This is a very late post 6 months AFTER the inaugural AAPI Kidlit Creative retreat at the Highlights Foundation. I meant to blog about this experience earlier, but in my backlog of writing and non-writing obligations, this kept getting pushed down my to-do list. With Halloween today, I figured it’d be a great day to write about this!
Remember how I mentioned I got laid off in my last post? Well, that was a total blessing because, for one thing, it gave me a great excuse to fly across the country to go to the first-ever AAPI Kidlit Creative retreat held on the Highlights Foundation campus out in the boonies in Pennsylvania! It’s so obscure, Scranton airport doesn’t accept many airlines (bye-bye Southwest), so scheduling logistics and buying plane tickets and getting all my transfer flights lined up like ducks in a row, only to end up dealing with multiple cancellations and delays, was a major headache.
The retreat started on Sunday at 5pmEST, and I originally planned to fly out of the Bay Area on Saturday morning, with one transfer in Seattle and another transfer in Chicago, so that I could get to Scranton Airport on Saturday evening and stay an extra night before the retreat started. BUT THEN, that Saturday morning flight got pushed up to Friday night around 7:30. Ok, that was annoying, but I’m sure I’d be fine staying overnight in the Seattle airport. When I got to the Oakland airport, the flight then got pushed to 8:30. Then 9:30. Then 9:55. After we boarded the Seattle-bound plane at 10:55pm, the plane rolled out onto the tarmac, only to suddenly announce “Oh JK, this flight is canceled.” Wow, THANKS BIDEN. And no one affected got hotel vouchers.
I got transferred to the San Francisco airport for a flight the next morning. Shoutout to my dad for being a real supportive MVP for getting me past midnight and then driving me to SFO at 5am in the morning…where my 8am flight ALSO GOT CANCELLED, and I got transferred to ANOTHER flight that would fly out around 12:30. I was wondering if this trip is even going to happen at all. Because of all the travel headache I was facing, the Highlights Foundation was so kind to book me a room at the inn across from Scranton Airport, I could cry from both elation and exhaustion when I finally made it.
The next day, Sunday, when I FINALLY made it safely to my room on the Highlights Foundation campus out in the Pocono Mountains, I felt this wave of relief, of feeling like all of those travel headaches had been worth it and I was so EXCITED to finally be here! When I first stepped into my charming and adorable room, I felt like I had been whisked away into a storybook setting. I enjoyed walking around in the beautiful green landscapes during the day and various kinds of weather (I felt like I experienced a wide range of seasons here! Sun, rain, and snow happened all the days I was here), exploring the “haunted” house, hopping from writing spot to writing spot all around campus, and swinging on the swing.
Normally, I would think, “Wait, paying just to write with other writers? No critiques or workshopping or anything? What?” But because this was an AAPI-specific retreat, it was so rewarding to meet other AAPI writers in the kidlit community knowing that we could be comfortable within our cultural community. Many attendees are already traditionally published or aiming for traditional publication. I also got to meet my agent sisters, Sarah Park Dahlen and Debbi Michiko Florence!
With all the time set aside for writing each day, I set the ambitious goal to write roughly 10k words a day to meet a 40k middle grade historical fiction novel goal by the end of the retreat. When I wrote my last words on the last evening of the retreat, it felt like a huge victory.
It was a magical time! Getting to escape to the mountains and meeting fellow AAPI Kidlit writers was such a rare opportunity, I was so happy I flew out to the East Coast for this. Afterwards, I decided to spend some extra days on the East Coast and Midwest, playing tourist in Philadelphia, visiting a good college friend out in Detroit, and taking the train for a short touristy afternoon around Chicago before flying back home. Now that I’m writing this blog post 6 months later, I absolutely would come back for a future AAPI kidlit retreat!
What a month March has been. It only feels like it was just March 1, when I had such a strong start with a publication in Uncanny Magazine and all of the sudden, it’s March 31 today.
This month was a blur. Let me start with the good stuff: On March 1, after decade of trying, I’m finally in Uncanny Magazine!!!!!!
Wouldn’t have made it in without my dear friend Meghan Elison. She randomly asked me if I happened to have any nonfiction work. It just so happened I had an essay due for revisions sitting around!
“Acknowledging Taiwanese-American Vampire Foodies” is my love letter to one of my favorite Taiwanese street snacks, pigs’ blood cake, and waxes poetic about my ethnic cultural and goth subcultural background fueling my writing. The support and response I’ve received from my agent, writer friends, and non-writer friends has been so heartwarming. One of the responses that has meant the most to me is my mom. A Taiwanese immigrant herself, she’s always supported me in writing (the one creative outlet she’s approved of for me), and I loved her live reactions as she was reading it. On the day of publication, she laughed and told me my writing was very engaging, witty, and funny. She even shared it with her friends, aunties who’ve seen me grow up, and they all congratulated her for my achievement. One of the aunties even texted her that she always admired my persistence to go after my writing goals since I was a kid. That really meant a lot to me.
