FROM BOTH SIDES is a YA contemporary in 83,000 words. David Arnold’s MOSQUITOLAND meets Nina LaCour’s WE ARE OKAY in a story that alternates between past and present, lies and truth, love and betrayal, with pieces of Whit’s collection sprinkled throughout.

Thank you for your consideration,

Jordan Marisa Kelly