Every once in a while you encounter a person who inspires you. Someone who is honest about who they are and makes no excuses for how they feel about the world around them. I find people like this incredibly refreshing – possibly because there are too few of them in the world! Leigh Ann Kopans is one of these people – incredibly kind and honest, not only about writing and publishing, but about the world in general.
When Leigh Ann agreed to share her writing journey with me I knew it would be filled with candid moments about the process and how much work it takes to succeed. Her story is one that completely inspires me and I hope it will fill you with a sense of hope about your writing future.
Amy: What drew you to write YA fiction?
Leigh Ann: I started writing when I was trying out being a stay-at-home mom for a year. As you might guess, it didn’t work out so well. I desperately needed to do something creative and non-child or housework-related with my free time, and I thought I’d try writing – every day, for a whole year, and see what came out. Seven months of trial-and-error later, what came out was my first novel. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.
Writing YA came naturally to me because it’s still my favorite type of book to read. I’ve always gotten along with high schoolers and college students best, so I guess that makes sense.
Amy: I love that you are a campus rabbi. Do you ever float ideas by the students for feedback?
Leigh Ann: I love that too! It really is one of the best jobs in the world.
Yes, I float ideas by my students CONSTANTLY. It’s lovely to work with a group of people who naturally take Young Adult seriously, having grown up in a time when YA was starting to be taken very seriously. My current students grew up with Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. That’s a real gift.
In addition, a good handful of my students and their younger siblings read my manuscripts, It’s a wonderful job for finding target-audience-or-slightly-older readers. I take their feedback very seriously, obviously.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Leigh Ann: The manuscript that got me signed with an agent was the second manuscript I ever wrote and the second manuscript I queried.
Amy: If a manuscript was continuing to get rejected, how did you know it was time to move on to a new project?
Leigh Ann: Oh, gosh. I was not very good at that, I must admit. I put my first manuscript in a drawer after I’d sent 100 queries and my handful of requests didn’t pan out. For my second manuscript, though, it was a little tougher. My request rate was abysmal – just under 5% – but I ran my query, concept, and writing by literally dozens and it got the enthusiastic thumbs up nearly every time. In total, I sent 137 queries and entered three contests before I got an offer.
Amy: Did your query for ONE come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Leigh Ann: The query for ONE came really easily – I’d actually written a query BEFORE I started the draft, as querying guru Elana Johnson advises. That became the basis for my first query. (I wrote a post all about it here: http://leighannkopans.blogspot.com/2011/12/tale-of-two-queries-drafting-your-query.html)
When my first batch of queries didn’t bring many requests, my CPs helped me tweak it to be more voicey, more narrative, punchier, longer, you name it – but that first query remained my most successful.
Amy: Did you have critique partners for ONE? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Leigh Ann: Yes. I could not survive this without my CPs. They were absolutely indispensable for making sure I was on the right track with plot, character development, and pacing, especially, and advised two revisions on the manuscript before I ever sent out a query.
All told, I had over twenty readers for ONE, but my core CPs numbered about nine, in three waves.
Amy: How many agents did you query for ONE? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Leigh Ann: I queried 137 agents and entered three contests. For some, I received immediate responses, and others sent me form rejections up to two months after I’d signed with an agent. (That sucked.)
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Tricia Lawrence?
Leigh Ann: Oh, wow, I still grin remembering it. Tricia started off the call by telling me all the things she loved about my manuscript, most especially the main characters. I’m serious, she gushed for like ten minutes about it, which my poor almost-given-up heart could hardly handle. She THANKED me for writing a main character like mine. It was incredible.
The utility of this gushing was that I got an idea of just how well Tricia understood my book. I knew that if we did revisions together, we would share the vision of the manuscripts arcs and themes, and therefore stay true to my story. That was really important to me.
Then we talked about a few things: whether she wanted me to do any revisions before we went out on submission (only one small tweak) how many editors would be in the first round of submissions (about ten) and why I should choose EMLA (because it’s awesome.)
That was about it. After I accepted her offer, she told me we were officially official and I could shout it from the rooftops. Or, um, blog-tops. Which I promptly did.
Amy: As most writers know publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
Leigh Ann: Oh, goodness, I have no clue. If I knew, I’d try the same trick to garner editor interest. *winky wink*
Seriously, though, I didn’t really garner any agent interest. I’m very, very lucky that Tricia picked me out of a huge, huge crowd.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Leigh Ann: YES. I think about this often, actually – when things get really overwhelming and it feels like the writing is going nowhere. But usually I sulk for a day or so, start thinking about my manuscripts again, and realize how stupid I was to ever think I could quit. I’m addicted, and that’s all there is to it.
I had one really terrible, horrible, I’m-quitting-writing-for-real-this-time breakdown, and my trusty number one CP Jamie Grey dragged me out of that. I’m still apologizing to her. And grateful to her, obviously.
More about ONE …
When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak.
It makes you a One.
Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly, or even slowly drift through the air – too bad all she can do is hover.
If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.
Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other. It also doesn’t hurt that Elias is as good at kissing as he is at helping her fly.
Best yet, her mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub’s internship short list.
But when the Hub kidnaps Elias, Merrin must decide if standing up to them is worth losing her chance to become more than a One. Because The Hub’s sick experiments don’t heal Ones as she thought – they kill them. And if she breaks into the Hub to rescue Elias, she’ll also destroy her chances that the Hub will ever find a way for her to fly solo – her only chance of being more than a One.
Raised on comic books and classic novels, Leigh Ann developed an early love of science fiction and literature. After earning degrees in Sociology and Hebrew, she went on to become a rabbi at The Ohio State University. Surrounded by college students, she found her niche writing young adult science fiction and romance.
Leigh Ann, her husband, and four children live in Columbus, Ohio, which sadly lacks superheroes but does have the best football and fabulous ice cream.