One week later on March 8, I got laid off from my day job. It was honestly a blessing in disguise. I generally try to keep my day profession and creative pursuits separate, so I won’t talk too much about it in this blog post, but if you keep up with mortgage and/or tech industry, then you’ve likely heard about the mass layoff that happened at Better Mortgage, and all the bad PR surrounding the company. I’ve written my experiences on LinkedIn on the day of the layoff, one week later, and three weeks later when the Scotsman Guide rankings were publicly released.
March has been a month of running around with tying up loose ends, mentally and physically chasing anything and everything that needs closure, and surprisingly actually not writing as much as I would have liked to. On happier notes, my first-ever Taiwanese passport arrived in the mail (yay for joining the dual passport club), I saw Turning Red at Grand Lake Theater in Oakland (only 1 out of 3 theaters in the nation that played it, the other two were in LA and NY), and celebrated my 6 year anniversary with my boyfriend. On our anniversary, I surprised him by wearing a sewing project I’ve kept secret for the past two months: the Blood of Stars dress from Elizabeth Lim’s Blood of Stars duology.
One of the ways I kept myself busy and happy while there’s no day job to worry about is completing all 3 enchanted gowns. I think they deserve a blog post of their own, especially since Elizabeth Lim’s works has been an inspiration for my own writing.
In April, on top of job hunting and interviewing, writing-wise, I’ll be turning my focus to the two novels I’m working on (a dark fantasy MG I’ve been working on since last year and am revising after getting feedback from two CPs, and a historical fiction I’m in the early stages of researching for), going through the BIPOC fairytale anthology submissions, recording a sci-fi audiobook narration, and traveling to Pennsylvania for the In-Community Retreat for AAPI Kidlit Creatives taking place at the Highlights Foundation. It’s hosted by Grace Lin and my agent sibling, Debbi Michiko Florence. I’m SO excited to be connecting with other AAPI kidlit writers, and will certainly be dedicating another blog post to that experience.
Ending March with bigger and better things to come!
Thank you everyone who submitted in 2021 to the BIPOC Fairytale anthology! With Lauren Davila and Jo Wu co-editing together, we are opening up to a second round of submissions! We are so appreciative and in awe of the beautiful stories we are seeing. More than half of the anthology is filled up, and for this second submission round there are certain writers of different BIPOC groups that we would LOVE to see more of in our inbox.
NOTE: We already have plenty of stories from Southeast Asian groups, including Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Filipino. While SEA authors are still welcome to submit, please keep in mind that because we want fair representation across all BIPOC groups, we are prioritizing stories from the groups below:
Any and all native members (America, Australia, Canada, etc.)
East Asian (we have an overwhelming number of submissions from Chinese-identifying authors and want to see other groups represented):
Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Hmong
South Asian (we also have an overwhelming number of submissions from Indian-identifying authors):
Afghan, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bhutanese, Nepalese
Egyptian, Iranian, Turkish, Saudi Arabian
African and/or Black
Latinx/e and Afro-Latinx/e
Even if you don’t fall under these categories, feel free to submit as we would love to consider your story.
As far as fairy tales go, we are no longer accepting the following retellings (we have so many options for us to choose from!)
Twelve Dancing Princesses
Red Riding Hood
The Red Shoes
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Persephone and Hades
Stories that involve tigers
We are open to retellings of non-Western fairy tales, and our wishlists are not exhaustive! Below are some specific #MSWL for Jo and Lauren:
Fairy Tales I’d like to see retellings of (and only if you can give them HEA):
The Juniper Tree
Hansel and Gretel
The Matchstick Girl
The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Snow White and Red Rose
The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple
Indigenous writers, please please please send me stories uplifting your beautiful cultures! One of my favorite picture books growing up was the Algonquin Cinderella story “The Rough-Face Girl,” and I’d love to see more stories in this vein (though something more creative than another Cinderella retelling).
Korean fairy tales, or Western fairy tales with a Korean spin! Give me your gumiho (something beyond just the evil twisted female feasting on men’s livers and lifeforce), and dokkaebi!
Stories that showcase the beauty and empowerment of voodoo magic
Romani fairy tales (Esmeralda from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame was my huge girl crush growing up).
Latinx/e stories that make me feel mesmerized the way Pixar’s Coco did (it’s my favorite Pixar movie, and I like comping it to Spirited Away x Corpse Bride)
Pacific Islander writers
Secondary fantasy worlds that feel immersive, enchanting, and hopeful.
