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  • Writer's pictureElnora Gunter

From "There's no place for this" to Booked and Busy: Kalynn Bayron

"This isn't marketable".

"Make these characters white/cis/straight and then we'll talk".

"Those type of people don't read."

"This is good but there isn't a place for this type of book."

"We already have a (insert token identity here)".

Would you believe me if I told you these were the type of rejections and feedback given to a novel with over 10,000 reviews on Goodreads and the recipient of a Wordery's Award (the same award Barack Obama received for A Promised Land) ?!

Yup, it happened.

But for this week's guest, author Kalynn Bayron, it only further ignited her fire.

1. Welp, the first question for these sorts of things is usually the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but you’ve been booked and busy and have shared several forthcoming publication announcements. So, instead, I’ll ask you this: would you share your journey to your yesses (I so didn’t know this was the plural of ‘yes’)?

The first yes I said was to myself. I had to give myself permission to write the kinds of stories that a lot of people around me were saying nobody would want. My next yes came when I found my agent. I had racked up around 70 rejections at that point and was feeling a little defeated. I knew I wouldn’t give up but I did consider going back and revising the manuscript for Cinderella Is Dead for what felt like the hundredth time. My agent requested a partial, and then a full, and then asked if we could talk and I almost lost my whole mind. I continue to get yesses (I’m a writer and this word still doesn’t look right to me lol) but I also continue to get rejections. That doesn’t end but I try to focus on the positives. I have a new book coming out in June, THIS POISON HEART, and a Middle Grade novel next year entitled THE VANQUISHERS and lots of other projects that I can’t talk about yet. It’s all very exciting and I feel like all the hard work pays off in the end.

2. What particular advice would you give to fellow authors when dealing with rejection and considering offers? Anything BIPOC and QBIPOC need to pay extra attention to when seeking an advocate for their work?

Publishing isn’t always very transparent when it comes to the process of getting an agent and getting published. Something I wish I’d known is just how subjective this industry can be. A rejection doesn't always mean that you have a bad book. Sometimes it’s simply that the agent just wasn’t feeling it. That’s okay! What I’d ask other writers, especially QBIPOC to be careful of, is internalizing rejections that are explicitly or implicitly racist and or homophobic. I’ve had rejections that cited my characters’ sexuality as a reason for the rejection and it hurt. Those types of rejections should be discarded and shouldn’t take up any more of your time than it takes to delete it from your inbox. Publishing is like any other industry. There are people within it who actively work to uphold white supremacy and heteronormativity. Know your work. Know yourself. And keep pushing. Readers need your stories.

3. Cinderella is Dead is a fairytale retelling, This Poison Heart is a contemporary fantasy, and you have a forthcoming paranormal MG, anthology story, and a Classics remix in the works. What is it like to write in different genres? Do you find any common threads when writing these books, or does each one require a different headspace?

Almost everything I write has a speculative element to it. I enjoy stories about magic and paranormal activity. I’m a horror fan at heart. I find that no matter what genre I’m working in certain themes tend to reappear which is great because I get a chance to tackle them in new ways. Some recurrent themes for me include friends who feel more like family, complicated lineages (AKA generational trauma), everyday magic, and an inherent belief in the supernatural. And I love scary things so there’s always a few scenes in most of what I write where I am purposely trying to frighten my readers at least a little bit (sorry yall). The biggest challenge for me is more about getting into the headspace for Middle Grade. Younger kids are just so smart and for me, at my big age, to make sure I’m writing stories that are accessible to them is something I don’t take lightly. It helps that I have kids of my own who act as sounding boards for a lot of the dialogue in my MG. They’ll tell me quick, fast, and in a hurry if something’s not right.

4. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?

I can absolutely feel burnout creeping up on me. When that happens I’ll stop writing for a few days, sometimes longer to rest and recharge. I try to do other things that are fun for me to kind of refill that creative well. I love music so I’ll try and discover something new to get into. I also try to get outside, eat good food, stuff like that. I have to ask myself, “Who am I when I’m not writing?” It’s so easy to get caught up in my identity as a writer, a creator, and I have to remind myself that I have worth beyond what I can produce. I have to be okay with sitting still.

