Breaking boundaries – Kay Bratt

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By Kay Bratt

Let me start by saying that I never intended to become known as the author who pens books set in China. I wanted to write fiction and I used my life experiences as a catalyst for ideas, which led me down a self-imposed road of boxing myself in.

After writing a successful memoir about my time living in China, I decided to use the readership I’d built and write a novel targeted to readers with an interest in China. Despite the initial lukewarm reception from my agent and publisher, I stubbornly continued on, writing books that were set in China and included all the things I love to read about — family, loyalty, and kindness. My writing improved with each book, I found an appreciative audience, and I garnered several publishing contracts along the way.

Nine years later, I’m the author of twelve titles set in China and have sold nearly half a million copies. Most authors would probably tell me that I should be satisfied that I’ve successfully built a brand and with that, an army of readers who will pick up books based on name alone. My series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, (published by Lake Union) has frequently sat on bestseller lists and was the catalyst for building my readership to its current level. Though set in China, the characters within the pages could be any person in any country, and readers have told me my stories engage them with their depictions of emotional family connections.

So now that the series is slowing down, I should write something similar, right? Try to emulate that success…


Nevertheless something inside me has wanted to break out of strictly setting my stories in China. I’ve hesitated, agonizing over stories of authors who committed career suicide by jumping genres, and anecdotes of disappointed readers who expected one kind of book and got another. I put the idea on my bucket list, something to do one day when I could afford to write solely for pleasure instead of profit.

But life is short and finally, I set aside a period of time to try two experiments. First, I was determined to write something mainstream. Second, I was going to do it in a month instead of taking my usual three-five months to write a novel. (I didn’t want to waste much time in case it was a bust.)

So that’s what I did. It was only a test, but lo and behold, Wish Me Home was born in a month. Within its pages I still used my life experiences to create a story — this time drawing from my difficult childhood and my work within the American foster care system.

When I sent the final draft off to my acquisitions editor, no one was more surprised than me when she responded positively and I ended up with a women’s contemporary fiction book contract in my hand.

That meant the first boundaries were broken. My editor and publishing team were behind me and ready to break me out of the invisible boundaries I’d drawn for myself. The book that took a month to write actually ended up needing some work, because hey — it was written in a month! However, with some major re-writing, it was ready again and soon sent out to my list of advanced readers.

Taking that leap was even harder than sending it to the editor. My readers are everything to me. With their loyalty, they’ve given me this wonderful career and I didn’t want to disappoint them. Would they hate the book? Would they feel cheated that it had no connections to my China-inspired fiction? Would they find me and hang me up by my bootstraps? Boycott all my future titles?

When the first email response arrived and the words ‘I think this might be the best book you’ve ever written’ were blinking on my screen, I thought I’d faint with relief. However, I didn’t celebrate. Perhaps that reader was just being kind? I was cautiously optimistic and waited to form any conclusions.

I soon received more feedback that was similar and by the sixth response, I finally accepted that just maybe they were right — that Wish Me Home could be my best book yet.

Should I use a pen name is another question batted around. After much thought on that, I decided that I’d spent years building a loyal fan base and it would be insane not to try to use that fan base to give this new book legs, hopefully catapulting it into the same sort of success that my China-inspired series has seen. My readers know my name and what to expect from a book when they see it — they know my voice, my characters, and my tendency to focus on human kindness within my stories. Still, this is a big leap for me. My hope is my brand will become how I write, instead of what I write. Only time will tell and with that, all fingers and toes are crossed that Wish Me Home will see a successful launch in March 2017.

Kay Bratt is the author of numerous novels and two children’s books. Her writing became her solace and support while she navigated a tumultuous childhood, followed by a decade of abuse as an adult. After working her way through the hard years, Kay came out a survivor and a pursuer of peace — and finally found the courage to share her stories. A wise man once told her to “write what you know,” which resulted in Kay’s bestselling series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Fisher

    March 31, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Wish Me Home is not a women’s contemporary fiction book, it’s a great book for everyone to read. I’ve read it and really enjoyed it.

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