If you need comps for writing style and voice, please reference:
Fairy tale picture books (your local library’s children section should be a great resource for research!)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Anything (such as Spin the Dawn and Six Crimson Cranes) by Elizabeth Lim
Deathless by Catherynne M Valente
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Above all, a successful combination of immersive world-building, relatable characters, engaging plot, and happy endings.
NOTE: If you’ve been published in another of Lauren’s anthologies, please DM Lauren first for further information. We’d love to see fresh talent too!
Fairytales I would want specific retellings of:
Hansel and Gretel
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Frog Prince
The Pied Piper
Princess and the Pea
The Ugly Duckling
Anything in the vein of Once Upon A Time (I need some interconnected family drama!!)
Enemies to lovers reimaginings of any fairytale pairing. I want it angsty and filled with longing but ultimately (you guessed it) ending with an HEA/HFN
Would love some exploration of brujeria!!! Give me ALLLLLLL the culturally specific witches
I second Jo’s call for stories like Coco and am also adding in anything that feels like Encanto (make your story SING). Bright and vibrant and looking at generational trauma through a magical lense
If anyone could make it somehow fit a HEA, I would love something related to Santa Muerte! Feel free to DM me to chat about it!!
I’d love to consider some retellings and reimaginings that have the fairytale atmosphere and worldbuilding but in our world! I’d love a lush modern take on your fairytale story set in New York or Los Angeles!!
Anything and everything ballet!
The Dying Swan
Some of my favorite retellings for voice or comps
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
The Cursebreakers series by Brigid Kemmerer
Anything from the “Once Upon A Time” imprint through Simon Pulse
What we don’t want to see:
Sad endings. We welcome dark stories (especially when they delight Jo’s little black goth heart), and we are seeing many submissions with gorgeous writing, but leave us without that hint of a HEA. We envision this as an anthology that uplifts BIPOC magic and joy. Please refer to guidelines from the first round of submissions.
Contemporary settings that feel more urban fantasy than fairy tales. We are looking for a sense of escapism in the vein of traditional storybook fairy tales.
Stories that throw BIPOC men under the bus by portraying them in a completely negative light. You can still have POC male villains! But historically, POC men often occupy a “villain” narrative. We’d like to see men, women, and NB characters across the board being fully three-dimensional and fleshed out. Feel free to DM one of us if you have questions about this!
Stories that harm or bash any marginalized group (LGBTQIA+, disabled, neurodiverse, etc.)
Stories that go beyond the word count
Anyone claiming to be BIPOC when they aren’t. Even if you are an ally, have a POC significant other, have mixed-race children, etc, please respect that this is a space to showcase BIPOC writers.
These original guidelines from the first round of submissions still remain at the forefront for us:
Classic fairytale retellings with a cultural twist inspired by (but not limited to):
Disney princess narratives
Hans Christian Anderson
Cozy stories with a whimsical charm, similar to the feel of a Studio Ghibli movie
Light-hearted stories with a happy ending
Stories that weave in elements of your culture’s mythology or religion (would love to see different gods and goddesses)
Stories with fantastical creatures like fairies, mermaids, or witches
Stories that include an emphasis of your culture’s food, traditions, and celebrations
LGBTQ+, disabled, and neurodiverse narratives are strongly welcomed if they fit within the anthology’s fairytale theme
Dark, gothic-romantic fairy tales that are balanced out with whimsical elements
Please send your fairytale pitch, a brief bio, and a 3-5 page sample of your story to email@example.com by March 31. After evaluating your concept, we will contact you for the full sample of your story if we wish to move forward. We aim to find out of the box, unique fairy tales that showcase who you are and highlight your whimsical storytelling. All stories must fall in the Young Adult age category and maximum 3500 words. For this round, we are seeking shorter stories.
If you have previously submitted and had your story passed on, you are welcome to send in a new pitch. If you never received a response, please email us and let us know! We want to make sure everyone who submits gets a response.
All Entrants must be over 18 years of age to submit an entry and all submissions must be the original work of the Entrant. If you are going to be 18 by the end of June 2022 when we aim to finalize edits for all stories for submission to publishers, please contact the BIPOC Fairytale Anthology team directly via email.
If you have any questions, feel free to email our anthology team: firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM @kiana_krystle and @Sammi_Elyse on Twitter (though @Jo_Wu_Author and @laurengilmore03 are also happy to answer any questions that are specifically directed to them!). Feel free to share snippets or aesthetics of your story using the hashtag: #BIPOCfairytales.
Seeing that it’s New Year’s Eve, I wanted to make sure I get in this blog post before the new year rolls in.
