Caroline Khoury is a very new author and I feel privileged to be interviewing her prior to her novel It Must Be Love even getting it’s pretty cover design done! Why I’m so happy about this interview, is that Caroline’s journey is still extremely fresh and new! I also feel a special kinship with Caroline. Like me, she attended one of Curtis Browns courses: Curtis Brown’s Pitch to an Agent course, she submitted to just about every agency she could find (like I did), and she has also gone on to shelf the first book that she worked on that just didn’t secure her an agent. Caroline has been writing for many years, learnt what she needed to and then went on to write another book, this one, that eventually got her noticed!
I think what I’m trying to say here is that I’m hoping my story end the same way as Caroline’s, with a book deal! Caroline bestows every quality you need when starting out on this tiring, frustrating, loveable, hard, self motivating, road to writing for publication. She never gave up. She acknowledges that every step along the way adds to, rather than takes away from the goal at hand. Every rejection leads you closer to a yes. Every course gifts you the knowledge needed to write that little bit better. Every query “no” allows you to refine the query that’ll get you to a full manuscript request. Just. Keep. Going.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing in 2014 when I was living in Japan. I had never thought of writing a book before that but I found my travels abroad very inspiring. I had fallen into accounting straight out of university but after twelve years of working as one in London, I gave up my job to move to Hong Kong with my husband who had got a transfer there with the newspaper he worked for. We had a toddler and a newborn and so I focussed on being a stay at home mum which I loved. When we moved to Tokyo I started teaching English to Japanese kids and began writing alongside it as both of my girls were at school by then. The moment I started writing, I was hooked and even though I didn’t really know what I was doing (I hadn’t studied English since I was sixteen and had never taken any creative writing courses), I knew there was no turning back. The first book I wrote was a love story set on a remote Japanese island that I had visited many times. I entered lots of pitch contests, queried widely and received several full requests but that book didn’t get me an agent and I stopped writing for a while as I became preoccupied with moving to the US – our next posting. I had been been told the best way to get over rejection was to keep writing and I am so glad I did. At the beginning of 2017 I went on the Women’s March in New York City, had a flash of inspiration and started writing IT MUST BE LOVE. That novel got me my agent and then a publishing deal and I couldn’t be more thrilled. So that’s a very long winded way of saying I have been writing for seven years!
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
I think there were a few important steps that led to my offer of representation. I did the six week Edit & Pitch course with Curtis Brown once I had a good second draft of IT MUST BE LOVE and it was probably one of the best investments I made in my writing. Not long after doing the course we moved back to the UK and I entered a love story competition organised by Trapeze and eharmony that was only open to UK residents. I was shortlisted and the prize was a trip to the publisher’s office in London where they offered a series of workshops on writing and editing with the six other shortlisted writers. I didn’t ultimately win but was told that my story had something and I shouldn’t give up. I then joined the RNA (Romance Novelist Association)’s New Writers’ Scheme and received a full manuscript appraisal from a lovely author called Sue Fortin. Her feedback was invaluable. I did one more edit, honed my pitch to include my competition shortlisting and was pulled out of the slush pile by my incredible agent Kate Burke. My advice will always be to never give up. If you don’t succeed with that first book, move on and write another. I know it’s easier said than done but l am so happy I took that advice on board. I learned so much from writing that first book even though it’s now sat in a drawer.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
Kate sent me a full request a few hours after I queried her. I honestly think that was down to luck and I must have picked the exact time she had set aside to look at her submissions. Two weeks after that she emailed to say she liked the book and wanted to set up a telephone call with me to discuss it. She ended up postponing the call twice because she was tied up with the multiple bid auction for Allie Reynold’s incredible debut. I laugh about that with Allie now as I was gutted each time Kate rearranged the call.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
With my first book I think I queried almost every agent in the US that represents my genre. I had been advised that even though I was British, it was best to query US agents because I was living there. With IT MUST BE LOVE I queried a few US agents, got several full requests but no offers of rep. We then moved to England and I queried only a few UK agents before Kate signed me. With the first book, I would only send out a few queries at a time and use any feedback to redraft and keep editing before sending out another batch of queries.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
Get as many eyes on your query/pitch as you can. I learned so much from doing online pitch events and discovering authors who had posted their successful query letters online. One of Kate’s clients – Will Dean – has done some brilliant YouTube videos on the writing process as well.
Keep the query succinct. Mine had an intro about the genre of the book, what current books I felt it could sit beside and why I thought Kate was the best agent to represent me. Then I had a one sentence logline (think of what goes on the cover of a book) followed by one paragraph summarising the book with the last paragraph giving some background info about me. I think telling an agent why you are querying them in particular is important. Kate represents Dani Atkins and I adore her books so I told her that. Kate also says she is a Sweet Valley High super fan in her Twitter bio and I have the entire collection of books so I mentioned that I was a massive fan too. Keep your synopsis to one page. Agents just want to know how the story moves on from the opening chapters and how it ends so don’t get too hung up about it. Make those first three chapters (or whatever an agent asks for in a submission package) as engaging as you can so they can’t but not ask to see the full manuscript.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I think I began to hyperventilate. But it wasn’t one of those ‘pop a champagne cork’ moments. Kate wanted to know if I would be up for some serious rewriting and I had to think long and hard about whether I could rise to the challenge. When I met Kate in person at her office to handover the signed contract, I was quite awestruck seeing all of Blake Friedmann’s published books in their reception and had massive imposter syndrome feelings, but Kate was truly inspiring and I think I floated home, ready to roll my sleeves up and create a new version of the book.
What’s next for you?
I have just finished editing the page proofs of IT MUST BE LOVE and am hoping it will be going out to first readers this summer with publication scheduled for February 2022. It is also being published in Germany and Russia which I am very excited about. Meantime, I have another book to write, this time under contract which is proving a lot more challenging! I am hoping that book will come out the following year.
Thank you so much the inspiring interview, Caroline! Readers will love this as it hits home just how eager and passionate you need to be to get there! I can’t wait to see the cover design and watch your publication journey unfold! You can follow Caroline here.