5. I think everyone would agree that your book covers are everything Black girls around the world have wished for when picking up a book. However, many PoC authors have spoken out about publishers and marketing teams telling them that non-white people on the covers of books hurt sales. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think the PoC on a cover doesn’t sell mentality is changing?

I know that’s a thing that gets said but I can’t help but think of it like this--I know for a fact that other Black readers are not put off by seeing Black people on covers. We love it. We want that. So when publishing says that Black people on covers hurt sales, what they’re essentially saying is that white racist readers are the only people who read and we must cater to them. There is this insidious and pervasive thought in some circles of publishing that Black people don’t read and therefore they shouldn’t aim their marketing and publicity towards us. This notion feeds a perpetual cycle of systemic racism and all of it is based on a lie.

I believe we have allies in publishing. I believe there are people working for real, tangible change, but the process is slow and continues to harm BIPOC creators. I’m glad that my covers have been so well received and when my publisher came to me and asked what I was thinking for them, I knew that it had to be Sophia. I’m in awe of the covers, still. Shout out to Manzi Jackson for his work on the US cover and Fernanda Suarez for her work on the UK cover of Cinderella Is Dead!

I am seeing a shift. I love all the covers with Black characters front and center. What I don’t like is how it’s being co-opted by non-Black people looking to cash in on what they see as a trend. How ironic is it that we’ve been told for years that Black characters on covers don’t sell but now you’re using Black characters as a marketing ploy? I also don’t think visibility translates directly to the equity of Black authors. So there’s still work to be done.

6. This Poison Heart takes place in New York, in a modern period and the main character has a magical green thumb while Cinderella is Dead is set in a dystopian, patriarchal kingdom. What do you think your Cinderella readers will enjoy in your new novel? Regardless of genre or setting, what do you think your readers will find in your books that makes them say, “yep, this is Kalynn Bayron”?

They are so different in so many ways but I think my readers will love these characters and this story. It’s got magic that feels very organic, it has a dark undercurrent running through it which is similar to Cinderella Is Dead, and of course, it’s full of twists and turns. My favorite thing about this new story is the family dynamic between Briseis and her Moms. In Cinderella Is Dead, Sophia’s relationship with her parents is so difficult and we see how you can love somebody and still not be willing to help them out of fear or ignorance. In This Poison Heart, we have the other side of that coin. Briseis’s relationship to her moms is the beating heart of this story. They are so close and so honest. It’s nice to write a story where the parents are heavily involved in a good way.

Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!

7. It’s the battle of the curl patterns and twist-outs. Who has the better hair care routine: Sophia or Briseis?

Briseis. Hands down. One of her greatest joys is finding out that this new house she’s inherited might have more than one bathroom and she won’t have to be interrupted during her wash day routine. We’ll also see her deal with having to do something after she’s already twisted up her hair and debating if they’re dry enough to take down. I think we all know that if we’re even asking that question, the answer is no.

8. Unpopular book or writing opinion?

You don’t have to write everyday. I see that advice floating around a lot. It’s not true. It’s more important to write when it works best for you, especially during this pandemic.

9. A Vogue photoshoot with Zendaya to promote your book or Rihanna making a Cinderella is Dead inspired eyeshadow pallet for Fenty?

This is a tough question. I mean, I love Zendaya to death but if Riri even spoke my book’s title out loud I’d probably die. Come through CID Fenty pallet!

10. Is there any chance that you watched Little Shop of Horrors while writing This Poison Heart?

Ha! I know every single line from the musical and actually shout it out in the acknowledgments of This Poison Heart because it was such a huge influence on me. I hope my love for Little Shop of Horrors comes through on the page.

Bio: Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of the award-winning YA fantasy CINDERELLA IS DEAD. She is a classically trained vocalist and when she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.

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