I’m absolutely happy that I was able to go to Big Sur Conference. I was originally on the waitlist, and when I was notified that a spot opened up, I asked my agent her thoughts. She said she thinks I would love it, so that convinced me to register and plan what I wanted to wear. I haven’t been to any conventions or big events for nearly 2 years now, and it feels weird for me to go to an event like this and not dress up. It’s not an event to me if I can’t dress up! I packed my Excalibur Night Parade of One Hundred Demons wa-lolita dress, and a reversible kimono dress that I sewed a couple of years ago. One side features a pattern inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and the other side is a pattern depicting the story of Snow White with a Japanese-inspired flair.
On Friday morning of the conference, I woke up at 5am to start heading down to Monterey and beat the traffic. I screamed in delight when the Princess Mononoke theme played on the classical radio channel! On the way, I called the hotel to let them know I’d be arriving a bit early. The gal on the phone named Tiffany was SO NICE and asked me about my writings and said she has a 9 year old son named Joe (similar to me lol!) and wants to keep an eye out when my book is published. I was so very touched! I do hope my book can get in his hands sooner than later.
Even though I am already agented, Big Sur Conference was a very valuable experience. Attendees came from a wide variety of backgrounds, and writing experiences ranged from those who were starting out to those who were already agented and published and wanted feedback on new work. What I appreciated about the conference was getting to meet the Andrea Brown agents, editors, authors, and fellow writers, and collect so much personalized feedback and implement them during revision time. The two mentors I was paired with were agent Jem Chambers-Black and author Victoria Piontek. I was in groups of 5 people (not counting the mentor), one group with 2 sessions with Jem, and another group with 2 other sessions with Victoria. This was so great, because I got such valuable feedback from groupmates and unique perspectives both from Jem and what she looks for as an agent, and from Victoria and her author perspective. When one of my critique mates asked me for spoilers, it was great to hear Victoria say, “Wait, I want to read it first!”
The Q&A panels with the editors on Saturday and with the agents on Sunday were great, too! At the agent panel, I asked them what happens when they go on submission with their client and they encounter an editor who turns down their client’s work, either because the editor has something that’s too similar, or because they are already publishing a work by an author who’s of a similar ethnic background. It was really great to hear their response and their actual encounters with those editors. They’ll blacklist editors who outed themselves as racist, discuss it amongst themselves and other agents, and keep track of which editors to not send to. It was so wonderful to hear them acknowledge that a culture and ethnic group are not monoliths and just because there’s an author from that specific background already published, it doesn’t mean that other authors of that background can contribute with their own perspectives. In the white-dominant publishing industry, it was so great to hear them say that to the conference audience.
Dinner served each night was absolutely delicious and served buffet-style. Since we’re still in the midst of a pandemic and Omicron is around the corner, masks were worn, and everyone was very respectful. Unlike a convention crowd where there’s always someone who’s ruining it for everyone else (ahem, Anime NYC), this crowd was mindful of covid guidelines, and everyone had to provide proof of vaccination when registering for the conference.
Since it was December, with the holiday season in swing, my favorite place to work on my revisions was in the hotel lobby. There was a giant Christmas tree by a roaring fireplace, and I could sit on couches or at a table. It was almost like being able to work in a cozy coffeshop again, though I did love how upscale and beautiful the hotel atmosphere felt while also being warm and welcoming. I must say, receiving and implementing all the feedback I got throughout the conference sparked new ideas for revisions for the rest of my story and made me fall in love with my manuscript all over again. I felt so blissfully immersed in my new novel, I never wanted that feeling to end.
Would I choose to come back to Big Sur Conference? Maybe not 2 years in a row, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m at least very happy I had the chance to attend and experience this conference for myself, and would definitely recommend any children’s author with the goal of traditional publication to attend at least once, whether in California or in Massachusetts. This conference was a great highlight to the end of 2021 for me. Here’s to a bright new dawn in 2022!
I am so thrilled to announce that after 16 years (Yes, you read that right, SIXTEEN YEARS) in the query trenches, I am at long last an agent-represented author! For those of you thinking, “Oh look, another obligatory-how-I-got-my-agent-blog-post, what makes this one stand out?” Well, better buckle up for a roller coaster ride, because unlike other posts you’ve read, this one involves:
16 years in the query trenches
7 novel manuscripts completed over the course of those years
3 full requests in Pitchwars 2020, which was UNHEARD of, but ended up in rejections from all mentors (with a happy plot twist I never saw coming).
A call that was supposed to be THE CALL, but didn’t end in a verbal offer (I promise you there’s a happy ending, it did turn into a contract)
Growing up, I was that kid who created my own “books” by stapling computer paper together and writing and drawing all over them. Whenever there were creative writing and book-creating projects in class, you bet I was all over them! When I found out that it was possible for kids to be professionally published, and that books didn’t just appear out of thin air, I made an ambitious goal to be traditionally published before graduating high school.
