I first came across author, Jessica Khoury, when I was reading a blog about successful queries. I read her first lines and thought, “Man, this girl can write!” From that time forward, I waited to see if her book would make it through submission and be published. I stumbled upon a thread of hers on Agent Query Connect, and sure enough she had an announcement about her publishing date.
Her book, ORIGIN, hit shelves last Tuesday, and I devoured it in two days. I can’t say enough amazing things about this book – so I’ll just say this – GO OUT AND BUY IT OR DOWNLOAD IT NOW! You will not be sorry.
Ok, so enough fangirling – on to Jessica’s writing journey…
Amy: What drew you to write a Young Adult novel?
Jessica: YA is what I love to read, so I’ve never really considered writing anything else. The great thing about YA is it’s exploding right now, not just in numbers, but in possibilities. There is a level of experimentation and freedom in YA you don’t get in other genres; as an author, you can be daring, mixing genres, exploring themes and settings that haven’t been done before. It’s really an exciting place to be right now and I am so happy to have a spot in YA!
Amy: Was ORIGIN your first completed manuscript?
Jessica: Before ORIGIN I had written two complete novels. They were both high fantasy, and I love them both very much. The first, however, was written when I was 13, and is better off staying on its floppy disk in a deep, dark drawer–but it was a great learning experience! The second one I finished last year, having written it during college, and I would love to see it published one day! We will see.
Amy: How long did it take to complete?
Jessica: I spent 30 days on the first draft of ORIGIN, which sounds very fast, I know, but you must take into account the months of editing that followed. After editing with my agent and then editor at Razorbill, ORIGIN was in development for about 9 months.
Amy: Did you use critique partners for ORIGIN? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
Jessica: I had a few beta readers early on, before I got an agent, and their input was very valuable. The biggest influences on ORIGIN, however, came from my editor and agent. They are both very savvy when it comes to critiques, and I was so fortunate to have their help in developing the manuscript.
Amy: When you first wrote your query for ORIGIN did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Jessica: The query was actually really easy. I’d queried one book before that, and spent weeks on the query–not so with ORIGIN. I pretty much sent out the first draft of the query to agents–which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Queries are vitally important and you should take your time in crafting them. But I did post it on agentqueryconnect.com for feedback, so I did have feedback on it before it went out.
Amy: How many queries did you send out for ORIGIN?
Jessica: I sent 40 in one day. You can query a bunch of agents all at once, or do 5-10 a week. With ORIGIN, I felt I might get some good responses because I believed so strongly in the story myself, and I was right. I wanted the ability to have multiple agents requesting at the same time, because then they read faster and get even more exciting about your book. I’m so glad I did the full-out, query-EVERYBODY! approach; if I hadn’t, I might not have found my fabulous agent!
Amy: Did you receive immediate response or did you have to twist your hands and wait a while?
Jessica: I got my first request within fifteen minutes–so pretty fast! A week later, I got my first phone call and offer of representation.
Amy: As many writers know, the publishing world is very hard to break into. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?
Jessica: My query really helped; it was the main thing catching agents’ attention. My query for my previous book was very weak and I learned a lot from the mistakes I made with it. I was able to develop my query-writing skills and come up with a very compelling one for ORIGIN.
Amy: What was your “call” like with your agent, Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency?
Jessica: So surreal! I was so nervous and couldn’t eat anything all day! Lucy was very sweet and enthusiastic, but also very to-the-point. She knew exactly what changes she wanted made to the book and was able to communicate those very clearly in our initial conversation. It was my first encounter with a real “industry professional,” so I was pretty shy and tentative, but now I know I could call her anytime about anything. She’s been great in making me feel comfortable in the publishing world and helping me develop not just ORIGIN, but my own public persona as a YA author.
Amy: If you met an aspiring writer on the street, who had just gone through a long period of rejection, what would you say to encourage them to keep writing?
Jessica: I’d say don’t give up–but if you’re having trouble, don’t just bumble blindly on. Take time to study your own writing and the writing of successful authors you admire. Read books on writing, join online writing communities, and focus on honing your craft. That’s what I did in the two years after I graduated college, and it paid off. You might have a natural knack for writing, but even natural talent needs to be trained, practiced, and continually sharpened. Writing isn’t just something that develops from sitting down to write every day–though that is a vital aspect to it. You must view it as a discipline requiring study, evaluation, and sometimes, a change to your approach.
Jessica Khoury is 22 years old and was born and raised in Georgia. She attended public school followed by homeschooling, and earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Toccoa Falls College. She lives in Toccoa, Georgia with her husband Benjamin, two terrible dogs and three contrary birds, and an abundance of books, shoes, and sweet tea. When not writing, she’s usually directing stageplays or coaching soccer. She began writing at age four and has dreamed of being an author ever since. Origin is her first novel. Film rights were recently optioned by Scott Pictures.