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Success Story Interview - A.A. Vora

An Interview with A.A. Vora (a2vora on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jonathan Cobb of HG Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
A.A. Vora:
It's a YA high fantasy featuring a complex hard magic system. It's inspired by my favorite fantasy and manga titles, with elements taken from South-Asian mythology.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
A.A. Vora:
Around 5 years - so after I graduated college - although some of the ideas have been flitting around in my mind since I was in middle school.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
A.A. Vora:
Yes, so many times! I have this interview by Brandon Sanderson bookmarked, to read whenever things get rough:

That's pure and unfiltered motivation right there... coming straight from a literary legend, one of the men who shaped fantasy.

I also rewatched a lot of Naruto anime episodes, because if there's anyone who embodies the phrase "don't give up on your dreams" - it's Uzumaki Naruto (believe it).
QT: Is this your first book?
A.A. Vora:
Yes. But it's the 5th or 6th draft and honestly feels like a different book altogether... to the point where re-reading the first couple drafts (when I am feeling brave or particularly masochistic) makes me cringe and wonder "what was I THINKING querying this?!?!"

About 30% of the plot, magic system and worldbuilding were carried over from the first draft. Everything else (including the entire cast of characters) has been entirely rewritten.

I have two other novels which I have shelved for the time being (and possibly eternity), but this was the one I was most passionate about from the start.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
A.A. Vora:
None! Both my education and career ended up taking quite a different tangent, largely because I'm a risk-averse person who never had much confidence about making it as a writer. I did spend a few months doing query critiques and attending virtual seminars at Manuscript Academy. I'd always wanted to attend writing conferences / workshops, but living and working in Japan makes that difficult. So MA was a godsend in that sense.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
A.A. Vora:
Depends entirely upon how much bandwidth I have outside my job.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
A.A. Vora:
Nope. I never had the confidence to share what I wrote with anyone beyond my mother (who finds fantasy as a genre confusing) and my husband (a non-native speaker who prefers nonfiction). Both were supportive enough to wade through what I'd written, although I don't think it counts as proper beta reading. Once I signed with my agent - which did wonders for my confidence - I shared my work with two close friends who I'd been wanting to approach as beta readers but never had the guts to.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
A.A. Vora:
I had a very detailed excel spreadsheet (comes from my background as a management consultant, we do love our excel spreadsheets) where I plotted out the worldbuilding, magic system, character arcs, chapters, etc.

For my agent Jon, I first received an R&R with some amazing feedback. But rather than waiting for me to complete the novel, Jon asked if I was open to first creating a revised outline and rewriting just Act 1 (so about a third of the book). We were in close communication throughout the revision process (it honestly felt like he was already my agent at the time), and he actually gave me an offer based on just those two bits, which was unexpected but exciting.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
A.A. Vora:
I struggled for 5 years with 150+ unsuccessful queries - mostly CNR or form rejections, although a handful gave limited feedback, and one wonderful agent provided very detailed notes on my full. I had 12 fulls over the years, but none of them turned into anything concrete. Hence the need for words of wisdom from Brandon Sanderson and Naruto.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
A.A. Vora:
Around 20 for this latest draft. I had 4 partials and 4 fulls outstanding when I received my offer from Jon, approximately 3 months after my original query. But the novel had gone in quite a different direction since I had submitted (and I was only a third done with the new draft!).

Due to my close communication with Jon during the revision process (which convinced me he was 'the one' based on his feedback, communication style, etc.) I made the perhaps slightly unconventional decision to withdraw from all the other agents and sign with him immediately.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
A.A. Vora:
I used QT to filter agents by genre and age group represented, then sorted by response times (I know response times is not necessarily the best criteria to use, but quick communication is a priority for me). For the first 30 or so that came up, I checked their agency websites / MSWL to see which were a good fit, and narrowed down to about 15 new agents. To this list I then included a few agents who 1) had requested my full in the past, or 2) had expressed interest in my premise and invited me to re-query them in the future.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
A.A. Vora:
Only for those I had queried before and received a request or personalized response from. For others, unless I found a very specific overlap of interests (e.g., one agent noted she was looking for anything that could be comp-ed to certain manga titles), I only personalized the name. Jon was actually an example of an agent where I had NO idea our tastes matched until I got a personalized reply to my partial, at which point I realized - ooh, a fellow Naruto fan who also likes His Dark Materials!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
A.A. Vora:
Rejection isn't a 'no'. It's a 'not yet'.