This is where my adult self gives my oblivious kid self a knowing smile. In hindsight, there’s a HUGE difference between publishing and sustaining a career. There’s also a difference between being an adult who can more reasonably set boundaries and being a kid who gets industry buzz as a writing prodigy, only to be wrung out dry and cast aside when a shiny new young author comes along. But that’s a whole other story. Fair warning, I tend to digress a lot.
My querying journey started in 2005, when I had finished my first novel. I guess if you know my age, or an estimate, you can do the math to figure out how old I was back then. Yes, I have been querying for more than half my life. This was back in the day when many agencies required snail-mail queries with SASE (if you have to google what this is, you’re too young lmao). Email was gradually catching on, the term “young adult” wasn’t widely used, Macbooks and smart phones didn’t exist, and I scribbled all my novels in notebooks before typing them up in Microsoft Word and made my mom print out my manuscripts on her work printer so I could read through my manuscripts, highlight edits I wanted to make (I thought I was being SO professional and mature with a highlighter, and scribbling notes in my margins instead of doing assignments in class), and also send hard copies of queries and sample pages to agents.
To make a long story short, for my first novel, I got a partial request from a well-known agency. Screenshot pasted below, with agency name and full address blacked out for privacy:
Kid self: But I got rejected in the end! *ugly cries*
Present-day self: You know what, kid? I am hella proud of you! How many kids your age can say they get a partial request from a prestigious agency? If no one else is going to be proud of you, just know that I am!
Fast-forward ten years later to 2015. I had spent a year in college querying novel #5, which was in the new adult age category that was trending at that time, and never really became a thing the way young adult did. After failing the goal of traditionally publishing in my teens, I thought, “Hey, let’s get published while I’m in college!” Fate had other plans for me. In case you’re reading this and wondering, “What in the world is going on with this girl’s mental health and why is she trying to push herself to such lofty goals?” just know that my present-day self decided to haul my butt into therapy to discuss these past ambitions in a safe and healthy environment, thankyouverymuch. I’ll also be mentioning my therapist quite a few times, because she is awesome, and I believe in breaking the stigma against mental health care.
Although I shelved novel #5, I learned A LOT from that novel, especially with why no agent would pick up that project. After a demoralizing 4.5 years of college, which involved me nearly flunking out of my major in college, on top of other upsetting experiences (whoever tells you your college years are the best years of your life are selling you a scam), from there, I decided to go on a writing hiatus. Once I graduated college, for the first time in my life, I had no grades to worry about, no GPA to upkeep, and I was eager to live my life and experience the world in a way that I never had the opportunity to do before! Which was why I cosplayed and sewed for a good bulk of my time after graduating college because it really got me to go out and interact with people and see more of the world, but kept my creative juices flowing.
5 years later, in 2020, I just came back from cosplaying at Katsucon and seeing my brother in New York when the nation shortly went into quarantine. I was ridiculously lucky I left New York when I did, but that’s another story. I went back into writing after seeing all the violence against Asians due to Covid and lockdown. I was so upset with how Asians were being treated, how the Cheeto was spreading hate speech and endangering my community and loved ones. To seek comfort, I dove back into some of my favorite books that I read growing up. When I dipped my toes back into Twitter waters to see what were some of the latest news going on in the publishing industry, I have to say, I was shocked to see the surge of Asian authors that had sprung up in the past 5 years. I’m not going to lie, I did feel disappointment with myself, and there were many times I thought to myself, “If I hadn’t stopped, if I hadn’t gone on a writing hiatus, would I have published a book by now? Would I be receiving some of the accolades and praise that some of these writers are getting?” Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy for the successes of these authors, especially since they have paved a way for me, but publishing has a long gross history of “there can only be one” mindset when it comes to marginalized writers. Many Asian authors know what I’m talking about, when publishers say something like, “Oh, we already have a book coming out by one Asian author on our list, we don’t need more,” or a literary agent saying something like, “Oh, your book is too similar to another client I have who’s exploring Asian mythology.”
*side-eyes the waterfalls of Euro-centric fantasy books that come out every year*
Well, according to the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I pulled many late-nighters to complete novel #6 in ONE MONTH. I love middle grade because of the magic and sense of wonder that my favorite books have given me when I was growing up. Now was my time to create that not just for myself, but for future readers. It was time to smash white supremacy, and write fantastical, magical, hopeful stories filtered through my experiences as an Asian American who’s damn loud about being my unique self. I had to fight that negative voice in my head that said, “Who the hell are you, to think you’re important enough to write something that could make an impact? There are plenty of other writers who have already accomplished what you want to do.” and I had to retort, “Why not me? Why can’t I contribute?”
