Panel Recap: “Rising Stars: Q&A and Book Recs from Publishing’s Most Exciting Newcomers!”

As a writer and aspiring author, one of my favorite parts of GGC19 was hearing from some of the biggest new voices in publishing during the “Rising Stars” panel.

Each author had so many great things to say about their personal and professional experiences that I had a hard time cutting down my notes from the panel, so please enjoy this overly lengthy recap before checking out the authors’ books for yourself!

The panelists included:

Kira Jane Buxton, author of Hollow Kingdom.

Headshot of Kira Jane Buxton. She is half-turned and smiling at the camera. She is wearing a black blouse and standing outside. Source: Facebook.

Molly Brooks, author of the Sanity & Tallulah series.

Headshot of Molly Brooks smiling at the camera. She is standing in front of some foliage and wearing a teal and black zig-zag blouse and a black cardigan with white pluses and dots. Source: Molly Brooks.

Aiden Thomas, author of the upcoming Cemetery Boys and Lost in the Never Woods.

Headshot of Aiden Thomas. They’re smiling at the camera while seated on a black leather sofa in front of a brick wall. Source: Aiden Thomas.

Hafsah Faizal, author of the New York Times best-selling novel We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars.

Hafsah Faizal
Headshot of Hafsah Faizal. She is wearing a black niqab, black gloves, and a black blouse and is sitting outdoors. Source: Hafsah Faizal.

Publishing is competitive—how did you get here?

Kira grew up in Asia and the Middle East and was always really into animals. Her first job was at a zoo in Indonesia, before she made the move to LA to try to break into acting. Her husband was the one to nudge her into writing by buying her a writing class. Kira said she put it off for a year, before finally diving in.

Describing her experiences breaking into publishing, Kira said she wrote four books without any interest from the publishing industry and hit a funk after more than 20 years of rejection. Once again, her husband was the one to spur her forward by telling her to go write about the crows, one of her favorite animals. She wrote the book, got an agent, sold the book at auction, and shared that it’s now being turned into a tv show.

Molly shared that she always wanted to both be an artist and tell stories. In middle school, she got into manga and Marvel comics, falling in love with the medium and the problem-solving aspect of it. She pestered publishers with her short comics until she got hired to create a graphic novel about the Wright brothers, and she’s been creating and publishing ever since.

Instead of using an agent, Aiden posted Lost in the Never Woods on Swoon Reads, where  an editor saw it and ended up taking them on as an author. While working on copy edits for Never Woods, Aiden sold their editor on three chapters and a vague proposal of Cemetery Boys, which will be published first later this year.

Hafsah hated reading growing up and didn’t fall in love with it until her dad began taking her to the library to try to pique her interest. During one visit, she picked up Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adored it.

From there, she started posting book reviews online as a way to get editors to send her more to review. She wrote and pitched her first book with no interest. Her fourth manuscript received ten agent requests but was ultimately rejected by publishers.

Hafsah decided to give writing one more try before giving up on it for good. That fifth attempt became We Hunt the Flame. She wrote the manuscript and pitched it on twitter, where it blew up. A bunch of agents wanted it. She picked one, they sold the book at auction, and the rest is history.

What are your tips for dealing with rejection?

“Wine?” Kira offered, only half-joking. Rejection is so hard & heartbreaking, she explained, but it’s an integral part of the process. You’re improving as you go along. She’s a humor writer, and a lot of humor is forged in fire.

David Sedaris talks about it as collecting gold coins. Kira encouraged people to find a fellow writer who can support them. She described herself as the bedbug of writers—she doesn’t go away and she doesn’t give up, and that’s where her success comes from.

Molly is an illustrator, which differs from being a writer in that you create something and present it to people, only to have someone say, “No, this isn’t what I want,” prompting you to do it again. In art school, you put your art up and people say what’s wrong with it, which is a useful perspective to get. For her, edits are the best part of the process. She loves working with her editor to create a better product.

Aiden’s tip was to remember that the first book you write might not be your first published book. If you work on something and you can’t stand looking at it anymore, or you’re feeling really stuck, take a break—maybe even for a year—and do something you like. Don’t burn yourself out.

Write broadly, write a lot, write stupid stuff that you’re never going to show anybody but that will keep that light in your heart for writing. With Never Woods, they put it away, didn’t look at it for a year, and then pulled it out and made edits. Sometimes it’s good for you and your book to take some time apart.

Hafsah shared that rejections give you a thicker skin, which you need as an author. All those initial rejections ultimately help you out, because even after you land your agent, you’ll still experience plenty of rejection from editors. Once you have your editor, publicists and readers will hate your book, and they will let you know. Trusting in yourself and not allowing those rejections to define your worth are both vital parts of surviving as an author.

What are the stories we need right now?

Kira said that everyone has a story, and no one on earth can tell the story you can tell. Don’t be afraid to put it out there. Many authors experience a tremendous amount of imposter syndrome, but don’t let that stop you from writing.

Think about the words that have been a life raft for you and ask yourself who’s missing a life raft if you don’t share your story. Climate crisis is probably the biggest event we face, and Kira wanted to find a way to write about it. Her book is a love letter to the natural world. When you put your words out into the world, you create empathy, which leads to social change.

Molly agreed that we do live in troubled times, but humanity is also the same as it’s always been. There will always be middle schoolers who have life happening to them and don’t know how to deal with it. People will always be dealing with deep human issues. We have to adapt those universal stories to a young audience surrounded by all the current turmoil.

Aiden wanted to write a story for kids like them who have never seen themselves in books before. Their goal was to make those kids feel seen and feel like they have a space. Trans & brown kids have it really rough right now, and they wanted a story where a protagonist who they can relate to is going through obstacles, but they’re still supposed and loved. Aiden needed that as a kid, and they said it’s crucial.

Hafsah agreed that marginalized people need to see themselves. Graceling got her into reading, because she could see herself in some ways, but the protagonist was white and lived a very different life from Hafsah.

By writing We Hunt the Flame and setting it in Arabia, she created a character and a story where she could see herself. She said marginalized people have been the secondary characters for so long, and they need to see themselves in mainstream stories.

What are your book recommendations?

Kira:

Circe by Madeline Miller

Birding Is My Favorite Video Game by Rosemary Mosco

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Molly:

Contagion by Erin Bowman

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria

Aiden:

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Hafsah:

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali


Stay tuned for more panel recaps in the coming months!

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Caitlin Foskey
“Rock On!”

Caitlin Foskey

Caitlin is a freelance writer and editor serving clients from her home in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not behind a computer, Caitlin is busy refining her baking skills, trying to cultivate an appreciation for weightlifting, and still playing Pokemon Go.

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