Mar 5, 2012

Talking Origin with Jessica Khoury

Jessica Khoury
This week I'm thrilled to be featuring up-and-coming author Jessica Khoury, whose work I first read over at QueryTracker last summer. She'd posted her first five pages for review and I was blown away by her concept  (a girl scientifically bred to be the first of an immortal race) and writing style. I tend to do a bit of cyber-stalking when I find interesting folks like that, so I found her blog and discovered she'd just landed Lucy Carson of the Fredrich Literary Agency as her agent. Then a month or so later, she hinted that she had bigger news she was waiting to share (which in author-speak means "I've sold my book and I can't tell you yet!!").  Not only did she sell it, but Razorbill/Penguin has committed a HUGE first print run of 250,000 when it debuts in September. I don't have to tell you this is a dream come true for any writer...wait. I just did tell you that. Sorry.
Anyway, the wait is over, both for her pub announcement AND her cover art. It's so fab I've posted it below.  I know you're dying to get inside Jessica's brilliant brain so I'll stop writing and let you read on...

Talk about the origin of the title ORIGIN. How many titles did you go through and who suggested this one?

 The title was originally "Perfectly Pia," which was deemed too "chick-lit." And I agreed. So the folks over at Razorbill brainstormed and I brainstormed and we just threw ideas back and forth. We came up with some great titles, but there was always some little thing that was wrong -usually they were too close to something already out there. It was my editor who suggested it ultimately, and we all loved it.

Before you signed with Lucy, she suggested some revisions. What kind were they - indepth or mainly fine tuning?

They were actually fairly in-depth. The biggest change was the ending. I'd tell you more--but don't want to give anything away.The rest of the revisions had to do with pacing and information control and fleshing out some of the characters. In all, it took me about three weeks to do the revisions, which is a long time for me (I wrote ORIGIN in four weeks).

And how did you know those edits were right for your story?

 Though the changes were big, they all ultimately enhanced my original vision for the story. Instead of changing what the book was about, they helped to make its core stronger. That was part of the reason I chose Lucy as my agent. The other agents I talked to wanted to see revisions that would have done the opposite: altering the story's essence and changing Pia's voice. I am thrilled with the revisions Lucy suggested. It's a huge bonus to find an agent who's not only a totally savvy salesperson, but an insightful--and willing--editor as well.

What kind of edits did your editor suggest after you signed with Razorbill, and how did those differ from Lucy's?
There really were no points on which my editor's suggestions differed. Laura's revisions weren't as drastic--thanks to the fact Lucy had already helped me shape the book into much of what it is. My editor mostly had me add information. She wanted me to answer world-building questions, add some new chapters, deepen some of the relationships more, stuff like that. Actually, during my revisions for Laura, the book gained a lot of weight. ORIGIN went from 80,000 words to 105,000!

There's a reason why we keep our debut novels short, people! It's so the editors who buy them have room to deepen the story if it necessary!

I've always wondered why it takes so long before you can announce a deal. What is going on during the delay between you knowing about the sale, and being able to announce?
 The reason we had such a long delay was because my publisher wanted all the edits to be finished before the announcement. So the deal was signed in October, but we went through several rounds of edits--from the major  changes to the niggly little details--during that time. The reason for this was so that when the announcement was made, we would be able to send the finished manuscript out as soon as requests for subsidiary rights started coming in. And an extra month delay was added because we were lucky enough to get picked up by Publisher's Weekly for the announcement, which meant we had to wait for them to print it.

I've heard many authors don't get cover approval for their first book. Did you?  If not, did you have concerns about ensuring the cover fits the story? 
 I saw some preliminary cover work--and it was absolutely gorgeous! I am getting quite a bit of say in that process, though I haven't had any major complaints. I've made a few suggestions on some of the details, all of which have been graciously accepted and implemented. Really, the team at Penguin is fantastic. I couldn't be happier.

How are you balancing the demands of a debut author with that of a writer? Do you set aside some days for writing and others for authoring?
Well, since I've been pretty much embroiled in editing up till now, the two have pretty much been synonymous. I have spent a lot of time trying to build my online platform, but my brain is starting to itch for a new story. I am a pretty fast writer, so I'm not too worried about running out of time. Once I dive headfirst into writing, though, I don't do much else. So there will probably be at least one month this year in which I disappear from Twitter and Facebook, then reemerge later like some kind of troglodyte, manuscript in hand. I won't even think about ORIGIN during that time unless it's absolutely necessary.

What are you working on now?  Right now I'm developing several different ideas. I have about six new projects in outline form, any of which I could start writing tomorrow. But again, when I'm writing a novel, I delve into it with a kind of feverish tunnel-vision, so I don't commit to anything until I know I have the time to really dig into it and get it done. My next project will definitely be YA. And it will not have vampires. That's about all I can say for sure.

How has your drafting process changed now that you've gone through the whole gamut of revision, from betas to agent to editor?
I've certainly learned oodles from my agent and editor. I know now what my weak points are as a writer (e.g., too many commas, not enough backstory, romance), and I'll be able to watch for those better. Just from working with Lucy and Laura, I've grown so much in my ability to look at plot, characters, and pacing more objectively, and I find myself often catching plot holes or dialogue flaws I might have missed before. I also know now what my strong points are and what kind of things I write best, and I can exercise those to the fullest. I can write with their past critiques in mind--and best of all, get immediate feedback on my work. So I think the most valuable change in my drafting process is that I now have stronger confidence. Before, I was always second-guessing what I'd written, wondering if it was total crap; but now, I have a lot more faith in myself and in my ability to evaluate my own work.

Thanks, Jessica!  If you have questions for her, be sure to leave them in the comments. Have a great week!  


EnchantingEditor said...

Thanks so much, Jessica, for all the excellent information. I can't wait to read ORIGIN!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Jessica and Melodie, this interview ROX.

Erm ... Jessica, can I just say WOWOWOWOWOW? Four weeks to write a novel that caught this much attention??? That's incredible. I've always considered myself a pretty fast writer, but it takes me six months to complete a book (it's usually a very polished first draft, because I go back and edit as I go). You're amazing!! That is all. :)

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

Love, love, love the cover!

Four weeks is really fast for a novel. Was this a Nano project?

Jessica Khoury said...

This wasn't NaNo, actually! I wrote it during them month of July last year. :)

T. Drecker said...

I love these success stories and your cover is gorgeous!

My mouth totally fell to the floor, when I read that you wrote it in four weeks. Could the words 'natural talent' be buzzing through my brain?


Carrie Butler said...

Ooo, I remember Pia (and the other characters) from the Casting Call bloghop. So cool! Congratulations, Jessica! :D

Alleged Author said...

Congratulations, Jessica! I love hearing awesome success stories. :)

Sarah B said...

Pia stole my heart on agentqueryconnect and apparently wooed some big wigs too. ;) So happy for Jessica!

Tara said...

Great interview, Melodie and Jessica. I will definitely keep my eye out for this one--sounds awesome!

Also, I remember seeing the deal for this book in Publisher's Weekly just last month. I'm impressed at how quickly it's going from deal to the shelves! That's a bit faster than normal, no?

elizabeth seckman said...

Congratulations Jessica! I'd wish you luck, but a lady of your talents won't really need it.