Surviving in the Publishing World, Meet Kosoko Jackson

Survive the Dome
 came to author Kosoko Jackson “kind of fully formed.” He pitched the book in the summer of 2020, completed it in December 2020 (he pitches his books “on proposal” meaning he provides a “detailed synopsis” and writes only 50 to 100 pages), and its release date is March 29, 2022. This book was much easier to write than his other books, including YA novel Yesterday is History (2021). However, at the time he pitched Survive the Dome, he was contracted for a different book, and this was a 90 degree “swerve” from the original plan. He has always wanted to write “actiony science fiction books,” although he has wandered some from that in Yesterday is History and especially his adult rom com books. His mother remembers him “gushing about giant robots taking over cities” for story ideas, and Survive the Dome reminds her of what he originally said he wanted to write.  Mr. Jackson admits that he has “always been a science fiction nerd.” The story elements of time travel with two different “love interests” (with each requiring “their own narrative arc”), managing what is happening in the present and the past with the time travel with its “scientific rules,” and the “main character need[ing his] own narrative arc,” all made Yesterday is History difficult to write.  

This author believes there is a “misconception that writing is a meritocracy, and that it’s simply about a good book – which I think is very important, and it’s easier to market a good book. But frankly I think a lot of it is luck. We don’t talk about that enough as authors. Luck and perseverance are probably the two things that are most important in any creative field and luck is the one thing you can’t control.”  Describing himself as “stubborn,” he had over 200 query letters when just searching for an agent. He pointed out that some authors write their first book and get an agent “in a silo,” and “never talk to anybody,” but “most of us had some sort of support system that got us there.”  Mr. Jackson cited author Alex London as a great help.  “In 2012 I was researching queer books” and reached out to Mr. London. “We talked for about six or eight months about writing queer books.” Mr. London passed on a manuscript to his own agent, and while Mr. Jackson did not sign with that agent, “that sort of support from a published author was not only great internally for me to have that validation, but it definitely helped give me a leg up in understanding publishing and how to navigate it.”  During Covid, his writing has “thrived” as he not only wrote the theses for his Master of Fine Arts degree, but wrote four full books.  He explained this was because he had “fewer distractions” which was “exhilarating for my writing.” 

Mr. Jackson and his agent, and later his editor, all had long talks about Survive the Dome and its “anticop” theme.  The editor commented “this is something you’re going to have to be okay with” and Mr. Jackson is – “this is the reality that many or most African American and POC [person of color] teens deal with on a daily basis.” Discussing whether or not, perhaps even when, this book is challenged, he went on to state “if that makes school districts uncomfortable, then I think they need to reevaluate why it makes them uncomfortable.  I wrote this book, going into it ‘I wouldn’t be shocked if this was removed from bookshelves.’” This expectation and perspective are unsurprising since he came up with the idea for the book during the George Floyd protests during the “height of the pandemic…[when] I didn’t feel safe going out protesting.” Originally from the Baltimore, Maryland area, the child of black activists, and having attended the Million Man March, he has “grown up around this issue for a very long time.  I think it’s time I use writing as I’m building a platform to talk about these racial injustices in a way that’s very direct, very straightforward.”  Despite the book leaning “heavy on the social commentary element…it’s a science fiction adventure book” and he is “pretty happy” with Survive the Dome

In fall 2023, “dark horror fantasy” The Forest Demands Its Due will be released and is the “direction I always wanted to go with my career.” Yet, after Survive the Dome was accepted by a publisher, he sent the publisher another book that went on wider submission but did not sell.  This book “was the book of my heart.  It was incredibly emotional but it didn’t sell, and that’s ok – it’s part of the process.  I loved that book so much, it just wasn’t the right book.”  Four months later he went on submission with a different book and it sold in 15 days.  “Writing is such a hard career.” When asked about rejection, he said “you never get over it, you especially never get over bad reviews.  But I think to be a creative you have to have a thick skin…if you want to have your mental sanity.”  He does read at least some of his book reviews, usually when the book first comes out, and then again when it’s close to the publication date. 

Mr. Jackson believes that when he started writing “I had a very narrow view about what I could write and what I would be good at… I never thought I could write about romance. I never thought about writing about racial injustice in depth because I didn’t think that was my lane.”  However, he has grown as an author, and the biggest thing he has learned is to not “self reject just because you don’t think it’s a lane you belong in – always try things.” As a small child, he wanted to be a pediatrician.  By age 15, he wanted to be an epidemiologist, and in fact this was his college major. He would like to write a disease book, but feels this is not the right time with the actual pandemic still ongoing.  The person he would most like to meet and have dinner with is Madame Curie. High school activities included soccer, debate club, student government, Red Cross Club, yearbook and the drama club. As a teenager, he wishes he had known that “the choices that you make as a teenager are not the life changing choices you think they are.” He gave the example of choosing a college; with some exceptions, the choice of which college to attend can get “blown out of proportion.” 

When asked why he writes YA, Mr. Jackson stated that he wanted “a positive representation of queer black teens” and to “change the narrative especially for teens – to see themselves positively.” While he has a day job which he is “very good at,” he recognizes it as a “luxury and privilege” allowing him to write. However, “the thing that gets me up every day is the creativity of writing.”  He thinks about writing when working or even shopping – “I love books, I love creativity.” If he had one more hour in a day, he would spend it writing.