I attended Twitter pitch contests and generally was pleased with the amount of manuscript requests I got from agents, including one from a dream agent who kindly turned me down in 2014 with helpful feedback, so I was shocked and delighted that she wanted to see the full manuscript of novel #6. I got a handful of full requests, and when I entered my novel into Pitchwars, 3 out of 4 mentors requested my full manuscript.
As expected with any query journey, rejections will always happen. Despite my confidence and the thought that I was more emotionally mature to weather the storm of query rejections this time around, I’m not going to lie, after being told by writer friends that it was UNHEARD of to get three full manuscript requests in Pitchwars, it kind of stung that no one chose me. On top of that, I got plenty of rejections, and 4 R&Rs (revise and resubmit requests). At least out of the four R&Rs, one of them was bound to turn into an offer, right? Anakin and Padme meme I created below:
NOPE. They all became rejections, despite being told by the agents that the revisions were improvements.
To make matters worse, in February 2021, the dream agent ultimately sent a personalized rejection letter despite me keeping her in the loop about the R&R requests I received from other agents, and her expressing interest in the revised manuscript. She was incredibly kind, and pointed out what she enjoyed and what worked, but was so sorry that she didn’t have better news after all this time. I will never forget that day. For the rest of the day, when I wasn’t distracting myself with work calls and emails and meetings, I just felt numb and moved like I was wading through a deep pool of sadness. My boyfriend even commented that he could feel the waves of depression just rolling off of me and spreading through the air. If you’re one of those writers trapped in the notion of having a specific agent as your “dream” agent, let me tell you, do yourself a favor and throw that out the window. A few months later, I ended up feeling grateful it didn’t work out for reasons I will not disclose here. I still think she’s a lovely lady and agent. But your dream agent should be someone who will ultimately champion your writings and help you build your career to the best it can be and whose vision aligns with yours.
At this point, I posted in a few of the writing groups I’m part of, sharing my disappointing experience and apologizing for feeling like a Debbie Downer, and just wanted to see if anyone could offer advice for what I was going through, especially since an experience like mine is not uncommon. Author Julia Vee was someone who I’m so happy to call a writer friend now, and she was super encouraging and we even hopped on a video call to discuss writing and publishing.
Remember those 3 fulls that turned into rejections from Pitchwars? Here comes a happy plot twist: one of those mentors saw my post, said she recognized me, and had me reach out to her via email. She let me know that I was in the running among the last 5 authors she had considered out of 350ish authors, and even though she had ultimately chosen another author to mentor for Pitchwars, she had meant to get back to me and offer to unofficially mentor me. So, while I was never an official Pitchwars mentee, I did get a mentor! Working with Gail Villanueva was so wonderful, she was such a dream mentor to work with! I was tired of feeling like I was stumbling in the dark, and it was so great to be mentored by an experienced BIPOC agented author who knew what I was trying to do with my story, how to best guide me with my publishing goals, and navigate the white-dominated industry as an Asian author. She said she saw a lot of herself in me when she was a new author trying to get published, and our zoom calls ended up taking HOURS despite the fact we were both in completely different time zones (she’s in Manila, I’m in California).
We rehauled my manuscript, and she even referred me to two agents after rehaul was deemed a success. Both of those agents requested the full. On top of that, I decided to cold-query as many agents as I could, thinking, “At this point, I might as well just exhaust my list of agents and agents who represent middle grade fantasy who seem like they would be a good fit. It’s now just a numbers and waiting game, right?”
3 months of mostly silence went by. More rejection letters came. Some full requests came, which are always lovely, but then a few fulls turned into rejections as well. One of the rejections came from one out of two of the agents that my mentor referred me to. Writing this now, 3 months really is not a long time, but to me, it was agonizing. I threw myself into writing and completing a first draft of novel #7, and workshopped the first 50 pages of that in Futurescapes. Wrote short stories that got rejected. When I was sick (as if I wasn’t already sick) of the never-ending purgatory cycle of writing and receiving rejections, I crocheted, played video games, worked out, cooked, spent quality time with my boyfriend and friends, talked to my therapist, read, made it to 20k followers on TikTok, made it to legendary level in Mandarin Chinese on Duolingo, started learning Korean, and thankfully had summer weekend trips to Seattle and Utah planned, which were welcome diversions.
After Labor Day weekend, that was when I got an email asking for the call. It came from the other agent that my mentor had referred me to, the one who can only be queried through referrals and conferences. Yes, THE CALL. She asked me if I could set up a call this upcoming Friday. She had emailed me on a Tuesday. I confirmed her on my calendar, and for the next 3 days, I tirelessly researched questions to ask agents, exchanged excited messages with writer friends and my mentor, roleplayed the call with my therapist, and counted down the hours.
