Success Story Interview - K.M. Veohongs

An Interview with K.M. Veohongs (KMVeohongs on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Hana El Niwairi of Cooke McDermid Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
K.M. Veohongs:
Set against the backdrop of a cold war between two factions of a quasi-Catholic religion, COMMUNION is the story of Kai, the reluctant mother of a prophesied Chosen One who must choose between saving her daughter or saving the world. It's 125K word adult fantasy, and I comped it as a mix of CL Clark's The Unbroken and Brian K. Vaughn's and Fiona Staples’ comic series, Saga. My inspiration was two-fold. One, I really wanted to explore the myriad issues with the Chosen One trope from a parent's perspective. The second major influence was my own mixed race background as the child of an Irish American Catholic and Thai Buddhist who was educated in Catholic missionary schools.
QT: How long have you been writing?
K.M. Veohongs:
I took a creative writing class in undergrad to fulfill a requirement and discovered I loved writing fiction. But, after graduation, I went to veterinary school and took a looooong break -- I did not have the mental or emotional energy for writing and my veterinary career! When my child reached school age, I caught the writing bug again. After playing around with it for a few years, I committed to "serious" writing around 2018. I submitted my first short story in 2019 and queried (unsuccessfully) my first novel in 2021.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
K.M. Veohongs:
Uh, a month or two ago? lol As I said above, this was my second time querying. While there is a lot I still love about my first novel, I recognize now it had some significant flaws that would make it hard to sell. With my second novel, though of course not perfect, it became essentially what I was hoping it would be. Each rejection, especially after requests, felt like publishing saying it wasn't that into me. It's so cliche, but the only thing that kept me going, beyond my kickass writing friends, was working on a new project. Diving into a completely different novel reminded me why I was bothering with querying in the first place.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
K.M. Veohongs:
I don't have an MFA or equivalent. I did take that one class in undergrad! Beyond that, once I knew publication was a goal, I started taking classes here and there through a local writing school, and then applied to the Viable Paradise SFF writing workshop. VP really helped my writing level up, primarily by introducing me to many of my current critique partners. It can be hard to find people who are writing in your genre and at the same level as you who also want to seriously pursue publication. It makes a huge difference! I've continued to take classes and workshops since then, including Roots.Wounds.Words, which is a space for BIPOC writers and is amazing.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
K.M. Veohongs:
Yes, I really think beta readers are key -- for me, at least. It can be really hard to distance yourself enough from the work to see it clearly, and an outside perspective is so enlightening. Mostly I use other writers, but I try to include a few people who are primarily readers, too, as they pick up on different things.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
K.M. Veohongs:
I have my mishmosh approach I call the Atlas Method. I know where I'm starting, and generally where I want to go, but I leave a lot of how I'm getting there up for discovery. I will often outline a small section -- say the next 2-3 chapters -- before outlining the next section and leapfrogging my way to the end from there. You naturally reduce your options as you go along, but I find this method works best for me as it leaves a lot more room for me to discover new and interesting directions for the work to take.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
K.M. Veohongs:
I sent my first query for this book at the very end of May 2023, and got my first offer of rep in mid-May 2024. I did have a lot of requests along the way, and got some truly kind and encouraging passes from agents, which helped me keep searching for that perfect match.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
K.M. Veohongs:
I spent a lot of time honing my query list for my first book. This time, not so much. If they repped my genre, and worked at an agency that didn't have any red flags, I sent a query. Of course, I skipped any agents if there was something they specifically didn't want that was in my book, but I didn't worry nearly as much this time about exactly lining up with their wishlists. I got multiple requests from agents whose MSWL didn't match particularly closely to my book, and many, many form rejections from agents whose MSWL made me think my book was perfect for them.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
K.M. Veohongs:
Again, last time I spent a lot of time personalizing each query. This time, I barely did any personalization. If we had a direct connection (like a referral or meeting at a pitch event), they had requested my last book, or there was something VERY specific in their MSWL that matched, those agents got a personalization, but no one else. I would say of those agents who requested, about 1/3 got a personalized query and 2/3 did not. I didn't personalize my query to either of the agents who offered rep.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
K.M. Veohongs:
1. Rejection is not personal. Truly. How many books have you read (or tried to read) and there was nothing wrong with it, per se, it just wasn't your thing? I imagine the primary question many agents ask themselves when evaluating queries is: "Can I sell this?" Beyond that, they have to want to read the book 4 or 5 or 6 times (or more!) and think any mistakes they see are relatively easy to fix. Rejection doesn't mean your book is bad; it just means it's not a fit for that agent.

2. Get yourself writing friends to support you. Querying is terrible, but writing friends make it fun and terrible.

3. Lastly, and most importantly: Keep it in the group chat.