Happy pub day to Keah Brown! Her debut memoir, The Pretty One, released today from Atria Books. To celebrate, we’re publishing the unabridged version of Keah’s interview featured in the Breaking In column of the September 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest. You can catch Keah on the debut authors panel at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC Aug. 22-25.
Tell us about The Pretty One.
The Pretty One is an exploration of living with cerebral palsy through a journey to joy.
Where do you write from?
I write from Lockport, N.Y. I write at my desk in the home I share with my mother, sister, and brother. I also write at my local library.
Briefly, what led up to this book? What were you writing and getting published before breaking out with The Pretty One?
To be frank, my surviving and journey to self-love led to this book. If I didn’t first learn how, this book would not be possible. My essays, articles, and profiles have been featured in Teen Vogue, Marie Claire UK, Allure, Essence, Catapult, Harper’s Bazaar, and Lenny Letter among other publications.
I just kept writing as much as possible and my agent found me.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I announced the book in December 2017 and I started writing it on January 10, 2018. I finished in July of the same year. So, I wrote quickly mostly out of fear that the publisher could change their minds. Thank goodness they didn’t! But, I was so excited to get to work that I never missed a day of writing and that’s why I think I turned it out so quickly.
How did you find your agent?
My agent found me through all my work online and my viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute. My agent is Alex Slater of Trident Media group. How I figured out that we were the perfect fit was that I set up phone calls with my final four agent suitors. And we just clicked. He really understands the writer that I am and want to be. I am so happy to be on his team.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
The biggest surprise was how long it takes until your book sees the light of day. As a person who writes in print and online, I am used to the instant gratification of almost immediate feedback. Now, I anxiously await the response to [The Pretty One] from readers. I hope that they love it as much as I do. I am very proud of the work I and my team put in to make this the best book it could be. Major shoutout to my editor, Rakesh Satyal.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I refused to give up even after every rejection. I believed in the work more than I did myself. I was determined for all of my work to count for something and to help me get here. So, I believe it was the fact that I never gave up even when I wanted to, even after crying and praying about it. I am here today because I pushed past the doubt.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I wouldn’t write for free as much. I started out writing whatever was asked of me for free because I wanted to get my foot in the door. However, I encourage writers starting out to only write for free if they can feasibly do so and to understand that their words have value so they should get paid.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
Yes, I am lucky that I came to this debut book process with a 16.6K platform on Twitter full off really wonderful and caring people who want to see me succeed and a Instagram platform on top of the relationships built with editors over the years. I am going to remain active on these platforms and tell everyone I meet not only about my book but my work toward proper representation for people with disabilities.
What is your best piece of writing advice that we haven’t discussed yet?
Roxane Gay told me once to hold the line and know my worth with regard to asking for pay that reflects my work and resume, so that’s advice I think all writers need. Do not lowball yourself and don’t compare yourself to others, stay in your lane where there is no traffic, you’ll get to where you should be when you’re supposed to.
What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects or future plans?
Hopefully another book or four! TV and movies are the long-game future plans. Those two things and changing the way people view, think about, and interact with disabled people.