On Friday, my phone rang 3 minutes earlier than the scheduled time. The call was MAGICAL. 2 hours flew by. Even with that much time, I didn’t get to ask all the questions I wanted to ask. Which was okay, because the agent answered the most important questions, like her vision for my novel, her editorial style, her working style with clients, her submission strategy, her stance on cultural sensitivity and #publishingpaidme, how she would defend and fight for me if an editor and I were to not see things eye-to-eye and wanted to whitewash cultural aspects of my work, and agency contracts and rights. We even geeked over Lovecraft Country and Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass. At the end of those two hours, this is where everyone else would say, “…Aaaaaaaaaand she offered!”
PLOT TWIST: She apologized for the fact that her personal policy is that she doesn’t give verbal offers over the phone, and asked until Monday to process our conversation.
I swear, I literally am the only person I know of who received no verbal offer after a long call with an agent that went well with plenty of laughs. Even when I talked with all my agented writer friends, they all said it’s customary to get a verbal offer on the phone. So, if any future agented authors are reading this wondering if anyone else didn’t get a verbal offer on the phone, well, now you know you’re not alone!
The weekend was HARD for me. I figured if I had waited for 16 years, I could wait for one more weekend. Everyone told me to chill. Even my tarot cards (Eight of Swords) told me, “Bruh, chill.” One welcome distraction was watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in theaters with my mom and boyfriend, and we absolutely loved it.
Monday morning came. Agent sent over the contract for the offer of representation! I screamed, danced, wondered if this was a hyper-realistic dream (over the years, I’ve had such realistic dreams of agents telling me “I want to represent you!” only to wake up with disappointment), messaged my boyfriend so that he would be the first one to know, and sent 2-week notification courtesy emails to the rest of the outstanding agents in my pipeline. I was DYING to sign the contract, but I had to practice more patience for professional courtesy with other agents. Even as I did my due diligence and spoke with other agents, and feel incredibly blessed to receive another offer, I knew in my gut that this first agent was going to be the one. As Amy March said from Little Women, “You don’t need scores of suitors. You need only one… if he’s the right one.”
I set up a zoom call with the first agent 4 days before my hard deadline. Ten minutes into the call, I told her, “I’m going to cut to the chase. You’re the one!”
It was so great to see her reaction on zoom! She was like, “WHAT?!” at first and then it took a few seconds for her to let it sink in as I said, “I’m choosing you to be my agent and I’m sending you back the contract.”
It feels so good to finally make this official and say it: I am now represented by Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Gail Villanueva is a goddess for connecting us. I don’t think I’d be here writing this if it wasn’t for Gail. Bless Gail, go read her books please.
I am so excited for what’s to come next. Yes, 16 years sounds crazy. It’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of unicorn success stories of authors who get agented within a matter of months or a few years of writing their first few novels, but it is humbling to know that there are writers out there who have been in the trenches for just as long, or longer, than I have. For every success story you hear out there, there’s at least twenty other stories buried and overlooked. Truly, every path is unique, and I’d wager my story wouldn’t resonate as much with you if I had been just another “I got an agent within two years of querying my first novel” sort of story. 16 years was riddled with so much difficulty, so many feelings of imposter syndrome, so much wondering what was the point of me trying anymore. But I kept going. I guess 16 years was a testament to my persistence and tenacity. I felt like Mulan (the 1998 Disney animated version, the best version hands-down) climbing the pole to retrieve the arrow, or Samurai Jack searching for a time travel portal to get home, only to have the portals destroyed by Aku and other adversities each time he found one. If you made it this far, I thank you deeply from the bottom of my heart for sticking it out. I only hope this is the beginning of what will be a fulfilling and magical journey, and that there’s a seat on this magical flying train for you to join me in this new adventure.
FINAL STATS FOR NOVEL #6 (I don’t want to bother hunting through 16 years of email rejections, and digging up snail-mail rejection letters)
Offers of rep: 2
What a way to end the final Friday of September 2021. October, here we come!
Wait, it’s already June 1? Time really feels like it’s flying way too fast. I accidentally thought it was still 2020 until my brother asked me, “Don’t you mean 2021?” “Oh, yeah,” I respond.
Writing-wise, let’s say that as of today, for the first time in several months, I’m finally daring to feel hope again in the query trenches. I hope to elaborate more in a blog post in the near future, but for now, I do want to share other writing news:
I have 3 drabbles published in the Mythical Creatures of Asia anthology from Insignia Stories. It’s been such a joy to take part in these anthologies, and I have so much fun writing them. Editor Kelly Matsuura is such a pleasure to work with. My short stories are titled, “Kitsune, Hulijing, and Kumiho,” “Qinglong and Xuanwu,” and “Zhuque and Baihu.”
