Other People’s Houses by our debut author Kelli Hawkins, is one of those books that everyone’s talking about right now. The cover is everywhere! It’s piled at the top in bookstores, seen all over Instagram and people are wanting to read and devour it. Kelli’s debut novel hits a clever, addictive and popular mix of Girl on a Train and A Simple Favour. The perfect lives of others, people becoming obsessed with other families, comparison and envy, is a topic that is truly relatable. And Kelli’s career as a report writer for a private investigator means her experience of seeing first-hand how people live makes her writing and this novel so brilliant! I think this awesome idea has something to do with Kelli securing a four-book deal with HarperCollins!
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Kelli. Like most aspiring writers, she wrote three novels prior to signing with her publishers and sent 50 plus queries to agents. She sounds like me! Kelli was also facing a major trauma in her life at the time, yet persevered through it to keep up the goal of becoming a published author. And she did it.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing fiction in about 2010, when my children were six and four years old. But I studied Communications at uni and worked as a journalist for a while and I’ve also worked as a communications officer, blog writer and a report writer, so I guess I’ve always written in one form or another.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way round first?)
It was a long road! I wrote three novels prior to the two which were signed with HarperCollins. I sent those to many publishers and had some good feedback but no real interest (they were YA and middle grade fiction). Then I had the idea for Other People’s Houses and sent a synopsis off to the Faber Academy and was awarded their Sydney scholarship for 2016. So I wrote that book over six months, then put it away for a while, then had the idea for my middle-grade novel The School for Talking Pets and wrote that, then put it away. I edited them both a bit here and there for some months after that, still doing courses and writing stories.
But then everything changed for our family, as my husband was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2018. I didn’t write at all then, as it was a very traumatic time. He died in June 2019. It was rough (massive understatement). I decided to give myself six months off to be with the kids before returning to full-time work and that’s when I sent Other People’s Houses to agents and The School for Talking Pets to publishers. By then I’d done some courses and met some people in the publishing industry which helped me work out who best to approach. Of the several agents I sent Other People’s Houses too, Melanie Ostell was interested, and she helped me out greatly with another round of edits before approaching publishers.
Strangely enough, at exactly the same time I had some interest from various publishers for The School for Talking Pets. So, despite not generally representing children’s fiction, Melanie agreed to take me on for that book as well and shopped both books around to five or six publishers, with interest from a few. Even more strangely, the two publishers at HarperCollins who were interested ended up taking my two books to the same acquisitions meeting!
In the end I was thrilled to sign with HarperCollins for a four-book deal (two adults and two kids’ books). Both my adult and kids’ publishers are amazing and they coordinate with one another to ensure I’m not stressed by my schedule.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
Once I sent it to Melanie, I think it took less than a month for her to get back to me. Originally I had sent fifty pages as specified on her website, and she requested the full manuscript.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
So many! Before my husband died I submitted various manuscripts to publishers, but I’d never tried to get an agent until after he died – kind of a last ditch effort before I had to go back to a normal job and support the family. Probably forty or fifty submissions all up at a guess. Maybe more. And I was also submitting short stories, applications for residencies etc.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
For cover letters and synopses check the publisher or agent’s guidelines really closely and don’t deviate from them. Be concise and humble and professional in a cover letter. For a synopsis – as with anything you write – get the words down, then put it away and edit later. Many times.
Pitches are hard! No advice there I’m afraid. Though I think you often know the idea for a book is a good one when the pitch is easier to write.
Generally, I find the advice of others can be invaluable as I am often too close to my own work to see the big picture.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
Relief. Surprise. Terror. Definitely imposter syndrome. Happiness. But of course my happiness was tempered very much by the fact that Matt would never see my books in print – never know I’d been published. And also, I was just grieving. So it was a very strange time.
What’s next for you?
I’m contracted to write another adult book and another children’s book for HarperCollins both to be released in 2022. The adult book is currently at the editing stage, and I’ve just started writing the kids’ book. It’s all still very new to me and I’m just putting my head down and getting the work done. I love it, but it’s hard!
Kelli’s story really affected me, mainly because at the end of slogging through the long and drawn-out process of writing toward publication, we want to share our achievements with the people closest to us, who have seen how much effort we’ve put in. Kelli should be really proud of signing a four book deal as a debut. And her journey inspires me greatly. She proves that it can be done. You can learn more about Kelli and her writing journey here.
Thanks for being on here, Kelli and thanks for stopping by, readers!