Author Up Close: K.L. Burd Turns the World on its Head
K.L. Burd is an author, musician, educator (former chemistry teacher), and activist who believes that words have the power to bring about healing and change. So when I had the opportunity to interview him for my Author Up Close series, I jumped on it. The series shares wisdom and real-world lessons from authors at all stages of the writing and publishing process. And we can learn a lot from K.L.’s journey from writer to querying author to agented author, including how he transformed the pain he was feeling at witnessing images of police brutality into a novel idea that sets the world we’re currently living in on its head.
GW: K.L., thank you for agreeing to this Q&A. We’ve been Twitter friends for a while, and I’ve been intrigued by your story (both your own and the one you’ve written) for quite some time. The first thing I like to ask authors is about their author origin stories. It’s kind of like a superhero origin story but with a pen. What’s yours?
KL: Well first off, Grace, I’d like to say thank you for letting me tell my story. I’m going to start with my writing journey. I’ve loved reading since I was little, and my consumption of books led to ideas constantly floating in my head. Looking back, I can see that I was creating fanfic of many of these stories and putting my own spin on them. I remember the first time I was assigned a story in English class. That short story was called Ant Farm and was about a boy who dreamed that a life-size, talking ant showed up on his doorstep and eventually tried to kill him. After waking up from the dream, he hears a knock on his door and it’s a life-sized ant. That was my first foray into writing but then I put it down for a few decades until 2017 when I was able to finish my first manuscript thanks to a writing class that is set up to help people write a manuscript in a year. Nine months later—with a lot of help and craft resources—I had a finished manuscript, and I was hooked. I was an author and knew I wanted to write as many books as I possibly could.
While I was querying that book, I participated in NaNoWriMo and started writing the book that got me my agent. I took the pain of seeing constant police brutality and combined it with a thought that plagued me: what would it have been like if Black Americans had gotten everything we were supposed to during Post-Civil War reconstruction. I started wondering what things could have looked like if Abe Lincoln had never been assassinated, and that’s when Chasing Lincoln was born.
GW: How long did you query before you landed your agent? Why did that agent fall in love with your manuscript, and what can other authors learn from your query journey?
KL: So I queried my first manuscript for about four months and eventually shelved it after 25 rejections and only one request for a full—however, I do plan on getting back to it one day. I then put my efforts into my second manuscript, Chasing Lincoln, which I knew was going to be the one. I had grown so much as an author, and I was confident that this would get me an agent. I started querying in April of 2020 and had a personal goal of 100 query rejections before even talking about shelving it. I decided to batch query and for every rejection, I would send out two more queries. Along the way, the rejections started to wear on me, and my wife had the fantastic idea to call them passes instead of rejections and that changed everything. Someone could pass on my book but that wasn’t a rejection of who I am or my talent as a writer. I ended up with 24 full requests overall.
Finally, in October 2020, my agent, Marisa Cleveland, called to talk to me and brought along Lesley Sabga. They were offering representation together, and they said that they loved the concept and loved my voice—which was something I had heard plenty of times before, but no one had pulled the trigger yet. They talked about my future and what I wanted to do with writing and how they thought that my book could be something great. Their enthusiasm for my novel had me sold instantly. I did the customary two weeks for the other agents with my fulls, but I knew I wanted Marisa and Lesley from the moment I finished my first call with them. If you are an author out there querying, don’t give up. Revise as you go along, and relabel your rejections as passes, I guarantee, it’ll change your outlook.
GW: Tell us a little about your debut novel. What is it about? When will it be published? Why were you the only person who could have written this novel at this time? And what makes it a standout in its genre?
KL: So (fingers crossed) Chasing Lincoln will be my debut novel but only time will tell. Honestly, I’m not the only person who could write this story, and I would love it if there were 100 more Black men and women writing stories that point to a hopeful future. A future in which social justice is the norm, equity is normalized, and anti-racism is the default. I get the privilege to infuse this part of the story with my unique perspectives and my own personal experience, but so many other people could be writing this story if they were given the chance. Since I have been fortunate to be put in this spot, I am not taking the honor lightly. I sincerely hope that my book will open the door for others to write contemporary stories with speculative twists. As far as standing out, there’s no other story out there like it that combines historical fiction and sci-fi in a contemporary novel that speaks to social justice issues of the day. It’s the first but I hope it’s not the last.
GW: What advice would you give a newbie writer who someday wants to be doing what you’re doing?
KL: Don’t give up. The world needs your story. Study the craft and improve your skill as much as possible. Find a community that will help you grow and challenge your weak spots. Remember that success can only be defined by you and that your art is valuable even if only one other person ever reads it. I am always here to chat and help as much as I can. Hit me up on all social media platforms @authorklburd or visit my website at klburd.com. I am happy to help up-and-coming writers.
GW: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, K.L. I’m looking forward to reading Chasing Lincoln when it debuts.
K.L.’s approach to reframing rejections as passes really resonates with me. “Rejection” can feel so final—even fatal—to careers, hopes, dreams. But a “pass” signals that there’s more to come. Passes are par for the course in publishing whether you’re traditionally published or indie, whether you’re still in the revision trenches (raises hand), or you’re twenty books deep into your career. The lesson here is to reframe your journey in the way that best serves the realization of your goals.
Over to you: How do you plan on reframing the more challenging aspects of your author journey?
About Grace Wynter
Grace Wynter (she/her) is a writer, freelance editor, and a huge fan of shenanigans. Her blogs (and a few of her shenanigans) have been featured on CNN.com and the Huffington Post. She is a freelance editor for the Atlanta Writers Club’s biannual conference and has edited for FIYAH and Macmillan/Tor. Her debut novel, Free Falling, was a Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie Award finalist. When she’s not alternating between the Marvel and DC universes, Grace resides in Atlanta, Georgia. You can connect with her at The Writer’s Station The Writer’s Station, and on her author website, GGWynter ggwynter.com.