Review of an interview with Helen Hoang (a #PitchWars alum)

Protip: “For comps, try to appeal to women in their 30s because most agents online are women in their 30s.”

Today I listened to the Write or Die podcast, Episode 28: Helen Hoang & Properly Destroying Your Readers.

For the first 30 minutes, the hosts bantered about where they were at in the writing process. It was useful information. They had an incredible discussion about minorities’ representation in literature and especially how trans people have been treated, and they invited anyone with that experience to contact them and use the Write or Die platform to express their thoughts.

“We have to amplify people’s voices and stop speaking over them,” said one of the hosts.

That was a wonderful thing to hear. I appreciate how open minded the hosts are and how clear they are in their advocacy of people in marginalized communities.

Enter Helen Hoang — she talked about so many things, covering her journey to becoming a published author, her experiences with agents and editors, tips on submission, tips on writing romance, and she closed by sharing an embarrassing query story.

A quick recap of Helen’s journey: Helen’s first few books didn’t fly. Then she got into #PitchWars and Brighton Walsh helped her fix her story, The Kiss Quotient. She learned a lot from that. The story didn’t do well in the Pitchwars Agent Round, but she found a great agent through the query process. The book went on submission for 2 weeks, and then it went to action. It was picked up by Cindy Wong at Berkely.

The host’s response to Helen’s journey to being published: “People think that if they stumble at one point in the journey, then the rest of the journey will be completely ruined. Like you were saying, yeah, you didn’t get a lot of attention in the agent round of PitchWars, which is just one event of many events, and only one way to get the attention of agents. And a lot of people can take that to mean, ‘Oh my story isn’t good enough, so even if I get an agent it won’t do well in submission,’ but you provide that wrong, because you freaking killed it in submission.” 

This really helped me (Keira the blogger) feel better about my blunders and the haphazard way I’ve been learning about fictional writing and the publishing process.

Helen’s view on securing an agent:  “You know they say all you need is one yes, but that’s not exactly just one yet, it’s the right yes. I think my agent has a personal connection to autism and she is like especially designed to be my agent in that way, so she was able to champion the book … it was her combined with the manuscript that got me to Cindy Wong’s desk.”

Tips for submission: “Know what a query looks like. Research how to write a query. Make sure that your manuscript is as good as you can make it. A lot of queries don’t follow the standard structure, and I think just researching what a query looks like and learning how to write it in a standard structure is useful.”

Tips for Romance: “Be in tune with your senses, it’s a big part of the sensuality of it. being in your body physically and to be really aware of your emotions. Loneliness and yearning… focus on those feelings. “

“I like a romance to be a total body experience. You want your heart pumping. You want to experience all the parts of it like the love and the anguish and also physically that excitement of the first kiss, and the first time they hold hands, and the shivers and all those things.”

Tips for Plot & Story Construction: “I build the story towards the words moment that their going to have. You have to structure it around that horrible falling out moment, because that’s when you’re going to have the most dramatic impact. I need to know what that moment is ahead of time, so that I can build everything towards that so that when it happens that you are properly destroyed… very destroyed.”

Helen’s embarrassing moment: “I feel like I embarrass myself so often but they kind of just all blend together. …  When I first started querying I didn’t know the structure of a query, and it’s funny because it was actually a successful query. It was just one sentence. I wrote the hook and sent that out to a bazillion agents, and I got a request from a very good agent. And she said, ‘Okay, I’ll bite. Send me a partial.’ Then I got feedback, this is not ready.”

“Every step along the way can be seen as a learning process.”

Towards the end of the interview, Helen said, “Our characters would be boring if they did mess up… They would be super boring.”

Which I think is true for authors too… we need to screw up in our lives so that we can write our characters screwing up in theirs.

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