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An Interview with Kosoko Jackson upon receiving an offer of representation.

03/15/2017

Kosoko Jackson (WithinAPeriodPiece on QT) has signed with agent Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My novel is about the Kosovo-Serbian conflict & a boy who gets caught up in the conflict tangentially. I actually wrote a novel with a similar idea, the first draft, but it took place in a fictional country. An agent suggested since I used the conflict as a comparison, I actually WRITE about the conflict. Additionally, the inspiration to write a war/conflict novel came from the idea of wanting to explore war from the microcosmic level instead of macro.
How long have you been writing?
With the goal of getting published? Since 2014. I wrote my first novel in 2 months, from January to mid-February. Sent out my first official query soon (too soon) after that based on a friend referral and my first self-sought after query on 3/4/14. Unofficially, I’ve been writing novels, short stories, and such since I was about 6 years old. My first “Story” was about kids getting eaten by a bear. I read it to my parents during commercial breaks of Wheel of Fortune.
How long have you been working on this book?
About 25 months. I started writing the first draft in January-ish of 2015. Then did a revision in November 2015. Then another revision in August 2016. There was a smaller, additional revision in there too.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Several, actually! The most recent time was about 4 months ago & the time before that 10 months ago? During both times, during online contests I got a good amount of interest in the novel. Between the two events I got over 30 full requests. None of them panned out. The process of getting excited, then editing again, then getting rejected again, was getting really tiresome.

I think QT was a lot of help for the process. I liked seeing others successes and it was a good way to focus and hone the type of agents that would be best for my novel. The paid feature allows for more focused searches, which I think greatly helped my list. Twitter & the community on there of likeminded people, and those willing to share their stories, helps too. Misery loves company, but success thrives on hope.

Is this your first book?
Nope, I wrote 3 shopped Manuscripts before this; 1 dystopian YA, and 2 YA thrillers. This is my first historical YA novel with crossover potential though! So that’s exciting.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I’ve taken 1 college level creative writing class, and 1 creative writing class in high school. That’s about it.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I don’t have a schedule but I have a rough routine. I write when I’m free. I do write every day and set goals, depending on what I need to get done. Small goals so I can accomplish them on busy days. Right now, I’m doing big-picture edits that need to be done by the 31st of March. So I broke it up evenly to make it manageable.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
It depends, honestly. For this book that got agented, I rewrote it 3 times and edited it probably about the same. I’m working on becoming a better editor and trying out new skills. I’m someone who edits as they write, and then goes back and edits in “passes”; a line edit, a characterization edit, etc. This usually means, in conjunction with editing as a write, a cleaner first draft but also means I need to do several more “passes” since I’m only looking for specific things in each one.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I was fortunate enough to have mentors (in agents) who guided me to the flaws of my books on submission. I’ve had some beta readers edit “sections” and help guide with specific errors in the novel (characterization, the historical aspect) and I’ve had about 2 people read the novel. I wrote VERY insular. I don’t recommend it, since a lot of the errors my agent pointed out, could have been fixed earlier with a crew of beta readers. When you’re too insular, you don’t see the forest for the treats.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I’m a pantser (someone who just writes..by…their…pants), until I get to a point I can’t do that anymore. Then I reread what I have, see where I want it to end, and plot out the reminder of the novel. It helps me feel like I’m still exploring & learning the novel as I go, which is half the fun, but also using some tried-and-true structure methods. I’m also an “edit as you go” type writer.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
About 20 months. My previous book I only queried for about 5 months until I realized the errors. The book before that, about 3 months. I’ve written a lot of books but this is the first one I really feel like was agent level quality.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Including letters to agents who asked for revisions (the novel significantly changed between revision 1 and 2) and those who I sent revised versions to anyway? 261.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
My querying was wide but also tricky. I wanted the best agent for this novel who understood it and its uniqueness, but I also wanted someone who would be a good fit for me and my wide range of genre foci during my career. Consequently, I did a tiered system. Tear one was anyone who repped historical fiction, thrillers, or asked for diversity in YA. Tier two was any anyone had a focus on adult, but was open to good YA literature OR anyone in YA who wanted the thematic themes of the novel. Tier three was anyone who didn’t outwardly say “no” in their genre preferences, specifically in YA.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I didn’t—mostly. I only tailored queries where the MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) matched something my novel had, or if I met them through an event/referral, or if something in an interview resonated with me and I could quote it directly. This was maybe only 20 percent of the queries. Most were my general letter.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don’t be afraid to query broadly. I’m a HUGE fan of the idea “if they don’t expressly say no to your genre, assume it’s a yes”. One of my offers didn’t even rep YA, but wanted to rep my YA book. Querying is a numbers game. Sometimes you’re first, sometimes you’re not. Querying a lot of people does mean you need to keep accurate track of your queries (QT is great for that), especially when you need to send the “offer of rep” nudges (I sent over 70 of them), and it can be a pain, but the first offer I got that got the ball rolling on the other offers was someone I queried on a whim. She offered in 2 weeks—and now I’m here.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
I didn't query my agent. I met her at a conference and pitched to her. Nevertheless, here is the query I would've sent her:

DEAR XXX

Seventeen-year-old James Mills has to spend his senior year in God forsaken, cold-as-heck Kosovo. That’s what happens when your parents are USAID workers more interested in helping the "needy" than fixing their marriage. 

Through letters to his older sister enjoying her freshmen year at George Washington, James describes his days navigating a new country, a crumbling parental unit, and Tomas, the son of a Brazilian sanitation engineer. While his sister reads about the sweet romance developing with Tomas, the reality is much worse.

Ethnic tensions between the Albanians and Serbians have boiled over, trapping James far from his family. As James struggles to survive a world saturated in war, armed with only his wit, family lessons gathered from years abroad, and a loyal boyfriend, he must not only decide if he’s willing to do anything--or become anyone--he needs to in order to survive, but if survival is something he even wants. Especially when he discovers the secrets surrounding his family's questionable involvement in the genocide. 



A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER is a YA historical suspense novel, with cross-over potential, complete at 60,000 words. Told non-linearly through a mix of first person narrative and epistolary styles, it will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity and How I Live Now. I have 2 personal essays published on The Advocate.Com and Thought Catalog, as well as one short story publication in RFD Magazine & one in my college anthology.