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An Interview with Hana Lee upon receiving an offer of representation.

05/10/2021

Hana Lee (K_Hana_Lee on QT) has signed with agent Paul Lucas of Janklow & Nesbit Associates.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
VALIANT is a dark fantasy that draws on Korean folklore along with classical fantasy tropes, like knights and magic swords. The protagonist is a snarky, nonbinary kumiho--a fox shapeshifter from Korean legend--who teams up with a tortured ex-knight to take down a band of slavers. I originally invented the two main characters for a tabletop RPG campaign, and afterwards, they wouldn't leave my head. So I had to write a book about them.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing stories since the age of seven, but I didn't have the discipline to finish and revise anything until now. I'm 24.
How long have you been working on this book?
About six months. I started the first draft in late September 2020 (thanks, quarantine) and put the finishing touches on the final draft in late March 2021.
Is this your first book?
The first book I've tried to write? No. The first book I've finished and taken through multiple drafts, with the intent of querying? Yes.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I just try to write every day after work. I didn't have word count targets or anything for the first draft, but when I was editing/rewriting, I tried to do at least one chapter (2-3k words) per day. It helped that quarantine killed my social life, for sure.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I did two top-to-bottom rewrites and four major editing passes. The draft I sent out to agents was officially draft seven. Fun fact--the first draft was only 70k words. During rewrites it ballooned up to 145k; then I trimmed it down to 120k for the final draft.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I met two really solid critique partners through a workshopping website called Scribophile. There were a handful of other people who read early drafts or critiqued a few chapters here and there, but my two critique partners went through the entire book and gave intense line editing and developmental notes. They helped me get the book into shape to send out to agents.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I wrote from the hip for VALIANT, but I'm planning to outline all my books in the future. I had to completely restructure the story during rewrites to make the pacing work, and it would have gone much more smoothly if I had mapped out the plot from the start.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried VALIANT for 10 days before receiving my first offer of rep. From there I was given two weeks to make a decision, and ended up signing with an agent who offered the day before my deadline. So all in all, it was 24 days. VALIANT was the first book I've tried to query.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
73! All in the span of a week. It was wild, but I felt pretty confident about my query package and wanted to get it all over with as quickly as possible. I had about a 25% request rate for fulls/partials, and wound up with 5 offers of representation.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Obviously, they had to be taking my genre. I looked at all the wishlists I could find, but some agents don't offer much information about what they're looking for. I had the most success with personalized queries sent to agents who were looking for elements that were present in my manuscript: secondary world fantasy, Asian-inspired worldbuilding, and POC and LGBTQ+ characters. But sometimes the wishlist would be a perfect fit (in my opinion), and the agent would still send a form rejection. And the agent I wound up signing with didn't have anything specific in his wishlist that pertained to my MS; he just enjoyed it enough to offer rep. It's impossible to know ahead of time whether an agent is going to enjoy your manuscript, so in my opinion, the best thing to do is query a LOT of agents.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I personalized where I could, but didn't force it for agents who weren't specific about what they were looking for. If the agent represented an author I recognized or liked, I mentioned that. In my query to Paul Lucas, the agent I signed with, I mentioned that I was querying him because my MS was inspired by a tabletop RPG campaign. He represents R. A. Salvatore, who's extremely well-known for writing for Wizards of the Coast.

Some agencies have guidelines on their website for what the query letter should look like. I tried to tailor my query to fit their guidelines--if they said the pitch should only be a single paragraph, I sent a single paragraph. But the only version of my query that I had much success with was the long-form version structured in the typical way: 1 paragraph housekeeping, 2-3 paragraphs pitch, and 1 paragraph bio. I don't think the short form was enough to convey the heart of my story.

What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Get eyes on your query letter! Don't send it out until multiple people have told you that it's solid and the story pitch is concise, logical, and hook-y. There are tons of places where you can find people willing to critique your letter: the QueryTracker forums, workshopping sites like Scribophile, and even social media platforms like Twitter or Reddit. I had maybe ten different people look at various drafts of my letter and tell me what they thought. If you feel like you need it, don't be afraid to seek professional help. A lot of freelance editors offer query editing packages for a reasonable fee. Writing a query letter is a totally different beast from writing a book, and it doesn't make you a bad writer to need a LOT of help writing one.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Here's the letter I sent to Paul Lucas and most of the other agents on my list (with varying personalization, of course).

Dear Mr. Lucas:

I am an admirer of your client, R. A. Salvatore, for his character Drizzt's longstanding influence on the Dungeons & Dragons community. Since my novel was inspired by a tabletop RPG campaign, I thought it only fitting that I should send you a query.

VALIANT, a dark adult fantasy complete at 120,000 words, features a nonbinary shapeshifter protagonist who combines the false-facing exploits of Scott Lynch's THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA with the reluctant heroism of Martha Wells's THE MURDERBOT DIARIES.

Akita's life is a lie, an endless parade of stolen skins. After years of scraping by in a coastal city, witness to every human vice under the sun, Akita has learned one lesson: they cannot trust humans with their secret. The lawless North welcomes no one, least of all a half-breed kumiho.

When Akita is kidnapped by slavers, they meet Casmir, an ex-knight who seeks an honorable death. As the pair fight their way to freedom, Akita comes to trust Casmir. He's brave, virtuous, and believes in Akita's potential for good. Just one problem—everything Akita tells him about themselves is a lie.

Casmir's determined to take the slaving operation down, even if it costs his life. Akita can only save him by using their monstrous abilities to kill the slavers first. Akita isn't like other monsters, but their kin's bloody reputation is damning. If Casmir discovers their secret, it won't just destroy their friendship—he might kill them.

Akita faces an impossible choice: maintain the lie and risk Casmir's life, or risk their own by revealing the truth.

I am biracial Korean-American, and my stories revolve around being a child of two cultures. VALIANT draws inspiration from the kumiho, a shapeshifting vulpine trickster from Korean legend. Although I'm not a medieval fantasy protagonist, I live out my Dark Age dreams by fencing, doing archery, and trying not to catch the plague.

Thank you for your consideration.