Success Story Interview - Elian K. Wells

An Interview with Elian K. Wells (eliankwells on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Laura Southern of Wolf Literary Services.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Elian K. Wells:
THE SMOKE KEPT SOULS is the epitome of genre blending: a murder-mystery-slash-slow-burn-romance on a dark, atmospheric fantasy backdrop. It features heavy world-building, demonlike vampires, and a side of body horror. It's also the first book in an intended duology. --- Heavy influences on TSKS include my favorite authors (V. E. Schwab, Leigh Bardugo, Maggie Stiefvater), but also anime (Castlevania, Howl's Moving Castle) and other East Asian media (The Untamed, Crash Landing On You). --- Everyone says to write the story you want to read, so that's exactly what I did. It's nuanced. And brutal. And angsty. This story is intended to make readers wallow in their feelings, or get up and take a lap or two around the room (as Laura had to do), or otherwise cry on the floor.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Elian K. Wells:
I mean, as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I was writing Warriors Cats fan-fiction in a notebook beside my bed. Later, I was dabbling on Quizilla and Wattpad with vampires and werewolves (to be clear, I'm writing about vampires now as well--old habits die hard).
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Elian K. Wells:
I started TSKS right before the 2020 new year (yikes, that's a long time ago!). For two years I wrote off-and-on, somewhat directionless, but I finally finished the manuscript at the end of 2021. Then, for most of 2022 I was working on a huge round of revisions as a part of Author Mentor Match and I began querying that Fall.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Elian K. Wells:
Heh. It's tough to write a 120k+ word manuscript while working full-time and otherwise dealing with life. Finding time to write was (and still is) difficult, plus when I started, I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just writing. Would I actually complete the thing (that would be a first)? Would I try to get traditionally published (OMG that's a lot to learn)? Is this even a good story (what the hell is Save the Cat)? There would be months at a time that I didn't touch the manuscript. It wasn't until I started giving myself tangible goals--apply to this mentorship program by X date, query by X year, etc.--that I worked more consistently.
QT: Is this your first book?
Elian K. Wells:
TSKS is my first fully-finished manuscript and the story of my heart.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Elian K. Wells:
There was a time when I wanted to go to college for creative writing. My parents said no. I'm now an engineer.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Elian K. Wells:
I really should; it would probably help! But really, my day-to-day is variable enough that it's hard to keep a consistent writing schedule. I've got six live animals to maintain, a relationship, and a job. I grab time where I can.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Elian K. Wells:
Prior to finishing the manuscript, I'd probably re-written the first half of the story three times over before barrelling toward the finish line in time to apply to AMM. I've done two fairly-large rounds of development edits since then (one with my AMM mentors and one currently with my agent), plus 6+ passes for line-editing / cutting / etc. Funnily enough, it's the ending that's stayed the most similar to the original draft--Acts 1 & 2 are my bane.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Elian K. Wells:
I've had a few CPs who have consistently read TSKS, or parts of it, multiple times over. Then during Author Mentor Match, my mentors had read the manuscript and its edits of course, but I also did a "formal" round of 5-6 beta readers. Parts of that experience were useful and parts of it were not, haha. I think the biggest lesson I learned is that not every audience is the right audience.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Elian K. Wells:
TSKS was written almost entirely from the hip for the first draft. By no means did that make me a plotter, but going forward I will at least attempt to plan better beforehand. The most accurate method I've found to describe my style is "the flashlight method": essentially, mapping out the next section as I'm getting to it, like seeing as far into a dark room as you can with a flashlight.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Elian K. Wells:
I started querying TSKS in October of 2022. I signed with Laura in January of 2023.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Elian K. Wells:
According to QueryTracker, I sent 27 queries. By the time I accepted Laura's offer, I'd had 5 full MS requests.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Elian K. Wells:
The Type A in me picked from all of the top-performing, super competitive agencies to start out. I'd also compiled a list of the agents of my favorite books, and then any others that sounded like really good MSWL fits. In the end, I'm not sure any of this was the right method! I was also querying straight into the holidays, which impacted my experience. Laura wasn't actually on my list, but I participated in MoodPitch (mostly for visibility) where she liked my pitch. TSKS was a really, really strong match for her MSWL and the rest is history.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Elian K. Wells:
The most I did when it came to personalization (outside of pitch events) was cater my comps to the agent's MSWL (if they specifically mention a book in their favorites) and I would sometimes change which elements of TSKS I called out based on their MSWL. i.e. if an agent said they love lush prose or deep world-building or something, I would be sure to swap that in.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Elian K. Wells:
Find your support system! I probably sound like a broken record with every other success story, but truly, had I not found a safe space with other authors, I would have never made it to this point. The number of things I learned along the way from them, alone, was enough to change my entire writing journey, nevermind the unshakeable reassurance and positivity. They're out there. Keep looking.

Query Letter:

For the consideration of [Agent],

The gothic heart of Kristoff's Empire of the Vampire meets the lyrical prose of Andrew's The Whispering Dark in THE SMOKE KEPT SOULS—a dark, slow-burn adult fantasy for fans of steadfast girls and men with a flare for dramatics, such as Agnieszka and Sarkan from Novik's Uprooted:

Fate is one truth in this world that cannot be escaped. Nell will try regardless, as hers is connected to the demonlike race she's descended from—the Vudeikan. More than death, she fears the violent bloodlust of their curse. Yet her city is plagued with murders by a vudeikan's thralls, so Nell hunts them alongside the city's guard to protect her quiet life. It's when the city also seeks the help of a full-blooded vudeikan, an unrepentant predator by the name of Eìr-nytl, that her world unravels entirely.

Eìr is shackled by miserable honor and a damaged soul, and now his search for an explanation has put him on the trail of a rogue vudeikan. Strung together by blind faith, he and Nell are thrust into danger with the intent of uncovering the vudeikan who creates the thralls. While they fall into a too-easy partnership, Nell's truths close in like a noose: how can she trust Eìr when he has the power to wake the monster within her?

But with every night that Nell hesitates in fear of herself, she risks not only the lives of those she loves, but her morality as well. The thralls' magick is mutating into something sinister, her city teeters on dissent, and Eìr's ruthlessness may break his own promises, then her in turn. Between the dark lore of the Vudeikan and a history lost to the ages, their fates actually run far deeper than their blood curse—and perhaps so should their fears.

Complete at 125k words, THE SMOKE KEPT SOULS features deep and intricate world-building, mixed-media storytelling, and a monstrous reimagining of vampires. It's intended to be the first installment of a two-book series.

In 2022, I was selected as an Author Mentor Match mentee with THE SMOKE KEPT SOULS. You'll find this story heavily influenced by years of playing fantasy RPGs and breaking my heart over star-crossed characters. By day, I work as a software engineer and write code instead of novels.

Thank you for your time,

Elian K. Wells