2. I’ve been accepted into the Futurescapes 50-Page Workshop taking place virtually this August. I’ve always wanted to take part in a SFF writing workshop with renowned figures in the SFF sphere, and I was pleasantly surprised and shocked to get accepted. To be honest, with the sheer number of applicants, I didn’t think I’d get selected. My sample writing was an excerpt from my Cyberpunk Six Swans fairytale that I spent 2 months earlier this year writing for a cyberpunk fairy tale anthology I had really set my heart on getting accepted into. I was so heartbroken when it got rejected, even after I revised it by the tight deadline for the editor when they told me the merits of the story and why they passed on it the first round, and told me I was welcome to revise and resubmit. It hurt, but I’m really glad to see that the story sample did earn me a spot in the workshop! I am absolutely excited to learn and improve as a writer, especially as a struggling spec fic author. Maybe one day my Six Swans Cyberpunk fairy tale will find a home.
3. Not really writing-related, but back in February, I was invited by voice actress Tara Strong to take part in her live Ship-It-Show for a Samurai Jack-themed episode as one of the featured cosplayers in my Ashi cosplay, along with voice actors Phil Lamarr and Greg Baldwin. I’m in awe this actually happened, because Samurai Jack is one of my strongest creative inspirations ever since I was a little girl. It was surreal to be in the same zoom room as Samurai Jack/Green Lantern, Aku/Iroh, and Ashi/Raven.
One of my favorite things Tara Strong said was (not verbatim): “As you get older, you can see all the puzzle pieces of your life. Some may not be as pretty as others, but it helps makes you YOU, and you have to fit in this not-so-pretty piece to get this really pretty piece to fit.” That’s just beautiful, and really resonated with me. A good way to end this blog post, and transition into the second half of 2021 with hope.
It’s been quite busy with a promotion and all the new responsibilities that come with it at my day job. On the writing front, I’m very excited to formally announce that I had 3 short stories published this year in 3 different anthologies from Insignia Stories, which publishes Asian speculative fiction!
What a lovely thing to show up in my inbox last night before I went to sleep. I have many writing updates and good news to share. First, I want to announce that I made it to the top 15 for NYC Midnight‘s Flash Fiction Challenge Round #1!!!
For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a challenge in which you have 48 hours to complete a flash fiction depending on the genre, setting, and object you’re given. Then, you’re given points and ranked by judges. Depending on how many points you’re awarded, you then move on to the next round. Everyone who took part in round 1 will proceed to round 2. From there, we’ll see who moves on to round 3.
I’m excited to see what challenge I’ll be thrown tonight. No matter the outcome, I’m really excited for this fun challenge to exercise my creativity and get valuable feedback on my writing!
Hope you all have a happy Friday! Can’t believe it’s the last Friday of August! Where has the time gone?
Hope everyone had a safe 4th of July weekend! I got to spend time with my family, boyfriend, and binging Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island. It was on my to-read list for quite a while, and when it was finally available at my local library as an ebook, I had to check it out.
Even though it’s a fiction novel, it feels incredibly relevant to the current political climate with protests and the quarantine, given that the novel starts with the protests and February 28 Massacre in 1947, and follows the life of the main character and her family saga through the SARS outbreak in the 2000s. I feel that I’ve learned and gained an insight into my parents’ upbringing during the White Terror in Taiwan, the intergenerational trauma with my grandfathers fleeing China for Taiwan, both my grandmothers growing up under Japanese occupation, and what my late grandfather must have gone through when he was a political prisoner on Green Island.
Shawna Yang Ryan writes beautifully. Although every family is unique, I felt that I could see my family’s history reflected in the Tsai family, especially with the traumatized father who is difficult to understand, even difficult to love, but has the family’s best intentions. When the main character marries and immigrates to Berkeley, California, where her husband earns his PhD and becomes a professor there, I couldn’t help but to geek out over my shared experience of living in Berkeley and earning my bachelor’s there. I felt that I was back in Berkeley!
Upon finishing the final page, I threw myself back in my chair and let out a loud exhale. I really felt that I went through a roller coaster ride reading all 400 pages. I loved that a list of books for further reading and research was included in the end, so I compiled a list on books on Taiwan, both fiction and non-fiction, on Goodreads here.
As ugly as the politics and discrimination and health policies and coverage are in America, one thing I will be grateful for is the freedom of speech and not fearing that someone could show up at my doorstep and kidnap or shoot me and my family for speaking our minds. I hope it stays that way.