“Maybe I would have been published eventually, but I really believe working with KC through the WriteMentor experience sped the process along by literal years.“
Author Brianna Bourne describes her experience of WriteMentor’s summer mentoring programme and how it helped her both rewrite her Young Adult novel and secure her agent representation
What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?
When I applied, I’d been querying the project that would eventually become my debut novel for about six months. I was getting a lot of full requests (and a LOT of rejections), but nothing was turning into an offer, so I knew something needed work.
What was your experience like?
Working with my mentors, KC Karr and Sharon Johnston, was phenomenal. It was also possibly the most grueling three months of my life! I was determined to give it my absolute all, and I actually ended up rewriting the book from scratch. I could have changed a few surface things here and there, but it wouldn’t have propelled the book to the next level the way the rewrite did.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now.
When I was six or seven, being an author was my answer every time someone asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
I loved to read, and I loved to write stories, usually just shreds of things and rocky beginnings. But as I got older, I was too afraid to really go after writing as a career—it seemed like such an impossible dream. I wrote casually over the years, including two novel-length projects, but I didn’t start writing with the aim of being published until about five years ago. That’s when I started the very first draft of this story, which had a different title, one point of view instead of two, and a very saggy middle. I queried widely, and racked up a lot of rejections (but also an encouraging number of full requests) on that draft.
And then I had my wonderful WriteMentor summer. I dove back into the query trenches, and got more rejections and more full requests—and one Revise & Resubmit. The agent only wanted me to rewrite a very specific part of the book: the reveal of the twist. She responded just a few days after I turned in the revised chapter with… an offer of representation!! I was completely floored, and it honestly took months to make myself believe it was real. I had some other fulls out with agents (some had been out for 6+ months!) and I ended up getting three offers of rep. I went with the agent who had me do the R&R—her instincts were incredible and she had such a clear vision for how to pitch the book, which I’d always struggled with. We made a few more tweaks to the manuscript, and went on submission in January of 2020.
Less than a month later, two enormous US publishers made two-book offers, and YOU&ME went to auction. I chose to work with Scholastic because the editor there was SO enthusiastic and lovely (and she still is!) We plunged into edits, and then of course the pandemic hit. This entire time I think part of me has been waiting for an email: “sorry, we’re cancelling the book because of the pandemic,” but it never came. I’m only just starting to process how REAL the entire thing is… a week after my US launch!!
Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?
YOU & ME AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a contemporary Young Adult romance with a speculative twist. Its two closest comps are probably Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY and Adam Silvera’s THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END. (It’s not sci-fi, and it’s not a stereotypical dystopian or apocalypse fic! There are no zombies here 🙂
YOU & ME follows two very different teenagers, Hannah and Leo, after they wake up and find themselves the last girl and boy in the world. As they explore a world with no parents, no friends, and no school; they start to realize they can be themselves instead of playing the parts everyone expects of them. But nothing about the empty city is quite as it seems, and if Hannah and Leo don’t figure out what’s going on, they might just be torn apart forever.
It came out in the US (July 20th), and was published by Scholastic in the UK on August 5th.
What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?
Don’t be afraid to rewrite.
Don’t give up on that project too soon—one draft is never enough. Messing around with a sentence here, sentence there, is not the kind of editing that will take your book to the next level. Don’t be afraid to pull the manuscript to bits, start from scratch, replot, come up with new ideas. The old draft is ALWAYS there if you feel like you’ve messed things up too much, but I have never touched my old drafts. It ALWAYS got better.
It’s so hard to deconstruct what’s already there, and I’m struggling with a big bout of initial resistance on my second book as we speak, but it’s so worth it.
Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?
Honestly, if I hadn’t been a WriteMentor mentee, I would have been so unprepared for working with my editor at Scholastic. I learned how to conduct myself when talking about something as personal and sensitive as a book you’ve poured your whole self and heart into, how to take feedback with grace and then actually implement it, how to work on a deadline and under immense pressure, and so much more. I read craft books and learned so much about story structure (I had been a little skeptical of “How to Write” books in the past).
There’s so much about this industry that isn’t written down anywhere, probably because it’s so complex and everyone has a different journey. It’s hard to know what to do after you finish that first draft, after you write that query letter, and so on and so on, every step of the way. Just having someone else to talk to who’s been through or is going through the same things is invaluable.
Maybe I would have been published eventually, but I really believe working with KC through the WriteMentor experience sped the process along by literal years.
Read more from Brianna…
Ready to follow the adventures of Hannah and Leo?