The Debut Author Series: Krysten Lindsay Hager

The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors 

Nicky Schmidt

For many the road to publication is long and fraught. For others, a publishing deal comes relatively easily. Those who are still trudging the path may find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be a debut author, and authors with a few books to their name may only dimly recall the original experience.

So what is it like? Does life change? Do dreams become reality and with a deal to your name does it all become plain sailing? And what is the process from slushpile to contract to published novel actually like? I asked debut US author, Krysten Lindsay Hager, about her journey to publication. 

From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?

I started writing TRUE COLORS in college. I had many false starts in writing before that and really wasn’t sure I had what it took to ever finish a book. I remember telling my cousin, Bob, when I was a freshman in high school that I was great at starting a book, but didn’t know if I could ever finish one. I remember he said, “Well, maybe one day it’ll all come together.” I took a lot of literature classes in college and then creative writing classes, and did semesters doing independent studies where I was writing and working one-on-one with English profs (and a history prof as well). I finished one novella (maybe it was a New adult novel, I honestly can’t remember how long it was anymore), but it never occurred to me to send it out for publication. It was after that independent study that I decided I wanted to write YA/middle grade next and shortly after that I started coming up with the beginning of TRUE COLORS. I honestly, changed and rewrote the story a few times, (plus I moved several times and focused on my journalism career at the time). So I can’t really say how long it took to get it published since there was quite a bit of time where I wasn’t sending it out at all. I focused on strictly on-fiction in the form of journalism and humorous essays for a very long time. 

It is said that writers have to be persevering and have a tough skin – did you find you grew in endurance and perseverance? Did you ever think about giving up? What made you keep going? 

That is true about perseverance and having a tough skin, but I think working in journalism helped me with that. When you’re trying to interview people who do not want to talk or have people get aggressive with you—you learn to handle yourself in tough situations and that helped a lot. My experiences in TV news and writing for newspapers were an excellent training ground in preparing me for how to deal with criticism and rejection. I was lucky to have that background. Did I ever think about giving up? Maybe the submitting part, but not writing. I’ll always be writing, that’s just part of me. I can’t turn it off. Now the publishing and submitting part can be brutal. I’m not going to sugar-coat that. But that’s up to each person to deem if it’s worth it or not. For some, writing is enough. Look at J.D. Salinger. I would have been okay either way. 

How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last? 

I felt a calmness. Like a weight had been lifted. I always assumed I’d be dancing in the streets, but it was more like, oh this is the right path for me. I thought I would feel validated, but it was more like, okay, I’m supposed to share this with people. It ended up not being about me at all, but what I could share. The book I wrote is the one I would have wanted to read at that age. So maybe there’s a girl out there who needs to read it right now, too. I was happy, but I didn’t know what to expect next and I think that was at the forefront of my mind—what’s next? Although I did go back and re-read that acceptance email a few times! 

If you think about the amount of work you did on your story pre-deal, how much more work did you have to do once you’d landed your deal – did you realise the real work had only just begun and how surprised where you by that?

I was surprised about how much went into promoting and how soon you have to start. I remember shortly after I signed with the company I saw a post by an authors that said she, “loved being a writer, but hated being an author,” and that it was, “hard and scary.” I remember seeing that and thinking, “What am I in for?” There’s so much added work that no one prepares you for. I had gone to critique groups and writing groups where the published authors were going on and on and about deadlines and how overworked they were and I honestly thought they were just saying that. I had no clue. I tried to prepare a critique group buddy for it and naturally, she didn’t listen either. I call myself the, “test pancake,” for some of my writer friends who are watching me go through it and learning from my mistakes. When I talk to people about what I have had to do as a writer, you can see their faces change and they cringe and grit their teeth. I accept it all as part of the process myself—the critiques, reading out loud in public to strangers, and subjecting yourself to humiliation and rejection in so many ways. That’s why everyone says, “I have an idea for a book,” but not everyone writes a book. There’s a lot more to it than people realise. 

As the creator of your story, having always been in control of your characters and your plot, how did you find taking on board someone else’s comments and suggestions – was it like losing control and did you ever argue with your editor? 

I had a great editing experience. The editors I worked with were all amazing. There were no major changes to the story whatsoever and not one argument. I was really blessed through the whole process of not having to make any story or character changes. One of the editors posted parts she enjoyed as well and that really helped me a lot through the process. I did tell her that, but I don’t think she realizes how much that truly meant to me. 

Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story? 

Most of my changes had to do with changing the name of a brand, store, celebrity etc. due to the publishing company’s policy and there were no story changes. 

How have you found working with illustrators and cover designers? How much involvement have you had with the graphic content of your book (covers or illustrations)? 

I worked with Cora Graphics and I shared with her my Pinterest inspiration board for the story so she had an idea of what I was thinking. We emailed back and forth a few times and I think the girl she found for the main character really represented the Landry I imagined in my head. I actually have “parents” picked out for Landry and I really feel the cover model could be their child! She got that close with the Landry model. I also had the pic of a “grownup” version of Landry and I have to say, it’s pretty close, too. If you look at the book trailer, there’s a picture of a girl taking a selfie that represents Devon and wow, she looks like what I imagined as well. It’s crazy to see some of this. 

Do you think that having had your first book published, your writing life will be easier and your career will be on track? Do you think it will all be easier the second time round? 

I know it won’t be easier, you always have to prove yourself. Just because you got your foot in the door doesn’t mean anything. 

Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with? 

I’ve taken it upon myself to learn as much as I can about marketing, social media, etc. But there are some things that just aren’t my strengths and I will ask people to go over documents for me. What’s nice is how many people are willing to help and when I can, I also offer anything I’ve learned along the way. The best advice I’ve gotten from several different people is to pick one thing you enjoy and are good at and go with that.

What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal? 

To take my ego out of it. Whenever I make decision based on my ego, it always goes all wrong for me. It’s been that way my whole life. I had read, “The Creative Call,” not too long before I submitted TRUE COLORS and it talks a lot about how it’s not about what the work can do for you, but what it can do for others. I think that was key for me in the whole process. 

What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time? 

Don’t be scared going into the editing process. I was so nervous when I got that initial email with the first round of edits and there was nothing to be worried about. And a lot of people go in wanting big numbers, fame, etc., and I think that takes away from the purpose of writing a book. It’s not what you can get out of it, it’s what you can give back. That’s just my little theory anyway. 

Now that your first book is out – what next? 

I’m working on a sequel to the book, TRUE COLORS, and some other YA/MG stuff and also on the pile is reworking an adult novel. Rewriting is harder than writing the first draft, but it makes such a huge difference. 

You can find out more about Krysten Lindsay Hager on her website.    

You can watch the book trailer here

You can learn more about and buy a copy of True Colors from and, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords

You’ll also find Krysten on: Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

SCBWI-BI “member abroad”, Nicky Schmidt  is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications director who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism and supernatural genres. When not off in some other world, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA e-critique group. Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.


  1. Great interview, Krysten and Nicky! Thanks for sharing your experience, it's very interesting.

    1. Thanks! I was so excited to be part of the series.

  2. I've loved this series of interviews with debut authors - an open door on the dream.

    1. I've been enjoying and reading the interviews and was happy to be included.

  3. Krysten is a huge supporter for Literacy with her generous donations. Many of my students are enjoying True Colors and can relate to this story. Well done Krysten!

  4. Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts, Krysten - and Nicky for asking the right questions. A thoroughly inspiring read.

  5. Great interview, Krysten. True Colors is a great read for teens of any age!


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