Black Boy Joy in YA: KL Burd
It's mid February, and I've decided to dedicate my first blog post to Black creators and Black professionals in publishing in honor of Black History Month. Like many other landscapes in America, publishing isn't immune from racism and discrimination. Recent events (#publishingpaidme, diversity reports) have publicly revealed what many already knew—BIPOC and other marginalized writers are undervalued, lowballed, and dismissed in favor of white writers. While this information is discouraging, it hasn't stopped these writers from pursuing their dreams. I am so excited to share author KL's Burd's writing journey, advice, and his answer to "Where are all the Black boys in YA"?
Welp, the first question is the question that has probably asked no less than a hundred times but never loses its novelty. Tell us, how did you get your agents?
So, I will happily tell this story till the end of time. This was my second book that I’ve queried and I knew deep down that it would get me an agent. I had grown so much since the first one and I was ready to go. I sent off queries and got 24 full requests overall. However, I had 108 people pass on me without requesting a full—and most of the 24 passed too. During this time, I discovered that my book isn’t exactly Sci-Fi but YA Contemporary with Sci-Fi elements. After making this discovery, I restarted my query search using QueryTracker and came across Marisa Cleveland. She fit my new search criteria of YA, Sci-Fi, and Contemporary. What I didn’t realize is that she had just reopened for queries. I queried her and she responded within four days which is always a great sign. Then, about seven days after I sent her my full, she asked for the coveted callI! She brought along my other agent, Lesley Sabga and after the best conversation ever about my book, they offered! I knew I wanted to be with them but had to do my due diligence and tell the other 10 agents who had my full about the offer. However, I instantly knew I wanted to go with them. The best part is that Marisa was previously an agent and came back because she wants to help BIPOC Authors get their books into the world. She came back for people just like me. So, even though it took 132 queries it was worth it.
What are your biggest takeaways from the querying process? And as a Black male, what particular advice would you give to fellow Black male authors when seeking representation, dealing with rejection, considering offers, finding a community, etc.?
Biggest Takeaways: Querying is tough. Change your language from getting a rejection to getting a pass. An agent passes on your manuscript, it’s not a rejection of you. The first pass hurts, no matter what. Don’t let anyone tell you when you should give up. If you are getting full requests, then keep going. If you are not getting fulls, you might need to revise your intro.
Fellow Black Male Advice: It’s tough in these streets because we are a very small bunch. Find community, it’s key. If you can’t find one, create one. Also, hit me up if you’d like. You can join my community and I’ll happily help you on your journey. Be authentic. We need authentic Black Voices. So many kids have never read a book by a Black man. We’ve gotta be the ones to change that.
What comes after an agent is an area of discussion that isn’t talked about as widely as the path to getting an agent. What has the ‘after agent’ journey been like for you?
This is a great question. For me, I signed with the Seymour agency and got my first edits four weeks later. In between that time, my agents talked about creating a website, beefing up social media and standardizing my user tags, and creating an aesthetic board for my project. After that, edits all day, next up going on sub. I have no clue what that’s gonna look like.
Revisions, revisions--either the joy in our hearts or the bane of our existence. I think it is extremely rare for an agent to send an MS off to editors without some level of revisions. Would you describe how the process has been for you? How does having an industry professional’s input differ from a beta reader or CP partner?
It’s night and day. They are so honest about what needs to be fixed and don’t hold back like a CP or beta reader. In addition, they’ve done this for so long, they know what to do without much effort. The biggest positive from this experience is that it’s made me a better writer. My agents have drawn so much out of my writing that the story has more depth than what I originally wrote. This has helped me to prepare my next MS and before I send it to them, I’ll have it in really good shape. It’s also helped me to know what to ask my CP to look for.
2020 was the year. 2021 started off with a bang. The pandemic still has many of us restricted to around the house activities and seeing the same people every day. How do you refill the creative well during these times?
It’s so tough. There’s two main things. Number one is to get time to myself. It’s key. If I don’t get time to myself to recharge then I won’t do anyone any good. Especially when it comes to my manuscript and the second part is honestly TV. I gain a lot of inspiration from the shows and movies I watch.
Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
This is very much like the previous question. I do know when I’m about to burnout. I can usually tell and I will dive into a series and binge something new. Then I’ll take a break from binging and write for days. I have to alternate the brain space that’s being used. If that’s all too much, I’ll make a TikTok.
Can you tell us about your current WIP or future WIP?
My current WIP is about a sixteen-year-old Black kid who loses his friend to police brutality. He’s devastated and has nightmares about him every night. He comes to find out that these are actually glimpses of an alternate reality where his friend is alive. He gets a chance at seeing his friend again but finds out that the alternate world is being destroyed. Someone went back in time and killed Abraham Lincoln and created two timelines from one. We—yes you and I (and these characters)—live in the crappy one created after Lincoln was killed. In order to save his friend and the world that doesn’t have systemic racism like we do, they have to save Lincoln. But that would mean losing everything and everyone Demarcus loves. Either his friend lives or everyone else.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions: You have dinner reservations for four, including yourself. Invite three other authors (living or dead) and tell us why.
Oh my gosh. This is a fantastic question. I’m inviting Ta-Nehisi Coates, Octavia Butler, and President Barack Obama.
I just love Coates writing. He has a magical way with worlds. I consider him a modern James Baldwin (another person I could have listed). Octavia Butler is the Godmother of Black Sci-Fi. I just want to pick her brain. President Obama is just the man. I would just soak up being in his presence. I don’t think I would even talk to the three of them. I would just listen and interject here and there.
If you could ‘steal’ someone’s work and get away with it, who would it be and why?
Ha! Coates! I would happily write as well as he does.
List your top three book, movie, or tv show villains.
These might be cliche but I don’t care.
I mean Killmonger has got to be on just about everyone’s list right? The best villains are the ones you can either identify with or the ones that make you squirm. Speaking of squirming, Heath Ledger’s joker is one of the best of all time. The other squirmy one is Denzel’s Character in Training Day. He sticks with you because it’s so disturbing.
Unpopular book or writing opinion?
You don’t have to read to be a great writer. I use this in the literal sense. I listen to audiobooks all the time but haven’t read a physical book in years. I consider them the same but so many folks don’t.
A year on the NYT or Michelle Obama taking a selfie with your book?
Dang this one is hard!!! Michelle Obama because that mug will be on the NYT the next day. Plus knowing Michelle has read my book will make me faint.